Many fans knew going into Gotham Knights that Batman’s death would play a huge part in the story. The Caped Crusader dies at the beginning of the game, leaving the other members of the Bat Family to come together to protect Gotham in his absence. While the game does then opt to follow the mystery left behind by the team’s mentor which leads its heroes into several action-packed battles, it also knows when to hold back, allowing quieter moments of reflection that focus on Nightwing, Batgirl, Red Hood, and Robin’s grief and makes their loss truly felt.
[Warning: The following article contains spoilers for Gotham Knights.]
Players have largely explored Gotham City through Batman’s eyes in video games, using his expansive array of gadgets, traversal options, and free-flowing combat to take on the criminals that overrun his city. The Bat Family would tend to drop into the narrative and assist him when needed, but those characters weren’t truly fleshed out outside of those games’ DLC content. In Gotham Knights, however, the focus is on Nightwing, Batgirl, Robin, and Red Hood. The narrative immediately gets players up to speed with this iteration of the Bat Family’s dynamics, introducing them after a huge moment in their lives, and yet makes players feel their loss and relationships in an extremely short space of time.
A huge part of feeling the team’s loss comes down to their interactions in Gotham Knights’ main base, the Belfry. With the Batcave destroyed in Batman’s final moments, the Bat Family moves into the old clock tower and uses it as their base of operations throughout Gotham Knights’ campaign. A mechanic in Gotham Knights is that after every night’s patrol, players must revisit the Belfry where the Bat Family can go through Batman-led AR training sessions, review clues on their evidence boards to help plan their next moves, or interact with each other. A conversation with Alfred sees him continuing « one last game » of chess against Bruce, sitting opposite an empty chair while using a notepad the two kept of all their moves. Moments like this are key to the development of Gotham Knights’ Bat Family heroes, offering glimpses as to who the man under the cowl was to make not just Batman’s presence felt, but Bruce Wayne’s as well.
Although Gotham knows of Bruce Wayne’s death, with the billionaire philanthropist memorialized in signs and newspapers found around Gotham Knights’ expansive open world, it is clear early on in the game that Batman’s death isn’t public knowledge. This soon begins to change, however, with criminals and civilians noticing Batman’s absence on the streets of Gotham. Characters such as Renee Montoya seem surprised when one of the other members of the Bat Family visit her, and players experience many of Gotham Knights’ villains reacting to Batman’s death throughout the game. Harley Quinn seems fully unaware of the Dark Knight’s passing during her first appearance, and revels in the chaos of that discovery for the remainder of the game.
In direct contrast, the other heroes of the DC Universe have been made aware, and reach out to express their condolences to Dick, Barbara, Tim, and Jason. At the beginning of Gotham Knights’ campaign, members of the Teen Titans and the Justice League email the Bat Family to send their condolences in the wake of Batman’s death, and while some heroes reach out to the whole team, individual relationships can be explored further depending on which character players are controlling at that time. Jason’s friendship with Roy Harper, aka Speedy (Green Arrow’s sidekick), is shown via this medium, while Barbara’s time with the Birds of Prey is also a frequent topic of conversation.
While Gotham Knights has proven a divisive Batman adventure due to a mixture of technical and gameplay concerns, WB Games Montréal should be praised for many of its storytelling choices. The developer had the unenviable task of introducing this universe’s new take on Batman, killing him off in under 10 minutes of the game’s story, and then making his loss truly felt through its world-building. Be it through Gotham Knights’ open-world superheroics, Easter eggs, or its quieter, more character-driven moments, the developers succeeded, as the title truly does make players feel both Batman and Bruce Wayne’s presence and the sorrow that consequently engulfs the Bat Family.