Game Review: Injustice 2
Injustice 2 is a stand-out example of what fighting games should be and offers an interesting feature in the form of gear pieces that you can use to customise your fighters, as well as a single-player mode that continues to offer new challenges every day.
Fighting game Injustice 2
is a sequel to Injustice: Gods Among Us
, which was released in 2013. The game was developed by NetherRealm Studios, which is the same development house that created Mortal Kombat X
(in between the two Injustice
games, in fact). It was released last year and now the "ultimate", presumably final, edition, Injustice 2: Legendary Edition
has been launching this week for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows
PCs. If you've yet to buy the game this review is to help you decide whether this is one that's finally worth adding to your collection.
takes place in the dystopian alternate universe that was introduced in the first game. You don't need to know the back story to enjoy the continuation of the narrative in this game but it isn't made clear that this is an alternate universe so those not aware of that fact may find it a bit confusing that both Superman
and Wonder Woman
, among others, are "bad guys".
In this universe The Joker tricked Superman into killing Lois Lane and destroying Metropolis. Superman's resulting grief and anger turned him into a tyrant who built the One Earth government, the Regime, a dictatorship to rule Earth with the help of allies such as Wonder Woman. Opposing him are members of the Insurgency, such as Batman
, The Flash
, Firestorm, and Blue Beetle. In Injustice 2
a new enemy emerges that forces the two factions to work together to save the Earth from destruction.
differs widely from other fighting games in that it introduces a gear system that allows you to customise your fighters with clothing and weapons that offer both new visuals to combat boredom and stat changes, making them more versatile. The game also introduces a new mode called the Multiverse, which offers rewards for completing challenges, often with constraints, that are set in alternate universes.
Before I explore the mechanics and the overall gameplay experience I want to focus on the graphics, which are a great improvement over the stylised, somewhat 3D animated-cartoon feel of Injustice: Gods Among Us
In Injustice 2
the developers opted for realism in both the character designs and environments and the result is beautiful. In the original game the fighters had these weird, angular bodies (Wonder Woman's chest pyramid was particularly bizarre) with long legs and they moved robotically.
The realism has resulted in some of the characters being redesigned completely. Joker, for instance, looks inspired by, although not a direct copy of, the Jared Leto Joker from Suicide Squad
, after being quite a caricature similar to his appearance in the early Batman
comics in the first game, while Harley Quinn's new design is very similar to the Margot Robbie version from Suicide Squad
. On the other hand Aquaman
remains the classic Aryan interpretation of the character and draws no inspiration from Jason Momoa, who plays him in Justice League
Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Cyborg, Black Adam, Aquaman, Green Arrow, and Green Lantern, who all return from the first game in a similar form, are still middle aged, unlike their younger counterparts from many film and television productions, but I prefer this - in particular this is my favourite incarnation of The Flash. The younger generation is represented by characters such as Firestorm, Blue Beetle, and Supergirl, who are all new to the series.
My appreciation of the environments took a little longer than that of the characters. I didn't initially like the look or playing feel of most of them, bar ones such as the arena set in Gorilla City and the Memorial Station arena in Metropolis, because they felt dark, industrial, and gritty, as if they were all set in a permanent midnight in Gotham, and they seemed to lack a certain elegance and beauty that I found was infused in the Mortal Kombat X
arenas, which are just as dark. In time, however, I came to appreciate the nuances in, and the design of, each, which then also lead to a better fighting experience.
Overall I love the direction that the graphics have taken and my only hope for Injustice 3
is that there are a few more fighting environments that are brighter in terms of colour choices and filled with more light.
Story Mode is the single-player experience, which offers players a chance to acclimate to the world in which the game is set, get to know the new characters, and learn to fight with some of the most important characters. It also helps newcomers to understand what the little catch-phrase conversations are about that the fighters engage in before a match starts.
The Injustice 2
storyline follows on directly from the first game, in the same alternate universe, with Superman imprisoned and the Insurgents trying to rebuild the world with the help of a younger generation of superheroes recruited by Batman. Part of their mission is to destroy the Society, a group of supervillains that has formed to try and take over the planet, but soon an even bigger threat than that - or Superman's tyranny - emerges, which forces members of the Regime and the Insurgency to work together to combat it.
Story Mode offers an interesting experience for gamers in that in certain points in the narrative you can choose one fighter over another to continue. You can also change your mind if you find that you are struggling with the fighter you have chosen and wish to see if you will do a better job with the other option.
This also leads to a very interesting choice one has to make towards the end of the story that results in two very different endings. Once you have played right to the end you are able to access all the story's chapters and sections and can play the ending story path that you didn't choose, as well as all the alternate fighter options that you didn't pick, so you won't ultimately miss out on any of the content. It's especially interesting to see how the story ends along the path that you didn't initially choose.
Because the two endings are so different I'm very intrigued as to how the story is going to continue in Injustice 3
but we are, unfortunately, years away from discovering the development team's plans.
The core gameplay is, of course, all about the punch ups and the combos. To achieve this fighters have basic moves, divided into fast, medium, and heavy categories; special moves that require specific button-combo presses to get the fighters to execute exclusive moves; a super move that results in a multi-hit, high-damage beatdown that comes with its own animated sequence; and a character power whose purpose and function is also unique to each character.
The fighting pace is swifter than in the first game but the matches take longer. For the returning characters many of the moves and button presses are the same. Here and there there have been tweaks to returning characters so there's a slight learning curve for a few button changes but the overall feel and set of moves stay the same, and many of the character powers have also returned.
The fighters once again have different playing styles and classes, which relate to how they fight, as well as how they use their environments. Some, such as Bain and Gorilla Grodd, may be slow, heavy fighters with attacks that cause a lot of damage and who are able to destroy interactive objects to cause damage to the opponent; others, such as Wonder Woman and Aquaman, may be more nimble and do less damage but are still be able to smash objects; others, such as Batman and Robin, may use gadgets in their combat and will use interactive environment objects as surfaces they can jump on and off in order to evade or outmanoeuvre their opponent; a few characters, such as Black Adam and Doctor Fate, use magic as part of their combat techniques; and some characters, such as Poison Ivy and Catwoman, may be very swift fighters whose individual moves do less damage but which are very dangerous and difficult to avoid in a combo.
The fighters have a super meter that's divided into four segments. It fills up as they successfully land attacks, as well as when they are damaged, and, when full, can be used to execute the super move. Individual bars can also be spent, which is called a meter burn, when executing a special move to cause the move to do more damage. Damage is registered on a health bar that's divided into two sections. Once the first section has been depleted there is a brief pause in the game that's accompanied by a snide comment from the opposing fighter and then the match continues.
As you play the fighters and your gamer profile earn experience points (XP), which slowly level up both the fighters and the profile. You're awarded Source Crystals every time your gamer profile levels up and fighters' stats, which are divided into Strength, Ability, Defence, and Health, increase every time they level up.
Strength affects the damage of kicks and punches, Ability affects the damage of special moves and the super move, Defense affects how much damage an opponent inflicts upon your fighter, and Health is the amount of health in your health bar. Health is actually a bit of a dud stat as high Defense is far more important.
Source Crystals are one of two primary currencies in the game and are used to buy shaders, new levels for the fighters if you don't feel like grinding for XP, and locked skins. Free ones are very scarce in the game but Source Crystal bundles can be bought with real money.
Until the release of Injustice 2: Legendary Edition
the character-level cap was 20 (it's now been increased to 30) and the gamer profile level seems to be unlimited.
For the most part the fighters are very well balanced, although some characters have emerged as clear favourites in tournaments and there are others that you will never see. The primary area that requires work is the character power. Some powers are very useful and are speedy to build up or replenish, to the point of being overpowered, while some are very random and unpredictable (Wonder Woman's is an example), too slow to build up or replenish (Raphael of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is an example of this), or just don't offer anything useful.
Thirteen of the characters have returned from Injustice: Gods Among Us
for Injustice 2
, which offers 28 characters plus 10 DLC characters (or character sets in the case of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which is technically four playable characters under one banner), all of which are unlocked for those who buy Injustice 2: Legendary Edition
Owners of the original Injustice 2
will only own them if they bought the Fighter Packs or they can buy them individually through the PlayStation Network or Xbox Marketplace.
There are also 10 premier skins, some of which are unlocked for purchasers of Injustice 2: Legendary Edition
, which can be bought with Source Crystals. They transform an existing fighter into a new character (Supergirl can be played as Power Girl, The Flash can be played as Reverse-Flash and Jay Garrick, or Superman can be played as Bizarro, for example). The skin offers character specific voice acting and dialogue but it retains the primary fighter's move set and the character's wins and losses are counted as part of the stats of the primary fighter.
Overall it's a better cast of characters, though I personally miss Nightwing (and his staff that could be switched to batons; the "Nightwing" shader and gear for Robin, which is offered in this game but is very hard to find, doesn't compare). You're unlikely to miss many of the fighters from the first game as most have a more interesting successor - Enchantress for Zatanna, Swamp Thing for Solomon Grundy, and Deadshot for Deathstroke, for example.
Each character once again has a character-specific animated story ending, which you unlock once you've defeated a series of fighters, and then Brainiac, in the Battle Simulator. These endings take the story in all sorts of different directions and are just for fun.
As with the first game, not only are the environments interactive but they are reactive - background damage occurs as the fighters interact with special areas created for this purpose but it also occurs in response to tremors and noise caused by the fight itself. (Happily the background damage, though still extensive and quite fascinating, is scaled back compared to what would happen during each match in Injustice: Gods Among Us
, which was overkill.)
There are 12 stages (arenas), disappointingly down from Injustice: Gods Among Us
's 15, and arena transitions return from the first game. Eight of the stages offer this, which is an alternate fighting area that you can access during a fight by knocking your opponent through a special area designated as the "arena transition".
The stages are filled with interactibles that you can throw, jump off, swing with, bounce your opponent against, or throw your opponent into and many of their functions differ depending on whether your fighter is designed for strength or agility.
Much of the background damage depends on what happens in the fight as you interact, or not, with the environment so you may not always see some of the most interesting destruction occur in a stage. At the same time some of the stages have their own little stories going on the background, such as in the Ace O' Clubs bar in Metropolis, where two bar flies play a game of darts completely undeterred by the superhero smackdown going on around them, and outside the Empire Theatre in Gotham City, where a riot is taking place and the police and a police helicopter are called in - sometimes - to deal with it.
The little details in the visual design of the environments are incredible, although you're unlikely to notice most of them until you watch someone else play or set up a match using an AI loadout.
Gear And Mother Boxes
The gear system, which is based on customisation usually seen in role playing games, is both the best and worst part of Injustice 2
. Gear is divided into four types - Common, Rare, Epic, and Legendary - that usually offer increased Strength, Ability, Defense, or Health stats, as well as the occasional special augment, such as 15% extra damage against Kryptonians or 4.6% extra credits and guild credits earned per match.
Gear pieces have a level so if your fighter is only level 10 but a piece is level 12 you will have to wait to use the piece. A few gear pieces are also part of a set that, when fully collected and worn, offers additional perks.
Customising your gear well can mean the difference between a win or a loss in a difficult fight and affects how fast you can complete Multiverse events, which affects your scores for the events. For this reason you have a maximum of five loadouts available (since you may want a standard gear set as well as one that's suitable for a particular kind of boss) as well as two AI loadouts, which you can apply to the AI versions of your fighters. (You can deploy them in the Multiverse if you really want to, as well as in a small versus mode called AI Battle Simulator.)
You'll receive most of your gear from Mother Boxes. Unlike Source Crystals, which are hard to come by, Mother Boxes and Guild Mother Boxes, of which there are different grades (bronze, silver, gold, platinum, and diamond), with each offering better, and more, equipment and shaders, are everywhere and are awarded for everything. The result becomes a gear deluge that is increasingly difficult to manage and is compounded by the undocumented limit imposed by the game of a maximum of 1000 Mother Boxes in your inventory. You will hit this limit, because you'll get sick of opening Mother Boxes, and it will then force you to have to keep opening Mother Boxes or you won't be able to win any more of the important ones - the platinum and diamond ones.
What makes it worse is that fighters start with 50 inventory slots, each of which can hold one gear piece that is designed for one of five customisable parts of the character, such as the arms or the legs or the cape. Every five levels the inventory slot count is increased, to a maximum of 125 at level 30, but this isn't enough, especially if you have collecting tendencies or you want to save gear to use it for transforming. The game also offers a 20 slot "overflow" area, so if you're awarded a gear piece and your fighter's inventory is full it will go into one of those slots to give you a chance to make room for it.
You win gear - lots of gear - from the Mother Boxes but random gear pieces are sometimes awarded randomly at the end of a match and you can win random gear types or occasionally specific gear pieces in Multiverse events. Cumulatively it's an immense amount of stuff. You have to manage it by selling most of it, which earns you credits (the game's other currency, which is sometimes needed to unlock Multiverse events). The selling system needs improvement as you need to do it from a special screen, whereas there are other places and screens in the game where it would make more sense for you to be able to sell items.
Mother Boxes also sometimes award Regen Tokens (you'll also get some on occasion when you sell your gear and in Multiverse events) and these are important for the upside of the gear system - stat enhancement and level rerolling. If you have a level 1 Epic cape, for example, and your fighter is now level 20 you can use a Regen Token to reroll the stats and increase the gear piece's level to 20. You can also use a Regen Token if you don't like the stats of a piece of gear (it favours Health, for example, and you want to push up your Ability rating) but there are no guarantees that the reroll will give you the stats that you want so you may have to spend a few tokens to customise your loadout just right.
Finally, you have the option to transform the look of a piece of gear to something else in your inventory. This requires Source Crystals or an as yet undisclosed new option that seems to be something you will be able to purchase in the PlayStation Store or Xbox marketplace.
It's fantastic to be able to change the look and stats of a character to suit your personal aesthetics and playing style but it's also an admin nightmare as you deal with full inventory slots, opening tons of Mother Boxes, selling gear, and regenerating gear (should you so desire).
The Multiverse takes the place of the S.T.A.R. Labs challenges from the first game, which were completely rigid tasks that you had to perform in a variety of combat situations and scenarios. The Multiverse is one of the best parts of the game as it offers ever changing challenges based on alternate Earths with AI at one of five skill levels, so both casual and hardcore gamers are catered for. Every week guilds are also assigned a guild-specific Multiverse, which includes tougher challenges, some of which will require guild members to work together to succeed.
Some challenges cycle in and out every now and then, giving you more than one chance to complete them - or to aim for a higher score if they're ones you can play multiple times - while others are real-world-event specific, such as a DC television show premiering in the US or a US holiday such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Easter.
Longer challenges will exist for up to a week in the Multiverse, while others can expire within an hour. Some are straight fighting challenges against a series of opponents at a predetermined fighter level, while others include modifiers that add extra drama and obstacles to a fight.
In the Easter themed Multiverse, for example, one of the challenges includes a modifier that sees a bunny occasionally enter the stage to lay eggs that will explode when you or your opponent touches them; in another Alfred sends baskets onto the fight line that offer buffs such as extra health.
Some challenges are boss battles, with varying degrees of difficulty and bosses that have increased stats - health in particular. Some also offer sidekick assistance, either in the form of an actual fighter you can call into the fight to execute a move to help you, or what's more of an effect, such as being able to call "Ares" for help, which results in his axe flying in from off screen towards your opponent. The sidekicks are particularly helpful in boss battles as you can use them to break the boss' combo or force some space and breathing room if the boss has cornered you and you can't break free.
Success in the Multiverse results in lots of rewards, such as Mother Boxes, Regen Tokens, credits (or guild credits), and gear. If you're not into competitive fighting you'll spend most of your time in the Multiverse.
Legendary Multiverses were added in a game update last year. They are tougher Multiverse challenges for each fighter that can only be accessed once the fighter is at level 20.
Each challenge has a number of requirements that need to be fulfilled before you can tackle it, such as having to sacrifice 100 Regen Tokens or 250 pieces of Rare and Epic gear from that character; needing to defeat 100 villains in the multiverse; winning a multiverse match 250 times with a specific meter-burned special move; completing the Survivor event in the Battle Simulator; or playing for 3000 minutes with the character in the Multiverse.
Besides bragging rights, the reason you'd want to complete the Legendary Multiverse challenges is to be awarded a piece of Legendary gear for your fighter, which previously you would win upon completing the level 20 boss battle.
Injustice 2: Legendary Edition
introduced Legendary Multiverses for all the DLC characters, which hadn't yet been catered for. It also, unfortunately, added an additional level 30 boss battle for everyone, which now needs to be won before you'll receive the Legendary gear.
Injustice 2: Legendary Edition
Injustice 2: Legendary Edition
offers some new content for all existing players of the game, as well as the full game (including all the DLC fighters and a few of the skins, all of which existing players have to purchase separately) for new purchasers of the game.
The two most interesting updates in this version of the game are the increase of the fighters' level cap from 20 to 30, a new slot called "Augments" in the character loadouts that's unlocked at level 30, and new gear.
One displeasing change was that all of a player's existing Regen Tokens were converted to credits, presumably to stop people rerolling all their gear to level 30 quite so quickly, but it was quite a slap to players such as myself who had been saving the tokens for the Legendary Multiverse requirements rather than for gear.
Meanwhile, the level cap increase has resulted in Multiverse bosses, and the harder Multiverse events, featuring level 30 bosses and requiring higher level fighters to complete. This has also affected the Legendary Multiverses, which now have an extra level 30 boss battle that has to be completed before you can win the Legendary gear. All the DLC fighters now also have their own Legendary Multiverses.
The level cap increase is an annoyance because you have to get all your mains up to speed again, which you either have to do by grinding Multiverse events you don't want to play or by sending an AI loadout into the Endless event in the Battle Simulator to grind the XP for you. (Yes, this really is something you can do - and now that you know it, you probably will.) You will receive a new Hero Card icon at level 25 and level 30, as well as 25 new inventory slots (for a maximum per fighter of 125) at level 25.
The Augments slot in each loadout offers a list of upgrades for your fighter from which you can pick one. Straight upgrades include options such as arena transition damage increased by 10% or attacker super move damage increased by 100%, while balancing upgrades offer stat adjustments that come at a cost - 10% Ability increase with a 10% Health decrease, for example. They allow you to add a little bit more advantage to your playing style or to even out stats that you couldn't quite get right by using Regen Tokens on your gear.
The ability to transform your gear without spending Source Crystals is also going to be made available, likely as a real-world store purchase.
One new skin has been added to the game - that of Bruce Wayne, which can be found under Batman, of course. You can buy it with Source Crystals if you came from an older version of the game and it's unlocked for new players.
The skin hasn't been very well received because no new animations were created for it so Bruce Wayne will, for example, flap an invisible cape around that belongs to Batman and his moves.
Finally, the training area has been completely overhauled into a section called the Learn Hub and the training explanations have been improved as well. The Learn Hub is divided into Basic Moves, Advanced Mechanics, Combat Strategy, and Character training sections and you can also access the practice arena from there.
The Basic Moves and Advanced Mechanics sections are for beginners to learn how to play the game and how the special mechanics work, while the Combat Strategy section is for very advanced fighters as it trains you in ridiculously complicated combos based on aspects such as opponent-action startup times and frame rate data. It's a level of depth and competency that makes the game completely scientific and not at all fun to play.
This is one of the best designed, and best looking, fighting games I've ever seen and the Multiverse continues to offer lots to do and interesting challenges to complete for those who prefer the single-player experience.
The idea behind the gear system is great - I continue to be fascinated by the endless combinations of gear pieces and shaders that the game spits out for the AI opponents and the random stats that accompany them mean that sometimes I have to adjust my playing style to account for an opponent's particularly strong or weak stat - but the mechanics and management methods will need to be improved in the next game in the series.
Before the launch of the Legendary Edition
my only real complaint was the absolute time-sucking tediousness of managing the Mother Boxes and gear but the tougher level 30 bosses and obstacles that have now been placed in the Multiverse and the Legendary Multiverse are incredibly disheartening if you are a long time player.
After having perfected the loadouts for your mains, which can be quite a difficult process if you have bad rerolls or you struggled to find a piece of gear to finish an Epic set, you now have to level them all over again, whether through AI grinding or by hand, which takes even longer, and you have to rework all your gear again to try and get the right stats for your playing style. It also pulls you away from other projects you might finally have had time for, such as fulfilling Legendary Multiverse requirements, levelling up secondary characters, or trying out fighters you never play with at all.
Reaching level 30 isn't a bonus experience - it's frustrating and time consuming. Plus, until you do it you can't challenge the upgraded bosses in the Multiverses for the rewards or get anywhere near the Legendary gear.
Of course, for those completely new to Injustice 2
, Injustice 2: Legendary Edition
is a brand new experience and level 30 is just a satisfying target to reach in the same way that reaching level 20 was for players of the launch version of the game.
If you're new to fighting games this one is the current benchmark for excellence and you should opt for if you want to explore the genre. If you already know you like fighting games, even casually or even if you only like single player experiences, you should have this one in your collection.
The media copy of
Injustice 2 was provided by Ster-Kinekor Entertainment.
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