After finishing Arkham City earlier this year, starting Arkham Origins seemed like a reasonable thing to do. It’s not from Rocksteady, but it promised some good times with the “World’s Greatest Detective”, even if the “World’s Greatest Detective” seems to have a really bad “Doing Detective Work” to “Punching People In The Face” ratio.
Arkham City had been stuck in the backlog for several years, because it really did not mesh with me when I first tried it. It seemed like a really unfocused and tedious game, where just getting around Gotham was constantly being interrupted by needing to fight a dozen or two random mooks. I managed to complete it only because I elected to completely ignore side missions and focused on the main story missions, and avoided as many random street fights as I could.
I figured I’d tackle Arkham Origins the same way, and probably would have if Alfred hadn’t made an off-hand comment about how he’d set up my training room in the Batcave, you know, just in case I felt like doing some training.
The first training session has three goals:
1) Land a three-hit combo.
2) After an 8-hit combo, use a special finishing move.
3) Land a 15-hit combo.
“Combo” is an interesting word here, because I’m used to playing character action games like Ninja Gaiden and Oneechanbara, where you have a combo meter on screen and part of the flashy nature of the game involves watching the combo meter build. In those games, your combo length largely comes from always attacking, and the combo meter resets when you’re hit or when you’ve gone a while without hitting an opponent. Oneechanbara lets you extend the combo meter reset time by dashing, so your combo is secure as long as you’re moving around.
I tried this same playstyle in the training room, and it was an unmitigated failure. I managed the 3-hit combo regularly, and even the special finishing move after a dozen or so runs through the training mission, but I could not figure out why I was having so much trouble with it.
Turns out, character action games had given me some VERY bad habits, and I needed to unlearn them.
In the Arkham games, if you start an attack and there’s nobody there to hit, your combo resets. Likewise, if you push the “counter” button when nobody is actually attacking, your combo resets. If you are mashing away at the attack button as fast as you can in an attempt to keep up your current combo meter, you are actually doing precisely the wrong thing – and this is particularly an issue because, while the combo meter in most games is just there for flash, it serves a very real purpose in the Arkham games. Every time you extend your combo meter to 8, or 16, or any further multiple of 8, you get the ability to use a finisher, quickly taking one opponent out of the fight – and, without finishers, the assorted mooks of Gotham’s underworld take a ton of punching to take down.
You also get abilities to reduce the number of combo hits needed to unlock finishers, so fights very quickly become a rhythm of build-up-a-five-hit-combo, use-finisher, repeat.
So, short version, I needed to learn to press a lot fewer buttons in order to fight effectively, and – while I still find myself slipping back to my mashing ways on occasion – I’m regularly pulling off 20+ hit combos with lots of finishing moves mixed in, and combat has gone from an absolute dreary slog to something that’s actually FUN. I find myself going towards fights as opposed to batroping away from any that I’m not forced into, and the side effect is a lot more experience, meaning that I unlock more abilities, meaning that the combat gets easier and more fun, and there you have a pretty nice feedback loop.
I’m actually a little amazed that I managed to get through the previous two games without understanding something so fundamental, but I guess that just proves the power of patience.