​Injustice 2 Is Darker And Grittier Than Its Predecessor [GDC 2017 Hands-On]

It's been less than a year since its reveal, and we're already about two months out from the release of Injustice 2. Who would've known that after the surprisingly forgettable Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe, the developers would return to the DC Universe with Injustice: Gods Among Us, and make one of the best comic book based fighting games outside of anything Capcom has cooked up. Coming off of Mortal Kombat X, the developers at NetherRealm Studios are gearing up for the launch of Injustice 2, and they've got plenty more of the game to reveal in the mean time.

Much like its predecessor, Injustice 2 focuses on what would happen if the DC Universe took a turn toward evil, with many of its heroes stepping into the bad side. Things aren't peaceful in this darker and grittier version of the main DC Universe, and many heroes and villains have bit the dust in their battles with a tyrannical Superman and other villains. Because of this, many of the surviving characters have stepped up and now make up the core roster of Injustice 2. Over the last few weeks, the developers have been slowly trickling out character reveals, and during a special hands-on session at GDC 2017 we got try out the newly revealed Doctor Fate, along with the opening chapter of the game.

Set several years after the events of the first game within the Injustice DC universe, Batman and his allies continue their efforts to rebuild civilization after toppling Superman's global regime. With the former tyrant in captivity, and as the nations of the world begin to coalesce, a new threat in the form of The Society reveals itself. Batman has to form a team of new heroes in order battle the threat. With both sides amassing forces, an even greater threat reveals itself, pushing the world back into chaos, pitting armies of heroes and villains against each other once again.

Since the original's release, the Injustice universe has developed further in its own comic series, which explains what happen to other characters not seen in the game, but also how the world has been altered as a result of the war between Superman and Batman. During our hands-on time with the opening segment of the campaign, we got to see more world building and proper setup for the sequel. Playing as Batman in a flashback chapter, The Dark Knight and Robin (Damien Wayne), try to prevent Superman from executing the entire population of Arkham Asylum shortly after the death of the Joker. Along the way, they come to blows with Cyborg and Wonder Woman, who have joined Superman's cause to rid the earth of crime. A rift between Batman and his son soon form, culminating in their split.

Unlike the last game which focused on a multi-universe conflict, the plot of Injustice 2, save for references to past events, takes place entirely in the Injustice universe. With this universe largely fleshed out already, we're finally getting the chance to play as heroes and villains that have managed to survive the wrath of Superman's regime, such as the incredibly fun grappler/zoner character Swamp Thing, but also the newly revealed Doctor Fate. As one of the DC universe's most powerful magic users, he takes advantage of ranged spells and talismans which grant him several buffs and additional attacks. One of the great joys of Injustice 2 and its predecessor is seeing how these characters fare in fighting games, and after playing as Fate and Swamp Thing, whom I suspect will be fan-favorites, the roster feels more unique and diverse than the original.

Taking influences from Mortal Kombat X, the developers wanted to increase the way players can customize their fighter's looks, but also how they play. The Gear System, which is something that developers at NetherRealm Studios put a lot of stock in, aims to spice up battles in a big way. As you fight your way through the campaign, online, and additional modes, your fighters will level up and find new loot. While unusual for a fighting game, the loot and abilities they offer change your character in some unexpected ways. For instance, Deadshot gains new firearms, such as a grenade launcher which allows him to launch characters, opening them up for further combos. Moreover, if there's a piece of armor you like that's got poor stats, you'll be able to reroll it, giving it a boost.

There's been a healthy debate about the place RPG mechanics have in a fighting game. Many fans have voiced concerns about player concerns being left at a disadvantage when battling others who have played longer than they have. Those are certainly fair points, and I do also have some misgivings with the systems, which seem to create far too many variables for characters. They tend to go against certain tenants of fighting game mechanics. With that said, the developers have designed the online and multiplayer to work with and without the various buffs. You can battle it out online with the stats boosts enabled, or you fight with only new your costumes and on a level playing field. Still, it'll be interesting to see how things play out once game is out in the wild.

In addition to the campaign, online, and fighting game standard arcade modes, Injustice 2 also introduces the new Multiverse mode. Similar to Mortal Kombat X's Towers, the Multiverse allows players to travel to an ever-changing series of parallel worlds in the DC Universe and battle alternate versions of the heroes and villains with various handicaps, stipulations, and goals. Completing the gauntlet, you'll gain access to various tiers of Motherboxes, which yield new gear, items, and shaders for your characters. Unfortunately, it's looking like the micro-transaction system from Mortal Kombat X might be making a return in this title. While the devs were cagey on giving details, there's a big focus on gaining credits for motherboxes in game that seems like a given that increased monetization will be back.

Injustice 2 is looking to be a sizable upgrade from the previous game. The tone of the game feels much darker than the original, which is surprising given how dark the last title was. While I was a big admirer of the first title, it still left a lot to be desired with some features, and many of the most interesting characters seemed underdeveloped. I'm optimistic with many of the changes and additions they've added, and many of the new characters play very well, though I've still got my worries about the gear system that could throw some of the systems out of whack. Still, I found a lot to be excited about in this game. If the rest of the roster turns out as interesting as Doctor Fate and Swamp Thing, then many DC fans will have a lot to love about Injustice 2.