Batman: Arkham Underworld is”Clash of Clans” type and base-builder game developed by Turbine for the iOs and Android. The pitch for the game drew me in: Manage a gang in Gotham city led by iconic Batman villains. Build a secret hide out and raid other gangs for money and respect. Sadly, Turbine shut down the game in 2017. Congratz, if you installed it prior to Arkam Underworld’s removal on the App Store & Play Store — the rest have to make due with other Batman games.
This is my first base building game and I can see why games like Clash of Clans became so popular. The genre has a nice mix of strategic base building and tactical play as you assault other bases.
I’ll describe the game here if you haven’t played and then do some analysis on the mechanics I find interesting. Overall, I think it’s a great little game if you like strategy games with some RPG-like progression elements. Batman: Arkham Underworld is a fun and compelling — in addition to being well crafted and well designed.
Basics of Play
There are two essential sides to playing Arkham Underworld: base building, and base raiding. Base building is the strategic side of the game while base raiding is the tactical side. As the game plays out, both become more involved and interesting.
Every player creates their own base from a selection of rooms laid out on a grid. Each base includes a Control Room where the villains hang out. The Training Room housese the troops. The Lab researches new villain powers. While your foreses will use the the Entry Way and Garage to gather before going on to missions.
You can lay out the rooms as you like, provided all are connected by doorways to one another. Keep in mind that the Garage and Entryway are facing the street. Within the rooms, you can place fixed defenses like defenders, landmines, and locked doors to guard your base. You can also place items that generate money and respect for your gang over time.
Money and Respect
Money and respect are the two primary currencies in the game. You’ll need it to purchase rooms, defenses, and other accessories for your base. While Respect hires and trains Thugs amd Computer Hackers. You can also gain other workers, which your base will need for earning money. Upgrades also take time to complete and you can only have one going at a given time.
All the items in the base, including the rooms themselves, can be upgraded to give you various bonuses to your income and defense. It also has an added bonus of not to mention to look cool as you make your perfect hideout. All the elements in your base are gated by the level of your Control Room which in turn is gated by the level of your gang. Your gange is in turn determined by how much stuff you have in your lair.
While your base can earn money and respect over time, going on missions and raiding other people’s bases is where you make the bulk of your nefarious income and reputation as a criminal mastermind.
When raiding you will have a crew of thugs chosen from among different types. To start with, you can choose from guys with guns, or guys with knives. You recruit specialized units as you advance, including demolitions experts and assassins. An AI controls your crew with each unit type having it’s own behavior patterns.
You also will have one of your super villains lead the raid. The villain is under your direct control and has special abilities you can activate at the right moment. Using these effectively is often the key to a successful raid. Your villains level up as they earn experience raiding and you can choose which abilities to take and advance.
During your raid, you have special commands you can activate. Each requires a number of command points to activate. You gain command points and commands as you level up the lab in your lair. The new commands can drastically change raiding tactics and as a result, the way people lay out their bases.
Should your Thugs die during a raid, you must spend some prestige and time to recruit new ones. When defeated, your Villian ends up in jail and are unavailable for a period of time.
All raids have a limited time to complete, just under 3 minutes. You can take all the time you like looking at the base and planning before you start, but once you do the clock is ticking.
Player Lairs vs. Missions
There are two kinds of raids, attacks on other players lairs, and story missions. Generally, story missions are easier and give you less income. Often they can be completed by your super Villain alone if you are clever. As you level up, you must complete special story missions to gain access to new super villains, tactics options, and areas of the map to raid in.
Raiding other players bases can yield a lot more money and respect if you succeed but they are far more challenging. During a raid you have three objectives to claim total victory: loot their vault, defeat their villain, and break all their furniture. Completing one and surviving counts as a win, but the more you complete the greater the rewards.
For both raids, you will have limited opportunities. As time goes on the game gives you new raids to go on. If you let them linger for 24 hours you have the option of swapping them for another mission.
What Happens When You are Raided?
Players can only raid your base when you are not playing the game. You will leave one of your Villians to guard your lair for you while you are away. An AI controlls everything in your lair and your lair’s layout is the only thing that protects you against the raiders.
If the raiders are successful they will gain rewards and you will suffer some losses from your store of cash and respect, usually about 10% of what you had on hand depending on how well they did. Often the money your base earns while you are off-line is more than enough to make up for the losses, though not always.
You can watch a recording of the raid and learn where your defenses were strong or weak, and how your opponent tackled your lair. This is a great way to learn play techniques from other players when you go on your raid and a great way to analyze the weaknesses in your lair’s layout.
Like most free to play games,there are premium packages you can buy for real world cash. Turbine seems to have struck a nice balance where the game encourages you to buy these but does not force you to.
Diamonds are the premium paid currency you can buy. Their primary use is to bypass the various timers in the game on base upgrading, thug recruitment, and training. The longer the timer you want to bypass, the more diamonds it costs. They can also be used to make up shortcomings in the cash and prestige currencies in the game.
You can also by super villain’s in the cash shop, though so far, all of them are also available to unlock simply by leveling up in the game and completing certain missions. Most are unlocked fairly quickly. Only Scarecrow takes a significant investment of time to reach.
Early on, the game will offer you special discounted packages for hero unlocks and for a package that lets you build two items at once in your base. This builder package is probably the closest to a must have if you really enjoy the game as it effectively doubles the rate at which you can develop your base which drives most of the other mechanics. I got it for just under $5 and it included a lot of diamonds to play around with.
Discussion of Game Systems
Considering there are a lot of choices you can make in the game and that it pits players against one another and against AI missions they have done an admirable job in balancing play. I’ve advanced into what I would call the middle levels of the game and it has had a nice steady learning curve of small incremental expansions of game complexity and challenge.
Like many PVP games, there is a great mechanic here where in players learn from each other as they progress through the game. Every time you are stymied by an enemy base, you learn techniques to improve your own defenses. Each time someone raids you, you learn new ways to attack your opponents. The ability to review both your defenses and assaults after enhances this significantly.
Importance of Unit AI as a play mechanic
Because the game pits online players against offline players, the game’s AI for the attacking and defending units is a big part of play. Turbine has done a great job in this area. Learning how units react to other units and how they path through the bases is a big part of mastering the gameplay.
As an attacker, you have some control of your units objectives. When first attacking, you can give them a destination and they will take the shortest/easiest path to get there. Once on board, they follow their own prerogatives unless you use command points to order them to a location en masse.
As a defender, you have no active control at all. You are both trying to position your defenders in a way that is challenging to overcome, and one that exploits the AI of the attacking Thugs.
The attacker has the advantage of greater control over his units and their tactical actions, the defender has the advantage of a time limit and a somewhat larger and stronger force in play. Despite these asymmetrical advantages, the balance between attacker and defender is surprisingly good and player skill is an important determinate.
Asymmetry in advantage necessary for progression
All in all, the attacker seems to have an advantage, at least in achieving one of the three victory conditions. As you progress and players wise up in their defenses, getting 3 stars becomes a pretty significant accomplishment. Since base raiding is the primary source of income, being able to at least get one start consistently is important to keep people progressing in the game. Having the three objectives is a great way to give defenders a feeling of accomplishment without completely shutting down the in-game income stream for everyone.
Having the three objectives is a great way to give defenders a feeling of accomplishment without completely shutting down the in-game income stream for everyone. I think any game looking to have PVP mechanics can benefit from systems that allow varying degrees of victory and for the losing side to get at least some sense of accomplishment from their resistance.
PVP vs. PVE
The mix of PVE missions and PVP missions is also a well-done mechanic. Having relatively easy PVE missions gives weaker players a way to make some money without having to play the more competitive half of the game. They may progress through the game options a bit slower, but they at least have a good path.
PVE missions also have a somewhat different character than PVP. A goodly number of them have almost puzzle-like layouts where the right approach makes a huge difference in the difficulty. PVP, on the other hand, is more about clever tactics and manipulation of the AI. This variety of challenge is a nice improvement over similar titles that only offer PVP play.
Matchmaking for PVP missions is also handled very nicely. You tend to have a range of lairs to raid clustered around your level with some lower, some higher, and some at the same level as you. Higher level opponents offer greater challenges and rewards. You also get some insight into the base options that await you. The game also takes into account a score called Prestige which is used to rank players on the leaderboards. Players with high prestige compared to their gang level are generally the most skilled. Factoring this along with level for matchmaking tends to pit players of similar skill against one another allowing the sharks to cohabitate with the minnows in PVP.
New raids offered seem to come from players currently logged in. The downside is you can’t always raid them the moment they appear, the upside of this is it makes for good balance. Players spending a lot of time in the game are raiding more, and advancing faster but they also end up getting raided more which is a drag on their income. Players who are more casual and are online less and thus advancing slower, are spared from as many raids. Thus the drag on your advancement is roughly proportional to the rate you are advancing.
Villian Asymmetry and balance
I’ve read that the use of the super villains as a character to lead raids sets Arkham Underworld apart from some of the other base builder games. Certainly, any Batman franchise game will need to feature iconic characters of the world to feel like a real part of the IP.
I’ve heard some complaints about the choice of villains as B-teamers and the scarcity of Batman himself in a game barring his name. The caped crusader only appears in a few iconic story missions as he swoops in to harass your thugs or villain during a raid. I think in the 40+ hours I’ve played I’ve seen him twice.
Personally, I find the characters satisfying to play, both animated and voiced appropriately. Of course, the real meat of the characters in this game are their abilities. Turbine has done a nice job making each feel unique mechanically yet all viable as a Villian choice for raids.
Riddler does relatively weak personal damage but has the greatest ability to manipulate the course of battle and foil traps set by opponents. Harly Quin is the damage powerhouse of the bunch and perhaps the easiest to master. Mr. Freeze is the most durable but moves very slowly. Killer Crock can only attack up close but can auto kill some targets and regenerate health in battle. Finally, Scarecrow has a unique teleport ability and deals significant damage but is the most frail of the lot.
In PVE missions there are often Villians that make the missions much easier than others. Sometimes the right Villian can complete a PVE mission without any thugs. In PVP the asymmetry among heroes means your choice of Villain will partly determine the approach and tactics you will use in your attack. Since you can’t attack with the same Villian defending the base there is a strategy in choosing a defender that would be the most effective were they to attack you.
In any asymmetrical system, it makes sense to try and provide varied challenges so mixing and matching defenses and offenses give value to all the choices. Asymmetrical choices opposed by fixed challenges will inevitably lead to one of the choices becoming clearly superior at all times thus elimination real choice, especially in an age where the best choices are quickly discovered and shared on the internet.
Cash Shop Mechanics
The cash shop mechanics for the game are simple but effective in my case. After a short time playing the game, I decided the $5 special that included a second builder was going to greatly enhance my enjoyment. I would have never paid its “full price” of some $90 so the “sale” broke the ice very effectively. Later I purchased another “on sale” offering for Scarecrow and some diamonds for about $10.
I commend any game that works multiple price points for items to pick up a wider range of customers. Typically sales come on the back end. I think the tactic of offering very tempting items at discounted prices to new customers is a great way to convert them from entirely free to play customers into paying ones. Especially if the first purchase truly enhances their game experience.
The gating mechanics in base building and training units works effectively at encouraging players to use their diamonds to speed things along. Excited for one upgrade, you often want to hurry through prerequisite upgrades. The training room may go a bit too far. Here you train thugs you send on raids. The thug training often takes a day or two which is longer than any other timer. Making matters worse, you cannot upgrade the training room while training thugs or upgrade thugs while upgrading the training room. It creates something of a bottleneck compared to the rest of the base.
The training room may go a bit too far. Here you train thugs you send on raids. The thug training often takes a day or two which is longer than any other timer. Making matters worse, you cannot upgrade the training room while training thugs or upgrade thugs while upgrading the training room. It creates something of a bottleneck compared to the rest of the base.
Want to Master the Game?
I enjoyed Batman Arkham Asylum so much that I decided to create a strategy guide for the game. It will show you all the advanced play tips and help you get the most out of the game.
Available in e-book here: Amazon