Random thug number 127 managed to defeat the goddamn Batman. I’m pretty sure that qualifies him for super villain status.
I spent the weekend playing a bunch of Batman: Arkham Knight, and I came away with one thought: “Damn, I wish Warner would hurry up and release Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor 2 already.”
OK, actually I came away with a bunch of thoughts, but that one formed the core. Now, I’ll make no bones about this: I adore Shadow of Mordor, and I hope that a lot of action-adventure games implement their own versions of its nemesis system, which saw orcs procedurally gain their own identities (complete with goals, fears, and leadership styles) based on their interactions with you, the player. If they killed you, they’d grow stronger. If you killed them, they might return—sometimes with faces literally held together by string and shattered dreams—and stalk you, waiting for the perfect moment to claim their vengeance. It was like having a virtual best friend for life, only with more death.
I did some thinking about why I felt like Arkham Knight, specifically, would benefit from littering its lawless land with potential wannabe nemeses, and it came down to one major criticism: while there’s tons to do in Arkham Knight, a lot of it strikes me as filler—gristle and fat rather than meat. The city is massive and beautiful, but the game’s side missions don’t often make me feel much. They’re repetitive, yet required if you want the game’s best ending. As a result, Arkham Knight is bloated, bogged down by the age-old adage “more is better,” from chapter five, volume 13 of Incorrect Adages That Should Really Just Die In A Cold, Sad Hole Somewhere.
Now, I know “add more stuff” seems like a terrible solution when the problem is “too much stuff” (and just enough super villains) but stick with me here.
Shadow of Mordor was so good because the nemesis system tied the whole game together. Even when I was doing something I barely gave a shit about—wrangle mythological Tolkien monster X, find ancient weapon location Y, etc—there was almost always a chance that one of my nemeses would show up and crash my party, rain on my parade, and bleed all over my buffet table. And then suddenly, I’d have this awesome mini-story to think about or share with friends, who would invariably reply, “Please Nathan can we talk about anything that’s not orcs hey are you even listening to me nope you’re thinking about orcs.”
The nuttiest part is, Arkham Knight kinda feels like it was supposed to have a nemesis system built in. There are random baddies in the streets everywhere, constantly chattering over radios and, as a result, establishing their own personalities. Many of them relish the chance to attack Batman when they see him, while others flee in abject terror at the sight of The Crazy Cape Guy Who Broke Frank’s Legs. And Tim’s Legs. And Sharif’s Legs. And when any of them manage to strike a killing blow on you, they even taunt you as you fade away—just like the orcs in Mordor. Never mind the fact that the two basically have the same combat system; that’s clearly by design, given their shared Warner heritage.
But seriously, borrow the AI from Shadow of Mordor’s dev team (it is probably not quite that simple, but let’s pretend for a moment), elevate thugs to arch-nemeses and super villains when they kill you, and boom: there’s your foundation.
Not only does Arkham Knight seem like fertile ground for a nemesis system, I think it’d actually make for a cooler one than Shadow of Mordor’s. You’ve got all these random activities that, as is, feel pointless and fillery, but would be fantastic with nemeses involved. Say you come across a body. What if, instead of it being tied to a pre-scripted side mission, it involved one of your nemeses? What if each nemesis had certain cues, modus operandi, calling cards carved in flesh?
So you, as Batman, would have to break out your detective tools, scan the body for telltale signs, and figure out which of your nemeses would commit that specific kind of murder. Next, you’d have to hunt them down. Some might have lairs, others might constantly be on the move. And when you finally found them, you wouldn’t be able to kill them (that’s a big bat no-no), so you’d have to drive them to prison, probably with them chattering all the way, adding further to their character.
I even managed to work the Batmobile into this, and I really dislike the Batmobile (so far).
You could use a similar structure with other crimes: kidnappings, robberies, even militia tanks (imagine how interesting an ex-militia nemesis could be). It would be awesome, and more importantly, it’d make people care—actually care—in a way that’s not just, “You are Batman and do this because you’re supposed to.”
Because in truth, I’m already getting a little tired of Arkham Knight. I’d like to care more, but story missions are the only thing that’s really doing it for me, and the open world often feels bloated, full of Things To Do for the sake of having Things To Do. I’ll concede that the Batmobile has its moments, but even that frustrates more than it delights. If only the game did a better job of tying it all together. Failing that, I would at least take a few random orcs running around, perhaps getting attacked by bees and yelling profanities. Everything is better with orcs.