Every year I tell myself to stop apologizing for long blogging absences, and every year I almost immediately backtrack and apologize for even the smallest hiccup. Given that I haven’t posted here since June 22 – a 2-week hiatus that did not involve a vacation – I feel compelled to explain what happened: my day job involves working as a legal secretary for a corporate law firm, and the two associates I support work in the real estate department, and the end of June is a particularly busy time for corporate real estate. Point being: I was here until 1:30am pretty much every night for the week and a half – including the weekend – and was basically a shambling wreck. I did not read books, I did not listen to music, and I certainly did not play any games that weren’t on my iPhone. It’s only now, after the craziness has subsided and after some much-needed during the 3-day weekend, that I can finally start talking about whatever I talk about here.
So, then: if I were to pick up from my last post, I’d say that the ending of Witcher 3 was perhaps a bit of a letdown compared to what had come before it, but I’d also put some of that on myself for having rushed through it (knowing that I wanted to have a fresh slate for Arkham Knight, and also because I had somewhat of an inkling that I’d have – to put it mildly – limited access to my consoles for the following few days, and that if I didn’t finish the story before having to put it down, I’d be thoroughly lost and confused if I ever came back to it). There’s been a few post-release DLC things that have come out and I don’t think I’d touched any of them; I’d like to get back to them at some point, perhaps during the next few weeks when notable new releases are still few and far between.
In any event, I agree with my earlier assessment; it’s the best game I’ve played since Portal 2 and/or Red Dead Redemption, and it’s my clear front-runner for Game of the Year.
But what of Batman: Arkham Knight? I’ve been able to sneak in some time here and there over the last few days, and if the percentages are correct I’m about 2/3rds of the way through the main story. The best word I can think of to describe my experience thus far: exhausting. Which is not to say that I’ve not had a good time – I’ve very much enjoyed what I’ve played so far (with one notable exception*), and I’m looking forward to finishing the story and perhaps a few of the side things. I don’t even really mind the Batmobile, though I still prefer the grapple-and-soar approach to traversal. And the studio’s decision to focus solely on PS4/XB1 development clearly paid off on the presentation side of things (PC port notwithstanding); I’m hard-pressed to think of a better-looking game I’ve played on the new consoles.
That being said: I’m with Kotaku on this one. There’s way too much stuff to do. There’s so much stuff to do, in fact, that at one point, after running a bunch of story missions in a row, the game actually stopped me from progressing (by saying that Lucius Fox needed some more time to develop new gadgetry) and then gave me 5 or 6 more side storylines to do (in addition to the 5 or 6 other side storylines I’d already accumulated). Let’s also leave aside the however-many hundreds of Riddler challenges and trophies there are, which is something I’ve already decided I’m not going to bother finishing. If you somehow finish a mission and don’t immediately pick a new one, and decide to just wander around, you’ll come across a new mission within seconds. It’s almost as if the game refuses to let you stand still; which is a shame, since the game is absolutely fucking gorgeous and I’d like to be able to look at the scenery every once in a while.
It’s hard to not keep thinking about Arkham Asylum when playing Knight, or any of the other sequels for that matter. I hesitate to use the word “perfect”, but Asylum got pretty much everything right – it was paced incredibly well, it had a clear sense of progression, it used its smaller and self-contained size to its fullest advantage by utilizing nearly every inch of available real estate, and even if the final boss battle was a little silly it still didn’t matter in the grander scheme of things; I’ve played that game to 100% completion on both the 360 and the PC and had an absolute blast both times, and that final boss battle took 5-10 minutes each time. Every minute of that game felt like it meant something. Here, though, in Knight, it’s easy to feel that there’s all this stuff to do because the developer felt that there had to be that much stuff to do; it’s hard to know if any of it actually matters. And when you can’t tell if something really matters in a game, it becomes even harder to justify the actual, literal act of playing it; sure, each activity is “fun” in and of itself, but it feels like a hodgepodge as opposed to a cohesive whole.
Ironically, I didn’t necessarily feel this way while playing Witcher 3, and even though I beat that game and did a fair amount of side stuff I still have a ton of leftover things to do, and I look forward to getting back there and doing them. It might be just busy work, but it felt justified in the context of Geralt’s character and profession. In Arkham Knight, the main thrust of the story is that Scarecrow is trying to deploy his fear toxin all over the Eastern Seaboard, and he must be stopped. But also: Two-Face is robbing a whole bunch of banks! And Penguin is hoarding weapons! And there’s an opera-obsessed serial killer! And Firefly(?) is torching buildings! And firefighters are being held hostage! And there’s a weird mutant flying creature that’s doing weird mutant flying creature shit all over the city! And Riddler needs me to drive my Batmobile through all these obstacle courses in order to free Catwoman! Etc. etc. etc. Each of these things starts to feel a bit silly and ridiculous as this endless night drags on and on, and it’s hard to feel invested in any of the urgency that these tasks are supposed to impart. I usually only end up doing this stuff if the game happens to tell me that I’m right next to one of them, and it’s only because I’ve been going all over the place that I’ve done as much of it as I have.
I’m tired enough as it is. I’m kinda hoping that part of the game’s season pass DLC has Bruce taking a little bat-nap.
* The one notable exception is the last Batmobile race you have to run before (presumably) freeing Catwoman. I say “presumably” because I haven’t beaten it yet. Lap 3 of that goddamned race is a whole bunch of cheap-ass bullshit and I beat my head into the wall for a good 45 minutes last night before saying “enough is enough” and moving on with the rest of my life. There’s some combat sections that are tougher than others, and there were a few other things that I had to restart several times before finally solving them, but that one lap is a motherfucker and I hate it and I have better things to do with my life right now. Catwoman can – and will – wait.