Injustice 2 is coming, and the information trickle has been pretty hype. Regardless of how you feel about the long-standing Mortal Kombat gameplay systems, you can’t deny how chock-full of content the first Injustice was and how much more Injustice 2 appears to have. DC nerds are going to gorge themselves on fanservice. That said, NetherRealm is always trying to do new things and add new stuff to its games, and sometimes the developer goes way overboard. In this case, Injustice 2 has a stats system. And oh boy, does that ever open up a can of worms.
For the full breakdown, check out our news post. As a diehard Street Fighter junkie, so much about this doesn’t sit well with me. It makes my guts churn, my brow furrow, and me frown. I don’t like it. There are a few reasons why, and I’ll do my best to lay them out without sounding like a giant nerd. Injustice 2’s equipment system is a balance issue, a content issue and an end-user issue.
Why adding stats, equipment and loot drops messes with balance in a fighting game is a no-brainer. You’re talking about a system that randomly doles out items. These change the properties of your fighting game characters. Nothing is more frustrating in a fighter than an unnatural disadvantage. A game like Injustice 2 is supposed to be a combination of man and machine against another combination of man and machine. A mashup of understanding systems, physical skill, and strategy. When you mess with that, you’re adding roadblocks that remove skill from the equation. Just look at the classic bosses in arcade fighters. They read your inputs, do way more damage, and have way more health than the player. They are designed that way in order to force losses onto even skilled players, and take their money (literally).
This system is that, but throughout the game and even inserted between human players. It’s an artificial wedge between what is about as close as you can get to real competition in videogames. Just look at examples from the past, such as the Soulcalibur series and some of the Dragon Ball Z Budokai games. Messing around with a character’s properties breaks the competitive angle. It breaks it in half. It’s no good. It’s bunk. It’s pointless. This kind of stuff is fine for single-player, but a fighter focused on single-player is like a Call of Duty game with an open world. Nobody wants that, because it penetrates and contradicts the core point of the experience.
Now, you can toggle Injustice 2's stats off, but to me that presents a layer of complication that is not user-friendly. You must be aware of the option, know what the option means, and rely on the player base to make one choice or another or have enough of a population that both styles of play are viable for participation. It’s a mess and historically unreliable. I remember playing WWE 2K14 when it was hot and instantly being repulsed by taking custom characters online and seeing no nuance. Everyone was a full 100 rating and impossible to beat otherwise. Trying to play with stats off was like bursting into a haunted house and demanding to have a conversation with another living human.
Also, adding a system with this sort of depth to, again, a fighting game seems like the polar opposite of “less is more.” Fighting games are good because they’re fast, they’re super engaging, and playing a single match takes very little time. It’s this very reasoning behind a fighting game’s appeal that makes some of Street Fighter V’s matchmaking features so frustrating. Having to set your character rather than being able to choose, for example, adds time and discourages experimentation. So for the fighter player, casual or otherwise, being introduced to a system that will have them sifting through hundreds of options with rising and sinking stat numbers will be a huge turnoff.
Now of course this is all conjecture and reaction on my part; I haven’t played Injustice 2 and am just basing this piece off my intuition, experience, and the details NetherRealm provided. In practice, it could work out very well and be a lot of fun to mess around with. On the other hand, part of the breakdown included spending in-game currency on random crates for loot, and there’s no way to make that not sound terrible. Food for thought.