The release of Injustice 2 is looming over us after what feels like an extremely long wait and fans are desperate to get their hands on this new fighter – for good reason!
Anyone who has played any of NetherRealm Studios’ titles will know that they do not play it safe with their titles and are known for pushing the envelope. Mortal Kombat 9 introduced players to an innovative cinematic, narrative-driven story mode, a move which effectively made story modes a must-have feature for any fighting game trying to impress players. They have continued to introduce new ideas to the fighting genre, and their latest addition is the upcoming Gear System in Injustice 2.
The Gear System in Injustice 2 allows players to equip unique armour pieces earned through playing the game which changes many aspects of your character whilst also giving them a completely new look. Armour pieces let you play dress up with your character, with plenty of nods to classic DC costumes and some new takes on more modern apparel.
Gear, however, also tweaks the individual attributes of your character, allowing you to alter their Damage, Speed and Defence stats. In some cases, their special moves can also be changed, giving them different uses or removing them entirely in favour of a new move. The altering of moves, however, isn’t new for NetherRealm implementing similar mechanics with the Variation System in Mortal Kombat X.
Where the issue presents itself is that stat altering in fighting games is a very muddy subject. Many casual fans will no doubt enjoy the ability to give their Batman crazy high defence and an eye-catching costume, but the competitive and more hardcore audience are not entirely pleased with the prospect.
The issue is made worse by the fact that you are not just fighting against a player with a potentially different move set to you, but also with completely new stats and boosts. Imagine learning how to execute an extremely difficult combo that results in a powerful attack that deals lots of damage and and then landing it… Only to have the damage sliced in half because your opponent has a Gear piece that has the chance to cut incoming damage in half.
This is a scenario that can realistically occur in the game, and what makes it more shocking is that there are no visual cues to tell you that the person you are fighting against has access to that buff. When you look at the previous Mortal Kombat where every character had three variations, there were distinct tells in how that variation was presented. Allow me to use Scorpion as an example: when using his Ninjitsu variation that offered unique far-reaching normal attacks, there were swords on his back; when using the Hellfire variation, his hands had embers coming off of them. These visual differences, though small, allowed for me as a player to recognise the move set that my opponent had adjust my play style accordingly. This was fair, whilst also giving players a range and scope of character.
The final and by far the most worrying issue with the Gear System is just how easy it will be to monetise. The system appears to be ripe and almost built for micro-transactions in the form of loot boxes, which permeate many of the competitive games which exist at the moment. You currently earn Gear in game by playing matches and unlocking credits to purchase Motherboxes, which contain loot. The loot is randomised, and anyone who has played any triple A release over the last few years knows that randomly generated loot boxes as rewards usually mean – that micro-transactions are imminent.
There is a confirmed competitive mode for online where players’ Gear can be utilised, however both players need to agree to it which I find to be rather counter-productive. Obviously we do not know what the final online mode offerings will be, so I will withhold judgement for this, but if the mode functions the same way it does in the beta then I do not believe that it will work for online.
The effect of both players agreeing to switch off their Gear variables will be that it will disable their buffed stats and in some cases remove the special moves they have chosen with that set-up. This mode will thus restrict players to the standard characters and their default Gear, which, true, makes the game more balanced, but completely removes the better aspects of the Gear System.
What would make this mode much more bearable and exciting to use would be to have certain Gear sets legal for the competitive modes, allowing you to keep the customisation to your character (which makes them feel more personal to you and your play style), while getting rid of the random modifiers and buffs that do not work well in a competitive setting. It would bring the better, aesthetic elements to the competitive scene whilst eliminating those statistical elements which could instantly put yourself or your opponents at an unfair advantage.
It would be easy to say that the general feeling of unease around the Gear System is that the fans do not like change. While it is undeniable that some players fall into this camp, the issue I see is that we have been here before with another fighting game: Street Fighter X Tekken. The 2012 crossover brawler had a similar system to the announced Gear System; it allowed for altered damage, speed and defence, and other factors could be affected through the use of ‘gems’. Gems could allow for players to automatically break out of throws, give them crazy damage boosts, or even automatically block incoming attacks if you were quick enough. It was a system that didn’t work very well, and it only took around a week for good players to start using very powerful gem combos to make themselves into walking fortresses, cover their weaknesses, and develop their own play style.
Right now all we can do is speculate as to how it will work. Until the game is in our hands we can’t know for sure – all we can do is hope and pray that NetherRealm Studios know what they are doing and have enough foresight to be able to balance the system or implement a competitive mode that doesn’t completely separate the system from the game but rather marries them together.