Having a completely linear story mode ala MKX or SFV would be unbelievably boring and predictable. Good guy wins, bad guy loses, something happens in the middle. Rent the game to play it once or watch it as a video on Youtube and never touch it again.
Personally, I much prefer the Arcade mode approach to fighting games over the more “cinematic” They act like “What If” situations rather than a linear sequence of events. Every single character has a different story to tell, and they get their own reward for completing their journey and overcoming the odds. Every character has an opportunity to have closure, rather than having a few “protagonists” juggle fights between one another while the characters you actually like playing either get used and thrown away after a fight or two or left in the dust completely. Hell, if you follow the KI2/Season 1 approach, your actions actually change the outcome of your character’s story. This puts the player in complete control of what their experience is, making your character’s accomplishments feel like your accomplishments.
This is where Shadow Lords comes in. It incorporates some of what I love about Arcade modes, and some of what I hate about linear narratives. Good news? Every play through is different. Team comp, guardians, events, day by day choices, etc all change each time you play. Game play wise, it’s like Arcade Mode on crack. There’s even unique story stuff for… Some of the characters. But they have unique mission for everyone, which is awesome!
The bad news? Story wise it’s pretty homogenous. “Gargos is coming, stop him!.. You’ve defeated Gargos! Pat on the Back…You!” Apart from a few characters, no one gets any sort of special reward for beating the shadow lord, even characters like Jago or Omen or Kan-Ra or even Tusk and Kim Wu who’d have an especially vested interest in seeing Gargos die. No one gets to get any sort of closure to what’s supposed to be their stories. A huge chunk of the characters aren’t even involved outside of the missions.
So, outside of just adding an arcade mode for each character, what can be done to make Shadow Lords better? Make each character’s journey mean something. Have your captain’s plot unfold in a unique way, give everyone their own reward for beating Gargos rather than “The day is saved, thanks to The Powerpuff Girls!”
I mean, a good ol’ arcade mode could work as well, but game play wise Shadow Lords is freaking awesome! Give me a reason not to skip every dialogue/cutscene I see in a run. Give me a sense of satisfaction, and five my character some closure. After all, they/I beat Gargos and everyone else, presumably. They should be rewarded, canon be damned.
TL;DR- Arcade Mode for each character> Linear story. Use multiple endings and unique branching character stories to improve Shadow Lords to make it truly awesome.