Since bringing back Mortal Kombat in 2011, NetherRealm Studios has been on a tear with their fighting games. While they’ve had stiff competition from the likes of Capcom, Namco, and Arc System Works they’ve continued to push out impressive games that not only speak to the competitive fighting game player, but to the more casual fan as well. NetherRealm games have taken a completely different approach than fighting games have in the past, offering up more dense experiences with full-fledged single player campaigns, challenging single player modes, and robust online offerings to go along with the traditional play against your friends on the couch gameplay. Injustice 2, the latest game from the studio, might be their best work to date. It’s a perfect storm of accessibility and depth, beautiful visuals and presentation, and rock-solid gameplay.
Injustice 2 comes at a time when Warner Bros and DC are pushing their entertainment properties in a big way. The quality of the movies are to be debated, but there’s no doubt that the last few years and the years ahead will see some little known DC characters hitting the big screen. Wholly separate, Injustice 2 continues on the storyline of the 2013 release of Injustice: Gods Among Us. In which, Batman and Superman are in conflict. NetherRealm pushes forward with this storyline and fleshes out this universe in a way where it doesn’t feel like a rehash of the same story that we’ve already heard. You may be asking yourself why this matters at this point. This is a fighting game afterall. Well, if anyone is tackling story content in their fighters in a great way it’s NetherRealm. Injustice 2 features a lengthy campaign with some incredible visuals and a storyline that’s actually fun to watch and playthrough. This aspect of the game feels less like a fighter and more like a AAA action game. It’s got all the cut-scenes, voice acting, and visual fidelity to keep you hooked into a plot that is interesting to watch unfold.
Sure, you’re basically learning the characters in the story mode as there’s plenty of fighting, but there’s certainly credit to be given to NetherRealm in making such a well-rounded single player aspect to this game. With this, Injustice 2 appeals to not only hardcore fighting fans, but DC fans in general. That said, the roster is comprised of some returning characters and some new ones, all of which feel worthwhile to the game. You’ve got Batman and Superman of course, but the rest of the roster is comprised of some of the most notable characters in the DC universe. Some, like Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Joker, Harley Quinn, Bane and others will be instantly recognizable. While others, like Blue Beetle, Doctor Fate, Firestorm, and the rest of the roster will be for the DC devout. Injustice 2 digs deep into the bag to pull out some unexpected character inclusions for this game. Nevertheless, each has a unique fighting style, trait, and cinematic super move.
The gameplay of Injustice 2 is probably best described as easy to pick up, but hard to master. On one hand you can play the game without knowing very much about it and pull off some of the coolest things that are possible to perform in the game. On the other, there are many more nuanced systems to the gameplay that’ll cater more to high level players. Injustice 2 feels like a game where just about anyone can get in and mix it up and have a good time, while if they want to spend more time learning the more advanced mechanics of it, there’s plenty to learn. We’re not going to get into the real meaty stuff in terms of gameplay, but there seems to be plenty when it comes to the “meta game” of Injustice 2 when you move past the point of just mashing buttons. Managing your super meter isn’t all about building it up to bust out that all powerful move, it’s about using it wisely throughout a match as it can be used for many different things like rolls, recoveries, and combo breaking moves.
Injustice 2 is a perfect storm of accessibility and depth, beautiful visuals and presentation, and rock-solid gameplay.
Fighting games can be intimidating, if just for their complexity. In this case, Injustice 2 really does have a straight forward control scheme that most should understand intuitively. Simply playing through the game’s tutorial should give most players a pretty firm grasp on the basic concepts of the game. It doesn’t take very long to learn a few combos, manage your super meter and pull off one of the game’s amazing character-specific cinematic attacks. Alongside this main meter you’ll have a character specific trait that can also be used to grant your character a limited time ability, buff, or state change that is also on a charge. NetherRealm makes doing the fun stuff in Injustice 2 easy. Using the aforementioned meters, stringing together combinations, or even interacting with environment for attacks or reversals are simple moves that are easily picked up. The meticulously detailed levels of Injustice 2 feature stage transitions and numerous environmental pieces to use against your foes, making for fights that feel less static than other fighting games.
With the basics in tow, there’s plenty to sink your teeth into in Injustice 2. You’ve got the aforementioned story mode, and if single player is your thing you’ve also got a mode called The Multiverse which is kind of like the challenge modes we’ve seen in the Mortal Kombat games. The Multiverse can keep you busy if just for the number of challenges presented to you, and the nature of them being available for a limited time. Each planet in the Multiverse has it’s own little backstory, and you’ll find numerous variations on all of the DC characters within. Now this is the spot where things start to get a little controversial for Injustice 2. Alongside this customization comes gear. Gear you can earn by playing the game and earning and opening loot boxes. Though unlike a lot of games these loot boxes provide your character with both cosmetic changes and stat buffs. Surely you’d think that this stuff would only be able to be used in the single player or offline modes, but that answer is surprisingly no. You can deck out your character by playing Injustice 2 and bring them online to face off against anyone else, regardless of if they have the same sort of upgrades on their character as you. You just don’t know who or what you’re going to run into when playing online. It’s most certainly a point of contention as its not quite clear what modes do and do not use the stat buffs for your character. As it stands, ranked matches do not use the gear stat boosts. While player matches do use the boosts, but can be turned off by using competitive mode. The only unfortunate thing here is that both players have to agree to changing the match conditions. By default these are turned on, so in a player match you’ll more than likely be using the gear. It would be nice to NetherRealm to add an option that’s a little clearer or a Player Match option that doesn’t use gear at all.
Gear could’ve been controversial, but ultimately adds depth to the game
While this Gear system is somewhat satisfying in that you can increase the power and stats of your favorite character by earning items to outfit them with, there’s a lot of randomness involved in what you’ll get in your loot boxes. You could spend all of your time with a single character and still have an inventory that’s only 10-20% of items for them. Taking that a step further, if you want complete control of your character’s look, you might also need to spend a little money on the obligatory microtransaction currency called Source Crystals, which allows you to do things like purchase premium skins for characters or color shaders for their outfits. It’s a little offputting, if just because NetherRealm comes so close to giving you exactly what you want before dangling the carrot in front of your nose at the very last moment. You’ll still get Source Crystals in the game, but they don’t seem to come in at a rate that would allow you to have an abundance of them. It’s a currency that’s basically for impatient people or those that don’t want to leave things to chance. It not egregious, Injustice isn’t pay to win or anything like that, it just feels a little bit unnecesary. Add to that the DLC that’s coming down the line and the characters already available for purchase at launch, and you could be looking at more that the sticker price for Injustice 2 if it does plant its hooks in you… which is highly likely.
The single player aspects are amazing. You have to praise the production value here, but the real lasting value will come from multiplayer. There’s already a bustling community playing the game, and on the Xbox One version the game feels pretty good in its online mode. It’s not quite as smooth in spots as its offline counterpart, but that’s to be expected. The grind of getting gear for your character and then testing your mettle online has a nice hook to it. You can search out or create lobbies and challenge other players to numerous game types like versus matches or king of the hill battles with groups. You can play standard player matches or you can play ranked matches. You can also set up unranked private matches with friends, but you won’t earn any of the all important progression elements for that. Of course, Injustice 2 also allows you to play offline local multiplayer as well. Almost a sideshow, it’s also worth noting that there’s a mode that allows you to pick AI controlled teams that battle against each other. Oddly enough, this mode allows you to search out other players online and pit your team against theirs and you’ll earn items, loot boxes, and levels for your character without lifting a finger. So, it’s not like loot is hard to come by in Injustice. Whether you’re playing online, offline, or not at all.
If there’s one word that comes to mind when I think of Injustice 2 as a whole, it’s dense. For a modern fighting game, Injustice 2 has a lot in it and it’s all incredibly well done. Sure there are some nitpicks that I could make as it pertains to my personal taste. Would I like to see more cinematic variety in the super moves, probably. Would it be better if they clarified which modes do or don’t use stat buffs for gear, yeah that would be nice too. But on the whole, there’s very little to complain about here. Injustice 2 is accessible and fun while letting you ramp up to mastery. The presentation is gorgeous whether in the cinematics or fights themselves. It’s the best fighting game I’ve played in quite a while.
Not content with just being a stylish and smart fighting game, Injustice 2 delves into deeper territory with a must-play story mode for DC fans and progression systems that’ll keep players coming back for more.