Released in 2013, Injustice: Gods Among Us was one of those rare-as-hens-teeth licensed games that, well, didn’t suck. After blasting past that (surprisingly challenging) quality bar, Injustice didn’t even slow down, passing through "decent" and making it all the way to "truly excellent" before finally coming to rest.
As a result, Injustice 2 has a lot to live up to.
Once again pitting a series of DC comic book characters against one another in mortal comic-bat, Injustice 2 is an evolution rather than reinvention of the original premise. The new game includes 28 characters out of the box, with a further 10 planned for release as DLC. Some of the original game’s 30 fighters don’t return, leaving room for at least 18 entirely new playable characters (six are yet to be announced).
Returning is the developer’s signature cinematic story mode, the ability to interact with parts of the environments characters fight in, and long-time fighting game staple the super meter, which lets players unleash massive attacks when fully charged. One of the most significant new features is the inclusion of an RPG-style loot system, which allows players to discover gear drops while playing the game that can be used to change the stats and appearance of Injustice 2's various characters. Characters also level as you fight them and, in certain modes, this character level can make a significant difference, should there be a decent gap between each competitor.
Loot itself is easy enough to get, dropping in three different quality tiers reasonably frequently, as you fight in most of the game’s modes. Unsurprisingly, it’s also possible to acquire loot boxes, which have their own tiers of rarity. There’s even a small chance of finding an extra character ability in one of the loot boxes (over the course of the review, this happened to me one time).
As with the loot, however, there are so many characters that the chances of you finding something cool for the DC hero you prefer to play as is pretty small. Fortunately, this doesn't manifest itself as genuinely frustrating. Instead, the new and often very cool looking gear makes using lesser-played characters more appealing.
The loot itself is often interesting, adding some quite out-there looking visual augments to the roster of rogues that would otherwise be quite familiar to anyone with more than a passing interest in comic books. My Super Girl, for example, has a black costume, black cape, Bizarro-themed emblem, and shoulder pads that wouldn’t be out of place in World of Warcraft. Continuing to play her is my focus, as I’m desperate to gain access to a piece of level 20 gear I unlocked while playing story mode.
While I was initially hesitant about the idea of adding loot to a fighting game, I’m now 100 percent converted to the idea. The regular dopamine hits earned through random loot acquisition is just as fun here as it is in your favorite RPG, as is trying to decide between not just stats but also the impact a piece of gear will have to your character’s aesthetic. Ranked games ignore gear, too, so there’s no need to worry about how it might affect the title’s competitive chops.
The game’s story mode, which takes players on a handful-of-hours-long comic book adventure, does more than just provide context to the brawling – it actually makes sense. It feels less like an attempt to connect rounds of fisticuffs and more like a cohesive, valuable evolution of the genre. It’s not quite long enough to justify the purchase of the game to those that are just looking for a single-player comic-themed story game, but it’s definitely headed in that direction.
A new multiverse mode adds extra depth to the title for fans of single-player fighters, tasking players with travelling to other versions of earth to defeat a series of AI characters in order to unlock loot or similar rewards. Each of these worlds tends to have some sort of slight twist on the gameplay you’ll find there, like tweaks to the gravity, things that will shoot at you, or spikes that come out of the ground. You might even need to have a certain character level to take on the challenges, helping to give you something to aim at as you develop your skills or explore a new fighter. At the time of writing, there’s a special world available that rewards Wonder Woman movie themed gear on completion. Like the other worlds, however, this world is available for a limited amount of time and will soon be cycled out and replaced by a completely different world with different challenges and rewards to unlock.
One interesting observation that came late in my time with Injustice 2 was my total dismissal of the stages themselves. It’s not that they’re not important – utilising them smartly both looks cool and increases your chances of winning any given bout. It’s also unrelated to how interesting they are – there are loads of fun ways different types of characters can swing on, throw, or otherwise interact with the wide variety of attractive scenery on any given stage.
Punching a character from one part of a stage to the next is also just as much fun as it was when the idea was first introduced. Instead, what lead me to largely ignore them early on was that I expected this level of detail and engagement in what would otherwise be a simple backdrop in any other fighter. It’s this level of "okay, cool, now what?" that NetherRealm is ultimately up against, because honestly, with no real competition, they have to one-up themselves with each iteration to keep people upgrading.
This same level of excellence extends to character designs. Cyborg, for example, looks a lot better here than he does in the upcoming Justice League film, while other characters from the DC line-up are similarly treated with far more than just respect. The attention to detail extends to specific one-on-one pre-match banter between all of the disparate line-up. It isn’t just unique, it’s always either genuinely funny, or speaks to some deeper connection between the characters that can only come from serious research and passion for the material.
While I was a hardcore fighting game fan back when Street Fighter II first hit the arcades, anyone with even a passing awareness of the industry and basic grasp of math will learn from that statement alone that I’m now an old man. As such, it would be unfair of me to critique in detail just how on-point the frame-counting, meter-burning, super-cancelling, tournament-worthy functionality of the game is. What I can tell you is that, having had my ass handed to me a number of times online (and occasionally by the AI), the game looks incredible when manipulated by masters. Amazingly – and where it counts for players at my skill level – it still works super well when tying together basic combos and timing an uppercut is at the upper echelon of your ability.
Most importantly, Injustice 2 is a hell of a lot of fun. NetherRealm has built an excellent story experience that’s approachable for players of any skill level, and extended that with a post-story experience that provides plenty of depth and length for anyone, even those that have no interest in battling others online. The gear system actually adds to the experience too, giving loads of customisation options and dopamine hits that will keep you battling long past the time at which you would have shelved any other fighting game. Most impressively of all, they’ve proven that licensed games don’t have to suck. Rather, this one is amongst the very best available.