We're on the tail end of Season 3 for Killer Instinct and this week was the release of the Definitive Edition. For those that haven't bought the game yet, this package at retailers costs $60 with all three seasons. Also included is a soundtrack and new exclusive colors for Gargos. A big new update was released alongside this retail disc for new and existing owners of the game. Besides balance changes to the cast (especially Eyedol), the new addition I'll talk about here is Shadow Lords, Season 3's story mode.
Shadow Lords is not much of a cinematic story mode for Killer Instinct, but more gameplay focused than other fighting games. Gargos and his army of mimics are taking over the Earth as it's up to the fighters and Ultratech to stop the invasion. There's some cutscenes and lore to unlock, but the main hooks here in this mode are the customization and RPG-esque elements. The first time in Shadow Lords starts with the tutorial of the basic controls, which is a slog for experienced players. The tutorials then go on about what to do in this mode. Iron Galaxy has said that multiple playthroughs are a necessity to get stronger especially on harder difficulties.
Before a playthrough starts, you select three characters to use and one of them as your captain. Along the way, you might run into other characters. They can replace one of your picks if you decide to do so. Other than that, Shadow Lords is all about defeating mimics and collecting crafting materials and astral gems to spend. Astral gems are spent on guardians, loot or healing items. Guardians are aids to your characters that grant them special abilities seen in most fighting games today. Fighters can use armor to their advantage opening up opponents, psychic break any combo, or affect their potential damage by the snake guardian. The most satsifying guardian to use however is the Examplar, which is basically the 3rd Strike parry, and fighting game fans do love parries.
The crafting materials come in as you win matches and buy loot packs. Consumables are crafted to be used in fights to buff up meters or stats for fifteen seconds. They range from access to unlockables, infinite shadow meter or regenerate health. Some of the stronger ones can get you out of a jam when you're losing. Other items are crafted to serve as buffs for a limited time, start out with full meters or revive a fallen comrade. Yes, there's lots to think when playing Shadow Lords. That alone makes it one of the deeper story modes fighting games has seen in a long time.
Shadow Lords is also about managing the continents' corruption statuses. If a region's is halfway to full corruption, an Omen will come in to invade the Earth. Omens in this mode have buffs used by Gargos. If these Omens are defeated, Gargos won't have those buffs when you fight him. Gargos with less buffs increases your chances of defeating him, but not by much. On launch day, Omens and Gargos were borderline impossible to defeat even by KI veterans on challenging difficulty. Gargos was reminiscent of the old-school cheap SNK boss battles. Iron Galaxy hotfixed their dominance last night to make Shadow Lords more doable to beat. Godlike difficulty is still going to be really hard however, so good luck with that Killer Instinct fans.
Playthrough of this mode can last really short or long depending on your playstyle. Are you ballsy to fight Gargos at it's most powerful form? Then skip enough days not fighting any mimics and Omens to get to him right away. Prefer to grind items and guardians trying to prevent full corruption as much as possible? That's fine too because Shadow Lords is very grind-y and my major gripe with it. Fortunately I played it in it's early access state to get a jump start items-wise for it's launch. Plus, buying guardian packs doesn't guarantee stuff you want. Mimic skins take forever to unlock if you're determined to get them, but I think Iron Galaxy will tone down the requirements.
So do the guardians affect the gameplay drastically? They do but luckily we won't see them in tournaments. Armor and psychic breakers make the action a bit overboard, but parries do add more excitement to matches. Players can take their consumables and guardians online against human opponents in exhibition matches. Shadow Lords also starts out with Combo Assist on, which is distracting for experienced players in terms of messing up combos. Playing multiplayer matches is useful to accumulating gems and energy via daily rewards to be used in your current playthrough.
Killer Instinct's Shadow Lords adds lots of replay value and challenge for the single player options. A fighting game story mode with gameplay depth is nice to see, but it can be too much of a grind to get what you need for tougher difficulties. Playthroughs can be short or long depending on your playstyle and preparedness for Omens and Gargos. The guardians change up the action in interesting ways and crafted items can save you from defeat. Bosses were too cheap to fight against on launch day, but Iron Galaxy was quick to hotfix them. The developers have said they're not done with Killer Instinct, whether if they're improving Shadow Lords, balance changing or a possible fourth season. We'll see what Microsoft wants to do with the game's future, but I won't be surprised if they keep going.