A History of Killer Instinct
Table of Contents
- Patch 2.0 Beta: "The TJ Combo Patch (Season 2 Beta)"
- Patch 2.0: "The Maya Patch (Start of Season 2)"
- Patch 2.1: "The Kan-Ra Patch"
- Patch 2.2: "The Riptor Patch"
- Patch 2.3: "The Omen Patch"
- Patch 2.4: "The Aganos Patch"
- Patch 2.5: "The Hisako Patch"
- Patch 2.6: "The Cinder Patch"
- Patch 2.7: "The ARIA Patch"
- Patch 2.8: "The Story Mode Patch"
- Patch 2.9: "The Rash Patch"
- Patch 2.10: "Quality of Life Patch #1"
- Patch 2.11: "Quality of Life Patch #2"
- Patch 2.12: "The Shadow Jago Patch"
- Patch 2.13: "The Combo Assist Patch"
Season 2 was the first version of the game with Iron Galaxy as the primary developers. It launched with a large assortment of character and system changes on September 23, 2014 in a beta phase, with TJ Combo as a new playable character. While Season 2 would not officially launch until October 15, most of the initial Season 2 gameplay changes went live in the September beta and each subsequent patch saw refinements in character and system balance, and a new character added. New character patches came once per month from Season 2's launch until ARIA's release in May.
Patch 2.0 Beta: "The TJ Combo Patch (Season 2 Beta)" - Sep 23, 2014 (patch notes)
As mentioned in the preamble, this was the big first Season 2 patch that re-envisioned some of the game's mechanics and character balance for the Season 1 cast, and brought in TJ Combo as a playable character. Let's take a look at the big changes.
- Stray pokes and first combo hits do more damage: Designed to reward footsies, anti-airs, resets, and players who are willing to punish moves with slower startup (but more damaging) normals.
- Shadow meter gain reduced by 20%: Meter is scarcer in Season 2 than in Season 1, forcing players to make more difficult choices about spending meter on defensive shadow counters or offensive shadow moves.
- Shadow enders scale based on ender level: As an attempt to remove the Season 1 focus on one-chance-to-break combos that finished in flat damage shadow enders, Season 2 changed the damage on shadow enders to reflect your current ender level. This also means long combos that make it to ender level 4 are extremely damaging when using a shadow ender.
- Air breakers and air counter breakers were added: If the offensive player is in the air, the defender can now combo break and the offensive player can also counter break. This brings the "two-way interaction" into air combos.
- Combo breakers are now soft knockdown: Players quick rising after a combo breaker keeps the game flowing quickly and reduces the punishment of being combo broken, as the defender can no longer perform his most ambiguous offense after landing a breaker. This change matches nicely with the fact that combo breakers can be performed in more situations than in Season 1.
- Manuals following linkers gain restrictions, extra hitstop added: Manuals are difficult to break, so Season 2 added a restriction on what strengths can be performed, and extra hitstop was added to help a defender break more easily. Despite these changes, manuals remain very difficult to reliably combo break in Season 2.
- The recapture mechanic was added: Certain moves, such as TJ Combo's Tremor, and all air counter breakers, will slam the airborne opponent back into the ground, where they can be comboed by auto-doubles and linkers. In addition to many Season 2 characters having a recapture move, some Season 1 characters also gained the ability to recapture, such as Sabrewulf's shadow Jumping Slash and Orchid's air throw.
The characters also received some changes. Some of this information will be duplicating what was said on the History of Season 1 page, but in the context of how the character plays in Season 2.
- Jago: The change in manual system might have hurt Jago the most, as he was the most capable character for manuals in Season 1. Shadow Wind Kick's range was reduced to only go about 60% of the screen, giving characters some breathing room and the ability to attempt to keep Jago out. Jago's instinct was fundamentally reworked, giving him new options for scary fireball pressure and combos that can give Jago very large health swings. The Season 2 changes to Jago made him more fair, but still a substantial threat now that his anti-airs and strong footsies tools do more damage. Jago is still the king of meter in Killer Instinct, as all his mechanics allow him to gain shadow meter, instinct meter, and even health faster and more effectively than other characters in the game.
- Sabrewulf: Sabrewulf lost a few important things, such as his strong backdash, the low pushback on his crouching LP, and his "unblockable" shadow Eclipse setups, but gained a recapture on shadow Jumping Slash and the ability to use feral cancels in his instinct. Since Sabrewulf kept a large amount of his strong footsies tools between seasons, he remains extremely solid fundamentally and uses feral cancels to terrify opponents with new types of pressure.
- Glacius: Glacius gained Liquidize as a way to control full screen projectile wars, and Hail bounced 5 times off the ground instead of breaking upon contact, giving him more ways to fill the screen with threats, but the loss of his safe ranged counter breaker and one-chance-to-break combos forces Glacius to play a slightly riskier brand of offense in Season 2. The increased poke damage buff maybe helps him the most out of the cast, making sure opponents lose substantial chunks of life trying to close the distance on Glacius.
- Thunder: Thunder mostly gained "quality of life" changes in Season 2, such as his Sammamish dragon punch more easily anti-airing and his throws behaving better during combos. Thunder struggled largely with runaway in Season 1, so the addition of his Call of Sky special move was meant to force runaway players to play a more mid-ranged game. The opponent wants to stay closer to Thunder so using Call of Sky is risky, but that's where Thunder's primary tools shine.
- Sadira: Sadira saw some strong nerfs, but also a few buffs. Of note, her safe counter breakers in instinct mode and her unbreakable Demon Blade loops in instinct got removed; these were necessary changes to keep the game on solid footing. The addition of air breakers hurt Sadira the most out of the cast, as she used to rely largely on unbreakable air damage combos in Season 1 for her non-instinct offense. These combos are still effective in Season 2, but Sadira has to throw in some different normals and counter breakers on occasion to keep the opponent honest now. She is also a less effective runaway character, with added recovery to her runaway air tools when she lands on the ground. To compensate, Sadira got three main positive changes. Shadow Web Cling was added, which can act as a pseudo-reversal in many situations, strengthening her wakeup game. She gained a safe-on-block target combo (MP -> HK) which helps her ground pressure game. And the change to shadow enders gave her an extremely strong combo finisher in shadow Recluse, which makes sure she can still do substantial damage if the opponent does not combo break.
- Orchid: Orchid was seriously buffed to start Season 2; she received virtually no nerfs and benefited from almost every system change in addition to new character-specific tools. For starters, her Grenade special move was new, giving her multiple new ways to pressure and keep her otherwise unsafe Ichi Ni San strings safe (Patch 2.0 also gave it a larger-than-life hitbox). Most of her primary footsies tools, such as standing MP and HP, had serious hitbox buffs; coupled with increased damage from the system change and a new cancelable low threat in crouching MP, Orchid became a footsies monster. Her air-to-air game gained a huge benefit when her air throw gained recapture abilities as well.
- Spinal: Spinal went from an underrated mid-tier character in Season 1 to an instant top tier contender in Season 2 with only a few changes. His skull system was changed in two primary ways. Firstly, he started earning more skulls in ways outside combo enders and instinct; any "green-handed attack", like crouching HP (a strong anti-air), throw, or any spectral manual earned him one skull, which gave him numerous new ways to start and maintain his scary skull pressure. And secondly, he gained the ability to run cancel any normal for the cost of one skull, keeping him extremely unpredictable with his more numerous skulls at the ready. These two primary changes gave Spinal more skulls and more things to do with them, vaulting him near the top of the characters with the most potential.
- Fulgore: Fulgore's matchups in Season 1 were quite polarizing, either seeing him struggle greatly or win effortlessly against different cast members, and much of that had to do with his Season 1 meter mechanic. In Season 2, his meter mechanic was changed to continuously earn meter, and Fulgore lost the ability to manually charge his meter. Zoning actions slowed the meter gain, while pressure actions increased it, which was a bit of a paradigm shift from Season 1 where Fulgore wanted to be full screen to earn meter as opposed to at close range. As a result, Fulgore earns less meter in Season 2 than in Season 1, but he is able to do more with it; changes to his Energy Bolt fireball allow him to throw up to 3 simultaneous fireballs at various speeds, resulting in scary new mixups and zoning tools. His Devastation Beam shadow move could now be used outside of instinct, but did less damage than before. Since Fulgore also earns less meter than in Season 1, and it is more precious for his other mixup tools, the beam saw some drop off in usefuless to start Season 2, but saw a resurgence in Patch 2.3.
TJ Combo was also released, and at release, it was the strongest version of TJ that would be in the game. Since he was fairly new and most players were still coming to grips with the multiple character and system changes, his strength took a few weeks to become apparent. For the first few patches, TJ's Tremor was considerably more safe on block (the light version was -2 on block, so truly safe), leading to terrifying and fairly risk-free offense that beat most of your close-up options. Vortex, TJ's uppercut, was never invincible, but the non-shadow version started up in just 4 frames (faster than every normal in the game), forcing opponents to give it massive amounts of respect whenever TJ was close, even if TJ was at disadvantage. These two key points were adjusted in a later patch to bring TJ's risk-reward a bit more down to earth.
Patch 2.0: "The Maya Patch (Start of Season 2)" - Oct 15, 2014 (patch notes)
On October 15, Season 2 officially began. A new futuristic interface overhauled the game's appearance to signify Season 2's focus on characters inspired by UltraTech, and Maya joined TJ Combo as the new Season 2 characters. The game also fixed numerous bugs that were discovered during the beta phase, including some small gameplay adjustments. For example, in Patch 2.0 beta, shadow fireballs were treated as enders (so they could be broken under certain situations as opener-ender); this patch reverted their state to true unbreakable linkers to the betterment of Jago, Spinal, and Maya. There were also some notable character changes from the Season 2 beta version. Thunder's Call of Sky special move lost its ability to effectively track players after startup, so the move was only really used to hit players who were in the air or in recovery from a fireball or other full-screen move. Orchid, a character that many put in the running for best in the game during the beta, received a few important damage nerfs and a reduction on the active frames of her Grenade, which stayed active long enough to hit people who tried to jump to avoid it.
Maya in Patch 2.0 might be the strongest character in the history of Xbox One's Killer Instinct. Several strong applications of her tools were found by resourceful players that made her incredibly difficult to handle, which were slowly adjusted in future patches to bring her risk/reward back in line with the rest of the cast. While she was a solid fundamental character (and remains so in the current game), she was pushed over the top by these discoveries:
- Air Mantis did unscaled 14% damage at any point in a combo and also cashed out all white damage. Maya was designed to do low damage without dagger meter, but this move allowed her to tack on lots of unbreakable damage after her launcher ender. When used after a wakeup dragon punch, she could combo for around 30% unbreakable damage with a combination of dagger tosses and Air Mantis, considerably higher than any other character's reversal.
- All versions of her dragon punch were fully invincible to the hit, and required specific game knowledge and practice to punish. Considering a successful DP led to large unbreakable damage and a blocked DP was difficult to punish, reversals were very common on any Maya knockdown.
- If Maya decided not to go for unbreakable damage after a launcher, she could choose to use the knockdown ender and then throw a shadow Spirit Slicer on top of the opponent. Maya would get full dagger pips if you chose to block, and on hit, Maya could get lots of free, unbreakable damage through the use of safe counter breakers. The daggers would separate less severely than they would in later patches, allowing Maya easier means to retrieve them.
Maya and TJ really showed their strengths in this patch; Maya was the clear #1 character in the game for this month, with TJ, Orchid, and Spinal making strong cases for top tier placement. The developers gained some important knowledge about the strength of unbreakable damage and safe counter breakers that they would apply to Maya in later patches, and which no doubt influenced the design of characters yet to be released (such as Omen).
Patch 2.1: "The Kan-Ra Patch" - Nov 24, 2014 (patch notes)
After a month of the strength of Maya and continually strong showings by Orchid and TJ, players were ready for some adjustments in patches, and Patch 2.1 provided some relief, as well as brought us Kan-Ra, a character with an extremely high learning curve and very poor defense, which was a marked departure from the first two Season 2 characters. As always, a round of bug fixes came coupled with some character adjustments.
Orchid was changed in two important ways: her damage on a few key moves (shadow Uppercat and air throw) was lowered such that she could do less damage during one-chance-break scenarios, and her Grenade hitbox was lowered 25% so players could jump over it more reliably; even with the active frame nerf in Patch 2.0, the hitbox on Orchid's Grenade was so tall that it could hit players near the apex of their jump. The Grenade still remained extremely effective to cover Orchid's unsafe mixups and lock players down in the corner, but lost a little effectiveness midscreen, as players could walk backwards out of range slightly more reliably. With these changes, Orchid fell from an extremely dominant character in Patches 2.0 beta and 2.0 to a very solid upper tier character, and remained unchanged in the next few patches.
As was expected, Maya received some necessary adjustments as well. Air Mantis began to scale in combos, as every other move does, removing its effectiveness as an unbreakable damage ender. Shadow Spirit Slicer launched the opponents into the air, preventing safe counter breaker setups as well as forcing Maya to recapture with Axe Kick to continue the combo (which provides an "easy" break point in the combo for a defender if Maya chooses not to counter break). These two changes brought Maya back in line with the rest of the cast with more reasonable damage and risk/reward. Her DP survived this patch, still being invincible and still being difficult to punish, but would be changed in Patch 2.2.
One of the prevailing strategies that emerged from Patch 2.0 was the use of sweep as a safe counter break setup. Players would combo into an opener (or heavy linker), and then manual a sweep attack and counter break it. If the opponent did not choose to break, they were knocked down and the offensive player recovered from his whiffed counter break animation in time, while the opponent choosing to break triggered the counter breaker. Many characters could take advantage of this for scary pressure and forcing opponents to be too scared to ever break longer combos, though it was most commonly used by some tournament veteran Sabrewulf players. As the developers stated they were planning to patch out discoveries of safe counter breakers, in Patch 2.1, all sweep attacks were changed such that they could not be combo broken, nor counter broken. This change removed the safe counter breaker opportunity, although characters that could apply strong mixup after a sweep began to use this change to earn small unbreakable damage into a mixup. Maya players, for example, started to prefer sweep to end an air juggle combo instead of the now-scaled Air Mantis, followed by a safe jump or cross-up mixup.
Kan-Ra proved quite difficult to figure out in the first month. Many strong players who tried to develop strategies and setups struggled to get wins in the first month against established tournament characters, since his defense was extremely poor and Kan-Ra players were forced to play defense often as they learned the intricacies of his unique zoning tools through painful trial and error. The ease of use and immediate effectiveness of TJ Combo and Maya proved extremely elusive for Kan-Ra. It would take a month or two for his strength as a situationally impossible-to-catch zoner and unescapable setup character to manifest, and the depth in his moveset continues to be explored many months after his launch.
Despite Maya's nerfs, the difficult to punish DP and the strength of her dagger game kept her near the stronger characters in the game during Patch 2.1. TJ escaped largely unscathed from Patch 2.0 (something that would be remedied in Patch 2.2), and Sabrewulf players began applying extremely potent offense through the use of his instinct feral cancels, while Spinal's run cancels started to show prominently in tournaments. These four characters were considered quite strong during Patch 2.1.
Patch 2.2: "The Riptor Patch" - Dec 17, 2014 (patch notes)
Riptor has always been a fan favorite, so this patch was anticipated. Along with bug fixes (including an important one that fixed Kan-Ra taking 100% potential damage if he did Sacrifice under certain conditions), TJ and Maya received the most changes in character balance this month.
In previous patches, Maya's Leap Kick dragon punch was 6 frames of startup and fully invincible. In this patch, light Leap Kick is only invincible for the first 5 frames, while medium is invincible for the first 2, and heavy is not invincible at all. While it is still as difficult to punish as before if you block it, Maya's DP can now be hit before it becomes active, and the light DP is the only real move you can hope to sneak through an opponent's pressure on her wakeup, making the punish options more consistent. If you have a move with a lot of active frames, Maya must respect your pressure, and that includes trying to reversal out of block stun through a block string (which is where Maya arguably suffers the most with this change). Despite these continual changes since her launch, Maya is still a strong character, since her dagger pressure and mobility options have remained unchanged along the way.
TJ Combo finally saw some adjustments as well. He received two major changes in Patch 2.2. Firstly, Tremor because more unsafe on block; light, medium, and heavy Tremor are now -6, -8, and -10 on block respectively, increased from -2, -4, and -6 previously. Considering the fastest normal in KI is 5 frames, -2 and -4 on block special moves are largely safe except for certain reversal specials, and considering the fact that Tremor is an overhead and beats throws, lows, jumps, and backdashes, this proved a bit overwhelming. If you correctly high-block the Tremor now, no matter the strength, all characters can get a punish starting with a light attack into an opener. The second change was Vortex's startup changing from 4 frames to 6 for light, 7 for medium, and 8 for heavy, and having a slight hitbox reduction to avoid cleanly beating even very strong crossups. It was always fully vulnerable on startup, but the developers decided that a 4 frame special move that is easily performed from a crouching block and led to a full grounded combo needed some changes. The community had been concerned that TJ could be played "brainlessly" in previous versions, due to the relative safety of his special moves and the large amount of options that they beat, often an option the TJ player was not planning for. This version of TJ is still very strong, but now more punishable, and Vortex's slower startup allows your offense to be slightly less frame-perfect to have success on TJ's wakeup.
Kan-Ra survived his first patch pretty well, primarily because the character was still so advanced that one month wasn't enough time to fully explore what he was capable of. He received a nerf in meter gain on some of his special moves and a slightly shorter shadow Swarm timer, and he lost the ability to combo off his neutral command throw if he didn't have a Swarm or a Spike out by dashing and doing Whirl as a recapture (the developers indicated this was unintentional). But the core of his gameplay remained just as effective as before, and players continued to explore his potential.
Riptor was billed as an "easy to understand" character, in contrast to TJ's large moveset, Maya's unconventional offense, and Kan-Ra's incredibly unique but advanced style. This turned out to be largely true, although her moveset contains KI's first stance, some special moves that behave differently on block than on hit, and some strange movement options. Despite this, she could be played quite effectively using only a few primary buttons in the neutral game, and applying some strong but simple mixups whenever she got close or knocked the opponent down. Riptor's first iteration came with some unbreakable combos using Flame Carpet and a long block string chain that could only be avoided if you had meter for shadow counter; these techniques are being worked out in future patches, but Riptor's central design has been well received.
Patch 2.3: "The Omen Patch" - Jan 30, 2015 (patch notes)
At the start of Season 2, Iron Galaxy promised us eight new characters, with one releasing every month, but when the season began they released a trailer that teased a ninth character. Fans were unsure how this ninth character would join the cast, but these questions were answered with the Omen patch. Omen is a "bonus" character, the fifth to be released since Season 2's start, and he is free for all who purchase the complete Season 2 roster. He was released in January to give Iron Galaxy time to polish the remaining four characters. While he is composed of some altered existing animations, his gameplay is not recycled in any shape or form, and he contributes many unique aspects to the Killer Instinct roster.
The game itself began to normalize around this point. The usual round of bug fixes and character balance occurred, but since most of the characters were in a good place in the competitive meta, the balance changes were less substantial. The big change in this patch related to Fulgore, who had seen a drop in effectiveness of the character's most iconic Season 1 move, the Devastation Beam. In Season 2, Fulgore gained less meter than in Season 1, and the cost of the Devastation Beam was often not worth the reward. The developers made two simple tweaks to Fulgore to encourage use of his Devastation Beam; they made it do considerably more white life on hit and on block, such that your next mixup will be a level 4 ender, and they reinstated his Reactor Charge special move during instinct, allowing him to charge 1 pip of shadow meter while instinct is active. These two changes gave Fulgore more meter and increased the allure of using the Devastation Beam, which made an already solid character even scarier. Many top players agree that Fulgore was in the discussion for best character in Patch 2.3.
The first patch for Riptor saw mostly bug fixes. The most substantial change to her balance involved changing the pushback on block for crouching HP; in Patch 2.2, Riptor was able to permanently lock down characters using crouching HP, canceled into (and then back out of) Predator stance, because of the move's terrific block stun. If you did not have meter for a shadow counter, you could force characters to block 7 or 8 of these normals in a row, and at any time perform a mixup. Apart from being too strong, it slowed the pace of the match and reflected poorly on the game's aesthetic. In Patch 2.3, Riptor can only perform 3 of these crouching HPs before she is pushed out of range.
Omen's release was predicated on a bit of uneasiness. During the Iron Galaxy reveal for the character, they demonstrated Demonic Despair, Omen's 3-bar shadow command grab that does 100% potential life. Some members of the community felt this move was too strong and would upset the game's balance when coupled with Omen's other tools. As is often the case with tools discussed out of context, these fears proved rather unfounded when the character was released, as players struggled to land the slow, reactable, short-range grab, and instead opted to use the meter for Omen's scary mixup game to offset his low damage with ambiguous and smothering offense.
Patch 2.4: "The Aganos Patch" - February 27, 2015 (patch notes)
In addition to a new Ranked Leagues system, Patch 2.4 saw a couple balance changes that altered a few dominant strategies for some characters. Perhaps the biggest changes were to Riptor, who lost some unbreakable combos and excessive block and hit stun on her crouching HP normal, which let her cancel into and out of Predator stance as a block string and combo. In Patch 2.3 and earlier, Riptor could loop crouching HP as a tight block string or a full combo until pushed out of range, but these changes mean Riptor players started to explore her other strong mixup tools and rely less on guaranteed lockdown pressure. Riptor's Flame Carpet command normal also was changed so it could not hit players in pre-jump or jumping frames, but knockdown setups where Riptor relied on Flame Carpet were extended so she could set up the trap and still have time to perform a meaty normal on an opponent. Flame Carpet remained an extremely important tool for Riptor, but slightly more commitment was required.
The other notable change was to Maya, who lost access to her long strings of dagger juggles on airborne opponents without instinct mode active. In previous patches, daggers that hit an opponent fell straight down, allowing Maya to pick them up mid-combo and continue the juggle, but starting in Patch 2.4, they bounce off the opponent, meaning Maya cannot pick them up if she is very close. This, coupled with meter gain reductions on dagger toss, lessened the value of Maya's long dagger juggles, but opened up new opportunities for combo conversions in Maya's neutral game due to the new dagger bounce angle. Fulgore, Spinal, and Sabrewulf also had their damage lowered slightly; for Fulgore, his damage was reduced by around 10% across the board, while Spinal and Sabrewulf received a damage adjustment to just one or two moves.
Aganos joined the cast as the new playable character in February. As he brought a polarizing and vastly new playstyle to Killer Instinct, players took some time to rewire their habits to match Aganos's strengths and overcome his poor defense when left armorless. Despite the initial struggle, his wholly unique brand of stage control, armored offense, and brutal one-hit reactionary counter attacks proved incredibly fun and challenging to experiment with.
Patch 2.5: "The Hisako Patch" - March 27, 2015 (patch notes)
The Hisako patch implemented some fairly drastic changes to a few characters, intended to slightly weaken a few dominant strategies that caused some of the more lopsided matches in the game, or give some characters a few more options against oppressive pressure. Since the start of Season 2, Thunder had access to the Call of Sky special move, which called down a slow bolt of lighting on top of his opponent. This move proved fairly ineffectual against most characters it was designed to fight, so the developers reworked the move entirely. Now, Call of Sky calls down lightning on Thunder instead, granting him a one-time-use instinct dash for 8 seconds, allowing him to better approach characters capable of keeping him away and giving him some new mixup tools. Fulgore, meanwhile, had access to HP Eye Laser, a full screen tool that could be input immediately after a fireball for 1 pip of meter and controlled an angle that some characters with floaty jumps needed to approach. Patch 2.5 shortened the distance of HP Eye Laser considerably, which brought some of his more extreme matchups closer to even.
Kan-Ra also saw a few changes, most of which have a positive and negative aspect. All HK normals that kick sand changed to projectile attacks instead of strike attacks, which allow characters with projectile invincible moves slightly easier avenues around his pressure, but also gives him better space control by being able to kick incoming projectiles out of the way. His sand explosion gained some added recovery frames making it easier to punish, but as compensation they fixed his backdash so it has invincibility frames at the start like everyone else, which gives him some reasonable option on wakeup without sand. Orchid also gained a few nice quality of life fixes in this patch, including her overhead becoming unthrowable and being able to cancel her third hit of blocked Ichi Ni San into special moves, giving her situational safety on mixups.
The big change in this patch was to Aganos, a character that most considered quite weak in his debut patch. His particular struggle was chunkless defense, especially anti-airs near his head, so he got some help in Patch 2.5 for that; +LP is a 6-frame anti-air flick that can be special canceled and flicks aerial projectiles out of the way (like Maya's daggers and Sadira's Widow's Bite). In addition, shadow Natural Disaster will recapture on the last hit, and while charging in place, it is projectile invincible with a fairly low-profile hitbox, giving him reactionary anti-airs to neutral jumps for big damage. Close standing MP and Natural Disaster's downward trajectory after hopping became overhead attacks, giving him surprise mixups from both close and far ranges. While he still struggles with defense against throws and being caught without chunks is difficult, Aganos became quite a bit more dangerous in Patch 2.5, and players continued to explore his full potential.
Hisako debuted in Patch 2.5. She brought a unique counter-attack style to KI that hadn't been seen in the game; capable of sitting in place with giant normal attacks and using her Vengeance counters to beat obvious approaches on reaction, Hisako forced opponents to bring a more methodical, calculated brand of offense to the game. While opponents were contemplating their options, Hisako could use her fast forward dash and command grab mixup game to terrify opponents, but her reliance on her Wrath Meter to turn attacks into big damage forced Hisako players to think very methodically themselves. Hisako's strengths lied in areas that no other character in Killer Instinct had brought to the table, which brought excitement and experimentation to Hisako matches and forced solid play out of both players.
Patch 2.6: "The Cinder Patch" - April 30, 2015 (patch notes)
There were two substantial changes in this patch; let's cover the smaller one first. Before Patch 2.6, when Spinal activated instinct, he immediately earned the maximum of five skulls to use for his offense, regardless of what happened in the match previously. Because Spinal's engine is so difficult to stop once it begins, this made it very difficult to contain Spinal even if he had not generated any skulls before instinct activation. In Patch 2.6, Spinal now earns a bonus of only one additional skull when activating instinct. If he had no skulls beforehand, he can use one skull to begin his offense and then must wait for the automatic regeneration to grant him more. This small change doesn't impact Spinal's pressure all that much, since most Spinal players find themselves with a few skulls before instinct, and landing one mixup gives Spinal plenty of time for the regeneration to do its thing. It does, however, make Spinal a bit more honest when he is convincingly losing the match before earning instinct.
The biggest change in this patch is to TJ Combo. Since his introduction, TJ's Auto-Barrage combo trait has been a hotly debated topic among KI players. Players can typically react to auto-doubles by watching the first hit and breaking the second hit in time, but TJ Combo can use Auto-Barrage to circumvent this behavior with virtually no penalty. Coupled with TJ's ability to manual any strength off Vortex linkers, TJ was a nightmare to combo break. This patch brought some changes to TJ to limit the effectiveness of Auto-Barrage. Prior to Patch 2.6, TJ could Auto-Barrage as many hits as he liked, and cancel at any time into normal linkers or enders, effectively giving him access to a confusing sequence of continuous auto-doubles with variable length. After Patch 2.6, if TJ begins to perform Auto-Barrage, he is forced to complete it in one of two ways: if he presses all 6 buttons without any repeats, he will access the damage ender, as before (this damage ender hits harder in Patch 2.6 as well). If he repeats a button he previous pressed, TJ pushes his opponent away with a gut punch, cashing out the white damage and leaving himself with a standing reset and +4 frame advantage; this "advantage ender" is a new tool for TJ. TJ can no longer leave barrage with standard linkers or enders (although he can still counter break and perform ultra combos), nor can he repeat buttons in the hopes of confusing defenders without triggering the advantage ender.
The advantage ender actually has some interesting applications on offense. TJ is a reset monster, so giving TJ access to a standing reset if he "chickens out" of trying to complete the Auto-Barrage is actually quite potent, and is certainly a nice consolation prize for losing near imperviousness to reactionary combo breaks. TJ saw a few other adjustments besides Auto-Barrage as well. When using a manual version of Tremor in a combo, a common occurrence after Shoot Toss command grab or Vortex linkers, TJ would lunge forward at three different angles which gave away the strength of the attack for combo breaking purposes, but the angle was wholly obscured in the corner. In Patch 2.6, the developers added a visual effect to TJ's fist (1, 2, or 3 trails for light, medium, and heavy respectively) to help better differentiate the strength of this attack, and slightly extended the break window by a few frames. TJ's auto-doubles were also consolidated into three animations (punch and kick auto-doubles now look identical), since before Patch 2.6, TJ used his fists for his six different auto-double animations and several of them looked similar. To compensate, the second hit of his auto-doubles is sped up a bit.
The TJ changes in this patch were met with some controversy, as many TJ topics are, but TJ is still a very difficult character to combo break. Reacting to auto-doubles is still unreliable, because TJ can move into Auto-Barrage and lock you out if you try to combo break the second hit, which leads to his gigantic damage ender. If you don't attempt to break as often, TJ is free to use auto-doubles at will, and can still bail out of Auto-Barrage using the advantage ender for a potential damage cash out and a standing reset leading to a scary mixup. TJ's risk-reward is slightly closer to the rest of the cast, but there is no doubt he is among the most difficult characters to combo break in the game, even after Patch 2.6.
Aside from bug fixes, Hisako survived virtually unchanged from her debut. Fan favorite Cinder joined the roster as a complex, but very stylish character with a high amount of hidden potential due to his incredible mobility and situationally strong up-close pressure strings.
Patch 2.7: "The ARIA Patch" - May 29, 2015 (patch notes)
At long last, all the characters from Season 2 of Killer Instinct were complete. ARIA, the boss of Season 2, joins the roster as the 17th playable character with a ton of interesting mechanics and unique styles of play that players have come to expect from Killer Instinct. Patch 2.7 was a fairly hefty update to KI; along with ARIA came Shadows Mode, a system that records how you play and then forms an AI that fights as closely to your style as possible, and Combo Breaking Practice, a new mode that helps players train their combo breaking reactions.
With EVO 2015 fast approaching, and big tournaments occurring weekly, the game saw very few balance changes. Kan-Ra saw two subtle changes that tied the duration on his Swarm ender to the ender level and prevented him from interrupting attacks if he was hit out of the startup of his Spike attack. Cinder saw a bevy of bug fixes and two main adjustments to his tools; the timer for his burnout enders was reduced by 25% (the maximum timer is now 7.5 seconds for a level 4 ender, down from 10 seconds), and heavy Fission saw a large increase in its startup frames to prevent the possibility of an infinite block string against a cornered opponent. Otherwise, the game remained stable between patches.
With the Season 2 roster complete, Killer Instinct looked forward to a brand new Story mode in June, and the eventual completion of Shadow Jago as a brand new character some time before the end of 2015, thanks to the amazing success of the Killer Instinct Community Fund. Many fans hoped for an announcement of a Season 3 for Killer Instinct at E3 or EVO and the continuation of one of the best fighting games on the market.
Patch 2.8: "The Story Mode Patch" - June 17, 2015 (patch notes)
Season 2's final major update was expected at the end of June, but released during a surprise announcement at E3 (during which they also announced a PC version of Killer Instinct for early 2016). The main content of this patch was the new Rivals story mode for Season 2 characters. The only noteworthy balance change was a subtle visual strength indicator added to Kan-Ra's Whirl attack; Kan-Ra uses this attack to recapture characters in some combos, but the strength of the move for combo breaking purposes was impossible to deduce. Beyond some minor bug fixes for ARIA and other characters, the gameplay was unchanged.
The future of KI's patches is a little unknown. Iron Galaxy will bring more functionality to the well-reviewed Shadows mode sometime soon while continuing to tidy up miscellaneous bugs, and will also release Shadow Jago as his own character. These additions are expected within a few months of Patch 2.8, although no firm release schedule has been addressed.
Patch 2.9: "The Rash Patch" - August 4, 2015 (patch notes)
As a surprise to KI fans, along with the long-anticipated announcement of Killer Instinct Season 3 came a one month preview for upcoming Season 3 guest character, Rash! From August 4th to September 8th, all KI fans were able to play a beta version of Rash, with complete gameplay ideas but some missing animations and small omissions from his eventual moveset. With the Rash update came a few small quality of life changes to the existing KI cast, including some bug fixes, some updated visual effects to better indicate when certain properties were occurring, and adding Riptor and Omen to the Shadows lab. The only bug fixes that affected the balance of characters occurred to Cinder; heavy Fission when used as a manual was unintentionally unbreakable before this patch, and the explosion from the Pyrobomb special move did not advance the damage scaling, making all subsequent hits (including further Pyrobombs) do more damage than intended. A combination of these two factors led to a very high damage (but situational) unbreakable combo with Cinder that needed to be kept in check. The combo, which involves Cinder throwing multiple Pyrobombs during instinct on a juggled opponent, is still possible in the game, but its damage has been reduced from around 80% to lower than 50%, which for the resource cost is in line with other characters in the game.
A small fix to an important Spinal glitch that sneaked into Patch 2.9 was made in Patch 2.9.1 on August 21.
Patch 2.10: "Quality of Life Patch #1" - September 29, 2015 (patch notes)
With the Season 2 balance fully completed, this patch added a few more characters to the Shadows lab and otherwise fixed a large number of aesthetic and gameplay bugs across the KI cast. Perhaps the two biggest changes this patch were the fixing of an unbreakable Cinder linker after certain uses of Trailblazer, which could lead to large unbreakable cashouts, and Aganos's shadow counter gaining recapture properties, which fixes some problems with his abnormally fast shadow counter hitting some characters out of the air before they landed. There are more patches to come before the end of the year; promised content will give Shadow Jago a new moveset in addition to rounding out the remaining Season 2 cast in the Shadows lab.
Patch 2.11: "Quality of Life Patch #2" - November 3, 2015 (patch notes)
A relatively small patch brought the final two characters (Cinder and ARIA) to the Shadows lab, and a chunk of bug fixes to the roster. Only a few of the bug fixes drastically impacted balance, but the main changes came to Cinder, who had been living with mistakenly poor frame data on his Fission and Inferno special moves. Heavy Fission, a close range move designed to have slow startup but large frame advantage, was fixed to be plus on block (as opposed to a dismal -9) and the frame data for all versions of Inferno were adjusted to no longer be negative on hit. These fixes give Cinder some safer options during pressure and allowed him to control the mid-range more effectively without having to always rely on the risky Trailblazer. Shadow Jago is still expected to receive his new moveset before the end of the year.
Patch 2.12: "The Shadow Jago Patch" - December 4, 2015 (patch notes)
For two years, ever since the game launched, Shadow Jago was mechanically identical to Jago in every way. He had some unique moves in his AI-only boss form, but otherwise was nothing more than a Jago skin. However, due to a very successful community fund in May 2015, Shadow Jago was promised his very own, totally original moveset sometime before the end of the year, and that promise was fulfilled in December. In addition to Shadow Jago's new design being added to the playable roster and the Shadows lab, the patch came with an assortment of minor bug fixes and an overhaul of how the combo breaker information was displayed in matches. The game now displays the strength of a successful combo breaker (with L, M, or H being added to the "Combo Breaker" text) and displays more information about a lockout, including the correct strength the break should have been, as well as the time remaining on the lockout. This added information does not change how the game is played, but it greatly assists commentators and viewers who are unsure what strengths are being used in a high-paced match.
Patch 2.13: "The Combo Assist Patch" - December 23, 2015 (patch notes)
In addition to a few nice quality of life fixes, including some better color choices for lockouts in the new combo breaker UI introduced in Patch 2.12 and some small adjustments for Shadow Jago, Patch 2.13 largely introduced the new Combo Assist mode, which is an optional control scheme that allows players to perform some predetermined special move cancels (and only cancels) without using joystick motions. All the regular controls still operate as expected, so this mode is a supplement, not a replacement. Targeting players who have difficulty doing rapid quarter-circle commands repeatedly, such as beginners or those with hand disabilities, this mode allows these players to enjoy the meat of KI more quickly without affecting the neutral or combo breaking game, which is where all the important decisions are made. On December 31st, a small hotfix was released to fix a bug involving Combo Assist.