You’ve likely noticed by now the large amount of white health that builds up during a combo. Each hit of a combo will do a percentage of its damage as recoverable white health, which starts to regenerate very quickly once the combo is over. This means that learning to cash out that white life is very important.
You remove all white life your opponent has when you perform an ender. An ender is a special move you execute with HP or HK, and it can be input at any time during the combo sequence. To help indicate an ender, you’ll notice the camera changing angles slightly to punctuate the action. Every special move that can hit the opponent has an ender version, although the special moves that cannot be used as linkers will always become enders, regardless of what button you pressed. For example, Jago’s Tiger Fury uppercut is never a linker, so performing it mid-combo with any punch button always triggers an ender. If, however, you want the ender version of Wind Kick, one of Jago's linkers, you must execute the move with HK. In general, however, you should always use HP or HK to perform an ender, even for ender-only special moves.
There are a couple very important things to know about enders. The first is that an ender usually ends a combo, but not always. Really, an ender is just a move in a combo that removes your opponent’s white life. It will very often cause a knockdown or leave the offensive character in long recovery, thus making sure your combo is over, but some enders are actually designed to leave your opponent in a state where you can land some follow-up hits. In this sense, the term “ender” is a bit of a misnomer, since combos do not necessarily end when they are used. It’s worth noting that enders are not instinct cancelable, normal cancelable, or special cancelable, so follow-up hits tend to fall outside the traditional sequence (such as air juggles).
Also, each special move ender has a different property which distinguishes them from each other. Why would you use one ender over another if they all remove white life? Well, it’s because you might want to apply different beneficial properties given the state of the match. Here’s a short list of how enders can be classified; keep in mind that not all characters will have an ender of each type. Click on the ender name to see a complete list of enders of that type.
- Battery ender: Builds extra shadow meter or grants some other resource. Useful when you find yourself starved of resources, or when you are comboing your opponent between rounds and do not need other properties.
- Damage ender: Does extra damage. Excellent for closing out a round or making a comeback, and a great default ender when you're unsure which to use.
- Carry/Wall Splat ender: Pushes the opponent away from you. When near the corner, slams the opponent into the stage boundary, causing a wall splat.
- Launcher ender: Launches the opponent high into the air. Can follow up with more hits in a juggle state.
- Exchange ender: Switch sides with your opponent, usually by launching them over your head. A few characters can juggle after the launch.
- Ground Bounce ender: Bounces the opponent off the ground and into the air, allowing for a juggle. An uncommon variation of the launcher ender, with similar applications.
- Hard Knockdown ender: Causes a hard knockdown. Allows characters to set up a guaranteed mixup over the knocked-down opponent.
- Advantage ender: Leaves the opponent standing in front of you. You have +4 advantage, so attacking with a fast normal beats your opponent's attempts to jump away or press their own button.
- Special Case ender: A rare character-specific ender that doesn't fit into any other category.
In Killer Instinct, there is no juggle potential, or gravity scaling, or any other common system to prevent combos from going on forever, and because you can cancel auto-doubles into linkers without limit, there needs to be protection against infinite combos. KI implements something called the KV meter to accomplish this.
The KV meter is a red bar underneath your combo counter. When you start a combo, the meter starts empty and slowly fills as you perform hits. When the bar reaches 100 or higher, the next hit with a non-ender normal or special will cause a blow out; your opponent will enter an invincible spinning state and incur a soft knockdown. Because you did not perform an ender, your opponent’s white life will remain and begin regenerating. Throws and shadow moves cannot cause a blow out, however, which means you can push the KV past 100 if you can find a way to use only throws or shadow moves after the threshold is reached. Enders that allow for grounded follow-up hits, like wall splat enders, will add a lot of KV to your combo, which will likely cause your next hit to blow out.
In general, light attacks build a lot of KV, while heavy attacks build little. The implication of this is that combos involving lots of light moves, which are difficult for the defender to combo break, will reach the KV limit faster and therefore must be shorter. Alternatively, lots of heavy attacks will let you extend the combo longer, but they are much easier to defend against. Shadow moves do not build any KV, which means you can use them at any time without worry. Lastly, activating instinct or counter-breaking will reset the KV meter to 0, no matter the stage of your combo. This can allow for some very high damage combos if the defense becomes predictable.
It’s difficult at first to keep an eye on your KV while comboing, which means it’s common to switch to a light attack unexpectedly and blow out the KV meter. It pays to go into training mode and get a sense of roughly how the KV meter builds, and use an ender before it reaches 100. Practice switching the strengths of your auto-doubles and linkers mid combo and learn to evaluate each move's impact on the KV meter.
The four green bars under the KV meter are your ender level. Ender level is directly proportional to the amount of white life your opponent has. This tends to mean that a long combo full of heavy attacks will build the ender level to level four rather quickly, and a combo full of light attacks will likely not reach level three before the KV meter blows out. Shadow attacks will inflict a lot of white life without adding to the KV meter, which makes them a good choice for rapidly increasing the ender level.
The ender level powers up your ender; whatever property that is applied by the ender of your choosing will be amplified. If you finish a combo with the ender level at 1 with the battery ender, you will likely only build about 25% of one stock of shadow meter, but if you finish with level 4, you could build more than a full stock. If you choose the damage ender, you will do extra damage proportional to your ender level. If you use a launcher ender, you will launch your opponent higher, allowing for more follow-ups than with a lower ender level. Your character will also perform a different animation depending on the ender level; typically a 1-hit version for level 1, up to a stylish 4-hit version for level 4.
Because white life does not regenerate instantly once a combo is dropped, the ender level will remain at its previous level if you blow out the KV meter or choose to do a mid-combo reset. Because the first hits of combos do extra damage, it can be beneficial to build up the ender level and sneak in a reset, which will reset your KV to 0 (a new combo has started), earn you extra damage due to the first hit bonus, but not affect your ability to strongly cash out the white life with a high ender level.
The last important thing to note is that shadow enders give you a +1 level bonus to your ender level. This means that you can build a combo to level 3, but end the combo with a shadow ender and earn the bonuses of a level 4 ender. It also means that you can achieve a level 5 bonus, normally impossible, by building the level ender to 4 and performing a shadow ender. If your shadow ender is also a damage ender, this is a frightening amount of damage.
Ultra Combos & Ultimates
The famous Killer Instinct ultra combo is nothing more than a specific ender that you can perform only when your opponent is in danger state. It is executed by a character-specific motion with three punches or three kicks. When he is at less than 15% on his second life bar, at any time you could perform a normal ender (that is, an opener must have been executed at some point), you can instead perform an ultra combo which instantly ends the match. Ultra combos are unbreakable, even under normal breaking rules (such as directly following an opener; see the Combo Breakers section), because the character is immediately KOed and unresponsive to inputs. You should regularly use this to your advantage by canceling an opener directly into an ultra to end the match without giving your opponent a chance to combo break.
Ultra combos will trigger a long, cinematic sequence of automated attacks, which will rapidly fill your shadow meter to maximum and finish with a giant crescendo set to music. In a nice aesthetic touch, each stage has a different set of instruments used to add flavor to these automated hits, and each fighter performs his combo with a different cadence, creating a variety of unique songs for each character. Since ultra combos have real strategic uses in fights, but are often quite long to finish, you can press MP+MK at any time during the ultra to perform an ultra ender, which ends the ultra early with one strong cinematic blow and lets you get to the next fight quickly.
Ultra combos can also be instinct canceled any time your character is grounded, which can be used to style on a KOed opponent. Perform a long combo into ultra, wait until the ultra is almost over, then instinct cancel. Perform another KV-maxing combo, and then make them watch the ultra combo again. Some characters can even do three ultras in one combo using character-specific strategies. Killer Instinct also has stage ultras, which can be triggered only on certain stages at certain positions. Your character will perform a short sequence of blows, and then knock the opponent into a hazard on the stage. They fulfill the same role as normal ultra combos with a different style, offering a throwback to previous versions of Killer Instinct.
Finally, six different characters are capable of performing an Ultimate combo. The conditions for performing the ultimate are the same as an ultra combo, with the added stipulation that you must be on your first life bar. Simply enter the combo system, and any time your opponent is in danger, input your ultra as normal, and then within the first few moments of the ultra, input LP+LK to activate the Ultimate. This will trigger a flashy sequence of hits against a dark background which ends the match. Apart from style, it affects the match no differently than an ultra combo or a stage ultra. Ultimates are only possible on your first ultra attempt, so if you instinct cancel or use a recapture to extend your combo to a second ultra, the Ultimate will not be available to you.
There has been a lot of words in the Combos section until now, but the basic Killer Instinct combo is pretty straightforward. At its core, you start with an opener; perhaps you do it raw, like a jump-in, or maybe you special cancel into one, and then start alternating between normals and special moves repeatedly until your KV runs out. You might throw a shadow move in there somewhere, and then you'll finish the combo with a HP or HK special move. If you don't learn anything about combos besides these simple tenets, you can enjoy and understand a large percentage of Killer Instinct matches.
There's one final, slightly more advanced technique that needs to be discussed, however.