Killer Instinct now has a traditional super meter (dubbed the shadow meter) as well. Attacking an opponent or taking damage builds your meter a tiny bit, but nothing builds it quicker than having your moves blocked. Blocking a few normal will be enough to give you one stock of the two level meter. Blocking a few specials will fill your meter to max! One blocked fire-ball builds over 25% meter! This makes zoning incredibly powerful.
Using a special move with two buttons (two punches/two kicks) allows you to do a shadow move, which costs one stock of meter. Shadow moves have enhanced properties and damage when compared to normal special moves but, oddly enough, they aren’t the best thing to end combos with. Damage scaling in Killer Instinct is very high. In fact, most of the damage in a combo is built up in “potential damage” i.e. damage an ender can do. Without an ender, combos rarely break 20% health, if even that. Using shadow moves don’t really help to increase that total.
Shadow moves do build an incredible amount of potential damage, however, and nearly everyone can be auto-doubled afterward. Therefore, it is better to use a shadow move’s invincibility and enhanced properties to start a combo, or as a linker in the middle of a combo. This will let your ender build an incredible amount of damage, easily taking your combo damage over 60%. Some enders can even cause special hit-states, like Jago’s wind kick which causes a wall splat. This allows you to get even more damage in after you have “ended” your combo. Sick!
The other new system introduced in the new Killer Instinct is the Instinct Meter. This is essentially KI’s version of X-Factor. When the meter is full, you can enter Instinct Mode by pressing both heavies when attacking or in neutral. This does three things. First, it immediately cancels whatever move you were doing, returning you to a neutral state. Second, it gives you a character specific buff which lasts throughout all of instinct mode. For example, Jago’s buff gives him extra frames of hit and block stun on his moves. Finally, it reduces your Knockout Meter to 0, allowing you to greatly extend the combo you were doing. Using instinct mode allows your potential damage to skyrocket, easily netting you 70% damage or more.
Many of you are probably shouting “where are the ultra combos!” Don’t worry, they are still here. They can now only be done when the opponent us at 15% health or lower, essentially acting like Killer Instinct’s version of Astral Finishes from BlazBlue. Their motion is simply a normal special move motion with 3 buttons, giving any player who can quarter circle access to them.
There are a few other aspects of the system worth mentioning. Throws are done with a back or forward directional input and both lights. They can be canceled into special moves allowing you to hit full combos providing you have the right positioning (usually the corner).
Life bars are handeled in the traditional KI way, i.e. the Vampire Savior way. Instead of breaking between rounds, the action just pauses every time a life-bar is depleted, allowing you to retain the life you had left over when killing your opponent. Deplete your opponent’s life bar twice to win.
Most attacks in Killer Instinct safe, if not very close to safe. Blocking gives the opponent a ton of meter, and so the neutral game in KI is very aggressive. In fact, there were points where I chose to get hit instead of blocking in order to hit back with a combo breaker early on in my opponent’s combo. This actually let me do more damage than their potential combo could do!
Comboing in Killer Instinct is really a risk/reward game. Scrubs can mash out 60 hit combos easily but without real knowledge of the combo system, they will either be easily broken, or do very little damage. Pros will try to get in as much damage as possible without being broken in order to buff their ender. They will insert manuals and light auto doubles in order to bait out combo-breakers, and then use their lockout time to pump their damage up to obscene levels. In a way, every combo in Killer Instinct is like a TAC in Marvel 3. Even the shortest combos can be broken with a good guess right at the beginning, but repeated poor guesses will result in combos that do 50% damage with no meter spent.
When two people who really know the KI system step up to a KI cabinet, you are going to be seeing, oddly enough, a lot of three hit combos. It’s still easy enough to break most combos in the game, and so safe damage seems to be the way to go. However, as soon as someone flubs a combo breaker, the combo videos begin to roll. Since meter builds so quickly in this game, there is nothing that is “impractical” as long as your opponent is bad at playing rock paper scissors.
The final thing I asked about was the dreaded DRM. With the Xbox One’s policies of having an always online connection, tournament organizers will have a hard time making a KI tournament run. Double Helix’s told me that they were “keyed in to the tournament scene” and that they are “exploring alternatives” for making tournaments run. However, they had nothing to announce at this time. Hopefully, they will release some sort of “tournament edition” that is exempt from DRM, at least temporarily.