It’s been a long time since I’ve played a Mortal Kombat game—two console generations, in fact—so when I first put Mortal Kombat 11 into my Xbox One I was eager to see how accessible it would be for a new-ish player and just how fun a 2D fighting game would be in this age of gaming – after all, it does largely boil down to moving left and right and hitting each other. In this day and age of gaming, just how fun can this type of game be? And just how much longevity can it possibly offer? After countless hours with Mortal Kombat 11, I’m pleased to say that I have been pleasantly surprised.
As an old-but-returning new-ish player, the first thing I decided to do was to jump into the tutorials to give myself a refresher course on the basics of Mortal Kombat. Straight off the bat, Mortal Kombat 11’s tutorial impressed me more than you would ever think a tutorial could; it’s incredibly comprehensive, starting you off with the basics of movement and basic attacks and working you all the way up to the higher level skills such as combo building and frame trapping. Whatever you want to learn about, Mortal Kombat 11’s tutorial caters for it: Want to practice fatalities? Check. Want to learn how to escape from a combo? Check. Want to learn how to get yourself out of a corner? Check. The tutorial is so advanced that it will teach you, in easy-to-understand language and on-screen presentation, key skills that could be used for not just Mortal Kombat 11, but any other fighting game that’s out there. It taught me things that, as a casual fighting game player of yesteryear, I would never have even known were important, but Mortal Kombat 11’s tutorial gave me a much better understanding of fighting games as a whole. Of course, there will be plenty of people who can’t be arsed to faff around with a tutorial and just want to start beating people up, and that’s fine, Mortal Kombat 11 will teach you as much or as little as you want it to.
When you do start beating people up, Mortal Kombat 11 is incredibly fun. Controls are fluid and responsive, combat is crisp and impactful, and pulling off a string of combos is both satisfying and achievable thanks to a very thorough and well explained in-game move list that is accessible through the pause menu. There are two meters to keep your eye on—one offensive and one defensive—both of which are split into two and are used to pull off certain moves. For example, performing a Getup Attack will drain a bar of both meters, and amplifying a move will cost you half of your offensive meter. These meters replenish over time, and quite quickly at that, but it adds another layer of focus for players, as keeping an eye on how full your meters are dictates what you can and can’t do at that present time. While this system could easily be troublesome and intrusive, the speed at which the bars replenish is so swift that I have very rarely found myself unable to pull off any move that I want.
Fatal Blows are another new inclusion for this entry in the series, allowing every character to perform a gloriously over-the-top move when their health has dropped below thirty percent. Fatal Blows do considerable damage but are only available once per match, which makes the timing of their use a serious point of consideration rather than them being an instant-use feature. If your opponent is still on full health then using your Fatal Blow is still unlikely to turn the round in your favour, so you’re probably better saving it in case you need it in a much closer contest in the next round. This system has provided me with some truly tense moments in deciding rounds when both characters have their Fatal Blows available.
Of course, Fatalities are present and are as gruesome as ever. I have heard some criticisms about the level of violence in Mortal Kombat 11, but the game definitely steers itself into the territory of cartoon gore and tongue-in-cheek violence rather than a gritty and realistic depiction of violence. Even in its combat, Mortal Kombat 11 has a sense of humour and self-awareness of the fact that, at its core, it’s all just mindless fun.
MK11’s story mode follows on from the events of Mortal Kombat X, with new baddie Kronika—who just so happens to be the Keeper of Time—stepping in to try and prevent Raiden’s pesky meddling. To do this, she aims to erase the current timeline and start a new one, preventing Raiden’s interventions right from the start. This leads to all sorts of crossovers between previous and current versions of characters, which gives players both a tremendous sense of nostalgia and some absolute comedy gold, with the encounters between past and present Johnny Cage being the highlight. You’ll spend large portions of your time in the story mode watching lengthy cutscenes that depict the story before seamlessly transitioning into a match without any need for a loading screen, which helps to keep the player immersed and involved in the story. While the story mode will obviously be best served to players who have experienced the past two entries in the series, the various crossovers of the different character generations is enough to keep things familiar and accessible to anybody who has ever played a Mortal Kombat game.
The roster of characters is packed with a cast of classic Mortal Kombat legends, including Lui Kang, Raiden, Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Johnny Cage, Kung Lao, Kitana, Kano, and more, and they’re joined by three new additions—namely Geras, Cetrion, and The Kollector—all of which are different and interesting in their own right. All of these characters are fabulously animated and very well voice acted, with the single exception of Ronda Rousey’s performance as Sonya Blade, which comes across as wooden and robotic. Each character also has different loadouts, allowing you to choose between and even customize different movesets depending on how you want the character to play, which gives some additional variety to each character.
Outside of story mode, Mortal Kombat 11’s single-player focus boils down to three main modes. One of these is Klassic Towers, a standard tiered-tower format of matches against opponents of increasing difficulty where completion rewards you with the ending for whichever character you completed the tower with. The other two modes, Towers of Time and the Krypt, are definitely designed to go hand in hand. Towers of Time follows the same tiered-tower format but the towers themselves are constantly rotated and updated, and there are often modifiers in effect to add extra difficulty, such as opponents who constantly make the screen go black or burn you every time you touch them. These can seem unfair at times (the game has actually been patched to make them a bit more forgiving), and you can even the odds a bit by using consumables such as the Krystal of Life, which instantly grants you 50% health when used during a match. Completing these towers earns you three in-game currencies which you can then spend in the Krypt.
Entering the Krypt puts you into a third-person perspective of a generic character as you roam freely around Shang Tsung’s island, solving puzzles to unlock more areas and opening chests along the way. The Krypt itself is filled with easter eggs that will put a smile on the faces of fans of the series and that’s something that NetherRealm should be applauded for. Despite that, the Krypt is essentially a platform for the continual opening of loot boxes using your in-game currency (that can only be earned through gameplay) to unlock skins, fatalities, consumables, concept art, and more. The main problem here is that the chests offer random rewards, regardless of how much the chest costs to open, so you could spend a tonne of your in-game currency earned through hours of gameplay to open a chest that gives you absolutely nothing that you want. The only thing you can do in this case is head back into Towers of Time to earn more currency and then come back to the Krypt and try again, and so the cycle continues.
It’s a system that has been the source of some contention in the first couple of weeks of MK11’s life, with players complaining about the strenuous grind needed to try and unlock the items that they want. MK11 was very stingy with it’s currency rewards at first, but NetherRealm has since released a patch that has improved things and made rewards a bit more generous. That said, the rate at which you earn these currencies is still noticeably slow, it’s just not as slow as before. I have mixed feelings about this system; on the one hand, I would usually criticise games for pushing players into a seemingly endless loop of farming in-game currencies to spend on randomised loot boxes, but on the other hand, once the story is complete there is only so much that you can do in a fighting game to keep players engaged, so I somewhat commend NetherRealm attempts to incorporate a system that continually gives players a reason to keep coming back and gives them something to strive for.
If you do want to buy a specific item that you want then you have only one option – Time Krystals. Time Krystals are Mortal Kombat 11’s premium currency, and the only thing that you can buy with real money. You do also earn Time Krystals through playing, which is a good thing, but you do earn them at a slow rate, so they are always best spent wisely. They can be spent in the in-game Premium Shop to buy specific items, such as skins, taunts, and fatalities, but it’s a system that I have some issues with. While it’s nice to be able to buy specific items rather than having to rely on randomised loot boxes, I can’t help but feel that there are some underhand tactics going on with how the store works.
You can’t simply go into the store, find the item that you want and buy it, as items aren’t available all of the time. Instead, there are five “featured items” available on a timer at any given time, and when that countdown hits zero another item becomes available. What this means is that you have to keep checking the store to see what items are available at any given time, and if you see something you want you need to pretty much buy it there and then before it becomes unavailable so that you don’t miss out. Sure, you don’t have to buy it, you could just hope that it turns up in one of your randomised loot boxes, but the chances of that happening are slim to say the least. It’s a system that seems devious and just doesn’t sit right with me, especially considering the cost of some of the items; each skin costs 500 Time Krystals, which can be bought for £3.99 – that means that each skin costs basically £4, which seems a bit steep to me.
Thankfully, if the rinse-and-repeat loot cycle of the Krypt and Towers of Time aren’t for you then there is another avenue for longevity in Mortal Kombat 11 – the games excellent online mode. There are numerous modes to check out in online play, including custom games, ranked modes such as Kombat League (coming in 2 weeks) and first-to-3-matches sets, and casual modes such as Versus, King of the Hill, and AI Only. Playing against a human opponent is a whole new experience in Mortal Kombat 11, as you find yourself in a battle of wits, tactics, skill, and reflexes against another human rather than the easier-to-predict AI. Each match is different, and while you have some games where you get your ass royally handed to you by some absolute demon, you’ll also have moments of tremendous gratification where you learn to predict your opponent’s attack patterns and snatch a victory from the jaws of defeat. It manages to be a fun, challenging, and satisfying experience without ever really being frustrating, even when you’re losing. Games are so quick and easy to connect to that even when you lose you simply brush yourself off, consider your mistakes, and go again.
This is all helped by just how fantastically smooth the game runs when playing online. In my time with the game, I have experienced no connection issues and absolutely no lag whatsoever, and there has been no presence of input lag either. MK11 is a game that requires a smooth-as-silk connection for competitive play to be fair, as every nanosecond can make a difference, and NetherRealm has absolutely nailed it in this regard. The game runs so well online that it is in no way differentiable from offline play, which I’m sure we can all agree is a tremendous achievement.
Overall then, Mortal Kombat 11 is a success for NetherRealm. The combat is smooth, impactful, and satisfying, and the story is both accessible and enjoyable for new and old players alike, largely part to its fabulous cast of characters and their voice actors. Even once the story mode is done with there are plenty of modes to sink your teeth in to, and while there are criticisms to be directed at the game funnelling players into a continual loop of grinding in-game currencies to buy randomised loot boxes and some shady tactics regarding premium currency, the fact is that you can have countless hours of fun with Mortal Kombat 11 without ever having to spend a penny, either by building your perfect character loadout, completing towers, or testing your skills against other players in the games flawless online modes. Whether you’re just here for the story, trying to hone your skills and prove yourself online, or just want a gloriously over-the-top fighting game to play locally with your mates with a pizza and a few beers, Mortal Kombat 11 has something for everybody.