Chicago’s NetherRealm Studios did something unusual with Injustice 2, the sequel to 2013’s Injustice: Gods Among Us. It’s added thousands of unlockable items to the fighting game series for the first time. The kit comes in three forms; equipment, shaders and abilities. All three types will drop at the end of a fight, and be available for purchase in random crates, called Mother Boxes, with in-game currency.
Last month Polygon was invited over for a sneak peak at the gear system, hands-on with the game’s opening moments and an introduction to its newest character, Dr. Fate, which you can see in the video above.
Every character that ships with Injustice 2 will come with stock equipment items for their head, torso, arms and legs — and a single accessory slot. As players collect items, they’ll be able to mix and match them to customize the look of their character. But items have stats as well, and can confer bonuses to a character’s strength, defense and health as well as power-up their special abilities.
In addition to these four stats, equipment can also include one or more augments that have additional perks. Those include new visual effects or new animations for special attacks. They can also provide increases to experience gained or the amount of in-game currency earned with each fight.
Accessory slots are particularly powerful, and can dramatically change how characters fight. They allow players to swap out Batman’s utility belt or Swamp Thing’s club for new and powerful new variants. You can even tinker with Atrocitus’ furry companion, Dex-Starr, replacing him with other versions that have completely new outfits and bizarre abilities.
NetherRealm confirmed that there will be gear sets, groups of two or more items that when combined will confer additional bonuses. Batman’s Kryptonite Infused Armor, for instance, is comprised of five pieces, including a unique utility belt. When combined, they give the Caped Crusader’s Bat Swarm ability a much larger range of attack.
For players that are more interested in evenly matched, competitive play, NetherRealm said there will be game modes that do not allow gear.
A fresh coat of paint
While themed equipment will provide characters with a new silhouette, another type of gear will take customization up another level. Called shaders, these collectible items will allow you to completely change a character’s color palette. They can alter a character’s costume, particle effects and even their skin tone. Like gear, shaders will be unique to each character.
Abilities are the third and final piece of the gear system. They will add new or modified special attacks for every character. While playing Batman, we were unlocked a new takedown move. Instead of simply knocking an opponent flat on their back, suddenly we were able to grapple with them, doing additional damage and knocking them prone for an extended period of time. It’s a subtle change, but one that’s sure to confuse and confound the opposition in competitive play.
That’s because, NetherRealm said, you won’t know what special attacks or modifications an adversary’s abilities provide until they use them against you.
Lead designer John Edwards explained that the road to the current gear system was long, but worth the effort.
“When we started, it seemed a little to same-y for everybody,” Edwards told Polygon. “We were thinking about how can we could expand on the idea. ... What can we introduce that's a little bit more unique, besides just boots and stuff? So we combined the feet and the legs into just one slot, and that gave us this whole extra slot now to mess around with. That’s where accessories came from.”
Thanks to their work on Injustice: Gods Among Us, Edwards said, DC Comics was fairly easy to work with. Everything had to pass through an approval process, but rarely did any of the team’s ideas get rejected. In the end, coming up with the many, many different costume variations was easy, he added, because of the depth and breadth of DC lore.
“It's a mutual respect,” explained art director Steve Beran. “They respect what we do, and we respect all their characters. We are fans of their characters and, I think, art-wise and design-wise we put a lot of detail that hardcore fans will like. We tried to really honor every character.”
Now comes the difficult work of balancing them. The version of the game that we played was absolutely filled with numbers. In addition to the dozens of key combinations players need to master to become good at a given fighter, now they’ll need to become experts at reading stats as well. It’s a lot to ask of more casual players, but the team at NetherRealm hopes they and die hard fans alike will appreciate the work that went into creating the system.
Injustice 2 will be available May 16, 2017 on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.