Killer Instinct is a title that takes the normal metagame of a fighter to new levels. In most fighting games, as soon as an attack connects, the defensive player is left watching a quick combo video, helpless as they wait for the chance to play again. That's not the case in Killer Instinct.
When an attack lands, it's the beginning of a mind game between two players. The defensive player is trying to figure out which Combo Breaker to use, and the offensive player is trying to mix up his attacks to avoid a Combo Breaker. All the while, the defensive player has to be mindful of the offensive player using a Counter Breaker. If it sounds like a lot is going on, that's because there is. It's layer upon layer of mind games, and it's the basis of Killer Instinct.
While the threat of Combo Breakers and Counter Breakers is always present, there are a few other factors you can take into account to maximize your damage while minimizing the risk. It's impossible to break an Opener, and you can only break an Ender if you cut your combo short and use an Ender immediately after an Opener. In all other cases, you can only use a Combo Breaker during an Auto-Double, Linker, Shadow Linker or Manual. That means, the shorter your combo, the less opportunities the defensive player will have to use a Combo Breaker. Of course, the shorter your combo, the less damage you're inflicting.
Let's take a closer look at this. If you start a combo with Sabrewulf's Ragged Edge as an Opener, then use a Heavy Punch Auto-Double, followed by a Heavy Ragged Edge as an Ender; the opponent can only use a Combo Breaker during the Heavy Punch Auto-Double. In other words, doing this combo gives the defensive player one chance to Combo Break. If you used a Linker between the Auto-Double and the Ender, the opponent would have two chances to break. The more actions you perform between an Opener and an Ender, the more opportunities an opponent has to use a Combo Breaker.
On average, a full combo uses three Auto-Doubles and three Linkers. You can replace Auto-Doubles with Manuals and use Shadow Linkers as well, but for the sake of this analysis, we'll leave it at simply Auto-Doubles and Linkers. With this in mind, we can now take a look at damage output under these circumstances. The analysis here is to determine how much damage you can get while cutting your combo short to minimize the opponent's opportunity to use a Combo Breaker.
43 percent Damage Combo = 3 Auto-Doubles, 3 Linkers = 6 Combo Breaker Opportunities
In the average full combo, the opponent gets six chances to break, and you'll end up with roughly 43 percent damage if you can complete the combo. The damage varies depending on a number of factors, but every character can get around 43 percent with a combo like this. Shadow Linkers and other factors will increase damage, but for the basis of this analysis, we're leaving it simple.
41 percent Damage Combo = 3 Auto-Doubles, 2 Linkers = 5 Combo Breaker Opportunities
If we remove one Linker from the average full combo, there's a minor loss of damage, and the opponent loses one opportunity to break. Playing the odds, limiting the opponent's ability to use a Combo Breaker by one opportunity is worth the minor damage loss.
38 percent Damage Combo = 2 Auto-Doubles, 2 Linkers = 4 Combo Breaker Opportunities
Removing one Auto-Double and one Linker from the full combo also results in a minor damage loss. Once again, the ability to limit an opponent's chance to break is worth the minor loss of damage.
36 percent Damage Combo = 2 Auto-Doubles, 1 Linkers = 3 Combo Breaker Opportunities
When we drop the full combo down to two Auto-Doubles and one Linker, the damage loss becomes more significant. However, with the greater damage loss, the number of times an opponent can use a Combo Breaker has been cut in half. In comparison, the damage lost is less than 25 percent.
26 percent Damage Combo = 1 Auto-Doubles, 1 Linkers = 2 Combo Breaker Opportunities
This is where things start to look grim for the offensive player. With only one Auto-Double and one Linker in a combo, the damage is nearly cut in half compared to a full combo. The opponent only has two chances to break, but even if they don't break, they're only losing roughly 26 percent damage.
18 percent Damage Combo = 1 Auto-Doubles, 0 Linkers = 1 Combo Breaker Opportunity
11 percent Damage Combo = 0 Auto-Doubles, 1 Linkers = 1 Combo Breaker Opportunity
8 percent Damage Combo = 0 Auto-Doubles, 0 Linkers (Opener > Ender) = 1 Combo Breaker Opportunity
The final three options all allow for a single Combo Breaker opportunity. Whether you opt to use one Auto-Double and no Linker, one Linker and no Auto-Double, or just transition from an Opener directly into an Ender, the opponent always has one chance to break. In this situation, it's always best to use one Auto-Double because the damage increase is significant compared to the other two options.
What we can take away from these combo examples is that if you want to get the most damage out of a combo with the lowest risk, use the one, two, or three guess options. The three guess option is the most ideal combo. With three guesses, the combo inflicts roughly 36 percent damage. That means it takes three combos to deplete a full health bar. If you continue to extend the combo, even at six guesses you're only inflicting roughly 43 percent damage. It will still require three combos to deplete a full health bar. You're not gaining much by moving from a 36 percent damage combo to a 43 percent damage combo, but you're giving the opponent twice as many chances to use a Combo Breaker.
Obviously if the opponent gets locked out, or you incorporate Shadow Linkers, that changes the equation and gives more benefit to extending your combo. However, under normal circumstances, if you want to get the most damage, with the least amount of risk, your combo should flow as follows:
Opener > Auto-Double > Linker > Auto-Double > Ender
The damage will vary depending on the strength of your Auto-Doubles and Linker, but you'll be getting the most damage with the least amount of risk. In Killer Instinct, you'll always have to guess, you'll always have to take risks and you'll do your best to make educated reads on how an opponent will react. This analysis gives you the most optimal way to reduce the risk of a Combo Breaker, while inflicting as much damage as possible.