When Batman: Arkham Knight arrives on June 23, gamers are going to have some big choices to make.
No, we're not talking about which platform to play the game on. That's an easy one. We're talking about the tricky, icky world of retailer exclusives. "Buy your game here, and you'll get these extra character skins!" "No, buy it from us, and we'll give you brand new levels to play!"
First, we're going to cut through the noise and lay out in simple language what extra pieces of Batman: Arkham Knight content are available, and where you can get them.
No matter which retailer you buy from, if you're a PlayStation 4 user, you automatically get the Scarecrow Nightmare Missions, which feature dream-like driving levels of Gotham burning, and three skins: Batman 3000, Classic TV series (Adam West), and an accompanying Classic TV skin for the Batmobile. A special edition of the PlayStation 4 console itself will also be available, which comes with all of these same items and a silver PS4 that sports a custom B:AK faceplate.
Additionally, any pre-order, from any retailer, nets you the Harley Quinn Story Pack, a new mission in which you get to play as Harley Quinn in an entirely new environment. You also get four Harley Quinn Challenge Maps and a "Batman's first appearance" skin.
On top of these bonuses, several retailers are offering added exclusives.
GameStop has arguably the best pre-order exclusive, because it's the only one that provides new story missions. The Red Hood Story Pack lets you play as Jason Todd, the former Robin who uses a more violent brand of vigilante justice to bring down bad guys.
Best Buy's pre-order exclusive is the WayneTech Booster Pack. Instead of focusing on a new character or levels, this pack gives players several advantages in battle. The Batmobile gets a weapon upgrade, there's a new takedown ability when you use Explosive Gel, you can do a mid-air enemy strike that deals massive damage, and throw multiple Batarangs while gliding.
Pre-order your copy from Walmart and you get a special Prototype Batmobile skin.
Steam's pre-order bonus are two Batman skins — Batman Beyond and Frank Miller's Batman from The Dark Knight Returns.
Also, members of Warner Bros. Interactive's WBPlay service — a freebie akin to Ubisoft's U-Play — will be able to download an exclusive Anime Batman skin.
Whew. Confused yet? Just wait, there's more.
A trio of special editions are available as well, and these aren't retailer-specific.
The Serious Edition (retails for $89.99) comes with the game and a "Limited Edition 25th Anniversary" hardcover Batman: Arkham Asylum graphic novel, by Grant Morrison and Dave McKean. They also throw in the "first appearance Batman" skin from the generic pre-order exclusives.
The Limited Edition ($99.99) includes the game in a "Steel Book case," an exclusive 80-page artbook showcasing concept art from the game, a limited edition copy of DC Comics' Batman: Arkham Knight #0 comic book, a physical "Batman Memorial" statue, and a character skin pack that includes three unrevealed costumes from DC's "New 52."
The Batmobile Edition ($199.99) is the same as the Limited Edition, except instead of the Batman Memorial statue, it comes with a huge replica Batmobile statue.
So there's the big question. Why do Warner Bros. Interactive and Rocksteady offer all these different editions? And it should be noted, the Batman: Arkham games are hardly the only titles to offer multiple editions, though they're certainly among those that offer the biggest variety.
The easy, cynical answer is greed. But that implies that WBIE expects gamers to buy multiple copies of the same game just to ensure that they get every last scrap of content available. There are several holes in this theory. First, unless you've got money to burn, nobody's going to do this. Triple-A titles are $60 a pop these days; it's hard enough to afford one copy, much less multiples. Second, you'll be able to get your hands on all of this content in the months to come via DLC packs that will be released after these timed retailer exclusive periods end — and for considerably less than it would cost to buy two or three copies of the game right now.
The more likely answer comes from the retailers themselves, who are always looking for ways to set themselves apart from the competition. Having exclusives to offer customers is an easy way to fit that need, so they request these sorts of exclusives from games publishers. Or perhaps the publishers take the initiative first of offering the exclusives to retailers.
But even the least cynical person on the planet has to concede that this stuff is getting a little out of hand. Are nine different purchasing options really necessary? And what happens if that number grows in the future? Doesn't it dilute the public's interest in exclusives if there are too many of them?
We advise gamers to keep in mind that all of these bonuses are comprised of extra content. At the end of the day, every gamer is going to have the same basic experience inside the game. Everyone will play through the same story, start the same way and end the same way.