As Mortal Kombat hits its eleventh numbered title (and it’s actually numbered this time, instead of numerals or reboot names), it improves on the benchmark that MKX set. Gorier, graphically improved and with much more accessible combat, it’s a shame it’s also brought the modern trappings of loot boxes, microtransactions and an unprecedented amount of grind to unlock it all.
It’s become indicative of modern gaming that gamers aren’t going to fork out full price for a beat ’em up anymore, because we’re so accustomed to wanting more from our dollar now. Trouble is, what else can you fill it with? A kart game? Testing your might? We’ve had all that, so now we’re stuck with this mess.
So, why should you ignore my moanings and still play Mortal Kombat 11? Well, get over here and I’ll tell you.
As a positive though, you can never accuse Mortal Kombat of being stale. Whilst the inherent concept of “hit each other until one falls down” is still there, NetherRealm have mixed up the formula a tad.
One of the biggest changes from the last game is the removal of the ultra-violent Xray moves. Whereas before it was connected to your special move enhancement pool, and totted up by how much damage you deal/take, it’s now linked to your life bar.
Getting smacked about to 30% or less health sees the Fatal Blow prompt appear by your gauge. Inputted the same way as the old Xray moves (both triggers on the respective format), it’s a last ditch move to deal some massive retaliatory damage before/if you die. Played out in gory animations, it’s still there for all the fans of Xray moves and the like.
Similarly, there’s a new Krushing Blow counter mechanic for some table-turning damage, too. Countering a move with a specific reply sees you pull off a mini-Xray attack, for some extra damage and a nice little graphical showoff. Say someone’s hitting you with a high attack, if certain characters perform an uppercut at just the right moment, you’ll deal some extra clout and get visually rewarded for it.
It’s the same with the interactive scenery attacks, as well. Returning from MKX, this time around if it’s timed right, you’ll get a little cinematic and some extra damage.
All these new/reformed additions may appear to the cynical as rehashing old moves, but for me, it’s all a welcome addition. We complain if nothing changes, so we should embrace the new means of combat we’re given.
Combat (sorry, “kombat”) itself is a lot quicker, too. Personally, I’d always thought of Mortal Kombat/Injustice combat as slow and methodical, compared to the combo-based shenanigans of Street Fighter and Tekken. This time, it feels like they’ve really ramped up the speed of a fight, with combos being quicker and more accessible to new and masters alike.
To help this, there is an absolute wealth of tutorials available to players. The basics can be covered when you start the story, but delving into the tutorial menu really opens up the meat of the combat.
As well as your standard “basics to special move” progression, there’s advanced techniques to master, like working out frame damage and reach of moves, cancelling combos to special moves, even to the right move to counter being knocked down and avoiding a follow up attack with. It’s definitely get that “easy to pick up, hard to master” thing going for it, as you’d expect from any fighting game.
Once you’ve got your moves honed in and fatalities locked in the mind, there’s a few modes in which you can use them.
Klassic Towers hark back to the original game, giving each character an ending separate to the main story. Modifiers can be selected in between stages, from armour buffs to incoming missiles and acid rains to turn the tide. This sounds great in theory, but there’s some slight catches (which I’ll get to).
The Krypt returns, this time as a third person mode on Shang Tsung’s island (voiced by none other than the character’s actor, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), allowing you to spend your coin on chests again. Unlockable rewards range from consumables to use in the Tower mode(s), character skins and items, even fatalities.
If you’re feeling fancy, all decked out with your skills and new moves, you can always try your hard at online play. Standard 1v1 ranked and casual fights are available, as is the AI mode. Like a fantasy football team, you can pick your squad of decked out Fighters, and pit them against someone else’s. You have no control over the battle, it’s down to the planning and loadout you’ve equipped them with. It’s a nice new addition, but to some it might seem backwards to buy a fighting game and not actually fight.
Story mode, the heart of what’s actually going on, is where the real effort has gone into making the game look good. Playing out like the others, in that you’re put into the shoes of a character for a set amount of time/fights, it brings nothing new on that front. A lot more effort has gone into cutscenes though, and transitions from scene to fight are practically seamless.
Following Shinnok’s defeat at the hands of Cage offspring, Cassie, the newly corrupted Raiden takes vengeance on him and removes his head. It’s then that Shinnok’s mother and master of time, Kronika, steps in and starts making time all wibbly wobbly to undo the Thunder God’s meddling.
Mortal Kombat is no stranger to the klassic retcon/time travel switcheroo, seeing once-dead characters brought back, still dead champions still being dead but also returning, and various in between fighters. There’s some doppelganger moments too, like the above screenshot, that add some much needed levity to the proceedings.
Encapsulating the adventures of the Cage and Briggs families, Kotal Kahn and the return of Shao Kahn, even new Elder God Cetrion in the mix makes for a strong story. Old favourites Scorpion, Sub Zero, Katana and Liu Kang also get involved, as do the Lin Kuei and their cyber shenanigans.
How long it takes to finish the story depends on your skill, but it’s averaging about a five hour run time. I won’t spoil it, but I am going to save you a fiver: don’t buy Frost, you unlock her through story progression.
So far, so good, right? All this sounds like an amazing improvement over Mortal Kombat X: it looks beautiful, the combat is more fluid, the gore and visceral detail is all there, what could possibly go wrong?
As mentioned at the start, there is a large portion of extra content hidden behind arbitrary grind. Now, if you’re just into some straight up local or online fighting, or just want to play the story, or even just rattle through the arcade towers then this isn’t going to affect you.
However, if you want to explore the wealth of additions and content that MK11 has to offer, then you’re going to have put a few hours in. Alright, a lot more. Reportedly in the thousands but not confirmed yet, the procedurally generated towers are going to take a lot of time to unlock everything. Top that with enemies using modifiers against you, that can cripple you at fight ten of twelve, sending you back to the start, and you’re going to be pissed.
At time of writing, NetherRealm are purportedly looking into and [presumably] assessing the amount of unrequited grind, but we can only wait and see.
But say you don’t have the time to put in, thus the insipid inclusion of microtransactions. This time in the form of Time Krystals (ironically), which can be used to outright purchase the next tower or cosmetic additions for a certain character. Now, considering how much Star Wars Battlefront II suffered backlash for this, and then reworked it, we can only see how far this goes until change is made.
The other gripe is the “always on” trappings that tie a lot of progression and currency to being online. A lot of what you do is logged after each event/fight/chapter, so if you have any connection issues, nothing is logged until next time you go online. You can still access most single player modes, but it feels like the game is really holding the majority of content behind being online, despite not being an online mode.
That leaves us to the burning question, then: is it any good?
The answer to that is a firm, resounding “Yes“. Despite the faff and taint of shady modern practices, it is still a competent and well worked fighter. The length of moves and tricks at hand, as well as the wealth of extra skills to learn is staggering, coupled with a very strong roster of new and old favourites. Combat has been reworked and tweaked to suit a faster fight system, and there is enough customisation to suit most kinds of playstyle for each character.
Push aside the flaws and embrace it for the legacy that Mortal Kombat has created for itself.
Mortal Kombat 11 is available now on PS4 (reviewed on PS4 Pro), Xbox One, Switch and PC.
Developer: Netherrealm Studios
Publisher: WB Games
In order to complete this review, we were provided with a review code from the publisher. For our full review policy please go here.
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