Evo 2018: Can Dead or Alive 6 Break Through to the Big Time?

Here at World Warriors, we spend a vast majority of our time – nearly all of it – holding fast to a very select core of hand-picked titles that have either established or continue to champion the most storied competitive legacies in the history of the fighting genre. However, we would be remiss not to take the occasional glance at the future, watching for games that could come along and eventually stand the test of time and rigorous gameplay to possibly join that list of games someday. This is the spirit in which we will be writing our reviews and previews, and it begins here with a hands-on preview of Dead or Alive 6 from Evo 2018.

It’s no secret that the first few Dead or Alive titles saddled the franchise with a rather regrettable identity that it has spent the last several years struggling to shake, most recently with Dead or Alive 5 and its emphatic “I’m A Fighter” slogan. Dead or Alive 5 was an unprecedented effort by Team Ninja, spanning three iterations and undergoing a degree of fine tuning that the franchise had never dabbled in up to that point. The experience was marred somewhat by a bizarre free-to-play experiment and shameless DLC practices, but the prevailing quality made for a great alternative to Tekken and SoulCalibur that got serious consideration when World Warriors was sorting out its inaugural game lineup. (Last Round could very well still have a shot if it continues to see play in the years to come.)

With a rather formal farewell earlier this year, it seemed as though Team Ninja was moving on to other projects and letting Dead or Alive 5: Last Round represent the franchise for the foreseeable future, but only months after their apparent cease of active support for the series, Dead or Alive 6 was announced with a grittier look almost devoid of the brand’s trademark fanservice. Already, test builds are making appearances at major events, and that gave us the chance to give it a try at Evo 2018.

The moment you pick up Dead or Alive 6, you’ll notice that the series’ signature flow of gameplay is fully intact in what is otherwise a very ambitious and groundbreaking installment. Team Ninja clearly sat under the Sega/Virtua Fighter learning tree when they were collaborating on guest characters the last time around, because the back-and-forth of close-quarters fighting feels much more crisp and impactful compared to previous Dead or Alive titles.

The improved gameplay experience doesn’t end there, either. While Dead or Alive 5 experimented with an expanded system in the form of Critical Breaks and Power Blows, Team Ninja seems to have really struck gold with Dead or Alive 6, implementing a meter, the Break Gauge, as a series first. This leads to two new mechanics. Break Blow, executed universally by simultaneously pressing forward and the new button, Special, is effectively DOA6’s super move mechanic, going after your opponent with an armored attack at the expense of your entire full meter. It’s defensive counterpart, Break Hold, only costs half of your meter in comparison, and serves as a one-size-fits-all counter regardless of what type of strike your opponent utilizes. (It should be noted that Break Holds do not appear to pack the same damage output as a standard counter, however.)

To put it simply, this particular system expansion completes the thought of DOA’s long-running counter system much like 2013’s Killer Instinct reimagining took the Combo Breaker system and thought it through to a similarly logical conclusion. Only time will tell if that can launch the franchise to unprecedented competitive heights (or, dare we suggest, an Evo main stage appearance), but the foundation is unquestionably in place to give it the best fighting chance it has ever gotten.

Dead or Alive 6 is scheduled to launch in Q1 2019 on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Steam.