The Dead or Alive 6 online beta was great, if a tad regressive [Preview]

It’s been almost seven years since Dead or Alive 5 first launched. Having logged over 800 hours into Dead or Alive 5: Last Round, I came into the recent Dead or Alive 6 beta with high expectations. DOA5 struck a perfect balance between accessibility and depth that no other fighting game has captured since, which set the bar quite high for this new entry. But despite some controversial changes, DOA6 feels like the DOA I, and may others, fell in love with.

Dead or Alive 6 beta impressions – Immediate familiarity

Anyone that’s played DOA5 will instantly connect with DOA6‘s general controls and movement. It’s still a fast-paced, accessible 3D fighter that emphasizes the series’ signature triangle system. In this rock-paper-scissors style pyramid, physical strikes dominate throws, throws beat holds, and holds overtake strikes.

Dead or Alive has always had insane combo potential when mixed with its highly interactive stages, but it never went overboard. While more moves and mechanics were added over the years, understanding the basic triangle system provided a foothold for all players. Someone may not know combos or setups, but knows a grab punish after a whiffed counter deals more damage than a standard grab. And with that in mind, Dead or Alive 6 still feels like Dead or Alive.

Dead or Alive 6 beta impressions – Unwelcome changes

But that doesn’t mean that it’s all great. The core gameplay hasn’t been flubbed, but some changes negatively impact its potential. Dead or Alive 5: Last Round refined the series to its highest point. It holds the franchise’s highest skill ceiling without increasing the barrier of entry. It’s still an immediately engaging game that makes noobs feel like they’re accomplishing something, but doesn’t patronize skilled players.

Dead or Alive 6‘s changes decrease the skill gap. The stun system has been simplified. You can still get Critical Stuns, but the Critical Burst is gone. Power Launchers don’t exist anymore either. DOA5‘s Power Blows have been replaced by the Break Blow, a less exciting special move that ties more closely into the new meter system. Rather than the previously unobtrusive system, which allowed players to execute Power Blows or Power Launchers at half health once per round, DOA6 muddles the UI by adding meters.

Dead or Alive 6 beta impressions – Meters, fatal rushes, and break holds

The meter system is simplistic. Players have two bars that fill as they deal and take damage. The Break Blow consumes both bars while the new Break Hold uses up one bar. The Break Hold is a guaranteed counter which means you don’t have to anticipate mid, high, or low strikes. It’s meant to counter the fatal rush, this game’s auto combo, but its existence carries dangerous ramifications.

The counter system is integral to Dead or Alive‘s DNA. Without it, the series wouldn’t have stuck around so long. It adds so many layers to the mind games. You could bait a counter and go for the grab, mix-up, launcher, or Critical Burst. People with more dexterity may show off, ignoring that most of said character’s setups begin with high strikes. That predictability is punished with a counter.

Dead or Alive 6 dilutes this mind game by offering fewer options. Past the first hit, it seems impossible to break out of a Fatal Rush combo without the break hold. The Fatal Rush also doesn’t consume meter unless it’s finished off with the Break Blow. With the Break Hold in place, lower level players have a larger safety net to fall back on.

This could adversely effect casual play and limit its tournament reach. In lulling novices into a false sense of accomplishment, it provides less incentive to pay attention to visual cues. With less reason to get better thanks to stripped out mechanics and an easy way out, Dead or Alive 6‘s longevity outside of the hardcore scene may be at stake.

Dead or Alive 6 beta impressions – Uncertainties

Beyond the aforementioned issues, DOA6‘s beta raises a few questions. Without a proper training mode to test things, I’m left with a few assumptions based on my limited beta experience. Stagger escapes either don’t exist or they’ve been nerfed. I also wonder about the prominence of its weight classes. Ayane’s bread and butter combos worked on all five playable characters: Kasumi, Ayane, Hayate, Hayabusa, and Miguel.

The Break Blow’s properties are also unclear. Break Blows sometimes ate through attacks, though other times, opponents were able to strike through them. DOA6 could have a system in place whereby certain moves moves can interrupt Break Blows or maybe it’s just an unfinished part of beta. I have a suspicion that the counter’s timing window has been reduced from DOA5, though it’s difficult to state for sure.

Dead or Alive 6 beta impressions – A decent impression

Dead or Alive 6 is a shaping up to be a decent sequel. It’s easier than its predecessor, but that’s not inherently a bad thing. Its meter system, Break Holds, and Fatal Rush combos leave reason to be concerned, but there’s also enough to be excited about. It feels more fluid than other 3D fighters on the market.

This frenetic action is enhanced by the new engine, which sports impressive visuals. It’s not the most stunning game, but it looks better than Tekken 7 and Soul Calibur 6. Dead or Alive 6‘s beta, with its immediate familiarity, has made the two-week delay excruciating. After minor balancing tweaks here and there, it looks like it will be worth any fighting game fan’s time.