Injustice 2 Review, Fresh but Familiar
What makes a good Fighting Game memorable? Is it about having a set of solid mechanics or a cast of memorable characters, or even options for variety of play; or perhaps it is about having a little bit of everything and turning it into a complete package?
NetherRealm Studios struck a winning formula when it debuted Injustice: gods among us four years ago. The game had everything from a cast of iconic DC characters and environments to unique mechanics, variety of challenges and a full-fledged cinematic story mode, all packaged together to create a cohesive experience.
While the first Injustice’s faithful take on the DC license took the unsuspecting gaming audience by surprise, NetherRealm Studios and WB Games aim to repeat the success of the first through Injustice 2.
It is rare for any studio or development team to capture lightening in a bottle twice in a row. Audience for a sequel always comes preloaded with formed expectations; they are often too jaded from the mistakes of the past and desensitized with the previous successes to get excited and hyped for whatever is offered in the follow-up.
Fortunately, Injustice 2 is able to capture the magic of the original Injustice game and mildly improves upon certain aspects of the series while keeping the core of the gameplay experience intact.
Most of what makes up the gameplay of Injustice 2 remains similar to its predecessor. The game is still a 4-button fighter where action remains fast paced, and the primary focus is on delivering hurt by mixing special moves with juggle-heavy combos, while utilizing meter burns, reversals and wall bounces to maximize damage.
Injustice 2 also sees return of all the previous game’s mechanics, including the use of context sensitive environmental actions, the super meter wagering ‘Clash System’ and the momentum halting stage transitions.
Everything from how the health-bars and rounds function, to the way wakeups, reversals, tech-rolls and character traits work are kept virtually the same in Injustice 2 as they were four years ago in the first Injustice game.
The only new gameplay feature that Injustice 2 introduces to the formula is the addition of leveling up, loot drops and character customization brought through the aptly named ‘Gear System’.
Gear System is an RPG-styled progression structure that grants loot and XP to players which can be used to personalize their character. While this system mostly works similarly to how character costumes and accessories get unlocked in games like Overwatch, where the gear is earned through randomized drops from “Mother Box” loot crates, the only difference being in addition to customizing character looks, the Gear System in Injustice 2 allows players to enhance the stats and add bonus enhancements to their characters by equipping gear obtained through loot drops.
These loot drops can be earned at the end of each fight and can be equipped to alter each character’s costume design and costume color as well as stats and abilities. Each character has five slots for equipping different costume pieces, that include gear for head, torso, arms, legs, and an additional accessory; there are also two slots for equipping modified special attacks and one slot for altering their costume color.
The game also allows players to upgrade stats of their current gear as well as change the look of one piece of gear into another while keeping its stats. These transmogrification options allow players to freely upgrade and customize their characters without compromising on their favorite outfits and fashion tastes.
In addition to earning gear through loot drops, players can also buy these loot boxes through credits that are gained at the end of every fight, as well as through acquisition of “Source Crystals”, which acts as a microtransaction system allowing for people to bypass normal unlocking process to get the gear by spending real-world money.
While the ability to buy premium skins and gear with real money does leave a bad taste, its effect can thankfully be limited to pure cosmetic aspects of the game, as the stat personalization is negated in ranked matches and can be turned off in tournament matches both on and offline.
This plethora of gear modification and customization is open for all characters in Injustice 2’s playable character roster, which is 28 fighters strong.
This includes returning favorites like Batman, Superman, Aquaman, Flash, Wonder Woman, Black Adam, Bane and Harley Quinn, however the game replaces Ares, Doomsday, Hawkgirl, Killer Frost, Lex Luthor, Deathstroke, Nightwing, Raven, Shazam, Sinestro, and Grundy with new additions that include; Supergirl, Black Canary, Robin, Atrocitus, Blue Beetle, Brainiac, Capt. Cold, Cheetah, Deadshot, Doctor Fate, Firestorm, Grodd, Poison Ivy, Scarecrow and Swamp Thing.
Unfortunately, NetherRealm Studios and WB Games continue the ugly practice of having DLC character on the release day, as Injustice 2 holds Darkseid hostage behind the pre-order wall, just like what the same developer-publisher combo did with Goro for Morkat Kombat X two years ago.
That said, although the move from 24 characters from original game, to a roster of 28 does not seem that big of a jump, the elimination of similar character duplication like Sinestro/Lantern and Adam/Shazam makes the roster much more varied than the first game.
The game has an interesting mix of brawlers, grapplers and zoners, with something for every playstyle whether it is close range powerhouses and mid-range mix-up characters, to fighters with heavy pressure and low damage output as well as keep away characters that like to practice space-control.
How much will such a varied playstyle choice and the eclectic collection of iconic DC super heroes and villains effect the balancing of Injustice 2 is anyone’s guess at this time. Not only are character tiers difficult to ascertain in early weeks of a fighting game, but changes like system patches, DLC characters and other balancing mods will continue to change the balance of game roster in the near future.
Speaking of DC’s iconic characters, Injustice 2 continues the trend of including cinematic story mode in fighting games; a trend that was set by NetherRealm Studios in Mortal Kombat and then followed by the first Injustice and MKX.
Injustice 2’s story picks up where the first game left off; with the tyrant Superman in incarceration, his regime at large and the Justice League in tatters. When a group of villains threaten to upend the fragile peace, Batman is forced to seek help of allies and forge alliances with former enemies to work towards a common goal.
The game mostly follows predictable narrative beats that provide adequate context for gameplay but nothing too deep or amazing, however the story is well thought out and tackles topics of conflict without relying on the crutch of alternate-reality saviors like the first Injustice did.
Thankfully, this time the developers did not feel the need to include awful QTE minigames in the story mode, and instead have added some other choices that positively impact the replayability of its single-player story campaign.
Despite its predicable nature, there is no denying the fact that NetherRealm Studios expended some effort in bringing together Injustice 2’s the story mode as it is certainly well produced. The game not only features seamless transitions from cutscene to gameplay, but also a level of quality in scene framing, visual pacing and flow of action that is seldom witnessed, even in games focused solely on single-player campaigns.
The experience is further emboldened by Injustice 2’s improvements in visual presentation. The game’s graphics have been completely overhauled and its visual design has gone through some dramatic improvements, especially when it comes to character faces.
Facial design for female characters has immensely improved from the first Injustice and is even vastly better than what we saw in MKX mere 2 years ago. In general, characters’ faces are designed and animated in such a way that allows them to display emotions quite well, making them very expressive and less like plastic action figures.
Along with superb facial animations, the game also features generally great animations in character movement and stage interactions, although Injustice 2 keeps the NRS legacy of favoring stiff and jumpy move animations to make sure that fighting takes place at breakneck speeds.
Unfortunately, adhering to this legacy has also resulted in a situation where Injustice 2 has many moves ripped straight from past Mortal Kombat games and characters. Experienced players will easily spot animations for some Ermac’s moves used for Green Lantern and D’vorah moves for Brainiac, as well as see a little bit of Erron Black in Harley Quinn and Zod in Darkseid.
On the other hand, Injustice 2 uses its lighting engine to superb effect, which goes to uplift its look and benefit everything from cutscenes, transitions and elaborate supermove animations, to how characters and stages look in motion.
While the game’s visuals are top notch, Injustice 2’s sound design is a mixed bag. Even though there is nothing technically wrong here, the upside of having moody tunes in menu selection screens, upbeat music in stage arenas, bombastic sound effects and well voiced character dialogue is severely undermined by the decision to have extremely monotonous and one-tone robotic selection/announcer voice.
Even though the game’s story mode takes around 4 – 5 hours to beat, there is still a lot of value packed into Injustice 2’s overall package.
Aside from the story campaign and the meat of Injustice 2’s single player content is contained in the mode called “Multiverse”, that works the same way as “Living Towers” challenge ladders did in Mortal Kombat X. These are continuously updating battle ladders that are centered around a shared theme and spice things up with in-battle modifiers and additional objectives for each battle.
Also, while it might seem like Injustice 2 does not contain any acrade mode, this mode is actually present and is oddly hidden inside the Multiverse mode as “Battle Simulator” and contains difficulty options that not only represent AI strength but also the amount of battles and length of each ladder to complete.
Apart from these singleplayer modes and customary offline versus mode, Injustice 2 also has all the usual options for online play that range from ranked and normal versus matches, to king-of-the-hill and room creation for fighter lobbies.
Online performance seems to have been overhauled since the days of the first Injustice game and even MKX; loading times between matches are minor, lag is minimal and match making seems to be working as intended.
Right now, the game’s roll-back based netcode is working great with battles in and outside close geographic proximity, however only time will tell whether it will continue to work this smoothly once the game is fully released and everyone is able to get their hands on the game.
All that said, even with all of its offerings, Injustice 2 does not offer anything of significance for those players that did not like the first game and its gameplay mechanics. In more ways than one, the game feels just like Injustice 1 and its gameplay essentially the same as its predecessor with a shiny visual makeover and a few small ‘quality-of-life’ improvements.
The development of Injustice 2 seems to be geared to appease its established audience, and as such the game has some positive adjustments and a lot of content to adequately engage and entertain the players that enjoyed the series’ first outing.