Developer Rocksteady just revealed the first extended gameplay trailer for their upcoming game Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League. What was poised to be the obvious highlight of PlayStation’s latest State of Play broadcast soon turned out to be confirmation of some fans’ biggest fears.
For those who don’t know, developer Rocksteady previously established itself as one of the most exciting studios in the industry through its work on the Batman: Arkham trilogy. Those games weren’t just great Batman games or great superhero games; they were games that helped revolutionize the core concepts of 3D action games. After Rocksteady released Batman: Arkham Knight in 2015, fans waited (and waited) to see what the studio would work on next. Another Batman title? A new Superman game worthy of the Man of Steel? That long-rumored Justice League game?
Those questions were answered in 2020 when Rocksteady revealed Kill the Justice League: A Suicide Squad game based on the idea the Justice League members have been corrupted and need to be stopped by some of DC’s villains. Ok, that wasn’t what people were aniticpiating, but aside from some minor disappointments, the general expectations for the studio’s long-awaited new game remained high.
Recently, though, a series of rumors and reported leaks dampened many spirits. Those rumors suggested that Kill the Justice League‘s gameplay would not only be incredibly different from Rocksteady’s previous works but that the game itself would feature the kind of divisive modern gaming concepts (such as a premium battle pass) that Rocksteady’s other games had famously ignored.
That brings us to the latest Kill the Justice League trailer, which showed that many of those rumors were not only accurate but, in some cases, were only telling part of the story.
While we already knew that the Suicide Squad members wouldn’t play like Batman in the Arkham games, few expected Kill the Justice League to emphasize such familiar third-person shooter gameplay quite that much. Actually, the third-person shooter gameplay is part of the shock surrounding that trailer. It’s more of the familiarity of the whole thing that is really throwing people for a loop. Rocksteady had previously established itself as a revolutionary studio that found new ways to look at even established parts of game design. By comparison…well, first impressions being whatever they are, it honestly looks like Kill the Justice League could have been made by any number of modern developers.
While the bullet-spongey, third-person, vaguely open-world combat elements we saw in that trailer certainly caught many fans off-guard, it’s actually this developer’s breakdown of Kill the Justice League that followed that gameplay debut that is currently drawing the most ire:
Peppered throughout that overview are words, phrases, and ideas that many Rocksteady fans (and quite a few others) did not want to hear. For instance, it turns out that Kill the Justice League will feature such tired modern game design concepts as gear scores, basic RPG progression, looting, and a ton of guns for every character regardless of their core abilities. All of those concepts only strengthened fan fears that Kill the Justice League will not only feature more generic gameplay but that it will even share more than a few ideas with two recent superhero games that fans revolted against: Gotham Knights and Marvel’s Avengers.
However, the dagger in the back was the revelation that Kill the Justice League will feature a battle pass, an in-game store, and other live service elements. In fact, those were the exact rumors that were going around about this game prior to the release of that gameplay trailer that some fans swore couldn’t be true. Sadly, it seems like Kill the Justice League is going to be the latest in a string of premium games that incorporate those kinds of microtransactions and monetary concepts we previously associated with free-to-play titles. Oh, and they don’t mention it in those trailers, but we later learned that you’ll always need to be online to play Kill the Justice League. Yes, that makes it yet another modern game that frustratingly requires an internet connection even if you’re playing all by yourself.
To be entirely fair, the Kill the Justice League team did state that the premium elements of their game will be limited to cosmetics. While that’s good news for those who fundamentally hate the idea of spending money on a Battle Pass, the fact of the matter is that “cosmetics only” isn’t the microtransactions compromise that it once was. As we’ve previously discussed with Halo Infinite, the big problem with many modern battle passes isn’t that they’re pay-to-win but rather that it’s becoming incredibly clear that games with battle passes are often designed to support those battle passes. Maybe you don’t technically need to purchase that battle pass or any individual premium pieces of content, but the constant reminders that the game is pushing you in those directions by emphasizing the idea that your progression isn’t as valuable if it’s not tied to premium unlocks interferes with what should be the core gameplay experience.
The truth of the matter is that I think some fans need to give Rocksteady just a little more benefit of the doubt when it comes to what we’ve seen of the game so far. Their track record speaks for itself, and there are elements of Kill the Justice League that look like they could easily rise above some of the worst examples of those concepts I previously mentioned. Some of the gear sets look interesting, the story elements are promising, and there’s a kind of Brute Force meets Crackdown appeal to the game’s co-op gameplay that looks like it could be a ton of fun. There are a series of little gameplay, story, and design touches you can find throughout those trailers that hint at a much better game than what some fans fear Kill the Justice League will be.
But I can’t sit here and tell you that I don’t understand those fears. Much like when BioWare made Anthem or when Bethesda revealed Fallout 76, it’s the idea of Rocksteady making this game that is so disheartening. Fans have been waiting for the next Rocksteady title because Rocksteady games were previously the antithesis of the basic kind of game that Kill the Justice League is shaping up to be. Of course, as Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier points out, this is what will sometimes happen when games are developed over the course of several shifting industry trends:
At a time when studios like FromSoftware are selling millions of copies by defying modern gaming conventions and blazing their own trail, it’s genuinely disheartening to think that even a studio like Rocksteady (who should have been able to write their own check for their next project) may not be able to easily rise above the soulless buzzwords and greedy tactics that drag so many modern games into the pit of mediocrity. I truly believe that Rocksteady can make the best example of that kind of game we’ve seen in some time. I just wish they didn’t have to.