It’s not often I can call to mind a game that reinvents itself successfully while keeping the core of the franchise perfectly intact. Case in point: the Tekken franchise has gone through all sorts of evolutions over the years, from the tag-teaming of Tekken Tag Tournament to the Rage System first introduced in Tekken 6. I knew Tekken 8 was going to be quite a step forward for Bandai Namco when they announced they were switching to Unreal Engine 5 to build the new game from the ground up. However, I couldn’t have guessed just how different this game would be when I sat down to play an early build. Simply put, the new Heat System is a game-changer and the way we approach offense and mind games in Tekken is about to truly evolve into something spectacular.
Bringing the Heat
The Heat System is at the core of the most important changes to Tekken 8’s battle system. “Aggression” is a keyword Katsuhiro Harada and the rest of the Tekken devs have been stressing around frequently as a core pillar of the game, and now I see why. Rage is still here, but only with Rage Arts. It works the same. Once your health is low enough, you can bust out a trump card move with the press of a button, doing big damage that increases based on the life you have left. Lower health means bigger Rage Art damage. However, Rage Drive has been done away with completely, and there’s a good reason. The Heat System more than makes up for it.
The Heat System is, at its core, a gauge that allows for an empowered state when you activate it for a limited time. You can activate Heat State with the press of a button to do a Heat Burst, delivering an attack to your opponent while entering Heat State. There are also a multitude of unique new moves and combos for every character called Heat Engagers that will activate Heat State if you hit an unblocking opponent with the attack. It’s also worth noting that each of these provide you with Heat Energy stocks in Heat State. A successful Heat Burst provides one Heat Energy stock while a successful Heat Engager gives you two stocks.
From there, you can do a few things. For one, you can use the Heat Smash. This might as well be a Rage Drive move. It’s a highly advantageous attack that will do big damage if unblocked. However, it also ends your Heat State immediately, using both Heat Energy stocks. You can also do a Heat Dash off certain attacks, which is essentially a dash cancel that puts you in arm’s reach of your opponent to continue your assault whether they block or not. This only uses one Heat Energy stock, so you can stay in Heat State if you do it and even use your Heat Smash if you want to.
Perhaps just as important is that while in Heat State, your character unlocks special moves, qualities, and buffs that are specific to whatever character you choose. For instance, Marshall Law utilizes nunchakus in his latest appearance. In Heat State, every one of his attacks that uses the nunchakus will do more damage. Meanwhile, King gets even burlier in his Heat State. He has a special dash move that can chain into a variety of attacks and throws, and he gains super armor on that dash when Heat State is active allowing him to take out hits undeterred and return punishment in kind. Also, landing certain attacks will allow him to gain Heat Gauge back before it ends, letting him go on a rampage with his Heat if he’s on a roll.
Here's the catch to all of this: once you deplete the Heat Gauge, that’s it for the round. You have to make do without it from there, kind of like the Rage Arts. That’s what makes it such an interesting and special system. We’re talking about a mechanic you can tap at nearly any time you want. The fact that not only does it give you some trump cards to use with Heat Smash and Heat Dash, but also amplifies the specialties of every character in unique ways makes the Heat System something you’ll want to learn first when approaching any character.
During my time in the preview, I faced off against players that would bust out Heat State almost right away. I also saw players that would attempt to keep it stocked till a more advantageous position revealed itself, such as in the middle of a combo. Finally, there were those that would bust it out when in Rage State near the end of their life for a last hurrah. Each player will likely find a different way to play with this system, but it’s clear that discovering your own effective use of the Heat System should be one of the number one priorities in your approach to any Tekken 8 character.
What an easy system it is to use, too. As mentioned prior, there are moves and combos on every character called Heat Engagers. These activate your Heat State on the fly and they are some of every character’s best and most important moves in general. Ease-of-access is what the Tekken devs were going for here. The idea is that as long as you learn your character’s Heat Engagers first and when to employ them, you’ll be on the fast track to being able to play with any character. I found this to be true no matter what character I picked up. Figuring out their Heat Engager moves was always easy to learn, and I found that once I had that much down, I could really begin to pummel opponents (and likewise get pummeled) with Heat Smash and Dash strings.
Lastly I have to give props to Namco Bandai for coming up with what may be the best user-friendly “easy” controls I’ve ever seen in a fighting game. Players may be familiar with Simple Combo controls in other fighting games, but the Tekken devs have taken it one step further here. This game has an input mode called Special Style that can be toggled off and on by a player in the middle of a match. Toggling Special Style allows you to access an adaptive array of that character’s moves and combos based on situation and positioning. The toggle between normal Tekken arcade controls (Arcade Style) and Special Style was great for both picking up characters I didn’t usually play and filling in the gaps with combos I otherwise wouldn’t be able to perform. If it was getting in my way, I could just as easily toggle it off with the press of a button at any time during the match.
This feels like a big deal because newbies will be able to pick up Special Style when learning the character they want to play, but even experts can make use of it. Producer Michael Murray described it as such: “I’m not going to pick up Special Style and beat [EVO 2022 Tekken 7 champion Jae-Min "Knee" Bae], but at least I can play him with it. On the flipside, Knee can toggle Special Style anytime he wants and use it to land part of a combo that might otherwise have difficult timing.” So it seems this is not only beginner friendly, but being able to switch back and forth between Arcade and Special Style could prove beneficial even to pros.
This is the King of Iron Fists Tournament
I was floored by what I saw out of the Heat System in my time with this early build of Tekken 8. However, one of the biggest things I came away impressed with was just how polished this preview build is. The characters all looked and played freaking gorgeous in UE5. It didn’t feel like a preview. It felt like Tekken 8 has been here a while already. It felt like Bandai Namco knew what they had to do and they did it as far as making this one of the most visually striking Tekkens yet. More than that, even at this early state, Tekken 8 is feeling like not just a step, but a leap forward for the franchise. Most importantly, it was fun as heck.
It feels like I only scratched the surface of what the Heat System can do and I’m chomping at the bit to play more. Even then, I can’t wait to see how it’s applied to more characters as they’re revealed. Tekken has almost always been the gold standard of 3D fighting games. Based on my time with even just a preview build of the game, that’s still going to be the case when this one comes out.
This preview is based on an early PlayStation 5 build of the game. Tekken 8 is slated to come out on PS5, Xbox Series X/S, and PC sometime in 2024.
TJ Denzer posted a new article, Tekken 8's Heat System will change how we play the game at all levels
I couldn’t be more hyped for this one. The sensible side of me wants to stick with one or two characters at launch to get good (currently Jun and Lars) but realistically I’ll bounce all over the place.
Didn’t expect that Xiaoyu trailer this morning!
Xiaoyu's playing great, too. They surprised us with her as a playable character during the preview build and she ended up being one of my favorites. Jun and Law feel great too. I want to be good at King because his Heat State bonuses seem incredible and he has a devastating Pedigree throw this time, but I definitely need practice on him lol
I can't help but wonder if there were any other surprises, but obviously more is coming. That's so awesome that you guys had fun with it! Tekken 7 sold so well they increased the budget for 8 and boy does it show in these trailers. Can't wait to get some footage out of EVO Japan.
Bandai Namco must have nothing but faith in the Tekken team at this point. Harada and producer Michael Murray told me it costs a ton of money to design one character from the ground up for Tekken 8 because they have to make the characters and their moves look good from every angle possible. I have to believe them given what I saw in even this early build.
For sure, and this is first complete animation refresh in years if not ever. So many of the previous entries have legacy animations and sound effects that they were essentially just putting a new layer of paint over. T8 is a HUGE undertaking and I'm so thrilled that they're going for gold, taking risks and making the game feel completely fresh.
I wonder how large the launch roster will end up being! I'm expecting some consolidation. The last time they made changes this dramatic was Tekken 4, and that had a much smaller cast as a result (but I enjoyed that b/c each character felt distinct, as opposed to a bunch of characters with move set crossover.)
Loving the coverage you guys are providing! Take all my clicks. :)