My one immediate-buy AAA game this year was Arkham Origins.  So, first of what will undoubtedly be many thoughts.

It's changed since, um, the future

It’s changed since, um, the future

You may have to turn down your graphics settings from Arkham City.  Something is more intensive… tonight I finally got my framerate back up; I’m not even sure which setting it was.

Overall: it feels like more Arkham City.  Which is a good thing, because I think that was about the best game ever, and it’d be a pity to fall terribly short.  The gameplay is about the same; the place looks about the same only darker; Batman is the same humorless driven dude.

Now, what’s gone are Rocksteady (the developers of AC and Arkham Asylum), Paul Dini (the writer), Mark Hamill (previous Joker), Kevin Conroy (previous Batman)– all of which is a pity.  The new Batman/Joker voices sound like people trying to match the old ones, rather than carving out a new performance space.  Catwoman is missing too, which is a bigger hole– not only is it nice to get a break from Bats sometimes, but the game could use more of a female presence.  Oracle and Talia are apparently gone too.

I wondered what they’d do to top Arkham City, and the answer is: make the playable area roughly twice as large.  It’s the area of the prison, plus a whole new set of neighborhoods to the south.  (We still don’t get to go into the skyscraperland to the north.)  There’s a “curfew” on, despite it being Christmas Eve, so the good citizens are all off the streets, making it feel like the thug-infested AC.

Rather than carry on the story, it’s a prequel, so Batman is apparently new– the Penguin doesn’t at first even believe he exists.  At the same time, it’s a sequel, so Bats pretty much has all his gadgets and abilities– including the advanced gliding techniques which were supposedly hot off WayneTech’s workbenches in AC.  As usual he neglects to start the evening with the Line Launcher.

I think they missed an opportunity, here– it would be interesting to have both Bats and his enemies be rawer and less powerful. Supposedly one of the DLCs will explore a really early Batman.

However, it’s fun to see a more alive, vibrant Gotham City, one not yet transformed into a prison.  A lot of the landmarks are there, but there are quite a few changes, too.  E.g what was Joker’s territory is still an industrial district.  I’m tempted to do some before-and-after shots.

The main antagonist so far is Black Mask, which is a little huh?  He was a pitiful footnote in AC, and he doesn’t really have the star power, the weirdness, of Joker and Penguin.  Ah well, I’m not too far  in, we’ll see.

Riddler isn’t running the combat maps this time… Batman himself is,  in the Batcave.  This is actually one of the most disturbing things so far in the game… how do the thugs get there?  Does he advertise on Craigslist?  Do they find the Batcave somehow, and he keeps them on ice till he’s ready to fight?

(And while we’re at it… as usual, for Batman to get anywhere once he’s in a building takes all sorts of detours and gadgets.  How the hell do the thugs and supervillains get around?  If they have special keys or something, why doesn’t Batman just knock one down and steal them?)

And this time there’s an online PvP mode.  Get ready to look at this screen a lot:

GamerChoad97 has disconnected, so wait some more

GamerChoad97 has disconnected, so wait some more

The idea is brilliant.  A match consists of three Joker thugs and three Bane thugs, fighting for control over the map.  At a point they race to the door and the first one to get there gets to play Joker or Bane himself.  The remaining two players play Batman and Robin, so you have a three-way fight.

Playing as the thugs is pretty terrifying.  You have a version of Detective Vision, but it runs on batteries… that is, you can’t have it on all the time.  So you are constantly at risk of being ambushed by the other team and by the heroes.  I have a simple, somewhat effective strategy here: keep with the damn leader (normally, the most experienced player on your team).  You stand a better chance against all enemies if you keep together in a knot.

If you die, you respawn at some random location, which is a huge pain– you’re a sitting duck (well, a running duck) for the heroes.

Playing as the heroes is much like playing a predator map– except, of course, that your opponents are real humans, far smarter than the game’s thugs.  Plus fewer of the moves are immediate takedowns– a glide kick, for instance, may still allow your victim to evade and shoot back, and it doesn’t take much to get dead.  It’s a lot of fun if you’re playing noobs though… they haven’t learned to look up or to stick together.

(Once you play a round, the heroes are selected from the 6 non-heroes.  You can opt out if you like, and some people do.)

(I got to play Joker once.  It’s fun!  He can one-shot an enemy, and his melee attack is very effective too.  Bane seems to be even nastier.)

There’s some problems, though, that make me wonder how well it’s going to work.

  • You need exactly 8 players, which can take time.  Plus, once you have them, there’s a 40-second countdown, which is plenty of time for people to lose connection, sending you back to that damn lobby.
  • There doesn’t seem to be any skill-matching.  The game has been out for two days, and there are already PvP gurus who will mow you down.  If that keeps up, it will be pretty impossible for new players very soon.
  • You get various unlocks and damage increases as you get experience– which is also a kick in the nuts to new players.
  • There are “consumables” you can buy with real money.  That is, it’s pay to win.  I really dislike this, but I don’t know how much it affects the game yet.  Maybe everyone will realize it’s a bad idea, and just buy the clothing options.

So, it’s a great idea, and it may be ruined by some very poor design decisions.  I had some good and bad experiences with it tonight, so I’m still trying it.  Plus you can play a match with friends… so, friends, go buy the game already.

Edit: Thoughts on finishing the game here.