Injustice 2 Devs Explain How The Game's Unusual Gear System Actually Works

Building a better Batman.

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If there's one thing every single fighting game must achieve if it hopes to be successful, it's balance. That, in part, is why Injustice 2's gear system is so unusual and, potentially, so risky.

Not only does Injustice 2 allow players to increase characters' base stats by leveling up over time, it also includes a loot-drop system that rewards players with equippable items that enhance characters' stats even further. Developer NetherRealm Studios hasn't offered many details since announcing the system last summer, but during a recent preview event held at its Chicago headquarters, the team unveiled new details about the gear system.

Basically, every fighter in the game has four base stats: strength, defense, health, and ability. (That last one impacts special attacks like fireballs; the rest are self-explanatory.) In addition, characters all start with five pieces of stock gear covering their head, torso, legs, arms, and a character-specific item. These default costume pieces don't provide any stat boosts, but as you play, you'll gradually earn dozens, hundreds, potentially thousands of new items.

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All of these earned items possess unique attributes: some will buff just one of those four base stats by a small amount, others might increase all of them significantly, and still others might boost some stats while actually reducing others. On top of these numerical changes, rarer gear can include one or more bonus "augments," which range from new visual effects for special moves to higher yields of in-game currency from each fight. And if you manage to collect all five pieces from a single gear set (rather than simple mixing and matching), you'll receive additional bonuses on top of all that--like, say, extended range for Batman's batarangs.

According to the devs, this whole system should encourage players to develop unique personal playstyles (or even several styles that can be saved as distinct gear profiles) while consistently rewarding them for investing time in the game. The danger, of course, is that new players will be utterly dominated by leveled-up veterans decked out in all the rarest gear, or that all the different gear will make high-level play impossible to balance.

According to Injustice 2 designer John Edwards, however, the team at NetherRealms has created a variety of solutions to this potential problem. Most simply, Edwards confirmed you can disable stat boosts when playing both online and off, an option that reduces all stats to their default levels and turns any equipped gear into purely cosmetic items. "We imagine that will be primarily for high-level tournament players and things like that where you play ranked online," said Edwards during a recent preview event. "Even for the competitive modes where we allow stats to be active, both players have the option to disable that stuff."

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If you do choose to play with gear stats enabled, Edwards explained there's still a system in place that adjusts characters' base stats--which, again, grow as characters level-up over time. "What we do is, we automatically boost up the lower-level character's base stats to the same level as the higher-level character," explained Edwards. "But the gear does not get boosted, so the player who has invested a lot of time in building up the gear for their level 20 character will still have better stats, better abilities than the level one character does. But it won't be to such an extreme that the lower-level character has no chance."

Of course, you can turn this system off as well, according to Edwards, just in case you want to try your luck as a low-level character facing down high-level opponents. "Essentially we have lots of ways in the game to make sure that [gear] does not become an issue," said Edwards. "We also have lots of different ways you can get gear," added art director Steve Baron. "You can get gear randomly at the end of some fights. You can get gear in certain single-player game modes. You can get gear out of our Mother Boxes, which are chests. There are definitely ways that you can see particular pieces of goods you want and actively go towards those things."

Edwards clarified that the Mother Box loot crates can be purchased using earned in-game currency, and emphasized that Injustice 2 will never allow you to spend real money to improve your stats (though he did not rule out microtranstions completely). According to Baron, the team is far more interested in using gear as an incentive: "One of the things we want to have people do is, when you are playing online and you see someone you are fighting against with really cool gear, you say, 'I want that helmet, how do I get that?' And talk with that person. And that would rope people into playing some other game modes and experiencing some other content that maybe they wouldn't have normally gone to."

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Baron also explained that visual customization is fundamental to Injustice 2's progression system. Not only can you unlock shaders--which let you adjust your character's entire color scheme--you can also earn a huge variety of visually distinct items inspired by decades of source material. "DC gave us a lot of freedom to design what we wanted," said Baron. "So you'll see a lot of classic elements that we pull in there. Like we got the red sonic Superman in there. You can kind of pick and choose the gear you want."

"You don't want to get so crazy where it's goofy or doesn't look like Batman should be wearing that," added Edwards. "For super serious Batman stuff, he's not going to have top hats and weird things like that. But for some of the characters, there is definitely some boundary-pushing. I'd say there are definitely some characters that it kind of fits on, like Harley. Some of that stuff is actually hilarious."

Injustice 2 releases May 16 on PS4 and Xbox One. The game's growing roster recently added DC deep cut Doctor Fate. NetherRealms has also confirmed it's working on an Injustice 2 mobile game.

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