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Killer Instinct: Stepping Into the Arena with Season 3's Tusk and Arbiter

Earlier today, Microsoft and Iron Galaxy confirmed a launch date for Killer Instinct: Season 3 on both Xbox One and Windows 10 PC. As stated earlier, the new season will begin with four new playable characters and all of them are blasts from the past in their own way. The two most recent characters were both present at a recent Xbox press event, so Shacknews had the opportunity to go hands on with Tusk and the Arbiter.

Tusk should look familiar to anyone that played Killer Instinct 2 back in the day. He's back with his gargantuan sword and, as expected, that's his distinguishing feature. Tusk's sword gives him tremendous reach with his normals, with his Heavy Punch and Heavy Kick moves practically reaching across the screen. There is a major trade-off for this wide reach, though. Tusk cannot cancel out of any of these moves and given his slower motions, if an opponent dodges any of his moves, they have ample room to punish. Tusk also utilizes one of KI's newest mechanics, Stagger, to great effect. In fact, Stagger was designed mainly for Tusk, as he can hit opponents hard enough to rock them briefly, giving him an open window for multi-hit combos.

Tusk's specials are interesting in that there's a visible white frame attached to all of them. If an opponent attempts to strike during any of these white frames, Tusk will instantly counter-attack. Tusk can likewise counter fireballs with his Skull Crusher special. In addition to acting as a powerful overhead strike, the Skull Crusher can destroy enemy projectiles, if timed correctly. If Tusk is looking to punish foes for getting in too close, he has a Dragon Punch-style move he can launch himself with. While Tusk may not be able to cancel out of many of his moves, that changes if he activates Instinct. Tusk's Instinct will allow him to cancel any special move into another special move, creating different combo possibilities and a chance to strike quicker.

One of Tusk's more interesting moves is a follow-up stomp on a fallen opponent. Taking a page out of the old Virtua Fighter handbook, if an opponent goes down, Tusk can quickly leap over and pounce on his foe to add a little emphasis on any combo. However, remember that in Season 3, Combo Breakers can extend all the way to the end of any combo, so having said that, it is possible to consistently break the stomp every time by pressing HP and HK. This would make the stomp a high-risk proposition, but if a Tusk player manages to Counter Breaker that, it leaves room for tremendous punishment. Iron Galaxy's Adam "Keits" Heart demonstrated this by following up his Counter Breaker with a 24-hit combo that dealt out a crippling 75% damage. Tusk is immensely powerful in the right hands.

Speaking of powerful, one of Season 3's most eye-opening additions is Halo's Arbiter, whom one would imagine would sheathe his weapons and focus purely on hand-to-hand combat. That's not entirely the case. Arbiter certainly can dish out normal strikes, with his gangly limbs providing medium range. But Iron Galaxy certainly isn't taking the "Halo" out of this character. It's more than just his Energy Sword, which can be used for launching uppercut swings.

Much of Arbiter's weaponry is not only intact, but also mapped to the standard Halo button scheme. Pressing LB on the Xbox One controller will lob out a sticky grenade, just as it would in Halo. This is a powerful part of the character's arsenal, as it can only be blocked at the moment of detonation. If an opponent does not dodge the grenade, it will stick onto their body and eventually explode. The catch here is that the grenade's blast radius can also hurt Arbiter, so if a player isn't careful, they'll wind up breaking their own combo. But the grenade is ideally good for lobbing at airborn foes or as part of a juggle. Grenades are an infinite resource, but they must recharge over time.

Meanwhile, RT (Heavy Kick) will fire Arbiter's Carbine. If used by itself, the Carbine is good for a quick Quad combo. But the Carbine is best used as part of a combo, which Arbiter can use to either get in a few extra hits at the end or juggle an airborn opponent. Unlike the grenade, Arbiter only gets 18 shots with the Carbine and once the ammo's gone, it's gone for the rest of the match, so players must use their shots wisely. It also wouldn't be Halo if there wasn't an Overshield and Arbiter certainly brings one along for Killer Instinct. If Arbiter deploys the Overshield, it will always take priority damage, even if his health bar is critically low. This can be a lifesaver at the end of matches, especially if an opponent has him on the ropes. Lastly, Arbiter also utilize his cloak to his advantage and use it for both cross-ups and combo enders.

When mixed all together, Arbiter is capable of inflicting insane damage. Keits put an exclamation point on our session by showing an mind-boggling 37-hit Ultra Combo, which pretty much took every page out of the Arbiter playbook, culminating with a home run swing with his Energy Sword. That's scratching the surface of what Arbiter is capable of when Iron Galaxy conducts a live overview of the character on the Killer Instinct Twitch channel today at 2PM PT.

It'll be interesting to see whether the rest of the Killer Instinct cast will be able to stand up to these new characters. But given that every single character has been rebalanced for Season 3, the matchups will certainly be fun to watch. Killer Instinct kicks off Season 3 on March 29 on both Xbox One and Windows 10 PC.

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