Gotham Knights Hands-On Preview: Just Enough Bats in the Belfry

Who says you need Batman for a Bat-centric adventure? Certainly not Warner Bros. Montreal, the developer on deck for Gotham Knights, an action RPG inspired by the fantastic Arkham games that gave us a whole new world to explore as the Caped Crusader. Set in a post-Batman Gotham City, Gotham Knights is content to forge a new path with other members of the Bat-Family.

You can take up the cowl of four different characters: Nightwing, Batgirl, Robin and Red Hood, each with their own unique set of abilities that can be upgraded as you see fit. Each hero is an important part of the story as the team works to figure out definitively what happened to Batman and what's going on with a shadowy organization that could be working behind the scenes in Gotham City.

Newsweek went hands-on with around two and a half hours of Gotham Knights to embody some of Gotham's biggest heroes. Batman has a very big cowl to fill, but from our time with the game, we can confidently say that the team is doing something very, very right.

Much of our hands-on experience focused on story-based missions where we tackled important parts of the Gotham Knights narrative. Unfortunately, there weren't many opportunities to break away from story progression and explore the open world. Luckily, what we did see was indicative of a fully-realized Gotham like we've seen in the previous Arkham games, at least from the brief moments spent off the beaten path, flying through the city or roaming around to reach the next area.

Gotham Knights: Red Hood
Red Hood is just one of four playable characters in "Gotham Knights." Players can take on Gotham City's most notorious criminals as Nightwing, Batgirl and Robin as well. Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

Going Batty

One of the most exciting parts of Gotham Knights is undoubtedly your ability to choose a different hero when you're ready to—though the frequency with which you can do so wasn't exactly clear during our preview. Every character has their own different movesets with personalized weapons, and after spending time with each one, they feel different enough that it matters.

For instance, Nightwing is a much less brutal-feeling brawler than Red Hood, the only member of the team equipped with a gun. These choices accurately reflect the heroes' personalities, which can vary wildly. If you want a milder approach, you'll likely play as Batgirl, and if you like to be out there with in-your-face combat, you might choose to play as Red Hood.

But beyond a suite of different abilities, each character's base moveset feels similar enough that you can jump into the game without needing extensive training. Because, with the amount of henchmen you'll be facing, sometimes you just need to go all out with melee attacks and call it a day. Luckily, the added dodge mechanics work as a replacement for the Arkham series' parry and counters. That way, you can dodge attacks before they land to follow up with devastating counterattacks. You'll have to employ these maneuvers when facing enemies that carry shields or those who have lengthier health meters.

Each perfect dodge builds up the Momentum meter a bit. When it fills, your character can use their special ability for a flurry of damage-intensive hits or to act more as debuffs to ensure you can emerge from battle victorious. These improve the flow of combat significantly, and they're also just fun to unleash. The Arkham games could often feel mired in the same fights that overstayed their welcome, and this is a great method to ensure that doesn't happen in Gotham Knights.

Gotham Knights: Batgirl
Batgirl stands near a clock tower where players can find a hidden entrance to get inside the Belfry. The Belfry acts as a central hub to swap characters, learn more about the story, and upgrade heroes. Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

Stealth, Swapping, and Solving

You'll swap out characters in the Belfry, the hub area where you can do a bit of narrative research, swap between the four playable characters, customize your heroes' looks, and distribute skill points by way of an upgrade tree. Much like the Bat Cave, you'll spend a lot of time here prepping for missions. Those familiar with the Arkham series will immediately feel at home here, and it acts as a useful area for tutorial-type missions, banter between characters, and an overall area of rest to retreat to when you need a breather outside of story missions.

There's more to the game than simple brawling, though. For those who want to become all-star detectives like Batman himself, there are puzzle-like segments to complete that have you sussing out codes to unlock things. There are also plenty of stealth segments to work through, if that's something you fancy. So it's not a constant blitz of combat that you'll have to trudge through, not by a long shot. What's here is tempered in a very accessible way, and there's a potpourri of different types of gameplay to be enjoyed.

We enjoyed a mishmash of story-based content (though co-op was not included during our preview), stealth, combat, and some light detective work during our time with Gotham Knights. Finishing out our preview brought us to the end of a Harley Quinn storyline with a boss encounter. This slice of gameplay revealed a new side of Harley Quinn not yet explored in previous Batman games. Though films like The Suicide Squad and Birds of Prey have examined the Clown Princess of Crime through different lenses without her devotion to the Joker, Gotham Knights explores a different path for the character.

Harley came equipped with a new voice actress (Kari Wahlgren) and a new attitude, having forcibly enlisted followers to help her accomplish her nefarious goals. Her encounter was an exciting, multistage trial that ended with a showdown between our Red Hood and Harley, and an electrical finish. It was the highlight of the preview by far.

Gotham Knights: Nightwing
Nightwing stands ready to take on the opposition in "Gotham Knights." Nightwing is one out of four playable characters, all with unique abilities and combat mechanics. Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

Caped Crusades

Gotham Knights is an interesting, well-rounded narrative with plenty of things to do. At first blush, it appears stuffed to the gills with content. Even after the two and a half hours were up, it felt like we'd barely scratched the surface with things to do. There was a definite need to see more, to explore this massive world with four heroes at our beck and call. If this quick series of missions in succession is anything to go by, come late October, Bat-fans will have plenty to be excited about. It remains to be seen how well this new generation of heroes can work to protect the people of Gotham without Batman to guide them, but we have every bit of faith that they can get the job done.

Gotham Knights is slated to release on October 21 for Xbox Series X, PlayStation 5, and PC.