It’s hard to believe that the Mortal Kombat series has been around for twenty-seven years now. I remember setting my eyes upon it in the arcade for the first time in my younger years and being left in awe at both the creativity of the fighting and its brutality – when I finally got to own it on a home console (got to love that SEGA Master System port) I spent hours upon hours playing it and mastering each character’s moves, yet somehow never being able to progress further than Goro.
I’ve played every game in the series since then and been continually blown away by how much the series has improved and constantly evolved. With Mortal Kombat 11 though, NetherRealm Studios have TRULY struck gold, with it not only standing out as the best entry in the entire series but perhaps one of the greatest fighting games I’ve ever played. It’s just a shame that it’s got some shady loot-collecting aspects thrown into the mix too.
The Mortal Kombat series has always been prolific for its narrative, with it setting the trend for the more cinematic single player campaigns that we’ve seen in modern fighters. Mortal Kombat 11 doesn’t hold back in that regard, with it providing the most action-packed Story mode seen in any of the modern iterations of the series.
This time around, Earth Realm find themselves under the threat of Kronika: a time-bending god whose ultimate goal is to re-write history. How does she do this? By bringing past-versions of both dead and alive Kombatants to clash with Raiden and co and help grant her the power to bring the world to an end. This means that players get to see non-revenant versions of the likes of Liu Kang, Kitana, and Kung Lao again, but also that Shao Khan makes a return and that Kano will be joined by his past-self to cause double the chaos he normally does. It’s an absurd premise, but its thoroughly entertaining throughout and fits the vibe of the Mortal Kombat series perfectly.
There’s plenty of fan service in the narrative, with nods to previous entries in the series as well as the sight of plenty of familiar faces who were thought to be long gone. There are multiple plot-threads going on at any time that flow together perfectly too, with the way that each chapter switches character giving you multiple viewpoints of the overall tale. It’s good stuff, whilst the way everything wraps up in the end feels satisfying too.
I do have one complaint, though it’s fairly small and one that’s been relevant to previous entries in the series too. Throughout the story you’ll battle with at least two characters who you can’t actually play as in-game – sure, it’s happened before, but they seemed to have decent move sets in place so their omission as playable characters was disappointing. I’m sure there’s much more to it than NetherRealm Studios simply holding them back and in no way does it detract from my final score, but it’s still a shame to face off against some iconic foes but not actually get to use them.
Anyone who has played a Mortal Kombat game before will feel right at home with Mortal Kombat 11, with the fighting mechanics generally feeling the same as they have previously. Attacks follow simple combinations, with a lot of characters sharing the same buttons which makes it easy enough to get used to for just about anyone. These attacks come at a variety of ranges and offer different abilities too – for example, Sub Zero can freeze characters in place, Scorpion can pull them to him with his spear, Kung Lao can throw his hat to teleport behind his foe, whilst Liu Kang can essentially fly in the air whilst kicking his opponent in the face… there’s a lot of variety there and no two characters ever feel the same to use. Of course, Fatalities are present with the player able to kill their foe in a range of BRUTAL ways once beaten, with this game’s selection proving more grotesque than ever. I mean that as a good thing, though a few even managed to shock me…
Whilst the fighting mostly feels the same, Mortal Kombat 11 does include a few new changes to spice things up. One example of this is the addition of two meters: an offensive one and a defensive one. The offensive meter allows you to make your special attacks more powerful, whilst the defensive one allows you to avoid nastier attacks with ease and set yourself up to counter-attack. Traditionally, fighting games have set up manoeuvres like this in one special meter, but having them both spread out allows players to balance out their actions a lot easier. It’s often been a case of sacrificing some of your power meter just to avoid an attack or vice versa, but Mortal Kombat 11 gives a lot more flexibility to the player in spreading out both their defensive and offensive capabilities.
Then there are the Fatal Blows which have replaced the brutal X-Ray attacks of the last game. Fatal Blows are activated by pressing the L2 and R2 button together when you’re low on health, with it then unleashing a brutally stylish combo that can deal some serious damage to your opponent. You can only use them once per match though, so you’ve got to pick your moments carefully – it’s not necessarily worth doing it on a foe with a lot of health if you’re nearly dying for example, but if you’re both close to death they’re the perfect attack to pull out to stop your foe landing a killing blow on you. Then you have the Crushing Blows, which are nastier versions of standard attacks that are performed when certain requirements are met. I’ll be honest, I’d often pull them off and not really know how I did it, but if you take your time to learn the requirements for them they can add a welcome boost to your repertoire of attacks.
It comes together to make for a brilliant fighting experience that’ll please both veterans of the series and newcomers alike. Between the variety of bloody and brutal attacks, the ease of pulling them off, and the fact that the combat feels so fine-tuned, there’s so much to love about Mortal Kombat 11’s fighting. Despite being around for twenty-seven years and being a genre that doesn’t have too much to expand upon, the game feels as fresh as ever – NetherRealm Studios have done a fantastic job and have proven yet again that they’re the masters of the fighting game genre.
There are a wealth of game modes to tackle in Mortal Kombat 11. You’ve got your standard quick fights, the cinematic Story mode, the arcade-equivalent Towers (with endings for each character), the Towers of Time that offer a constant stream of varied challenges with different rewards, and both online and local multiplayer. It’s in the Towers of Time that I expect players will spend most of their time, with them playing in a similar way to Injustice 2’s Multiverse by putting players in a string of battles that come with specific modifiers. These can be very challenging and have already had to be balanced out by NetherRealm Studios, but they’re constantly changing and work well as a fun way to keep accessing new content. Interestingly, you can also use item-based modifiers that’ll give you an extra boost when taking on these challenges, though I wasn’t a big fan of the system – whilst they were definitely useful at times, I felt as though the game relied on the player having them too much and it’d make some particular battles feel overly tough if you didn’t have any available.
Fighting games have been fantastic with the depth of tutorials they’ve offered in recent years, and Mortal Kombat 11 is no different. Not only will it teach you the ins-and-outs of each character’s moves, but also the frame data and how best to string them into effective combos – its detailed stuff that’ll really allow you to get the most out of your favourite characters. I’m sure just about anyone has played a Mortal Kombat game at some point and in fairness it has always been one of the more accessible fighters out there, but even those who’ve played every entry in the series will find something new to learn in the tutorial. Plus, it’s a good way to unlock some character skins, which is always a big plus.
Speaking of skins, Mortal Kombat 11 has one of the most in-depth set of custo- sorry, KUSTOMISATION options I’ve seen in any fighting game. Besides each character having three specific parts you can modify, there are also a TON of skins to unlock, moves you can customise, and even intros and outros to pick. Whilst you are technically limited to what’s available for each character, you’ll always feel like you can make them play exactly how you want them to whilst also making them look how you please too. I mean, no one wants to play as a Revenant Liu Kang, right? Change him so he’s got his classic look and enjoy being the true hero of the series once more.
It’s here that Mortal Kombat 11 has ones of its biggest flaws: there’s a constant need to grind. Whilst some items and skins can be unlocked by completing Towers or working through the story, others will need a form of currency to collect. The problem is that with multiple currencies to collect and a lot of hours of investment needed to unlock everything, players could potentially find themselves spending thousands of hours playing the game if they want to get everything. Or they could spend cash because, of course, micro-transactions are present.
It’s a real shame because the implementation of the Krypt where you unlock everything is brilliant. Taking on a third-person view, you’re guided by Shang Tsung across his island as you unlock chests, solve puzzles, check out plenty of familiar sights, and interact with the environment in a variety of ways to uncover new areas. The Krypt has always been one of the stand-out features in modern Mortal Kombat games and this is probably the best that it’s ever been. However, with the need for a LOT of currency and the random nature of what’s actually in each chest, it might leave a bit of a sour taste with some gamers.
Visually, Mortal Kombat 11 looks tremendous. I didn’t think that NetherRealm Studios could top the work they did in Injustice 2, but everything about the game just looks amazing – the detailed characters, the fluid animations, the impressive environments you battle across… everything is just sublime. And of course, the Fatalities look more brutal and gruesome than ever, with no detail spared in the amount of blood and gore on show. It’s eye-poppingly gorgeous throughout (sometimes literally) and it’s certainly the most impressive looking fighter that I’ve ever played.
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Publisher: WB Games
Platform(s): PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
[A review copy of Mortal Kombat 11 was provided by WB Games for us to write this review.]