Make the DC Universe Compelling Again: Injustice 2 Review

Harley Quinn and her hyenas

Injustice 2 has been out a couple weeks now, and I’ve finally gotten enough quality time with it to actually write a review. I was a big fan of the first game’s single player story mode and online play, and was feeling some good vibes about this game prior to its release.

As far as the story mode goes, Netherrealm Studios (NRS) continues to deliver on making great narrative content for all their fighting games. Ever since the release of Mortal Kombat 9, they’ve clearly made this a priority, and the content has been getting better and better. The days of a fighting game’s single player mode consisting of a ladder with some simple text and image stills for an “ending” are clearly over.

Whose Son Are You? Jor El’s? Or General Zod’s?

Batman & Superman face off over the Justice League table

This version of the DC Universe is similar to the DCU in general with some small exceptions (for instance, Lex Luthor was never a criminal mastermind) and one very large one. The signature event of this Earth is an incident where the Joker managed to dupe Superman into accidentally killing Superman’s wife and unborn son, which in turn sets off a nuclear bomb that wipes out Metropolis.1 As Batman is interrogating the Joker, an enraged Superman storms into the room and murders the Joker. Superman then decides he must “fix” the world, and creates the One Earth Government, an authoritarian regime to enact Superman’s new vision, with several heroes and villains joining him. Batman, horrified by what Superman has become, forms a resistance movement to overthrow Superman’s regime. Injustice 2 picks up the story from where the first Injustice game left off, with Superman imprisoned and the One Earth Government dismantled, but a new threat emerges when Braniac initiates an invasion of Earth, seeking to complete his destruction of Krypton by killing Superman, and to add Earth to his collection of worlds.

While DC is no stranger to alternate realities, and Batman vs. Superman conflicts are nothing new, this is probably the most compelling DC story line I’ve come across. Superman is actually an interesting character here, and the shakeup of allegiances adds a lot of intrigue. Also, quite thankfully, the story constrains itself to this particular universe. While it was OK for the first game to have this multi universe interaction of characters, repeating that for Injustice 2 would have been utterly lame.

The narrative’s quality beats out pretty much every DCU movie to date with the exception of the recently released Wonder Woman film. That’s not to say there aren’t any problems with the story. Some characters (notably Doctor Fate and Atrocitus) are awkwardly shoehorned into the story in an effort to represent everyone, and the incorporation of Green Arrow into the story is kind of stupid given the events of the first game.2 Despite the issues, the three to four hours it takes to complete the story mode is well worth your time, even if you aren’t partial to fighting games.

The structure of the story mode is the same as other NRS fighters, with one very welcome improvement: some of the chapters of the game allow you to choose between two characters to engage in a fight with, as opposed to each chapter focusing solely on one character. One of my biggest complaints about previous NRS games was the story modes only allowed you to play as a very small portion of the entire cast (and then, generally only as the “good guys”). You are also given a choice at the end of the game that is also quite unexpected, especially for a fighting game.

Who’s In, Who’s Out

Two fighters fly through the air at each other

The initial roster of Injustice 2 sits at 29 characters, a rather large initial offering for a 1v1 fighting game.

Returning from Injustice 1: Aquaman, Bane, Batman, Black Adam, Catwoman, Cyborg, Flash, Green Arrow, Green Lantern, Harley Quinn, Joker, Superman, Wonder Woman
Newcomers: Atrocitus, Black Canary, Blue Beetle, Brainiac, Captain Cold, Cheetah, Darkseid, Deadshot, Doctor Fate, Firestorm, Gorilla Grodd, Posion Ivy, Scarecrow, Supergirl, Swamp Thing

All in all it’s a good overall roster, though some people may be disappointed about the dropped characters like Lex Luthor and Deathstroke (who’s effectively been replaced by Deadshot). Ares is also a curious omission from the first game, given the proximity of the game’s release with the Wonder Woman film. There’s a good mix of fighter archetypes so most players will be able to find a couple fighters they enjoy playing.

There are currently nine characters planned as DLC content, with three characters currently confirmed: Red Hood, Starfire, and Sub-Zero. Personally I’m not wild about the inclusion of Mortal Kombat characters, and it looks like there will be at least one more (possibly two) based on the silhouettes shown in the first DLC reveal teaser (Raiden is pretty obvious). Scorpion was apparently the most downloaded DLC character of the first Injustice game, so I guess NRS is just giving people what they want.

I Suppose I Should Get to the Gameplay Now

So yes, gameplay. If you are coming from the first Injustice game, you should be right at home. The basic mechanical fundamentals haven’t changed. If you are coming from any of the previous Mortal Kombat games there will be some adjustments. There’s no block button, and only three buttons set up for attacks (Light, Medium, Heavy), with the fourth button being used for special traits specific to each character. If you are completely new to fighters, the initial tutorial covers the mechanics pretty well, and there are very basic tutorial steps for each individual character as well.

Batman rolls away from Gorilla Grodd

One additional element they’ve added is the ability to spend meter to initiate rolls on the ground or in the air. Ground rolls are quick maneuvers you can use to close the gap or escape pressure from your opponent. You are invulnerable to attacks while rolling but can be thrown. Air rolls can be initiated while you are being juggled by your opponent in the air, allowing you to get out of the juggle state, disrupt your opponent’s timing, and avoid big damage from the attempted combos. While I’m not a good enough player to make use of these tools effectively, I can imagine this will spice up competitive tournament play quite a bit, giving players more options aside from the one per match clash to break up the other player’s combos.

Atrocitus rolls past Gorilla Grodd

Much of the returning cast has undergone very little changes from the first game. I played Harley Quinn almost exclusively in the first game and as far as I can tell she plays pretty much the same, save for some minor timing differences on ground/wall bounce combos, and her special trait has been changed to something much more useful (commanding hyenas to charge at your opponent is fun to do). I took a quick look at Batman and Superman and they are pretty much identical to their previous iterations as well. I have some mixed feelings on this. Sure, it’s great that I can just jump right in with Harley, but some of the joys of the learning process gets lost when there’s nothing really to discover. I can of course branch off to more characters that might interest me like Scarecrow or Supergirl, something I didn’t really do in the first game.

As far as complaints go, the two major issues I had with the first Injustice game still remain: interactive objects and stage transitions. The former was my most hated element of the game. They’ve been toned down considerably. No longer are the objects virtually unavoidable, and the overall damage they inflict appears to be reduced. But the most frustrating element is still that “power” and “gadget” characters deal with the same interactive elements differently, which is still in the “power” characters favor. For example, a “power” character would chuck a large object at you, while the “gadget” character would use it to do a quick spring jump.

I haven’t explored online play all that much, but I am happy to report it isn’t nearly as godawful as previous NRS fighters. There are still issues with latency, but it doesn’t appear to be the absolute shitstorm disasters of the past. It needs improvement, but at least it’s functional. All the pertinent modes are there: unranked/ranked play, king of the hill, etc.

Obligatory E-Sports Mention

They Put Diablo in My Fighting Game!

Gear screen for Supergirl

One of the coolest things NRS has added to this game is loot drops. In place of alternate skins (of which the first game had plenty), as you do things in game you can acquire pieces of gear to alter your fighter’s appearance. In addition, each character has a collection of color shaders you can acquire to further customize a character’s appearance. Character gear is acquired by completing fights in any game mode, opening Mother Boxes (think loot boxes from Overwatch or Heroes of the Storm), or as rewards for completing specific events. Currently there is a multiverse event going on that will reward gear for Wonder Woman to give her an appearance to match her movie look. It’ll be nice to see more of these type of tie-ins with other games/movies that should hopefully entice people to keep playing. The only complaint I have so far on the gear is that some of it isn’t very imaginative. I have a collection of Harley head pieces that are really just minor variations of her jester hat, but hopefully there’s enough of a volume of gear to acquire that the customization most people are looking for will be there.

The gear doesn’t just provide cosmetics. Gear also has attributes that will affect your fighter in game. This will be turned off during most online and ranked match play, but it plays a big role in the Multiverse game mode, an evolution of the Living Towers mode present in Mortal Kombat X. Generally, five multiverses will be active at any time, and each have largely varying active times (one can be active for a whole week, while another could be active for two hours). Each multiverse houses several dynamically generated challenge ladders for you to complete. Each ladder completion rewards gear and/or Mother Boxes based on its difficulty and how well you perform in your encounters. In addition, the multiverse will have three objectives (complete ladder X with character Y, perform and connect Z super moves in ladder A, etc.) for you to complete to provide some more rewards. The ladders can get surprisingly difficult, as several interesting mutations to gameplay can be added, such as vampiric attacks, altering gravity, randomly reversing game controls, and providing the player some outside assists. By far my favorite of the mutations is the random power-ups that turn you into One Punch Man. There’s also “Boss” type fights, where your opponent will have massive amounts of health and some additional special moves to rev up the difficulty factor.

The scaling difficulties is where gear comes in. As you attempt the higher level challenges you’ll need higher level gear. In addition, you may want to look for gear with certain augmented properties. Getting frustrated by a final ladder fight involving a powered up Superman? Equip some augmented gear that provides bonus damage against Kryptonians. Enjoy the item hunt.

There’s also the concept of “guilds” in the game, but I haven’t explored that very much. From what I can tell, they have their own multiverses that you can work together with other members to complete objectives and tackle difficult “boss” encounters. Sounds interesting but not sure if I really want to dedicate any time to that.

All in all this Multiverse game mode is an interesting experiment to try and branch out a fighting game, a traditionally niche game genre, to appeal to a broader audience. We’ll see if it succeeds.

Final Verdict

Injustice 2 is a little more than a niche competitive 0nly game.

If you’re pretty averse to fighting games, Injustice 2 may not be for you. If you do like fighting games, but generally are averse to the competitive aspect of them, Injustice 2 might be right up your alley. The great story mode and things to do outside of online play are well worth the price of admission.

Miguel Justiniano
Libertarian. Ranter. Always takes the renegade interrupt. Horde4Life.

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