Written by: Big Ross, CC2K Staff Writer
Big Ross looks at the update that brought MAJOR changes to the mobile fighting game starring the DCU from the makers of Mortal Kombat.
When Injustice Gods Among Us (Injustice, hereafter) was first announced, I (like many I suspect) couldn’t have told you what it was about if the name was all the information given to me. Something to do with Greek or Roman mythology? Maybe another God of War clone? Anything but a game, and a fighting game at that, set in the DC Universe (DCU). But that is indeed what Netherrealm Studios gave us. The premise is simple, if not wholly original, and enough of an inventive twist on a question asked since Siegel and Schuster gave us that most well-known of superheroes: “What if Superman became evil?”
I recently bought the console version of the game, but I have yet to play it. I’ve found enough information online to know that the setup of the game is as follows: Joker drugs Superman and tricks him into killing Lois Lane (and their unborn child!) and Jimmy Olsen. Joker also detonates a nuke and destroys most of Metropolis, killing millions. Superman (quite understandably) loses it, kills Joker, and establishes a new Regime installing himself as overlord of Earth. The choice for the heroes and villains of the DCU is simple: fall in line with Superman, or die. Those who refuse Superman’s demand join an Insurgency led by Batman. There is an immensely popular digital comic of the same name that serves as a prequel to the game, which I have never read. But I have been playing the mobile version of Injustice on my iPad. A lot. It’s actually just about the only game that I do play on it.
The core mechanic/gameplay is solid and enjoyable. Instead of controlling one character, you have a team of three that you can tag in and out, fighting against computer-controlled teams of three opponents. Characters are represented as cards and are ranked according to three tiers: bronze, silver, and gold, with gold characters, like Batman and Superman, naturally being the most powerful and bronze characters like Catwoman or The Flash being weaker. As you fight and win battles your characters gain experience allowing them to level up and become yet more powerful. As they level up you can unlock special moves and attacks, and even super moves that deal massive amounts of damage onto your opponents. Your characters also have energy bars that are consumed as they fight in matches. Once a character’s energy bar is depleted, you either have to wait for their energy to recharge or you can instantly recharge them with special “energy cards”. Or, provided you have a big enough team of cards, which you will amass the longer you play the game, you can simply swap out your “exhausted” cards for fresh ones to keep playing. It’s one aspect of the game that keeps things interesting. Even if you have a favorite character, this energy mechanic will force you to bench that character for a time and play with other cards in your collection.
A quick word about microtransactions. For better or worse, love them or hate them, they are an integral part of mobile gaming these days. The proverbial genie is out of the bottle, and there’s no putting him back in. Once companies learned that they can offer gamers the option to buy things, little, seemingly inconsequential things for relatively cheap prices IN GAME, and make a substantial profit provided enough people choose the option, do you really think they’d ever not do it? Some companies [cough] EA [cough] seemingly take this business model too far and release games that are allegedly unplayable without buying microtransactions. But with Injustice Netherrealm have done it right. There is a currency system in the game. Virtually everything can be bought with Power Credits. You earn Power Credits by winning matches, i.e. simply playing the game. All matches in the game are replayable, so you can play the same battles over and over, grinding through the game and building up your bank of Power Credits until you enough for that Gold Superman card (220,000 credits) or that Red Son Pack (400,000 credits) or whatever it is you have your eye on. But you don’t have to wait. You don’t have to grind if you don’t want to. You can simply purchase Power Credits with real world money via a credit card. But here’s the thing. IT’S COMPLETELY OPTIONAL. The game doesn’t ”force” you to buy anything, it isn’t “in your face” bombarding you with microtransactions [cough] Candy Crush Saga [cough] it never feels like they’re requisite to playing the game. Hell, for a long time I didn’t even know this option existed. If more games handled microtransactions the way Injustice does, public opinion might not be so firmly against them.
I’m a little off track here. I started this meaning to talk about the latest update to Injustice, called Version 2.0. It just became available last week, and it’s brought major changes to the game. Most noticeable are the cosmetic tweaks to the user interface. I’ll admit I don’t like it [grumble] change is bad [grumble], but it’s not a huge deal, and I’m sure I’ll get used to it. The biggest change to the game is the addition of multiplayer, and it’s IMHO where the problems really start.
NOTE: I’ve seen online that there are A LOT of players who lost all of their progress and card collections after installing the update. This would totally suck. I guess I was one of the lucky ones, because my game updated with all of my cards and saved progress seamlessly. Obviously this is a big problem (I don’t know if it really affected 50% of players, as I’ve seen claims of online), and it remains to be seen how and if Netherrealm will address it.
So, multiplayer. I think I’ve made my feelings known about multiplayer in general on this website before. But to reiterate: I don’t like multiplayer. I almost never play those portions of video games. It’s NEVER a selling point for me. A big reason why I play video games is to escape the real world and get away from the people in it. Video games are my “me time”, my time to be alone, and I don’t need or want other people mucking it up. So, the announcement that multiplayer was the major component of update 2.0 less than thrilled me. But I tried it out anyway, just to give it a shot. Here is my verdict:
It’s a horrible failure. See Update Below!
Okay, justification time. I suspect the console version of Injustice is like the Mortal Kombat games or the Street Fighter games or any of the rest, in that all of the fighters are intentionally designed to be more or less equal. To at least exist in a basal state on a level playing field. In those games it’s up to the player to give them an advantage; victory is dependent on the player’s skill. Sure, there are some gamers who may discover and exploit a trait of a particular fighter, giving them what some may argue is an unfair advantage, but again, it’s the player that determines the outcome. In the mobile version of Injustice, in my experience, player skill has little if anything to do with victory. The three-tiered card system, and the leveling system, not to mention the promotion system that allows you to “rank up” already high-level cards to over-powered levels, means victory is ENTIRELY dependent on your cards. And unlike poker, there is no way to bluff your way to victory. If you don’t have the cards, the house will win. Always. In the single-player game, there is the rare battle where you are given little to no information on your opponents before the match starts. In all other cases, you can see your opponents, their tier, level, rank, health and damage output. 9 if not 10 times out of 10, if you don’t select a team of cards at least equal to or greater than your opponents, you will lose. Back to the multiplayer. I logged on, selected a single match battle, selected my team, and the game went about finding me a “match”. Before the battle began, I knew I was going to lose. I knew it. My team consisted of a level 40 elite II Batman, level 38 elite III Superman, and level 40 Batgirl (all gold cards). My opponent’s team consisted of level 40 elite II Batman, level 40 elite I Regime Superman, and level 40 elite V Regime Shazam (all gold cards). Any way you match up our cards, he comes out on top. Our Batman cards push, his Superman beats my Batgirl, his Shazam beats my Superman. Oh, I put up a good fight. I launched super moves with Batgirl and Batman and hurled specials as quickly as they charged; I lasted a while, but it was only a matter of time. Unless he simply gave up and stopped tapping his iPad, the outcome was predetermined.
That, in a nutshell, is the problem with multiplayer for Injustice. I don’t know the matchmaking logic the game follows. I presume that it tries to pair up teams that are more or less equal, but that is the problem. It likely can’t, with any consistency pair up truly equal opponents. One will almost always be more powerful than the other, and it simply becomes a game of chance. Will I get an opponent more or less powerful than I? Might as well flip a coin to determine the winner. And that’s when you’re able to connect and actually play. I’ve heard of lots of gamer unable to connect and play more than a single multiplayer match, and I experienced the same problem.
The other problem, which *may* get addressed in a future update, is that matchmaking seems completely random, meaning a player has no control over their opponent. In my opinion this becomes a deficiency in that you can’t invite/challenge friends to matches. That was one of the few appealing things about online multiplayer, the ability to play a game with friends physically distant from you.
But for all of that bad, there is some good to this latest update to Injustice. One is that they’ve raised the level cap from 40. I don’t know what the new one is, but all those cards you maxed out can now earn more experience for yet more power. Similarly, the promotion cap has also been raised from V (that’s the roman numeral for 5 if you have yet to catch on). Also, they’ve added “gear” slots for every character. You collect gear by playing and winning online battles, but you can also buy it with Power Credits. I don’t know much about gear yet, but it promises to augment your characters giving them bonuses and making them still more powerful engines of destruction. The thing I’m personally most excited about is the option to replay a bunch of the old Challenge Modes.
Challenge Mode is the one feature that I think I like most about Injustice. Every two weeks or so Netherrealm releases a new Challenge Mode. It consists of 5 challenge stages, and each stage contains 12-20 battles. The stages get progressively harder, and each stage has a unique theme or requirement to be able to play, such as “Catwoman must be on your team” or “Only Bronze characters are allowed on your team”. Each Challenge battle requires Challenge Credits to activate, and these are earned by winning matches in the regular portion of the game (or you can purchase them with Power Credits). As you progess through a Challenge Mode, you earn rewards like 15,000 Power Credits or a Silver Booster Pack, and the ultimate prize for beating a Challenge Mode is a Challenge Character, a special, limited availability gold character card. Previous Challenge Characters have included Darkseid, Regime Aquaman, Scorpion (from Mortal Kombat), Batman Beyond, and more. Again, you can’t simply go in and buy these characters. You have to earn them by beating a Challenge Mode. This both makes them special and adds to the collectability aspect of Injustice. Let me explain. Games like the Diablo and Borderlands franchises have loot systems, where items’ power is linked to their rarity. Generally speaking, the most powerful items are the rarest and most difficult to find/obtain. Which makes actually acquiring such an item feel so satisfying. And once you know what items are available, the hunt to collect them all becomes all the more alluring. Some might say “addicting” and indeed, I think games with such a mechanic can scratch the same itch as gambling.
Playing Injustice, with my collection of character cards, I get the same feeling as when I play Borderlands 2. Just as I would grind through that game farming for legendaries, I’ll grind through Injustice to amass enough Power Credits to buy a new gold card for a relatively high price (as I did for Batman and Superman), or take my chances with a Gold Booster Pack for a lower price and just see what I get (hello Doomsday and Regime Wonder Woman and the rest). And I’ll happily grind through Injustice day-in and day-out to earn Challenge Credits and complete Challlenge Stages to get that John Stewart Green Lantern and Wonder Woman 600 and Batgirl. But I came late to playing Injustice, and it had been out, and steadily churning out Challenge Modes, for months before I jumped on board. So there are so many Challenge Characters I missed out on. And plenty of gamers like myself have been wondering if more of these Challenge Modes would be repeated, as they did for Batgirl (due to popular demand). And that brings me back to what I’m most excited for with the new update.
Recycled Challenge Modes! See Update below!
Sitting in amongst the Booster Packs available for purchase is a Challenge Bundle. Priced at 150,000 Power Credits it will take some grinding to buy, but it’s not ridiculously priced like the Red Son Pack (400,000) or Arkham Batman (375,000). As I understand it, buying this bundle will unlock all (or nearly all) of the past Challenge Modes, allowing you to go back and repeat them, or play them for the first time. Also included in update 2.0 is the news of still more new Challenge Modes with all new Challenge Characters (!).
So what’s my final verdict regarding this update? Sure there have been bugs and glitches, and some may persist with the online multiplayer, but the one thing this update proves beyond any doubt is that Netherrealm still cares about his game and its fanbase, and is working hard to continue to support this game long after its initial release. That’s always a good thing.
UPDATE (4/28/14): Two corrections about this article. The first is I had it completely wrong about how the old Challenges works. It isn’t a “Challenge Bundle” but a Challenge Booster Pack. For 150,000 credits you get a randomly selected gold character card pulled exclusively from the assortment of previous Challenges. So no repeating those Challenge Modes, simply pay the price and see which card you get. This is still awesome, as it allows players like me a chance to get Challenge Characters we missed out on, and also allows for ranking up of those characters at a discounted price (as compared to buying them outright from the store).
The second is multiplayer. I was COMPLETELY wrong about this on several levels.
The first is that you don’t fight another player in real time. You fight against another player’s team as controlled by the game’s AI system. Basically, everyone who goes into the multiplayer mode adds their team to the pool of available teams the game uses for matchmaking. Even when you’re not online actively playing your last used team remains in the system, available for a challenge. My teams have been challenged a handful of times, and have always been beaten, I don’t know if you get a bonus for your team successfully defending itself (I’ve lost several times to other teams myself so this is possible).
I was also wrong about the “fun factor” of multiplayer. It’s actually pretty great. Yes, *most* of the time I can predict if I’m going to win or lose a match before it starts, simply by looking at my opposing team’s stats and comparing them to mine. But I’ve been surprised both ways. There are times I thought I’d lose when I ended up winning (and that’s an awesome feeling), and times I got my ass handed to me and didn’t see it coming. But that’s all okay. The greatest thing about multiplayer is that it offers something different. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve played the same two challenge stages to amass Challenge and/or Power Credits, and it is INCREDIBLY boring. It’s just the same opponents over and over and over again. UGGGHHH. Multiplayer offers wholly new teams to face. You never know who you’re going to go up against, and while the single-player portion of the game tends to have some sense or method to the teams it chooses, in multiplayer it’s entirely up to the player. I’ve face some pretty motley crews, and I’ve put some up myself. It keeps the game fresh and interesting.
And let’s talk for a moment about the bonuses. There are daily bonuses such as “Win three battles with a team of Bronze characters”, or “Win a battle without using any special moves”. These give Power Credit bonuses. And then there are the Seasonal Bonuses. I have yet to figure out if the multiplayer season corresponds with the current Challenge Mode, but all players participating are ranked. As long as you’re in the top 90%, you’ll get something. As you progress higher and higher in the leaderboards for that season, the bonus rewards get sweeter and sweeter. I’m currently in the Top 2%, and I stand to get some Rare Gear, some Uncommon Gear, and a hefty Power Credit bonus.
As a final (perhaps second) opinion, there’s little this Update 2.0 does wrong. The major drawback, aside from the possible bugs resulting from the rollout, seems to be the often inability of the game servers to handle the player load. It has been fairly common over the last few days to get a “servers temporarily down” error message, or (worse still) to get online, halfway through a battle and then get booted. If the Injustice devs can figure this out, there will be months of happy gaming to come.