PS4, Xbox One
There’s a reason fighting games don’t tend to have loot systems, yet Injustice 2’ s implementation of the randomised gear grind is more effective than we’d expected. Still, going in, we wondered in which direction the scales would tip. Make gear too powerful, and you ruin the vital even balance on which a game in this genre lives or dies. But tone it down too much and it might as well not exist. For the most part, Injustice 2 leans more towards the latter, but makes up for it in sheer volume. Every match, whether online or off, won or lost, ends with a chance at some loot, though you’ll leave without a drop more often than not. Completing missions and challenges sees you rewarded with specific gear pieces, loot boxes or both, the latter of which can contain up to four potential new toys. It’s suspiciously generous early on, flinging gear and loot boxes at you with abandon; this, surely, is just the first-hit-free methodology of a free-to-play game, whose torrent will soon slow to a trickle. But it isn’t, and it doesn’t.
In fairness, it can’t, either. While a menu option gently weights loot drops in favour of the character you’re playing as, this is a game comprised of 28 heroes and villains, each with eight gear slots to fill. As such, if it’s going to be anything approaching satisfying there is going to need to be loot, and lots of it. So it proves, though it’ll be some hours before you feel like you’re actually getting anything useful. Early on you’re looking at, say, a three-point increase to a stat with a base level of over 1,000. The occasional Epic drop will offer a boost to multiple categories at once, and hint at what awaits later on. By the time you hit the level cap of 20, your base stats will be around 2,000, and gear pieces can boost those by over 300. It’s not purely about raw power – some bonuses affect XP or currency accrual, mitigate certain types of incoming damage, or reward certain behaviours, such as not jumping. But effects are minor, and offer little to truly quicken the pulse. Dozens of hours later, with a handful of characters at max level, we’re still yet to receive a single piece of gear that has felt transformative, or anything like it.
Expecting game-breaking loot drops from a versus fighting game is a fool’s errand, perhaps – but what is most striking about Injustice 2 is the extent to which you can avoid human competition altogether. In the Netherrealm tradition, the three-hour cinematic story mode is an absolute treat: as in the first game, the cheery comic-book setting is a much finer fit for the template than the gloomy brutishness of Mortal
Kombat, and a new option to choose between two fighters in certain chapters is a fine addition. While we still can’t quite get our heads around Netherrealm’s battle animations, its facial modelling is almost beyond reproach, lending a much-needed air of believability to its Saturday-morning tale of people with superpowers duffing each other up. If you’ve played a few fighting games, your natural instinct after the campaign’s credits have rolled will be to head online. Don’t. The Multiverse is Injustice 2’ s beating heart, its true singleplayer mode, its theoretically infinite endgame. The problem with Netherrealm’s story campaigns is that you’re never given enough time with a single character to learn them properly, but here you’re given all the time you need, free to take the fighter of your choice through a rotating, time-limited and often themed succession of battles. Here especially, it rains rewards: matches are over quickly, completion of each set coughs up a loot box or two, and challenges – land a number of super moves, for instance – yield further rewards when completed. The result is unheard of in the fighting-game genre: a game that offers the single player something new to do, and rewards for doing it, every time they load it up.
That, combined with the one-more-go hook of the loot pursuit, makes Injustice 2 terrifically difficult to put down. It’s full of variety, too: in most fighting games we learn one character and stick with them until the point of either mastery or boredom, yet here we’re making eyes at the rest of the cast as soon as a warrior hits the level cap. After maxing out Supergirl, we headed to the inventory to see which character had amassed the most gear. It was Bane – so he became our next project.
It’s not all plain sailing, however. Some Multiverse challenges are tweaked by modifiers that have seemingly been designed to annoy, rather than enthral. The game changes speed; lights go off briefly every few seconds; ordnance rains down to interrupt your combos. Perhaps the stage will see-saw throughout the fight, or flip entirely so you’re fighting on the ceiling. A boost to super-move damage sees us lose 75 per cent of our health bar to an attack we had blocked. The nadir comes in a fight that gives both characters full armour, doing away with the concept of hitstun as two fighters stand next to each other and press their strongest buttons until one falls over. And for all the Multiverse’s magic, we’re not entirely sure it’s made better players of us. The AI happily stops blocking as soon as you activate your super, for instance, while the scoring system disproportionately rewards you for finishing a match with these powerful mini-cutscenes despite there being half-a-dozen more useful ways to spend meter.
We’d probably still get stomped if we went online, then, but the fact that we’ve managed to play over 30 hours of Injustice 2 with barely any human or networked company rather says it all. Games in this genre are too often bare-bones, using the infinite appeal of their magical multiplayer modes to excuse a lack of things to do in them. Well, no longer. This is still a Netherrealm game, with all that implies, and it isn’t without its missteps. But for lone wolves at least, this is the richest fighting game on the market.
The Multiverse is Injustice 2’s beating heart, its true singleplayer mode, its theoretically infinite endgame