It’s not a flawless victory, but Mortal Kombat 11 is a superb fighting game that’s sure to please veterans and newcomers alike.
Developer – NetherRealm Studios
Release Date – April 23rd, 2019
Platforms – PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC [Reviewed], Switch
In late April, we will see the culmination of a universe that’s been expanding for over a decade. With gods, heroes and villains intertwined in an epic battle spanning several titles. What started off as a small franchise, has grown and expanded over the years to reach much more ambitious heights. The latest release brings a definite end to whats come before, while also teasing the possibility of a new beginning going forward.
This may seem like I’m describing Avengers: Endgame, but I’m actually referring to another huge pop culture phenomenon, Mortal Kombat.
Mortal Kombat 11 is the the latest title from the team at NetherRealm Studios. Spear headed by series co-creator, Ed Boon., Mortal Kombat 11 is a huge love letter to diehard fans of the series, while also bringing enough changes to the core gameplay and mechanics to provide a little bit of something for everyone.
The story this time revolves around a brand new character, named Kronika, a being more powerful than the elder gods. Raiden has disrupted the timeline she has carefully created and she puts plans into motion to create “a new era” by essentially wiping out the entire history of Mortal Kombat. She hopes to start up this new era with all of the same people in place, but without Raiden around to cause chaos to her plans.
The premise is basically a great excuse to bring back classic characters and feature some fantastic callbacks to the rich history of Mortal Kombat. The entire story, the expanded krypt, even arcade mode endings have tons of Easter eggs. Even subtle references to the live action films, spin off titles and the 3d era all get a little bit of love. If you’rer even a casual Mortal Kombat fan, try to go in blind with story mode as it’s a fantastic tribute to the entirety of Mortal Kombat.
The story mode itself doesn’t really revolutionize anything. Mechanically its very similar to Injustice 2, with chapter based progression usually featuring a single character or a choice between two.
While a bit of a let down in terms of adding anything new, the story mode more than makes up for it with its presentation. The story in Mortal Kombat 11 is easily the best one NRS have created. Despite some characters disappearing halfway through, or some new favorites from X seemingly missing in action completely, the story delivers on it’s promise of multiple timelines with great care and a clear love for it’s own over the top universe.
In terms of gameplay, MK11 is also a bit of a throwback to it’s classic roots. The run button is gone completely, and meter management has been overhauled from top to bottom. Replacing the standard X-ray attacks, Fatal Blows are the new flashy super moves at your disposal. Instead of filling a meter to use one, they now work more as a desperation attack from classic SNK games. When your health gets below 30 percent, you can pop a fatal blow. However if the attack actually lands, you can’t use it again for the remainder of the fight.
Each fighter now uses two different meters. An offensive and defensive meter. Instead of meter burn attacks, you can now amplify them, but don’t let the name change fool you. They serve the same purpose despite the name change. Defensive meter is used for several new mechanics. Every character is given multiple options on wake up to aid in escaping pressure.
Two wake up attacks are unique to every character, with one offering a popup and the other doing very little damage but having armor to help get characters off your back. You can also opt to do a tech roll, or the classic delayed wake-up is also an option. All of these options start to add up to create a more tactical and compelling mind game during any given fight. Once the nuances start to sink in, the fights can start to grow and evolve and some truly tense battles can be had. One new mechanic, a flawless block is fun, but almost feels like it was implemented purely for hard A.I to exploit non stop against us mere humans.
Another new mechanic adding a layer of depth is the krushing blow. Each character has several attacks that under the right conditions will trigger the more classic X-ray visuals from previous titles and add new properties to those attacks. For instance most krushing blows lead to juggle opportunities that normally wouldn’t exist, and across the board they add devastating damage. Like fatal blows, they can only be executed once per fight. It’s a fun mechanic, that adds a nice layer of flash for the casual player, but can be exploited and used tactically at higher levels of play.
Overall the fighting in Mortal Kombat has never been this well tuned. Every character seems promising, and the fights carry a certain weight to them that the previous games were lacking.
Character customization is back from Injustice 2, but the way its handled is pretty different. Instead of character levels and a full gear system, they have opted for a more focused customization suite. Character levels and pure stats are gone, as are the more RPG functions of the Injustice 2 system. Instead we have three set pieces on each character that can be modified. For example, Scorpion’s mask, sword, and spear can be swapped out completely. The shaders are not merely color swaps, but contain several unique costumes in addition to the color changes. New special moves, which were a huge point of frustration for Injustice 2, are now unlocked for the entire roster from the get go.
Changing alongside the customization is the variant system. In MKX each character came with three loadouts that were fixed. Instead each character comes with two “tournament” ready loadouts. Now players can hop in and create a custom variation that they can use across the games single player modes and non ranked online play. If you decide to play with tournament rules this changes, as only the two curated loadouts can be used. This caused some controversy among the pro scene early on, with the two loadouts missing out on some of the more unique attacks and styles each character can potentially use. NetherRealm has stated more curated loadouts would be coming to ranked play in the coming weeks and months, and time will tell how the community reacts and takes to this decision to stick with set loadouts for competitive play.
Another returning feature and easily the biggest point of controversy are the Towers of Time. This mode is where players will be spending the bulk of there time to chase rewards, gear and new flair for each character. They function similar to the multiverses in Injustice 2, with different towers that cycle throughout the day. Before its official release and during the launch days players were up in arms over the difficulty of the towers vs the amount of rewards you could unlock. NRS has already made a statement on that topic, and more information on the topic can be discovered right here.
The combination of always online being required, the multiple amounts of currencies and the consumables came across as predatory and had many fans crying foul over its seemingly mobile game like progression.
Despite that being said, this is my review and I have to speak from my own perspective on this issue. I can completely understand how all of these ideas stacked on top of each other can come across. I’m fully aware of the stunts that WB Games have previously attempted to implement in other titles. The fact that they re-balanced difficulty across the board and have made multiple statements on the matter are all undeniable facts.
For myself, playing the game consistently over the past week, I just haven’t run into any significant problems with my progression and the cadence of unlocks in my time with MK11.
My circle of friends who have been helping me test out all of the online offerings have all unlocked new skins, brutalities and more for their favorite characters, and I have yet to encounter anything close to the level of terrible RNG the Injustice 2 multiverses offered. In addition most of the unlocks were gained from normal gameplay. I specifically avoided grinding towers of time and tested unlocks by playing it at a normal pace. Across the board I’ve unlocked tons of skins and new gear for the entire 25 character roster. Considering I was just reviewing other major fighting games that are selling hundreds of dollars of DLC day 1 the sheer quality and quantity of unlocks, gear, and things to discover in Mortal Kombat 11 is vast compared to it’s peers.
The Krypt returns and facilitates much of these unlocks. This time the krypt sports a third person camera as you roam around Shang Tsung’s island looking for treasure. The adventure game aspects from previous krypts has been surpassed with this new take on that formula. Exploring Shang Tsungs island in third person lends itself to tons of great fan service and hidden secrets all over the place. Characters fates, throwbacks to titles from the PS2 era and more litter the island, and as a long time fan the krypt has been a great way to unwind after long sessions of online matches.
The krypt has also been subject to a lot of the same criticism, but I have found the krypt to be a huge step up from previous games, and the sheer vastness of it ensures I will keep coming back to open and explore every inch of it that I can.
The online I keep referring to is also the final but important piece of the puzzle. Many other fighters in the last couple of years have been regressing in terms of online features. Many of them are launching with broken netcode, or a lacking the most basic functions of the genre, such as lobbies or direct friend invites and a rematch option.
Mortal Kombat 11 is one of the most full featured online experiences ever created for a fighter. Ranked fights offer the hardcore a best 3 of 5 set featuring tournament rules and loadouts. While un-ranked matches join things such as AI vs AI battles, private 1 on 1 fights and king of the hill rooms. Every room and option can be done with friends or through matchmaking, and the netcode has been absolutely superb. Like Dead or Alive 6, you can also see if your opponent will be wired or on wifi, but even on wifi the online matches have run fantastic. Character profiles and a small sampling of currencies can also be unlocked while playing private matches with friends, and towers of time has boss fights that can be played in coop with shared rewards as well.
The online is flawless, and its robust offering provides anything you would want out of a modern fighting game.
MK11 also is out across all platforms, including Switch and the PC version, which is the platform I reviewed this game on. Ported by QLOC, this version runs and performs great. Despite some odd quarks such as balance being a bit behind the PS4/ XB1 versions, the Switch and PC are identical in all modes and feature set. As of this writing (4/30) the PC version was patched to bring it inline with the console versions in every way. Character balance, towers of time difficulty and other random bugs and crashes has already been addressed. Furthermore, NRS have communicated that they will attempt to keep all four versions locked in together and have parity across platforms. Hopefully they stick true to that word, and as time moves forward I will write articles and create videos if any of this changes.
My time with Mortal Kombat 11 has been outstanding. Despite the controversy surrounding some of it’s modes, I have been playing non stop since I’ve put my hands on it. From the incredible story mode, the deep single player offerings and the incredible online modes. NetherRealm Studios has put together one of the best games they have ever made.
Not just merely a fighting game, Mortal Kombat 11 is the ultimate love letter to fans of the series, but anybody can pick up a controller and have a great time with it.