Can a fighting game survive the effects of a random loot system?
PS4, Xbox One
Developer NetherRealm Studios Publisher Warner Bros Format PS4, Xbox One Origin US Release May 16
“We’re always trying to accomplish something that’s accessible right out of the box”
The great and seemingly irreconcilable challenge for fighting-game makers is how to allow newcomers to feel briskly competent at a game while simultaneously affording the aficionados with sufficient depth and nuance. NetherRealm Studios’ output skews toward the former group. There are no complicated SNK-style joystick incantations in its previous title Mortal Kombat X. Likewise, in Injustice 2, the studio’s second DC-universe fighting game, even the most demanding special moves need only a few directional taps before they explode across the screen.
The game’s chances at earning a slot in a major fighting-game tournament may be stymied further by a new and labyrinthine gear system. At the end of each match you’re awarded with random loot, typically pieces of armour and weaponry that can be used to improve or customise the playstyle of your hero. Each of the characters has four slots for armour and one for an accessory. These pieces have their own buffs and stat upgrades that are spread across four attributes: strength, defence, health and abilities (for example, you may choose to equip Batman with a special batarang, or focus on parries and evasions).
Each piece of armour, of which there are dozens per character, comes with no less than 20 colour schemes. The blend of shaders and buffs will ensure that no two characters that meet online are entirely alike. Accessories change the look and feel of the weaponry, adding, for example, knots and protrusions to Swamp Thing’s club. As well as a weapon’s look, these asset swaps also alter its statistical attributes – which is, as any fighting-game designer will tell you, a balancing nightmare.
“We do have a fully balanced mode intended for competitive play. Players can carry over visuals of the gear system, but stats are flattened so that both players are on an even playing field,” says NetherRealm’s Brian
Goodman. This will be an online mode, as well as an offline option for tournament use. “For online play we have a system that will artificially match players of similar stats.”
To further complicate the system, individual characters can be levelled up as you progress through the game’s various play modes, which, in addition to the main story, include so-called Multiverses – shorter campaigns that are subject to special rules and restrictions (some of which will be delivered as timed events). Online, character levels will be mitigated, Goodman claims, so that a level 15 Batman will be able to face-off against a level five Harley Quinn without the result being a foregone conclusion. The gear and its accompanying stats, however, will remain present, so that there is an advantage to the player who has been playing for longer, unless their opponent has been particularly lucky and acquired powerful gear early on.
These are somewhat parallel issues to those being faced by Marvel Vs Capcom Infinite, which uses a gem system to allow players to customise and alter the movesets of classic characters. But in Injustice 2, the potential gulf between a high-level character with top-tier gear and a newcomer is far greater.
The way in which gear is encountered is far from straightforward, too. Some gear will drop randomly, post match, throughout every mode (these items can even be equipped in the aftermath screen). Overwatch- style loot crates, known as Mother Boxes, are awarded to you when you complete a Multiverse event. The more successful you were in the event, the higher the level of the box’s contents. You earn in-game currency through play, which can be used to buy Mother Boxes outright, while you also earn special loot via daily challenges. For a game that prides itself on accessibility, the mixture of randomised and directed reward systems is a little bewildering.
“I think at this point NetherRealm Studios has established its style, both in terms of a fighting game and a hyper-real aesthetic,” Goodman says. “We’re always trying to accomplish something that’s accessible right out of the box, so anyone can do cool things, but we also want to make sure there’s depth there.” It’s an ambition that Injustice 2 may struggle to meet, its simplistic core nestled inside an overly complex superstructure.
Each of the 20 colour-scheme shaders that can be applied to weapons and armour have been, the studio claims, mined from DC comic-book history, to ensure a certain degree of consistency between game and canon
Brian Goodman, marketing games manager, NetherRealm Studios