The lights are on
Last week during E3, Killer Instinct was one of the many emotional roller coasters that took gamers for a ride. When it was announced during Microsoft's press conference, the contingent that had been clamoring for the series return erupted in applause. Then, things got a little weird.
News started trickling out that Killer Instinct's return was marred by free-to-play tactics. Players will get one character (Jago) with the initial free download. Others are available as individual purchases.
What got lost is that the title will be optionally sold with a traditional price tag (whether that's equivalent to retail or what we now know as Xbox Live Arcade is unknown). This was cleared up when we interviewed Microsoft corporate vice president Phil Spencer at E3. Those that want the full experience and don't want to purchase piecemeal can do so.
It all sounds a bit like the traditional MOBA model pioneered by League of Legends and others. There are some key differences that make the implementation for Killer Instinct problematic.
The free character doesn't rotate. It's always Jago from the moment you download the title into the foreseeable future. Unless Microsoft enables some sort of character demo, you'll have to buy blind.
This is also challenging because of the genre. Fighting game aficionados have explained to me the importance of experimentation before settling on a primary character (a "main"). On the surface, Killer Instinct doesn't encourage that kind of testing opportunity.
Microsoft has used this model before. 2011's Crimson Alliance, an action RPG with classes that fit traditional and expected roles (tank, caster, balance), offered a packaged deal or individual character purchases. In a title like that, it's easy to pair your play style with one of the few options. Not so in a fighting game, especially one that hasn't been heard from since 1996.
Double Helix and Microsoft have some time to work out the kinks, but from what we currently know, the a la carte option doesn't seem like the way to go.