From a glace, Injustice 2 looks like they usual type of game that would follow a hit like Injustice: Gods Among Us, giving players more of the same while expanding on what we already know to give us a next level experience. What we really get with Injustice 2 is an experiment mixed with something familiar; with a mechanic based around RNG and paying more and more real world money for something that really shouldn’t need to be paid for. While Injustice 2 has some great high moments in the single player aspects, it’s reliance on it’s new gear system and Overwatch style loot crates brings the whole experience down to feeling like an oversized mobile game.
Game Name: Injustice 2
Platform: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One & Mobile
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Release Date: North America: May 16, 2017 / Australia: May 17, 2017
Price: (All prices USD) $59.99 Standard / $79.99 Digital Deluxe / $99.99 Ultimate Edition
The appetizer in this buffet of Superhero/Super Villain brawling is the story mode. Injustice 2‘s story mode is broken up into 12 chapters played across most of the game’s heroes. It brings the story 5 years forward from Injustice: Gods Among Us‘ story mode. Superman and a few of his cohorts are in prison after Batman and the alternate universe heroes liberated the world from The Regime and Superman himself. However some characters were not captured or were pardoned after the events. We also learn of the existence of Kara Zor-El, aka Supergirl, as her arrival happened after the events of the first game and she has been training with the escaped Wonder Woman and Black Adam. Batman and his small inner circle of Black Canary, Green Arrow, Firestorm, Blue Beetle and Harley Quinn go out on a mission to disrupt an invasion by Gorilla Grodd. After the invasion is thwarted, the group is warned about the arrival of Brainiac, who is looking to bottle cities and destroy worlds all in the name of collecting knowledge.
All this brings you through a long story about trust, leading to a lot of things I’m going to not spoil for you since once again NetherRealm Studios has crafted a wonderful tale that follows up quite well from Injustice: Gods Among Us. During these 12 chapters you will get a taste of each of the main hero characters and some villains, with some chapters split into a group of two people that you have to pick one of before a fight, giving the mode a bit of replay value. Thankfully there is a chapters menu that opens up after you’ve beaten the main story the first time and also keeps track of your choices so you don’t need to remember who you picked the first time. You do get rewards in this mode too, a single piece of level 20 epic gear per character will be awarded through the story mode along with the Mother Boxes and other currency.
One final thing on the story mode: As per usual with NetherRealm games, you’ll fly through the game on most levels, but then hit a bit of a cheating and abusing brick wall with the final Brainiac and Superman/Batman fights at the end of the story. Both fights seem to have given the characters a lot higher health pool or armor value along with their attacks doing double the amount of damage per hit. Brainiac especially is abusive with full screen grab moves that come out of nowhere and take 25% of your lifebar each hit, so when he does combo these, you are going to get screwed over a lot.
Before I get into the rest of the main single player modes and other things, I’ll talk for a moment about the gameplay in Injustice 2. For those of you who played Injustice: Gods Among Us, everything is pretty much the same from that game. You still have your light, medium, heavy attack buttons, one throw and one interaction button, and finally the special ability button which activates small things like Superman’s yellow sun boost, sends Harley’s attack hyenas at people, and Batman’s little bat things. You still build a 4 level special meter that you can use to enhance moves, bet in that annoying as fuck Clash system, or save up to unleash a huge hitting super move.
Characters in Injustice 2 are unofficially put into classes. You have combo types like Harley Quinn & Catwoman, who move quickly and almost every move can string into a combo. Heavy hitters like Bane and Gorilla Grodd who move slower but do big damage. Zoning classes like Cyborg and Red Robin who use tricks to control the battlefield. Brawlers like Superman and Supergirl who are close combat perfection. And finally counter class like Black Canary who rely on their opponents attacking them to get their counters and main attacks off. Now while this does sound interesting, the balance is way off with combo class characters easily topping the list.
If there was something in Injustice 2 that I was hoping would get improved it would be the fighting system itself, but it didn’t happen. Balance in Injustice 2 is still out the window with a lot of characters easily being able to shred through the roster with ease. There’s a lot of easily spammed combos that can lock an opponent down from start to finish and they only take minutes to learn and master. Hit boxes for all characters are almost random, with some close up attacks hitting outside where a character is standing or missing an obvious connection point. You can also abuse the frames here. Wake up animations are too wide open for a super attack to connect with at minimum 95% success while scene transition blows take so long to power up that you’ll get combo’d out of the frames even if you start while an opponent is down.
I’m sure NetherRealm will patch some balance and fixes into the game now that they are getting some live data with the finished product, but honestly I felt that if I picked the right style of character, usually a combo class, then I could breeze through the game way too quickly.
While a lot of people are going to be drawn to the story mode in Injustice 2, it’s not the only mode that will keep you going for hours on end. NetherRealm has crafted the usual single player mode where you fight your way up the ranks and then get a nice little story wrap up at the end, which also awards gear and Mother Boxes for your effort too. However the bigger draw is the Multiverse mode, where you fight your way through a bunch of objective and modified ladders in order to gain high level gear rewards and other things. This is very much like Mortal Kombat X‘s ever-changing ladder mode from that game… Hopefully without the modified horror stage where you have fucking spiders face-hugging the screen in a jump scare fashion… That shit turned me off Mortal Kombat X so fast that I almost smashed the disc against the wall.
Another single player based thing you can do is create a team of three and have them face off against other people’s teams in an AI controlled battle where your gear loadout plays a huge role. However the rewards for such a thing are more Mother Boxes, regardless of if you win or lose so it’s not so bad. You can also join guilds and do something similar to the Multiverse mode where you do objective based missions that contribute to both personal and guild rewards. However, a lot of guilds in Injustice 2 are very picky, either having a high level requirement or will boot you out for no reason at all just so they can keep the flow of members coming so a few will reap the rewards done by others.
As of writing I have yet to jump into the online modes where you can face off in one on one fights where gear either counts or doesn’t count. However the reports are that the net code for Injustice 2 is very stable with little to no drop outs or lag, no matter where you are in the world. However given the stupid nature of Australian internet, I highly doubt that for myself. But NetherRealm are notorious for grouping areas together to reduce the lag issue, so the chances of me being paired up with someone on the other side of the world is very minimal.
One of the main advertising draws of Injustice 2 is the customization options for your characters. It’s here that you can use gear that you obtain from Mother Boxes (explained below) to change the look of the character along with the stats that they use in some of the modes. The customization of characters is split up into 3 categories: Gear, which is the main boost to stats; Abilities, which change some moves into a different move, allowing you to further change the style of which you fight to suit you; and theme, which uses a few different styles of color pallets based around other versions of the characters to add some flare to your costumes or even change the character into a similar yet different looking character (For example, Supergirl can get swapped out with Power Girl).
Injustice 2 does try to do a good job with the gear and how it looks, with pieces looking natural to the overall costume so you don’t end up with something that looks like a terrible mishmash of colors and armor that you get while leveling a World of Warcraft character. Adding the color theme of previous version of the character is cool to see and you’ll find that as your collection of gear grows you might end up changing the colors to suit that particular look or just go crazy with something that looks so out of place. The choice to some degree is yours.
The main draw of the customize option for characters is the gear system, which essentially adds stat bonuses to your character along with other secondary abilities like faster and higher XP generation, health regeneration and other stat abilities. Of course all this gear is broken down into Common, Rare and Epic level with Epic obviously giving the best bonuses or stat abilities. While all this lovely loot looks attractive, you’ll find the beginning of the micro-transaction black hole. First of all, the gear is 100% random; meaning that you might not even get loot for the character you are playing the most. The second is that all gear is level locked, leaving some great epic pieces locked away till you grind the character to something like level 10, 20 or higher; leaving the gear to just sit there annoying you till you fight your way to the right level, which then you might have other pieces of gear that is better anyway. You do however have the option to either pay to remove the restriction of the levels with character shards, which are obtained with… Yep, real world money! The other option is to put your gear on the open marketplace and sell it for in-game gold and hope to get something down the line or have to buy it off the same marketplace later on.
I’ll say this, I don’t mind the idea of the gear system, but there are too many lockouts that can only be fixed by spending more money on the game. This is something that I would expect from the mobile version of Injustice 2 but not the main console version. Leveling up characters is ok to a degree, but it feels like you’re having to do so out of obligation, not passion or desire. If anything, it’s put me off playing for too long since I just want to play the characters I want to play, not those with the best gear because some random number generator says I must.
Now the only way to get all this wonderful gear, color pallets and abilities for your character is to either unlock them through the Multiverse mode, buy Source Crystals with real world money or randomly through Mother Boxes, which are Injustice 2‘s version of the Overwatch Loot Crate. Frankly as I said above, I hate this idea. Sure it works fine for Overwatch since a lot of that stuff is cosmetic and optional for gameplay, but with Injustice 2 relying so heavily on the gear system for so many modes, it just feels like an excuse to make more money.
Personally I bought the Ultimate Edition, which cost me AUD$139.95. Out of that I got 3 character skins and 2 sets of shaders (Along with all three DLC fighter packs). Now I got no gear at all with that deal and I only got a Diamond level Mother Box when I linked my console version to my mobile version of Injustice 2. Now while I did unlock 8 bronze, 4 silver, 2 gold, and 1 Platinum Mother Box from the story mode, the gear that randomly dropped from it was only usable with about 3 characters out of the current roster of 32. Lots of what I got was level locked so it was rendered useless.
I’m not a fan of this style, and this is coming from someone who has bought about $200 worth of Overwatch loot crates in the last couple of events. I don’t mind spending my money when I have a little extra and I want to. What Injustice 2 does is criminal, forcing mechanics that are based around a random system in order to get people to spend more is horrible; especially for those of us who are supporting this game by buying the higher levels of the editions of the game. It’s the same thing that has got me annoyed with 2K Games to a degree. I spend a lot of money on the biggest version of the release to support it and then I’m expected to pay more on top of that for a complete experience. This is robbery and I hate it. I really hope this nickle and dime bullshit comes back to bite NetherRealm and WB Interactive on the ass I really do.
To say that Injustice 2 looks good is an understatement. We’re talking hitting the uncanny valley here folks. The animations in the fighting are awesome, with only a small flash of white on usable objects being the only thing that stands out from the amazingly detailed backgrounds and character models. Now since this is a DC game, the use of blood is minimal and there is no wear and tear on costumes, but that’s fine since we usually don’t think of such things in fighting games. Every piece of animation is on point here, linking one move to another is seemless and flawless, with attacks looking like they hurt a lot while also keeping with the comic book nature of the themes.
The backgrounds themselves, from an Amusement Park that has a ferris wheel that moves to the undersea kingdom of Atlantus where you can see a giant sea creature attacking the city in the background, every scene looks alive when it needs to be and lifeless when it suits the mood of the game. NetherRealm have become the masters of making a level that always has you finding something new to get distracted by when you’re looking at the fight for the tenth time or more.
The real star of the animation goes to the Story Mode. It’s here that you notice all the little things about the character models in Injustice 2. Harley Quinn blows bubbles with her gum, Ivy’s plants move slightly on her body, Scarecrow goes from this guy with a sack over his head to this towering monster with glowing features. It’s all amazing to watch play out in the cutscenes and super animations during the Story Mode. Just watch the gif above a few times and you’ll notice the small details on Harley’s skin as she talks. This isn’t stiff animation here, this is face animation at it’s best.
Sound isn’t exactly a big proponent of the overall design of fighting games, and Injustice 2 isn’t any exception to the rule. You get the usual smacks, slaps and thuds that come along with a fighting game, but the level is turned up a bit since these are mostly superpowered brings we’re dealing with here. The background soundtrack isn’t exactly something that you are going to going to go out and buy on it’s own to listen to in the car or some other long trip, but it is done well enough that it enhances the action in the story mode really well. However, in the actual fights themselves, the background tracks tend to get drowned out… Or I’m just too focused on kicking ass to listen maybe. Who knows.
But what really stands out overall is the voice acting in the game and especially the story mode. NetherRealm and DC have worked well in securing top level vocal cast to work on Injustice 2. While there is the returning cast like Phil LaMarr (Aquaman), Steve Blum (Hal Jordan), Richard Epcar (The Joker) and George Newbern (Superman); but there are people who have worked on previous DC animated series like Khary Payton (Cyborg), Tara Strong (Harley Quinn) and Kevin Conroy (Batman). While they are old hands at this work in some form, a lot of the newcomers like Erica Luttrell (Cheetah), Laura Bailey (Supergirl), Antony Del Rio (Blue Beetle) and the master of nightmares Robert Englund (Scarecrow… Obviously) are welcome additions and fit their characters really well and I look forward to seeing what else they can bring to the table in future installments.
At the end of the day, Injustice 2 is a game of good and bad. The good being some of the best single player offerings and story mode that only NetherRealm can deliver, while on the other side; the addition of the gear system is somewhat for-filling and gives you a sense of ownership of the character that you are building over time, still reeks of a cheap cash grab by linking it all to a very stupid random loot system that leans heavily on you paying additional real world money to get the things you think you want in order to do well in single player modes and online. Injustice 2 is miles ahead of Street Fighter V at this stage and is going to be a nice little time filler till it is ultimately forgotten when Tekken 7 drops in 2 weeks time.
Good game ruined by greed
Injustice 2 is a fine game. It’s basic enough for newcomers to pick up and play but still has depth for experienced players to explore. The story mode is the best in the fighting game genre and really warrants more. However the whole experience is crushed by an experiment to bring mobile game style random bullshit into console games and ultimately makes the game forgettable once something else comes along.