An apocalyptic force will strike Gotham. Arkham City will collapse. The criminals and lunatics held within it (some familiar, some new to the series) will spill out into Gotham City and even further afield. And something even worse and and more far-reaching than even that will happen. Batman will fight to save the innocent and to save himself, in a story which will take in multiple playable heroes, two different, brand-new cities, and heavy themes of personal responsibility and vindication. Batman will struggle to contain the spiralling doomsday scenario, while also being forced to defend his very existence as Batman. Oh, and a face from the past will turn up to mess things up royally.
How do I know this? I don’t yet. Not for definite. But I am very, very sure indeed that I’m right about a lot of it. Since I started playing Arkham City at the beginning of October, I’ve been fine-toothing it for every detail, clue and teaser pertaining to the storyline of the next game. Rocksteady like leaving those in, you see. And there are a lot. Quite a few more than you might think, in fact. If you want the explanations for my predictions, and a whole lot more detail, naturally, you’ll find them ahead, starting with plot and themes on this page, before moving to settings, heroes and villains over pages two and three. But naturally, given how much of Arkham City's plot I have to discuss in this article, you should know that
Right then, shall we crack on?
Batman vs. the angel of death
This is the most important clue dropped by Arkham City. Azrael is in Gotham now, and his arrival means very big, very serious business. He’s the mysterious ‘Watcher in the Wings’ you’ll track across Arkham City in the side-mission of the same name, and when you finally pin him down he spills some really big revelations regarding Batman’s future.
In case you don’t know who Azrael is, he’s the near-superhumanly conditioned enforcing agent of a centuries-old secret religious society called The Sacred Order of Saint Dumas. Originally a splinter group from the Knights Templar, The Order is a fanatical sect of religious warriors, not dissimilar to a holier-than-thou version of Ra’s Al Ghul’s League of Assassins. The centuries-old Ra’s actually hung out with the original Dumas. He once appraised him as a vicious nutjob. Yeah, Ra’s Al Ghul described someone else as a vicious nutjob. Depending on its intentions, The Order's presence in Gotham could mean big trouble.
Azrael warns Batman that from the ashes of Arkham, Gotham will burn. He tells him that despite his victory in Arkham, Batman will eventually burn too. He states that Batman's saving of this current day will directly lead to the events he warns about. Ambiguous. Apocalyptic. Fairly terrifying. Batman is definitely going to be dealing with something much bigger and further reaching than a bunch of whackos and street thugs next time.
Gotham will fall to Arkham
Here’s what will happen. Arkham City is going to burst out into the main city of Gotham. Walls broken down, every major crime boss, super-villain and street-hood pouring out to engulf the city. Everything points in that direction. With Doctor Strange and TYGER gone, Arkham City is effectively done as a secure facility. During Arkham City’s extensive end-game you’ll hear repeated thug ponderings regarding the future of the place.
Above: This sort of thing
One explicitly muses on the stupidity of re-housing them in increasingly large prisons, while another assumes that AC will be shut down. Looking back to the original Arkham Asylum from a high enough vantage point in the Industrial District, it’s clear that Poison Ivy’s plants still dominate the facility, making it a fairly infeasible option for relocation. But I think something big is going to happen before the Gotham authorities get a chance to make a decision on what happens next.
There have been earthquakes in Arkham City. This is referenced in one of the unlockable Arkham City Stories files in-game. That’s why around a third of the city is broken and submerged. Hugo Strange glossed over the disaster as a one-off localised incident, but Hugo Strange, frankly, was full of shit.
Above: You might think it's a wreck now, but it's going to get a lot worse
While I don’t think Strange was in on the earthquake, I do think that it was artificially engineered. In fact I’m sure it was in one way or another. Consider the following. The Cataclysm/No Man’s Land storyline from the comics (by which Arkham City is arguably inspired) concerns an earthquake which rocks Gotham to its foundations, culminating in the city being officially cut off and left to fend for itself. Although a natural disaster, the Ventriloquist attempted to take credit, under the assumed guise of the Quakemaster. With the Sacred Order of St. Dumas now keeping an eye on things, it’s no great jump of logic to assume that they might be responsible for razing Arkham City to the ground in punishment for the moral crimes Gotham committed against itself in creating the place.
The Order could of course though be here purely in an advisory capacity, to warn Batman. As reader linorn has pointed out in the comments, Ra's Al Ghul's mining operations in aid of re-securing his Lazarus Pit could be the cause of the quake, though that would still further establish the theme of man-made disasters. Either way though, Arkham City is a powder-keg waiting to go off, and someone is about to light it up. The earthquake is foreshadowing at the very least. And that eventual ignition is going to be partly caused by the fact that...
The Joker has escaped (and is a dad)
He has not died. He has escaped. The shock ending of Arkham City is powerfully affecting, but look back over the evidence. He’s spent the entirety of the game bluffing and double-bluffing Batman regarding his state of health. He’s The goddamn Joker. His M.O. is to play sick pranks to sadistic ends, and in order to manipulate people into doing what he wants them to. And now, at the end of Arkham City, Batman has carried him right out of the front door of the very prison he wanted to escape from. Coincidence? I don’t think so. This is all part of the plan. Life-restoring Lazarus Pits now exist in Rocksteady’s Gotham. They could be part of the plan too. If he’s even really dead at all.
The Joker may well be part of the impending cataclysm. He’ll almost certainly be part of a jail-break plan from outside the prison walls. His escape bid may even all be part of a greater conspiracy with a third party. But the really mind-blowing bit? He's going to have a kid.
Yeah. Harley is pregnant. Fact. And she'll have had the baby by the time the next game comes around. If you spot her positive pregnancy test before you complete the game, you'll hear her rather venomously singing to the baby over the end credits. Unless she's already had the kid and has been hiding it throughout the duration of Arkham City, that obviously sets the next game around nine months later. This will have serious effects on The Joker's relationship with Batman, trust me. But I'll get onto that on page three.
On the off-chance that he is actually dead though, expect to see Harley on the warpath, gunning for Batman and possibly responsible for the incoming destruction herself. She does, after all, threaten to kill "the whole damn world" in her easter egg lullaby.
Breaking (and replacing) the bat
Okay, a brief history of Bats and Az. The first Azrael Batman encountered was Jean-Paul Valley, a college student unwittingly groomed since pre-birth to become The Order’s enforcer. He eventually broke free of their control, joined Batman, and swung between hero and anti-hero for some time. Being utterly rock-hard, Azrael made a great ally, but after years of conditioning as an angel of lethal religious retribution he had an unfortunate habit of being a bit nuts and not holding back on the killing when the mood took him. That obviously caused big problems when he took over as Batman for a while, when Bruce Wayne had his back broken by Bane in the Knightfall storyline.
Above: Like so...
The current Azrael though, and the one specified by Arkham City in his unlockable character bio, is Michael Lane. An ex-cop and ex-Marine, Lane is a supremely screwed-up individual. Once part of a secret military/police project to create three new Batmen in case anything happened to the real one, he had his mind broken by the horrors of the nightmarish conditioning.regime. He was later recruited as the new Azrael by The Order of Purity, a splinter group of The Sacred Order of Saint Dumas. Madder and more volatile than Valley, he’s repeatedly carried out vengeful missions for his employers and others, including a recent Ra’s-Al-Ghul-sponsored bid to detonate all of Gotham, should the city’s heroes be judged unworthy or impure.
The secret project that gave Lane his abilities though, was a dark and sinister one run by the equally dark and sinister Dr. Simon Hurt, a psychologist, psychopath, and otherwise very bad man. Basically, this guy makes Dr. Strange look like Patch Adams, and has been hell-bent on replacing and/or utterly physically and mentally destroying Batman for a few years now. With Lane so inherently tied in to Hurt’s “Ghosts of Batman” project, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of that stuff, at least thematically, bleed over into the new game.
Batman on the ropes? Certainly. An over-arcing plot to destroy him personally at the same time as he deals with a devastating, wide-reaching catastrophe? Yeah, that would fit. Hush is now, after all, masquerading as Bruce Wayne in Gotham, and will probably wreak havok upon his reputation. Rocksteady need to crank up both the wider threat and the sense of personal Bat-trauma this time around, having dabbled with the latter a few times in Arkham City, and Hush would be a good starting point. Don't forget either, that Batman was sounding seriously weary and almost defeated by his ongoing situation just before The Joker died.
And with both the previously-mentioned Azraels having been loosely involved in replacing Bats before (benevolently and otherwise), I certainly think that the probable all-out assault on Batman might well lead us on to some interesting developments in the playable roster. And I'll detail those just over the page, along with both the new settings...