A History of Killer Instinct

Season 3

Table of Contents

After much speculation and interest following a successful Season 2, Season 3 for Killer Instinct was announced on August 5th, 2015 at Gamescom. Season 3 launched on March 29, 2016 with four out of a planned eight characters, alongside a Windows 10 version of the game that is fully cross-play and cross-buy with the Xbox One version. Iron Galaxy, developers on Season 2, returned for Season 3.

Patch 3.0: The Season 3 Launch Patch - March 29, 2016 (patch notes)

Season 3's gigantic launch patch changed much about the game from Season 2. The system itself saw numerous changes and every character saw a multitude of changes, including new tools and both buffs and nerfs to old tools.

System changes: The stagger and flipout mechanics were added to the game. Combo breakers changed from a soft knockdown to a flipout and can no longer be instinct canceled, which greatly increased game pace and reduced the reward for a successful combo break. Juggle hits, in general, added less to the KV meter, and more attacks for many characters got improved juggle height and less knockback, which opened up the potential for juggle combos for much of the cast. Shadow counters got way better; instead of character-specific startup varying from fast to terribly slow, all shadow counters now start up lightning fast and have a wider catch window, making them very useful to catch even light attacks during block strings. Ender damage was tuned across the cast; in general, if you want to build meter or get a juggle combo via an ender, you will have to settle for less up-front damage. Additionally, unbreakable combos were removed from the game; if you try to fill the gap between opener and ender with unbreakable attacks, your ender becomes breakable and no longer cashes out damage.

Character changes: The character changes are too numerous to list here; check the patch notes for a full breakdown. In general, however, every character got some combination of nerfs and buffs to try and mesh with the new Season 3 mechanics. Many older characters had either stagger or flipout added to some of their moves, or got additional juggle properties to promote alternate combo paths. Every character got a new tool; this includes Jago's Endokuken charge, Glacius's Homing Puddle Punch during instinct, Aganos's ability to recycle his chunks through the use of walls and Peacemaker clubs, and Cinder's ability to aim Inferno at the ground as a low attack or as anti-air upwards.

As far as nerfs go, in general, the development team tried to remove certain aspects across the cast. Many characters lost the ability to cancel uppercut-style moves on block into more mixups (Thunder, Maya), while certain invincible reversals that recovered extremely fast and were difficult to punish reliably in real matches were made more unsafe (TJ Combo's roll, Cinder's Fireflash). These changes tend to make reversals more of a commitment, unless you spend an instinct cancel or some shadow meter (which still could be unsafe if your opponent has shadow counter available). Most unreactable mixups were made slightly slower to make defending against them still difficult, but more possible (Sabrewulf's Jumping Slash, Riptor's Tail Flip). Various other character-specific tweaks were made to keep some of Season 2's top tier characters in line with the rest of the cast.

Season 3 brought with it four newcomers: guest characters Rash from Battletoads and Arbiter from Halo, and Killer Instinct 2 returning veterans Kim Wu and Tusk. The drastic system and character changes, plus the addition of four new characters and a ton of new players due to the PC release, brought a lot of fun new experimentation to the game.

Patch 3.1: The Mira Patch - April 27, 2016 (patch notes)

The first monthly patch for Season 3 came at the end of April, and tidied up a lot of the bugs that found their way into the launch of Season 3. Many characters had small to medium bug fixes, most of which didn't impact balance to any serious degree. The only characters with changes that affected balance were Tusk (some combos became breakable slightly earlier than before), Shadow Jago (risk/reward toned down on Dark Catastrophe), and Rash (Big Bad Boot cancels gave unintentional frame advantage).

Season 3's first post-launch character was Mira, a glass cannon-style character with lots of strong tools, but she does massive damage to both herself and her opponent.

Patch 3.1.5: The Gargos Patch - May 27, 2016 (patch notes)

Gargos, the original boss character from Killer Instinct 2, makes his return to KI; he is the sixth Season 3 character. He is effective from multiple ranges, including a strong space control zoner and grappler, but his struggles on defense keep him honest if you can breach his defenses.

A few characters saw some minor adjustments this patch, but two characters in particular saw changes that would affect their overall gameplan. Shadow Jago's jumping HP, an attack that was particularly strong in online environments and against characters with only average anti-air, saw some hitbox and frame advantage changes to allow it to be a little less dominant. Kim Wu saw some pretty strong changes to strengthen her role as a footsies specialist. Most notably, her walk speed and dash speed were substantially increased, giving her much better control on the ground and improved her ability to whiff punish.

Patch 3.2: The General RAAM Patch - June 13, 2016 (patch notes)

General RAAM was announced during E3 2016 and, as a surprise to everyone, was available for play the same day. This marks the first time a major character release was not timed within the last week of the month, as has been the standard since KI adopted the seasonal release model starting at the beginning of Season 2. RAAM was released only about two weeks after the Gargos update, which also makes it the shortest time between major KI patches.

Aside from bug fixes, there were only two major character changes this patch. Maya's daggers continue to be difficult for the developers to balance, and this patch reduced the high one-chance damage output of the character by removing dagger toss after shadow Leap Kick. Mira saw some reductions to her ability to heal blood damage after a wall splat ender, and saw the excellent Mist Form move get an increased blood health cost.

Patch 3.3: The Eyedol Patch - July 21, 2016 (patch notes)

The final character of Season 3 was Eyedol, the final boss of the original Killer Instinct title, who had been the only character from any of the legacy games yet to be represented. He arrived with a new appearance and a totally brand new moveset, effectively acting as two separate characters that randomly switch between each other. Eyedol was announced at EVO 2016 during the Killer Instinct grand finals, only a few days before his release.

The patch also brought with it slightly more balance changes than had been seen in the last few patches. Among them, Jago's meter build was toned down, Fulgore's Eye Lasers saw some frame advantage reductions, and Arbiter lost some damage on his Carbine shots and damage enders, in order to lower the damage he gets from combos with very few chances to combo break. Omen also lost a powerful technique where he could perform a flipout on an enemy and cancel into Demon Slide for an extremely ambiguous mixup. Overall, the tweaks were small and subtle, and no character saw drastic nerfs or buffs that fundamentally changed their approach to the game.

On August 24th, the developers released a hotfix patch, 3.3.1, to tone down the launch version of Eyedol and address a few other bugs. A bigger balance patch, 3.4, is planned for the near future.

All Season 3 characters have been launched, but the developers have more content planned, so stay tuned for more information on future updates!

Patch 3.4: The Shadow Lords Patch - September 20, 2016 (patch notes)

The long-awaited single player mode for Season 3 came in this patch, along with a fairly hefty series of changes for pretty much every character in the game. These changes were designed to eliminate some of the degenerate strategies that the community had found since Season 3's initial rebalance.

Each character's changes are too numerous to discuss here, but the main changes would be Thunder losing invincibility on light Sammamish, Arbiter's gun loop losing potency, and Gargos's minions staying knocked down if Gargos himself is being hit. Sadira, a character that has been seen as weaker in Season 3, saw the addition of a new combo trait and a few new move properties, and Kim Wu saw some nice quality of life changes and an improvement to her low and defensive game.

The patch in general sees KI continue to improve its walk along the fine line of strong but manageable character archetypes.

Patch 3.5: Quality of Life Patch #1 - November 22, 2016 (patch notes)

This patch largely saw bug fixes and a small list of notable tweaks to the combat balance. Primarily, Spinal earned a new move, Shadow Skull Summon, allowing him to trade a bar of shadow meter for three skulls, and also earned substantial meter build on blocked skulls. These buffs help keep his momentum going and make recovering from a bad position a little easier. Omen saw some nerfs to meter build in neutral, but despite this he remains a very strong character in Season 3.

Patch 3.6: Quality of Life Patch #2 - December 20, 2016 (patch notes)

A fairly large system change to this patch which was designed to fine-tune the risk/reward of the combo breaker system: all successful combo breaks heal only 50% of your potential damage, instead of 100% as it has been since the launch of KI in 2013, and potential damage takes longer to begin healing after you have returned to a neutral position. These two changes make the reward for breaking weaker, and if the offensive player can land another hit relatively quickly, his next combo will start at an elevated ender level due to the lingering potential damage. For those characters that specialize in dealing potential damage, this patch saw a slight reduction in their ability to do so, to line up with this change.

On the character level, only really two characters saw changes of note. For Jago, shadow Endokuken does less damage and is now punishable by jabs at close range, removing his ability to do a reversal DP and cancel it into shadow Endokuken to remain safe. Fulgore saw less damage with his zoning tools, but more importantly an entirely reworked instinct mode. Previously, Fulgore had max spin speed on his reactor for the duration of instinct, giving him large amounts of meter regardless of his actions. The rework lets him perform unlimited cost-free pip cancels instead, while the reactor behaves normally. This limits the amount of meter Fulgore can acquire over the course of the match, making him a bit easier to handle normally, but gives him a much scarier instinct.

This patch also saw the introduction of Kilgore, a new playable character, though he would not be available in regular online or versus mode play for two weeks.

Patch 3.7: The Shin Hisako Patch - March 14, 2017 (patch notes)

March saw the addition of Shin Hisako, the second of three post-Season 3 characters added to Killer Instinct. Coming alongside this patch saw adjustments to a few key top tiers in the game, perhaps most notably Jago, whose medium Wind Kick, previously a strong mid-range tool, was changed to be unsafe on block. Other adjustments included changing the ability for Gargos to easily summon minions after command grab, a change to Fulgore's especially strong instinct zoning, and a series of important bug fixes to newcomer Kilgore. Most characters in the game remained the same, barring some small quality of life bug fixes, in this patch.

Patch 3.8: The Eagle Patch - June 27, 2017 (patch notes)

Killer Instinct was unchanged for several months before Eagle released as perhaps the final new character in Killer Instinct. Another round of balance changes came with this patch, mostly affecting Fulgore (reversal and pressure slightly nerfed), Thunder (reversals nerfed), and Gargos (slight damage nerf, crouching MP frame advantage lowered), while most of the roster remained unchanged or received minor bug fixes. About two weeks later on July 11th, they released patch 3.8.2, a hotfix patch to remove a bug that caused the game to occasionally crash during online matches with Eagle.

Patch 3.9: Tune-Up Balance Patch - September 6, 2017 (patch notes)

The developers hinted that they were very happy with the balance in patch 3.9, and that it could be the last set of balance adjustments for KI for the foreseeable future. The patch itself was just a small attempt to slightly compress the strong and weak characters even further; only 3 characters (Aria, Mira, Cinder) saw nerfs, and they were extremely minor, leaving the vast majority (or entirety) of their strong gameplans intact. Meanwhile, some characters that were considered among the weaker in the cast (Kan-Ra, Shadow Jago, Sadira) saw slight buffs that would help them handle their weaknesses slightly better, while most characters saw no changes or only bug fixes. KI has always been a fairly balanced game, but patch 3.9 leaves the game with the smallest disparity between the best and worst character in the game's history.

On December 1, they released a small hotfix patch that addressed a bug found where Rash could ultra his opponents on block in certain situations. On March 7, 2018, they released another hotfix patch to address a bug where Hisako could ultra on block or whiff after doing air On Ryo Zan with her opponent in danger. On August 16, 2018, they released a final hotfix patch to fix the advantage for Rash and Sabrewulf off a successful combo breaker, since they were much different than the other characters.

'Cause mama, mama I'm comin' home