Test your Might..
It’s probably safe to say that Mortal Kombat might very well be one of the most recognizable video game franchises of all time. It sparked a massive debate about violence in videogames in the early 90’s and led to the creation of the ESRB, a ratings board that to this day is often at odds with itself. The series spawned numerous sequels, spin-offs, movies, tv shows, comic books, and more, throughout its massive 26 year history. While some entries have faded from memory, Mortal Kombat 11 is not only my favorite of the franchise, but might be one of the greatest fighting games of all time, one only held back by an unlock system that is far to grindy for its own good.
While Mortal Kombat may owe much of its awareness due to the controversies that came from the fact you could punch someone’s head off or rip out their spine, back in a time when video game violence was nowhere near as gory as it was at the time, the series has always looked to reinvent itself with almost every entry. That sense of rebirth is why the series has remained so fresh, so unique, and so beloved. Mortal Kombat 11 is no different in this sense as not only does it look visually better than any before it, but it also plays remarkably different, yet altogether familiar. Mortal Kombat has always been the spectacle fighter, the fighting game you play alongside friends as you show off your ability to pull of Fatalities one after another. It’s also been the fighting series with the most ambitious storytelling across the entire genre.
When NetherRealm studios rebooted the Mortal Kombat series back in 2011, it changed the way in which fighting games could tell stories. Sure, other games in the genre have had their fair share of strong narratives, but generally, up until this point, they were mostly scattered stories split amongst their roster, something the Mortal Kombat series was also known for as well. Despite some strong narratives in the recent Dead or Alive and Soul Calibur sequels, their approaches to storytelling is archaic by comparison. By introducing us to a character swapping narrative that tells one consistent story for several hours, it became far more cinematic than even the movies themselves. Mortal Kombat 11 is a continuation of the story that started in its 9th entry, but is a celebration of the past 26 years of the franchise.
When Lord Raiden sent a message back to his younger self, back in 2011’s Mortal Kombat reboot, it triggered a chain reaction of death in its wake. This led to the death of several key characters; Jade, Kabal, Liu Kang, Shao Kahn, and more. Mortal Kombat X, saw the return of many of these dead fighters back as revenants, animated corpses under the control of Quan Chi. While Mortal Kombat X had a deep and complex storyline built around Quan Chi and the Elder God Shinnok, as well as Raiden being corrupted by the evil power of Shinnok’s amulet, Mortal Kombat 11 takes place following the events of Shinnok’s beheading, an act carried out by a now tainted Raiden. As it turns out, the events that have transpired have angered Kronika, the keeper of time, and a woman with her own agenda. She then carries out a plan that will see all of time rewritten to serve her own goals. This causes Kronika to fracture time in a way where several kombatants of the past have been brought into the current timeline, many of which died previously. Mortal Kombat 11’s story is built around attempting to stop Kronika and restore the natural timeline before everything went to hell.
As was the case with 2017’s Injustice 2, this new story campaign is visually stunning and introduces the entire roster in some form or another. You’ll play entirely on the side of good as you attempt to stop Kronika’s evil plan. Most chapters will focus on a single fighter, but there are moments when you can choose between two of them, changing up portions of the dialogue between you and your opponent, and a subtle change in how the cutscenes play out. This isn’t a massive change or something that increases replayability, but it’s an thoughtful approach when you may prefer one character over the other. The story campaign is roughly around 7 hours long and features just over 3 hours of cutscenes, detailing your journey to stop Kronika. While the story will have a canonical ending, you can play through the Towers mode to unlock the different endings for your favorite fighter, showing what they would do once they defeated the keeper of time. While there is certainly more to the story, I don’t want to dive too much into it due to spoilers as there are some interesting reveals and twists that make it incredibly satisfying.
While there are more characters arriving as future DLC, Mortal Kombat 11 has the following available fighters present in the game; Baraka, Cassie Cage, Cetrion, D’Vorah, Erron Black, Frost, Geras, Jacqui Briggs, Jade, Jax, Kano, Kitana, Kollector, Kotal Kahn, Kung Lao, Liu Kang, Johnny Cage, Kabal, Noob Saibot, Raiden, Scorpion, Skarlet, Sonya Blade, Subzero, and should you have pre-ordered the game, Shao Kahn, who will be made available to purchase later on in case you missed out on pre-ordering the title. Mortal Kombat 11 relies heavily on its past roster to tell its story, but there are new faces in the form of Cetrion, Geras, The Kollector, and Kronika, the latter who is currently not available as a playable fighter. Cetrion is an Elder God, one who Raiden often would rely on for advice, but has chosen to be a bit more hands on this time around. Geras, is the servant to Kronika, and has been granted the ability to alter time, as well as being immortal. The Kollector, who is only really concerned about his wealth, given his name, is largely loyal to Shao Kahn, as well as having six arms and is rather enjoyable to play as.
Part of the appeal of a time traveling story is seeing past versions of characters meet their future selves, questioning the choices they have made along the way. While some of the meetings are very much predictable, it’s interesting to see a character like Scorpion meet up with his future, now human self. I do wish this time travel aspect would have brought back more characters who died previously, but it’s unclear where exactly the series will go next, given how it wraps up. Mortal Kombat has always had a memorable cast of characters and any additions to its roster have only made the series more memorable. While they may be included in future DLC, I would have loved to have seen Mileena and Reptile return as they are two of my favorites, given how they were used in Mortal Kombat X and how their return could spark a few interesting reactions.
With the 2011 reboot, NetherRealm crafted an engaging combat system that felt very much at home in a Mortal Kombat game. It had the velocity and brutality the series required and it just felt incredibly fun to play. For Mortal Kombat 11, the team has simply refined what worked and changed a few systems to keep it fresh and distinctly Mortal Kombat. Some of these changes include the Super Meter, which is now split into offensive and defensive abilities. This creates more strategy in their use and rewards more skilled play. The offensive super meter allows you to boost the damage of your special moves, but this can only be done twice before it must recharge. The defensive gauge is similar in that you can perform escape maneuvers to avoid taking damage or getting caught in juggle attacks. These quick escape maneuvers cost you portions of your meter and will also require a recharge in order to pull them off again. I do find that several of the escape moves require an insanely quick timing to get a handle on and are a aspect of the combat system that I feel won’t be as used by the average gamer. That said, this type of system greatly benefits those who appreciate and want that high level of depth and challenge. Mortal Kombat has always been a series that any and all gamers can easily get into and offers the right amount of depth for those that want it.
While X-Ray attacks have been removed from the game, they simply have been replaced with Fatal Blows, attacks you can strategically use when your health meter has reached 30% of its total amount. These attacks can only be used once per match, and will require a small window of time to recharge should you fail to pull it off the first time. These are brutal attacks that can almost look like fatalities, given the sheer violence and bloodshed around them. Knowing when to use these attacks is part of their charm as forcing your opponent to try to close the gap in the first round means they won’t have access to it for the remainder of the match. These attacks do considerable damage, but can be used to trick your opponent into wasting theirs and benefiting your game in the long run, provided you defeat them after they have expended theirs.
For the more basic aspects of combat, you still have your typical punches, kicks, throws, and special moves, as well as the fatalities the series have been known for. Environmental attacks all return, allowing you to drag your opponents face across a cactus, use power tools to drill through their forehead, or carve a chainsaw across their chest. Mercy finishers, which were introduced in MK3, also return, allowing you to offer a little bit of health back to your opponent, allowing you to defeat them all over again, provided that extra health doesn’t motivate them to turn the tide. Brutalities are back as well, and are special brutal finishers that require you to pull off certain moves or other stipulations in order to perform them.
Feature wise, Mortal Kombat delivers a wealth of game modes and challenges to keep you playing for a considerably long time. You have your typical arcade mode, which is called Klassic Towers. It is here where you will unlock the endings for each of the characters. Then there are the Towers of Time, which are an ever changing rotation of challenges, complete with their own unique rewards. You can also unlock a variety of skins and items through character specific challenges. Several of these towers have a wide range of various modifiers that alter combat and you’ll also have the ability to use konsumables, items that can call in assistance from another fighter, heal your character, and a wide range of other perks. You also have your typical versus modes and online battles where you can challenge players from all over in various modes as well as the upcoming Kombat League that releases near the end of May. Online battles felt ok, with minimal lag from what I experienced. Lastly, are AI battles, a mode where you can send out fighters to defeat other player’s set of defenders and earn rewards upon victory. You can speed up these battles and in fact, much of this review was written as my characters were out there kicking some ass, or rather, getting their own asses kicked. It’s an interesting mode that is something you can have go on in the background and can earn you a vast array of augments, krystals, and skins.
As you progress through the story mode, or through the Krypt, a mode i’ll talk about shortly, you’ll unlock new gear items for your characters. While the game doesn’t roll them out as fast as they did in Injustice 2, at least if memory serves, you will eventually earn a ton of new cosmetic items to convert your character into something all your own. Each character will have 4 basic changes to their appearance that differ depending on the fighter. For example, Scorpion’s first cosmetic is his face mask, whereas D’Vorah’s first item are her stingers. You’ll change the look of various features and have access to dozen’s of skins, which are either completely new outfits, or color variations of others. Apart from visuals, you can change up their special attacks to focus on one element of their arsenal, or create a fairly balanced fighter by making their attacks more diverse. Each character allows you to equip up to three attacks, but some of those abilities may take up two slots, forcing you to equip only two. There is also the inclusion of augments, which are a variety of special stones you can attach to that equipment to make your fighter that little bit more powerful. Each item has its own experience bar that can be worked on to allow the inclusion of more stones, or reroll the types of augments compatible with that piece. There is a wide range of customization here, but getting the items you want, and the process to unlock them is where Mortal Kombat 11 hits its only real snag.
So that brings us to the Krypt, a third person exploration of Shang Tsung’s island. It’s also worth checking out this mode simply to see Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa back as the sorcerer he played in the 1995 live action film. The Krypt this time around is a playable space that has a lot of very cool ideas in it, and puzzles to solve as you collect various items and trinkets that allow you to bash down walls, explore the spirit realm all around you, or pull hanging bodies down to harvest their hearts. There is a lot of stuff to do here and places to see, but fundamentally, this only serves to stockpile the numerous chests that contain a mass array of collectibles, useless character icons, which for some reason have different color options, concept artwork, and crafting items used to assist in navigating this space. To open these chests, you’ll need to track down a variety of different currencies. There are koins, souls, and hearts. Koins are rewarded through nearly every gameplay mode present, as well as by opening chests and bashing down the hundreds of vases that litter the Krypt. Souls and hearts, on the other hand, are rewarded through many of the same methods you’ll earn koins; however, these are earned at a much slower pace. Performing fatalities, for example, will reward you with a single heart, unless you have the augment that rewards two, but keep in mind that augments are per character, so you would have to use that single character over and over again. The chests that use these hearts require 250 of them, an act that can feel impossible to achieve, and then even more so when you realize just how many of these chests there actually are. Souls are used to unlock collectibles from the decomposed bodies that have a green glow to them, often unlocking items for only a 100 souls. While that may not seem like much, given that some rewards across the modes will offer you 50 of them per activity, or 1 or 2 after most battles, Souls are also consumed while exploring the spirit realm, a method also used to solve puzzles and open invisible chests that can require you to activate it constantly, an act that consumes 2 souls for just simply turning it on. Souls are also used when crafting items within the Krypt. For a currency that has many uses, you sure don’t earn it fast enough.
Where the Krypt suffers; however, is that these chests are largely RNG, removing almost all the fun out of unlocking what’s within them. Inside these chests are additional customization options, fatalities and brutality moves, and a ton of concept art. The fatalities are a strange unlock as you can still perform them despite not unlocking them. The unlock merely indicates the buttons required to pull them off, but these can be easily referenced online in seconds, making their inclusion here largely pointless. Nearly all of these chests are random, but the more expensive chests have a better chance at unlocking stuff you actually want, or so they say. I’ve unlocked several skins through fairly inexpensive chests, and found nothing but concept art in the more costly ones, so I’m not sure. As the Krypt is mostly full of non-gameplay rewards, it can be an absolute pain in the ass to unlock new skins and visual items for your preferred character, apart from using the Krystal currency you’ll unlock through play or through real world spending in the store. It’s also worth noting that not everything available to each character is available in the Krypt as many rewards are unlocked by completing character specific tutorials, or through their own personal Tower of Time missions. As I write this, there is a story circulating that it will cost over $6,000 to purchase all the skins present in the game, but this has been debunked by Mortal Kombat co-creator, Ed Boon as not every item is purchasable through the store.
This brings us to the monetization model present in the game. While I do feel that much of the backlash is a bit overblown, especially considering what other games are currently offering, it’s still saddening to see this sort of practice enter into Mortal Kombat. Currently, you can only purchase the Krystal currency that is used to procure a few items each day in the store. As you progress through various gameplay modes, you can earn this currency too by simply playing the game, albeit at a pace that feels purposefully drip-fed. Each day in the store, a small selection of items such as skins and easy fatalities can be purchased before the store has its daily reset. These items also come with a mention of where it can be unlocked elsewhere in the game, ensuring there is nothing here exclusive to the store. Krystal’s cannot be used to unlock items in the Krypt apart from when those items show up in the daily store rotation. They also cannot be used to purchase augments that increase the power of your character, eliminating any aspect of a Pay-to-win scenario. Krystal’s also cannot be used to purchase koins, souls, or hearts, preventing you from buying your way through all the collectibles.
Microtransactions can often ruin the economy of a game, or destroy the balance of certain gameplay modes, but their inclusion here is not exactly where the game suffers. I’ve mentioned it already, but it is the grind at which you unlock currency where the game just doesn’t feel balanced for it. Earning less than a hundred Krystals for completing all the non-character specific tutorials feels pitiful, and apart from Koins, at least for the most part, every other currency is rewarded out far to slow to really make regular use of using it. Considering how much there is to unlock, you could spend hundreds of hours solely on one character. While many people may love how long this takes, it’s not something widely appreciated, given the backlash currently set around the game. While many are blaming the Krystal monetization model, that’s not the problem here. Am I defending this practice? No, I would love to see the Krystal currency gone, but given this is a system here to stay, I just simply find it less of an issue than how the game is built around grinding for hundreds, if not thousands, of hours, for largely RNG rewards. If they made some skins available in the store through the use of koins, or the ability to convert koins into souls or hearts, then maybe that may fix some aspects of the grind. It’s also worth noting that NetherRealm is patching and fixing some aspects of the grind, so maybe that too will assist in making the game feel less grindy.
Mortal Kombat 11 continues to show that NetherRealm knows how to deliver a feature-rich fighter with an uncontested quality in its story mode. Regardless of your desire to push through the campaign, or just that of its online or offline battles, MK 11 will deliver what you need in spades. The customization system that was present in Injustice 2 is fantastic, but does suffer currently in how you unlock much of that Kontent. With helpful tutorials that will teach you the in’s and out of the game, as well as some systems that truly benefit the high-end competitive play, Mortal Kombat 11 is a fighter with everyone in mind, allowing a newcomer or seasoned vet to pull off some brutal kombo attacks or delivering a bone crunching fatality to their opponent, all with a cast of some of the most memorable characters in all of videogames.
Mortal Kombat 11 was purchased by the reviewer and played on an Xbox One X.
All Screenshots were taken on an Xbox One X.