It’s been 27 years since the first Mortal Kombat entered the fighting game arena, giving birth to a feud with the legendary Street Fighter series. While fans of the gory fighter looked to its mature content and unique graphics as its strong points, it was almost impossible to shake the label of “the fighter where you can rip your opponent’s head off with the spine still attached”. The past few iterations of Ed Boon’s bloody brawler, however, have aimed to change that view by turning Mortal Kombat into a fighter that is worth playing for more than just comically over-the-top fatalities. With an accessible yet deep fighting engine bundled in a feature-rich package, Mortal Kombat 11 is the culmination of Netherealm Studio’s efforts.
The game’s story is a familiar one but the threat to the realms is quite different as it goes beyond just a big bad looking to conquer it all. Raiden, god of thunder and protector of Earthrealm, is changed after the events of Mortal Kombat 10. Filled with fury towards Shinnok whom he tortures mercilessly until finally cutting off and placing his still alive head on an altar, the once benevolent deity now seemingly behaves more like a tyrant. Whilst acting as a diversion for Special Forces, led by Cassie Cage, Sonya Blade, and Jacqui Briggs, as they assault the cathedral where corrupted Liu Kang and Kitana are residing in Netherealm, Raiden is targeted by Kronika, Shinnok’s mother and keeper of time, to be slowly erased from history. This results in time folding into itself with present warriors, such as Johnny Cage, coming face to face with their past selves as well as old rivals getting a second chance at duking it out with each other in bloody combat. It’s an homage to how far the series has come from its mindlessly gory roots to its current competitive fighting game status. The story can be experienced through a series of well-crafted cutscenes that are separated by battles. Each chapter of the story follows a single character or a pairing from which players can choose who they want to play as before each fight. While the battles themselves are quite easy with barely any challenge, the story itself is engaging with tons of epic moments and solid dialog throughout its roughly 8 hours of length. Story mode, however, is just the tip of the Mortal Kombat 11 content iceberg.
Casual players looking for some single player content to sink their teeth into will not be starved for choice. Klassic Towers (get used to the Ks) contains a series of towers of increasing difficulty where players fight a sequence of characters leading up to a final battle against Kronika. It’s in this mode where players can unlock character specific endings as well. Those looking for a way to switch things ups, Towers of Time is a unique take on the Towers concept with weekly rotations of towers that apply modifiers to opponents. As of this writing, Towers of Time has been criticized for being too keen on its difficulty and too stingy with its rewards. However, Netherealm promises that an upcoming patch will fix that soon. Speaking of rewards, Mortal Kombat 11 brings back the Krypt, an adventure styled treasure hunt mode where players control an unnamed character, opening chests that contain unlockables ranging from gear to skins and even fatalities and brutalities. It’s here too where the game’s overly elaborate currency system is used as each chest requires an specific amount of either Koins (sensing a theme yet?), Souls or Hearts to open. Kurrencies…sorry, currencies can be earned through almost any activity in the game, each obtainable through different means. For example, Hearts can be earned by executing Fatalities at the end of fights. While having in-game unlockables, which Mortal Kombat 11 has in more than spades, is a welcome addition in a world filled with microtransactions, it’s this currency system that makes things a bit too complex and may discourage some from attempting to unlock everything, a problematic factor considering the game’s Gear system is quite important.
Whilst Gear in Mortal Kombat 11 isn’t usable in its competitive modes, such as Ranked and League, it’s one of the unique aspects that make Netherealm Studios games of late intriguing. Allowing for more than just cosmetic customization, Gear enables players to build their favorite characters the way they want with special enhancements. These customized characters can either be played in Casual modes or pitted against other bots in AI Battles, the latter of which is a way to obtain currency and experience the game without needing to necessarily play it. By putting together a team of three characters, players can either attack other players’ teams online or defend against assaults both of which reward currency. Fighting games have always been a daunting proposition for a lot of gamers due to their skill ceilings so having a mode where anyone can earn currency regardless of their own fighting prowess is an extremely welcome addition.
Ranked online matches are also a big highlight of Mortal Kombat 11 as it corrects a lot of the grievances fighting game players have had with other games of late. Matches are played out in First to 3 battles, rather than Best of 3 which allows for more opportunities to counter play and familiarise oneself with their opponents. Beyond that, players are taken to the character select screen after each battle, enabling the loser of the previous game to pick a different character if they feel they have a better chance. One other welcome addition is the game’s connection filtering. If the game has found an opponent with a good connection, the match will simply load. However, if the connection is below a certain threshold, the game will offer up a choice to proceed with the match or not. It even shows if the opponent has a wired or wireless connection to their device. Full bar matches have been incredibly smooth with barely any hiccups. Combos need very little adjustment in timing and reacting to opponents feels almost the same as playing a local match.
Finally, let’s talk about the battle system. Mortal Kombat 11 comes with all the familiar bells and whistles of Netherealm fighting games, including stage interactions. Players have two special bars this time around, one for defensive options and one for offensive options. The offensive meter can be spent to enhance special attacks and extend combos while the defensive gauge enables reversal attacks and escape rolls. Kombo attacks make a return allowing players of even lower skill levels to dish out some decent damage without much effort. Fatal Blows are active once a player’s health reaches 30% and can be executed by simply pressing the two trigger buttons at the same time. Fatal Blows serve more than just a gory dealing of tons of damage as they have several frames of armor to allow for some spectacular comeback potential. All of this sounding too much for you? Mortal Kombat 11 has your back with one of the most complete tutorial experiences in a fighting game to date. Beyond teaching the basics, MK11’s tutorial will explain advanced concepts, such as frame traps and jailing, and even goes as far as to have a whole section dedicated to frame data. It’s an amazing tool for any newcomer or even higher level player to get to grips with not just this game’s mechanics but also wider spread fighting game concepts. The only issue is that there isn’t enough practical application for each concept, an idea that no fighting game has yet to tackle.
The Mortal Kombat series has come a long way since its 1992 debut whilst still maintaining its signature blood and gore bath. Characters now move and fight like real martial artists with only a few still swinging their hands around ungracefully and stiffly. The combat system is easy to learn with enough depth for those who want the challenge of competition to sink their teeth into. Custom variations and a wide gamut of content will keep all types of players busy with unlocking for awhile. Overall, Mortal Kombat 11 is one of the best fighters on the market right now and even though unlocking everything might take an inordinate amount of time to complete, there’s a lot of fun to be had chopping off heads and burning foes to a crisp.
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