Batman: Arkham Knight’s ending is cruel, plain and simple. For obvious reasons, this is going in to major spoiler territory for the entire series, so if you are concerned about such things, I advise you to stay away.
There are many types of gamers out there, and I’m not talking about “Hardcore” and “filthy casuals”. To argue that such binaries exist is silly. But there are certainly multiple ways any person in the gaming audience may approach a games content and its endgame. This is especially true in terms of open world games where over-arching narratives share game space with side quests and collectibles. There are those who are completionists – gamers who refuse to settle for anything less than 100% content completion – but these members of the gaming audience are in the minority. There are those who are drawn by a game’s narrative and seek to finish the game’s story without spending the countless hours required to complete every piece of content the game has to offer – where I, and I can imagine the majority of gamers reside. Finally, there are those who dabble without fully committing to game’s endgame at all, the passive player who may only be trying a game out, or truly never feel that game requires finishing. What is insidious about the way Arkham Knight handles its endgame, however, is that you are either the first category or you are the last. The middle ground is non-existent.
The structure of Arkham Knight’s narrative, like all open world games, is divided into main quests and side quests. The brilliance of Arkham Knight is in how almost all of these side quests feel important. Much like 2015’s other open world opus, The Witcher 3, you feel compelled to complete side quests as they add both context to the world and fully fleshed out characters with whom you either empathize or detest. I went out of my way to complete each and every side quest Arkham Knight had on offer, including the ridiculous tank battle scenarios which become increasingly more malicious with the number of tanks you must face as the game moves forward (Note how I said ALMOST ALL of the side quests felt important). Like Arkham City and Origin, I did not feel compelled to find every Riddler trophy on the map (well over 200 in this current iteration), but I did do all of his riddles and race traps to free Catwoman, the true modus operandi of the Riddler’s plot. Turning the final key on Catwoman’s bomb collar and having to fight a mecha-Riddler for less than a minute, he quickly trenched himself in the ground and stated that I would need to find and complete all of his trials before he would face me again. NOPE, I calmly expressed to myself. That’s not going to happen. And so I went on with the other remaining sidequests while my main quest blinked at 94% complete (I like to finish all of the side quests before I face the big bad for the final act whenever I can).
You see, I figured that, like with all open world games, finishing the main story quest would bring you to the endgame and then afterward, I would be able to tinker around the city and find whatever number of Riddler trophies I felt like until it grew stale and I eventually walked away, feeling fine knowing that I had completed the game. Well Rocksteady had other plans. Rather than giving you the endgame cutscene and credits after finally defeating Scarecrow, the game goes out of its way to tell you that it will not give you the satisfaction of completion until you wholly 100% the game’s content. That would mean that I could not see the end credits until I collected all two hundred-forty some-odd Riddler trophies scattered throughout Gotham.
Rather than wasting hours reading guides to determine where each and every trophy was, I simply watched the endgame on Youtube, which is maybe fine to some, but I could not help but feel cheated. The ending, what Batman calls the Knightfall program, carries with it some heavy emotional weight and resonance regarding the journey you have just undergone. Arkham Knight has some really emotionally compelling material in it, and it truly takes Bruce Wayne’s mind into some heavy and dark territory. And yet, I did not get to experience that ending the way I should have. It should have been my ending. It should have felt like something to which I had brought Batman. Instead, I have to watch someone else’s gameplay, someone else’s victory, while my Batman avatar lingers somewhere on a rooftop looking for the next Riddler puzzle to solve.
Imagine if you played through all of Arkham City and they withheld that brilliant closing scene, including the impactful credit sequence with the Joker hauntingly singing The Platters “Only You”. The unnerving feeling and tingles that just generally left you feeling soulless and miserable would be robbed because you once again chose not to collect the all-too numerous number of trophies scattered and hidden about. Thankfully Rockstar knew better than to do such a thing, and when the final credits rolled, I experienced a sense of foreboding that I had not felt in gaming. It was pure brilliance.
I have been cheated of that experience in Arkham Knight and I cannot help but feel that Rocksteady is punishing me simply because of my nature and approach toward gaming. I do not feel compelled to collect every object, especially when they seem superfluous and a means to pad game length. What does Batman gain by finding these trophies? What do they provide to character motivation? Nothing. Rockstar have been wonderful story tellers and their respect for Batman and Batman fans has been well-earned. And yet I feel nothing but contempt toward them at this very moment because I feel as if they have taken what should have been a satisfying conclusion and gated it behind meaningless busy-work.
My original intention (prior to finishing the game) was to lay out a pointless piece on how Rocksteady doesn’t seem to understand what a riddle is, but my anger toward their collect-a-thon has grown beyond such petty squables. Instead it is squarely focussed at how Rocksteady is ripping off its loyal fans, not with season passes and other issues that many a commentator have leveled against both them and their publisher Warner Brothers, but by the act of teasing us with and withholding finality and satisfaction. It is a tragic conclusion to what has been one of the most impressive and iconic games series in the modern gaming era. There is only one word with which I can describe Rocksteady’s decision: Cruel.
Follow Tom on Twitter @thomaskagar