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The corporation Ultratech is led by an artificial intelligence named ARIA. She created the Killer Instinct tournament, forcing humankind to evolve or die. But a great evil has come to conquer our world. Now old enemies must forge an Alliance... or die alone.

—Shadow Lords prologue narration

Shadow Lords is a new gameplay mode developed for Killer Instinct (2013), and was released on September 20th 2016 during the game's Season Three. First leaked on the website, it became officially announced at the E3 gaming convention. Part-ladder, part-story, and part-arcade, Shadow Lords acts as the sequel to Rivals Mode from KI 2013's Season Two. It revolves around the characters of the Killer Instinct universe trying to band together before the threat posed by the demon lord Gargos, in a desperate bid to prevent the diabolical half-god from consuming the Earth.


Better prepare well for this guy's arrival

Unlike the previous game modes, Shadow Lords is part-ladder, part-arcade, part-story, and part-roguelike, all rolled up into one unique experience in which:

  • Your ultimate goal is to beat Gargos and his forces before he takes over the world. How fast that happens is completely up to how you play!
  • Remember, Gargos arrival is imminent but you can prepare for his arrival!
  • Choose any character to be the “main” character and assemble your team from across the entire roster of KI characters. Uneasy alliances abound!
  • As characters are added to the game after launch, they’ll also come with new Shadow Lords content.
  • Lots of stuff to earn and craft in this mode, all of which can be obtained by playing. KI Gold will allow you to accelerate to get to some rarer stuff sooner to help in your fight against Gargos and his minions.
  • Battle against Mimics, Shadows and Omens in order to weaken Gargos' influence and strengthen your own.
  • The game features persistent items and elements that carry across multiple playthroughs.
  • The new multiplayer mode was seen in the launch trailer will tie into this mode and some of the things you can craft.


Difficulty settings[]

Shadow Lords features three difficulty settings: "Normal", "Challenging" and "God-like", with a higher difficulty yielding greater and more rewards upon defeating adversaries or looting chests. Additionally, the final battle with Gargos can be made much easier if the player first defeats the four Omen minibosses which appear throughout the campaign, with this depriving Gargos of the buffs that the Omens would bestow upon him during the last encounter. Conversely, things can be made a lot more challenging by choosing not to defeat the Omens, and therefore allowing Gargos to retain each of these buffs.

Ergo, the easiest playthrough of Shadow Lords is to play on "Normal" difficulty and face Gargos with all of his buffs removed, while the single hardest challenge comes from playing on "God-like" while allowing Gargos to maintain all of his buffs.

Team formations[]

It's time to team up

A team in Shadow Lords will consist of a total of three characters, with the first character chosen (the "Primary") serving as the team's captain. However, some characters will refuse to team up with others until specific story-related quests have first been completed. Shadow Lords' story line can therefore take many different turns depending on which character the player chooses as his or her "Primary". Players can switch out characters for others throughout the campaign once the various story line missions and quest lines make them available for recruitment.

Choosing a "difficult" team (i.e. creating a team of characters that lore-wise have difficult relationships with each other) will often unlock additional special options, cutscenes and rewards throughout the campaign.


Guardians are powerful equips that are obtained by purchasing certain packs from Kan-Ra's Emporium. They grant additional special skills & abilities to the characters, and can boost their attack and defense ratings. Each Guardian has five charges, and being taken on a mission will drain one. These can be restored by feeding them astral energy, which is a common-level reward upon defeating enemies. Astral energy can also be obtained by transmuting unneeded Guardians.

There are some powerful allies to be gained in this war

Much like loot, Guardians are randomly generated and their effectiveness varies wildly. Commons are weak and used only for the base skill they offer, while killers boast powerful attack and defense increases in addition to superior special abilities. There also exist "perfect" killer-level Guardians, whose skills and boosts are the highest they can possibly be. A rainbow-colored KI logo will denote a "perfect" killer Guardian.

Guardians are identified by the type of skills and buffs they offer, which can be defensive, offensive or utilitarian:

  • Ram: Defense type. Grants ability to break any combo after taking 235 damage through a Psychic Breaker move.
  • Vampire Bat: Damage type. Returns damage dealt to opponent as health, shadow, or instinct meter. Acts similar to Jago's and Mira's special trait.
  • Fractured Ward: Defense Type. Grants stacks of super armor over time, which are automatically applied and will be used up when receiving any unblocked attack. Doesn't negate or reduce damage. They are based on Halo's Monitors and act similar to Aganos's Fortified Chunk, Arbiter's energy shield & instinct and General RAAM's Kryll Shield trait.
  • Snake: Damage Type. Grants the ability to, after performing any type of combo ender, poison the opponent through a Poison Bite. While poisoned, the enemy will take potential damage overtime. The Snake also delays the opponent's potential damage regen. Acts similar to General RAAM's Instinct and Kryll Swarm trait.
  • Exemplar: Skill type. Grants the ability to parry attacks. Successfully doing so rewards health, shadow, and instinct meter, in addition to being able to Punish. The match starts with maximum stacks, each parry uses a stack, and stacks regenerate over time. The maximum number of stacks and the time it takes to regenerate them varies. Acts similar to Arbiter's Instinct.
  • Watcher: Defense type. Grants the ability to knock your opponent away. Press the (LP + LK) while blocking to perform Block Breaker.
  • Tiger: Pressure Type. Allows the player to break opponents block. Perform any attacks to the opponent while they're blocking will build a Guard Crush meter, once it's filled you will able to break the opponent's guard by performing Special or Shadow Moves.
  • Owl: Stack type. Grants the ability to dash through the opponent. Feral Dash can also perform any attack hits blocked by the opponent. Acts similar to Sabrewulf's & Shadow Jago's dash, Omen's Shadow Form and Thunder's instinct dash.
  • Astral Tiki: Attack Type. Enhances the power of Heavy Attacks which staggers an opponent. This activates damaged and unbreakable throw bonus for a short amount of time.
  • Lion: Skill type. The Lion's "rage" ability is activated once its owner hits a certain health threshold, granting them a Damage and Defense bonus. The more health you lose, the more your Damage and Defense increases. If you start a match will low health, this Guardian will apply the Damage and Defense boost immediately.

According to dossiers in Shadow Lords, Kim Wu's dragon spirit Yeouiju is also a Guardian, although he is directly linked to Kim's family.



When you look into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you...

The basic opponents faced by the player in Shadow Lords, Mimics will continuously evolve as the campaign progresses, which is signified by their "Power Level". The Power Level 1 Mimics that appear at the beginning of the campaign are imperfect clones of the KI characters, and will have reduced health and damage output. As the corruption of Gargos spreads across the world however, so too will the strength of his Mimics begin to increase. At the final stages of the campaign, the player will be up against Power Level 5 Mimics, which are extremely powerful foes that should be approached with caution.


Shadows are optional challenges that will periodically appear during the campaign. They generally appear as Mimics but feature a purple aura rather than a Mimic's green aura. A Shadow's difficulty level is marked with "?", as they aren't based on the game's default AI but rather on the play style of real-life players who upload their gaming data to the Shadow Lab server. Consequently, a Shadow's difficulty can vary from "casual" to "pro gamer". Defeating a Shadow will cause corruption to be lowered dramatically in a continent, and will earn the player extra shadow points as well as special rewards. From a story line perspective, the Shadows appear to be following a leader known as the "Shadowborn". Who or what the "Shadowborn" is is unknown, but the Shadows appear to worship it as their "savior".


The Omens serve as Shadow Lords' minibosses, and will appear each time a continent has reached a critical level of corruption. At that point, the player can opt to face the Omen in battle and defeat it, thereby removing its buff from Gargos and weaken the demon lord during the final battle. Conversely, the player can choose to ignore the Omen(s) in order to make the last battle with Gargos more challenging. If they choose to not fight an Omen, the player must wait two turns for this Omen to become available for battle again. A total of four Omens will appear throughout the campaign, with each one carrying a random buff for Gargos. The difficulty of these miniboss battles will depend on the buff which the Omen carries.


In addition to featuring special abilities and powers that are unavailable to the playable version of Gargos, the Shadow Lords end boss Gargos will also receive a total of four powerful buffs from the pool listed below. The player can prevent these buffs from becoming active during the final battle by first defeating the four Omen minibosses that appear during the campaign when continents reach critical corruption levels. Alternatively, the player can opt not to fight the Omens, therefore allowing Gargos to keep one, some or all of his buffs to make the final battle (much) more challenging.


The hour of reckoning

Cutscenes transcripts[]

Shadow Lords story[]

Introduction (first playthrough)[]

There is another dimension - the Astral Plane. It is ruled by the evil tyrant Gargos. Long ago the other Astral beings resisted this Shadow Lord. (An image of Eyedol is shown.) But he slew them all and stole their powers. Good creatures known as Guardians fled from Gargos and his minions, escaping to other dimensions... and they sealed the Astral Plane behind them, so that the corruption of Gargos could never taint another world. Until the sorcerer Kan-Ra reopened that door, manipulated by Gargos' powerful mind control. Now Gargos is invading the Earth with his army of duplicate fighters called Mimics. (An image of a Mimic Thunder is shown.) This twisted demigod must be stopped, or he will enslave the human race forever...

(The Shadow Lords logo appears.)

Meanwhile, in San Francisco's Chinatown... The Kung Fu master Kim Wu has inherited one of the last free Astral beings, the Dragon Spirit. (Yeo is shown circling around Kim Wu as she practices her nunchaku techniques.) And Gargos will stop at nothing to take it from her. (Jago appears.) The warrior-monk Jago is no stranger to the treacheries of Gargos. He comes from an Alliance of Killer Instinct tournament and Ultratech fighters... (Images of many among the KI cast are shown.) ...and he asks Kim to join their war against the merciless Shadow Lord. (Jago bows before Kim Wu.) An Astral portal opens, spewing forth a demon of Gargos sent to eliminate Kim Wu and Jago.

After the first battle with Omen[]

A mysterious power draws Jago to the portal. He enters, and then vanishes. Arriving in the Astral Plane, he is dropped at the feet of Gargos. (Gargos appears in his KI2 retro skin.) "Why do you aid these pitiful Earth-beings, Jago? It is time for you to join your brothers by my side, and together we can rule this Universe for eternity!" (Gargos graps Jago in a chokehold, yet the warrior-monk manages to break free.) But Jago will never again bow to the hated Gargos.

After the first battle with Gargos[]

Jago thinks he has defeated his nemesis... But he was tricked! Gargos was merely toying with him. (Gargos appears from a portal in his new KI 2013 skin.) The Shadow Lord reveals his new and even more powerful self. Jago summons all of his remaining Shadow Energy for a final desperate attack. (Jago launches a massive endokuken at Gargos.) But the Shadow Lord is too powerful. (Gargos vanishes through a portal and attacks Jago.) ...and Jago is blasted through the Portal, scattering Shadow Energy across the globe. (Gargos laughs harshly. Jago falls back into Kim Wu's stage, nearly dead.)

A Mimic Kim Wu has emerged from the portal along with Jago. Kim must destroy her copied self - or die. (Kim Wu attacks and strikes down the Mimic.)

Kim has defeated her Mimic, and it drops Astral items. (Kan-Ra suddenly appears in whirlwing sandstorm.) The nefarious sorcerer Kan-Ra, a wielder of ancient magicks.. He tells Kim that the Killer Instinct fighters need her help to build a weapon capable of defeating Gargos. Kan-Ra teleports Kim and Jago to his lair, avoiding the wrath of Gargos - for now. "Welcome, Miss Wu. I have brought you to my Emporium out of necessity. Jago is dying. Give me the items dropped by the Mimic, and I will give you a relic to heal him. Quickly! There is no more time... Jago's spirit is almost gone."

Introduction (from second playthrough on)[]

ARIA explains that the arrival of Gargos is imminent. As his Corruption spreads, the barrier between worlds weakens, allowing his Omens to reach Earth and secure the gateways for his arrival. ARIA tells you to work with Kan-Ra to track down powerful items and Guardians to make yourself stronger. These will help aid you in your battles against Mimics and, ultimately, the Shadow Lord. You must defeat him, or the Earth will be destroyed! Remember to make yourself stronger! Gargos will arrive no matter what you do, but you can prepare yourself for his arrival!

Before fighting one of the Omens[]

Gargos draws his god-like power from the Astral Plane... But outside of his own realm, he is mortal. The spread of corruption transforms the Earth to feed Gargos' power. (An image of the Earth is shown from outer space, with a large Portal opening over Egypt and the African continent almost entirely consumed by Gargos' Shadow Energy.) As this corruption spreads, so does the Shadow Lord's power increase. His army of Omens guards the portals that feed his power into earth. They are honored to bear a portion of his glorious might into this new domain. (Several Omens fly through the portal and into the Earth's atmosphere.)

After defeating one of the Omens[]

Gargos has lost one of his powers! (Gargos falls in pain before getting up.) He curses the Omen that failed him! (Gargos punches into a portal angrily.)

If a buff is removed when Gargos arrives[]

(ARIA lands) ARIA informs you that the corruption of Gargos has covered the world. A permanent portal has open to the Astral Plane. (Two portals are shown opening on top of the Earth's atmosphere.) Because of your efforts against Omen, you have weakened the Shadowlord! Now seize this opportunity and destroy him! (ARIA points to go to the Astral Plane.)

If Gargos arrives and no Omens were defeated[]

(ARIA lands) ARIA informs you that the corruption of Gargos has covered the World. A permanent portal has opened to the Astral Plane. (Two portals are shown opening on top of the Earth's atmosphere.) Gargos has taken back all his powers from his Omens and is at full strength. This desperate fight will determine the fate of the Earth. (ARIA shows distress.)


You have defeated the Shadow Lord! Gargos' body cannot contain the life forces he stole from the other Shadow Lords. (Gargos howls in pain and rage, then explodes into fragments of pure energy.) They fly from him, seeking new bodies to inhabit. (The unleashed energy showers on the Killer Instinct cast.) Embrace the Shadow Energy, for you have earned it. (An image of a pristine Earth is shown from outer space, freed from Gargos' corruption.)

Character-specific cutscenes[]


- before fighting Shadow Jago Jago arrives at the temple. (Jago is shown, lost in thought.) This place that holds so many powerful memories. Here, he learned to train his body... and his mind. (Flashbacks of Jago training in his KI2 retro costume are shown.) But Jago has been put on a crooked path. For the Tiger Spirit was an illusion. A tool of Gargos. (Another image of retro Jago is shown, activating his KI 2013 Instinct Mode. Shadow Jago then appears from the dark shadows.) He sees his shadow-self. Is this a dream or a reality? It makes no difference. He must fight the manifestation either way. (Jago and Shadow Jago prepare to do battle.)


- after fighting Mimic Maya (Sabrewulf is shown howling in rage, standing over a defeated Mimic.) The Maya doppelganger will make an excellent specimen for Kan-Ra. (Kan-Ra appears.) The sorcerer rewards Sabrewulf with a rare relic. (Sabrewful is shown being in agony.) Sabrewulf feels a stabbing pain in his throat... What has Kan-Ra done? (Kan-Ra is shown grinning maniacally.) He has returned Sabrewulf's ability to speak. (Kan-Ra begins to laugh loudly.)


- after fighting Thunder (Thunder is tossed backed violently and slams hard into the ground, having been knocked unconscious.) Fulgore is about to deliver the death-blow when something strange happens. (Fulgore suddenly stops its assault just as it is about to kill Thunder.) An error. A glitch. (Fulgore's eyes briefly turn from red to blue. Aganos then appears and knocks down Fulgore, saving Thunder.) It will be repaired. It will be reprogrammed. ...but will the fleeting memory remain, like a virus? (Fulgore's red glare briefly turns blue again.)


- before fighting Kim Wu (Kan-Ra and Kim Wu are shown being in a stand-off.) The sorcerer goads Kim Wu, telling her that the Dragon Spirit will abandon her when she dies...just as it has done for generations in her family. He offers her an ancient relic that will grant her eternal life in exchange for giving up the Astral being. But Kim Wu says she'd rather die a hundred deaths than live one life as long and as foul as Kan-Ra's. (Kan-Ra is shown humiliated and screams in rage at Kim Wu.) He tells her, "I only have to kill you once." (Kan-ra menacingly approaches Kim and she begins whirling her nunchakus, readying for combat.)


- before the battle with Omen (Hisako is shown being drawn into a Portal and into the Astral Plane.) Hisako has never seen this region of the Astral Plane. She bristles at being yanked here against her will like a puppet. (Omen appears.) The hated Omen. He offers her a great boon if she will grovel at the feet of his overlord. His master has the power to give her back her corporeal form, the teenage girl murdered so long ago. (Omen conjures up an image of Hisako in her retro custome.) Hisako remembers that brave child. But she is dead and gone. (Hisako shrieks in fury and lashes out at the apparition, destroying it.) Only her fury lingers on. (Hisako points threateningly at Omen.)

Kim Wu[]

- after fighting Hisako (Kim Wu is shown having defeated Hisako.) Hisako is impressed by Kim's bravery. She has passed the challenge. The young fighter tells her that she usually aces tests. Hisako replies that Kim Wu will need far more courage to face Gargos. And she'll need more allies than just a ghost. (An image of Tusk's sword, Warg-gram, is shown.)

- before fighting Mimic Aganos Tusk...the immortal swordsman. Kim says that she is going to fight Gargos and needs his help. (Kim Wu is shown pleading with Tusk.) Tusk wonders what a mere girl can do against a demigod. (A Mimic Aganos suddenly appears.) Kim will have to show him. (Kim Wu prepares to fight the Mimic.)

- before fighting Mimic Sadira (Kim Wu arrives at the Tiger's Lair.) She has found Jago and Orchid! They're under some sort of paralyzing spell. (Jago and Orchid are shown as petrified statues. Then two Mimic Sadiras appear.) Kim must face these shadow-creatures by herself. But she is not alone. (Hisako appears and shrieks violently at the Mimics, assaulting one and breaking every bone in its body.) And Kim's true power is growing. (Three manifestations of Yeouiju are shown circling around Kim Wu.)

- before fighting Tusk Kim tells Tusk that he must keep fighting Gargos. (Kim again pleads with Tusk, and this time Hisako stands by her side.) Tusk tells her that Gargos is the only one who can grant him death, and he is sick of this life. (Kim Wu swings her fist and nunchaku through the air in outrage.) Kim demands to know if his own salvation is more important than the fate of billions? (Tusk suddenly turns to face her and he draws Warg-gram from the ground.) If she beats him, then he will rejoin her quest. If she falls... then the Earth falls. (Kim Wu gazes at Tusk with a mixture of fear and determination in her eyes, and readies herself for battle.)


- before fighting Mimic Thunder Tusk: the mighty immortal who can't remember his past... (A frustrated Tusk is shown slamming Warg-gram into the ground with bone-shattering force.) He seeks an end to this endless life. (Images of Kim Wu begin to shimmer upon Warg-gram's blade. A Mimic Thunder then appears.) A Shadow-born Mimic! "Lord Gargos sent me to find you," the Mimic tells him. Tusk does not like being found.

- before fighting Mimic Aganos (Kim Wu appears before Tusk.) It's the woman from Tusk's vision in Warg-gram. She says that she is going to battle Gargos and needs his help. He asks what a mere stripling can do against a demigod? (A Mimic Aganos appears. Kim strikes it, but the Mimic brutally knocks her to the ground.) This one has the heart of a shieldmaiden. Tusk likes her. (Tusk readies Warg-gram and prepares to defend Kim Wu from the Mimic.)

- after fighting Shadow Jago (Having struck down Shadow Jago, Tusk approaches and confronts Kan-Ra.) Tusk demands information about the Shadow Lord! Kan-Ra knows this: Tusk and Gargos were born as equals. Now Gargos needs Tusk's blade. Then he will be omnipotent, and can slay even an immortal. (Tusk stares off into the distance.)

- before fighting Kim Wu Kim tells Tusk that he must keep fighting Gargos. The Shadow Lord is the only one who can set him free. (Kim Wu swings her fist and nunchaku through the air in outrage.) Kim asks if his own salvation is more important than the fate of billions? (The meaning of Kim Wu's words pierces Tusk, and he regains his strength of will and sense of purpose. Tusk draws Warg-gram from the ground and readies the mighty weapon.) Tusk will remain Tusk so that Gargos can be cast into oblivion.


- before fighting Maya (Mira is shown standing in the City of Dawn.) Mira has returned home. But now she is one of the monsters that her family has hunted. (Maya arrives to confront her sister.) Maya is shocked to see her sister alive. And she has changed. Mira tells Maya that it is time to embrace the darkness. Maya offers to drag her back into the light. (The sisters attack each other.)

- after fighting Mimic Tusk Mira senses the power of the Shadow energy inside the fallen Mimic. She summons all of her strength, and draws the energy to her. She feels it surging through her core! The is like drinking the blood of the gods.

- before fighting Mimic Mira (Mira enters into the Astral Plane, where a Mimic of her self is waiting for her. Maya lays unconscious on the ground next to it.) The Mimic welcomes Mira to the realm of Gargos. The Shadow Lord will give her untold powers...but first she must slaughter her sister. One day perhaps. But now is the time for slaying demons. (Mira readies herself to attack her Mimic.)


- after fighting Gargos (Gargos is shown basking in victory.) Gargos has defeated the doppelganger. Earth's heroes are conquered... And now he has mastered the Astral Plane. Now what should he do? (Gargos glares at the Earth from outer space with a vicious grin, then flies through one of his portals with a savage burst.) Rage on, Shadow Lord.


- after fighting Gargos (Eyedol is showing raging over Gargos' body in the Astral Plane.) Eyedol revels in his victory. The Shadow Lord is still alive, but powerless. But what should Eyedol do with his hated enemy now? Gargos will serve as Eyedol's punching bag. For eternity.


  • It is possible to break Ultra's and Ultimate if the player has a Ram Guardian.
  • Eyedol and Kilgore were the only two characters not available in Shadow Lords Mode from the beginning. The quest missions to unlock him and his story quest in Shadow Lords were added in a later patch, on November 22, 2016 and Kilgore were also added in another later patch, on January 27, 2017.
  • Gargos and Eyedol are the only characters with unique endings in Shadow Lords Mode.
  • The Arena of Judgment is the only stage that is completely absent from this mode.
    • It could be understandable since the stage was designed for guest character Arbiter, and guest characters are not in the main storyline.
    • Because of this, Arbiter, Rash and General RAAM have no cutscenes, no story missions and they never appear as opponents aside from Shadows.
  • Sadira, Spinal, Fulgore, Riptor, Omen, Cinder, Shadow Jago, Kilgore, Shin Hisako, Eyedol, Gargos, Eagle and Mira don't appear with the other Alliance members in the general ending even if one of them is the team member that defeats Gargos, despite being canon characters to the main storyline.
    • One reason for Sadira is she is either allied with Gargos or has her own agenda, Shadow Jago is technically Jago corrupted by Omen, Shin Hisako is the kami spirit form of Hisako, Fulgore, Riptor and Cinder are Aria's henchmen, Eyedol just wanted revenge, Gargos for obvious reasons, Omen wants freedom, Spinal wants freedom also but wants to restore the mask of ancients and cause chaos as well, Eagle wasn't yet released in the game at the moment and wasn't released by Glacius yet at the time & Mira and Kilgore had their own agendas (Kilgore, however was later reprogrammed once you finish his side mission to help fight Gargos, thous becoming another henchmen for Aria and Mira changes from killing her sister to saving Maya as seen in her story due to seeing Gargos' as more of a threat).
  • Currently Mira, Tusk, Kim Wu and Eyedol are the only ones with a unique trait.
  • If one goes to the Emporium as Aganos, Kan-Ra will be surprised and then tell Aganos that they will have a truce for now, this only seems to happen with Aganos. (This is due to Kan-Ra stealing Aganos's energy in Kan-Ra's story)


Menu music[]



Promotional trailers[]

External links[]

16 Minutes of Killer Instinct's Shadow Lords's Game Mode - video exhibition at Gamescon 2016