Review: Mortal Kombat 11

Raiden’s interference with the timeline in Mortal Kombat (2011) bore impressive results. NetherRealm Studios’ fresh take on the timeline yielded fascinating changes that manifested in Mortal Kombat X. After that game’s bombshell ending everyone was left wondering, “what’s next?” Four years later, we finally have what’s next, Mortal Kombat 11. With a time-bending new antagonist and a convergence of characters from the past and present, Mortal Kombat 11 looks to expand the series lore, combat and competitive capabilities dramatically. Does Mortal Kombat 11 execute a flawless victory or is this an entry that should perform a hara-kiri?

Mortal Kombat 11 picks up shortly after the events of Mortal Kombat X. Shinnok is captured, Raiden is corrupted, and Liu Kang and Kitana rule the NetherRealm. Raiden’s actions earn the ire of Kronika, the keeper of time, who sees his alterations to the timeline as blasphemy against her creations. Intending to create a new era without Raiden, Kronika summons villains from the present and past to help her make her vision a reality. It’s up to a Raiden from the past and his ragtag team of heroes to stop Kronika from permanently altering the course of the Mortal Kombat universe.

NetherRealm Studios has slowly been perfecting their storytelling chops over the years, and Mortal Kombat 11 is no doubt the best written and presented story yet. The game’s writing delivers comedy, emotion and even heartbreak. Some of the best chapters pair two characters up and allow for meaningful interactions. The writing is spot on in Mortal Kombat 11 and seeing past and present incarnations of characters interact with one another never tires. Mortal Kombat 11 also manages to deliver quite a few surprises and plot twists. While Mortal Kombat and X followed the outlines of Mortal Kombat 1-4, 11 features a wholly original story not bound to any previous title. It feels entirely fresh, though it is comforting when a familiar character or location shows up. The game’s story is told on a grander scale than any previous NetherRealm Studios project. Epic, cinematic cutscenes are splattered throughout the campaign, including an ending battle scene that’s sure to excite longtime fans. NetherRealm Studios couldn’t quite stick the landing with the ending, however, which feels rushed and unexciting. Worst, the campaign’s conclusion almost feels like an insult to longtime fans of the lore. It’s a disappointing ending to an otherwise wonderful tale.

Those familiar with previous NetherRealm Studios campaigns will feel right at home completing Mortal Kombat 11’s. The story is split into twelve chapters with four fights per chapter and plenty of cutscenes. In total, it’ll take you anywhere between four and five hours to complete the campaign depending on difficulty.

A fighting game isn’t any good without solid combat mechanics, which Mortal Kombat has always succeeded at providing. Mortal Kombat 11 offers a familiar system for previous titles, but with changes that ultimately elevate the experience. Players execute combos by combining a series of punches (assigned to the top two buttons) and kicks (the bottom two buttons). Meanwhile, inputting the right directional buttons alongside a face button executes special attacks. Mortal Kombat veterans will feel right at home with Mortal Kombat 11.

What veterans will notice is the absence of the Energy Meter. In Mortal Kombat 11, that meter is broken into two meters, attack and defense. The defense meter allows for special dodges, combo cancellers, and rolls. The attack meter enables players to enhance special moves. Each meter only has two uses, and though they gradually fill up over time, players will need to be careful with how and when they use them. Also gone are X-Ray moves. Instead, Mortal Kombat 11 introduces Fatal Blows, a powerful move similar to X-Rays, but can only be used when you’re health drops below 30%. These last chance moves can only be used once per turn, meaning you’ll need to be strategic with how you use them.

Once the credits roll, players will find a bevy of additional content. Longtime fans can hop straight into the Klassic Towers to climb ladders, master characters and earn endings. The game launches with a total of 24 playable characters. A 25th, Shao Kahn, is unfortunately gated off as a pre-order bonus with no option to unlock him via playing. Overall, Mortal Kombat 11’s roster is good, though predictable. Most characters make a return from Mortal Kombat X (Raiden, Liu Kang, Erron Black, etc.) with a handful of classic favorites who missed out on the last game returning (Noob Saibot, Baraka, Jade, etc.). Only three characters are brand new (Geras, Kollector and Cetrion) and just a single character from the 3D era returns. It’s a fine roster, but it would have been nice to give other characters a chance in the spotlight.

What is nice is the deep customization system available per character. Variations return from Mortal Kombat X, but not in the same way. Here, players combine different pieces of gear, abilities and cosmetics to tailor each character to your playstyle. Want a Dark Raiden who creates a protective aura of thunder around him? You can make that. How about a Light Raiden who can teleport and use his staff as a lightning rod?  Yes, you can make that too. There are also additional brutalities, fatalities, poses, intros and other goodies for players to equip, but they come at a cost.

Returning from previous games is the Krypt, which has gradually grown more complex with each entry. Mortal Kombat 11 takes it too far by turning the Krypt into a third-person adventure game. It’s a complex maze of puzzles, key items and unlockables that quickly becomes a tiresome time sink. Most egregious, however, is that Mortal Kombat 11 and the Krypt has not one currency, but four. There are traditional Koins, but on top of that, there’s souls and hearts, which are required to unlock special chests and are acquired at a much slower rate than Koins. Finally, there are Time Crystals, the game’s premium currency. At this point, we’re not quite sure what Time Crystals will buy, but it’s easy to imagine they can skip much of the game’s grind in the Krypt. The Krypt is necessary as it not only unlocks skins, fatalities, brutalities and emotes, but also Konsumables for Towers of Time.

Towers of Time is the evolution of Injustice 2’s Multiverse. A collection of different towers with various modifiers and objectives, Towers of Time represents the best way to earn new gear and shaders and participate in some zany matches. The mode, however, is tainted by Konsumables. Unless you use a Konsumable, you get no modifiers to help you. Instead, all the active modifiers are aimed squarely at helping your opponent and hurting you. For example, a modifier that would drop bombs on the field in Mortal Kombat X would damage both enemies if they were in the vicinity. In Mortal Kombat 11, those bombs only hurt you unless you use a Konsumable to get your own modifier. You’ll need those modifiers too, because it feels like the game actively cheats in Towers of Time. Double battles, player damage nerfs, enemy damage increases, heat-seeking missiles and effects over time are just some of the many things the game throws at you. Unlike the Multiverse, the Towers of Time aren’t fair.

It’s hard to shake the feeling that the Krypt and Towers of Time are mere means to introduce additional microtransactions. Towers of Time consistently punishes players with difficult modifiers and encourages them to use Konsumables. Meanwhile, the Krypt provides far too many chests that require one of three different currencies. Then there’s the the premium time crystals, which feel like too much for a game that already has too many currencies. Finally, there’s the return of Easy Fatality and Skip Fight tokens. Unfortunately, it actively feels like the Krypt and Towers of Time were designed with monetization in mind.

Mortal Kombat X’s suite of online features returns in Mortal Kombat 11. Players can participate in Kasual, ranked and King-of-the-Hill style matches. There’s also the opportunity to create custom matches with your own rules and modifiers. Thankfully, the online experience holds up much better than X at launch. The matches ran smoothly with only a few hiccups here and there. Matchmaking was quick with the system performing a solid job at matching similar-leveled players. It’s a vastly superior online experience than what we got four years ago.

At Mortal Kombat 11’s reveal, there was some confusion about whether the game was running on Unreal 4 or a modified Unreal 3. It turned out it wasn’t Unreal 4, but you wouldn’t have guessed it based on the visuals. Mortal Kombat 11 is a massive step-up from Mortal Kombat X and Injustice 2. Character models and textures are well detailed both in cutscenes and during fights. Combat is visceral, bloody and so violently detailed that it’s hard not to gasp the first time a rib cage breaks or teeth shatter. There’s also lovely environmental detail in the game’s stages, including leaves rustling in the wind, sand blowing across the screen and a hive bristling with angry insects. The most improved thing about the presentation, however, are the animations. NetherRealm Studios have earned a reputation for lifeless animations. That’s a reputation they’ve shredded with Mortal Kombat 11. Characters animate beautifully when in combat, and you now feel every hit. There are still instances of wayward animations here and there, but overall the game is beautifully animated.

One point of concern is consistency. The Mortal Kombat franchise is known for altering character designs and voice actors, but Mortal Kombat 11 goes too far with too many characters. Jax, Cassie Cage, Jacqui Briggs, Liu Kang, Scorpion and Baraka are just a handful of the characters who have gone through radical visual and audio changes since Mortal Kombat X. The Mortal Kombat universe needs consistent looking and sounding characters, but Mortal Kombat 11 kind of throws that idea out the window. Mortal Kombat 11 is a beautiful game to look at and play. It’s as much a joy watching characters fight as it is witnessing the ever-gory fatalities. It would have just helped if there was a bit more consistency in the continuity.

Closing Comments:

The ever-flowing nature of time meant we’d eventually return to an Armageddon level event. Kronika’s threat to the realm provided plenty of epic moments and some elements that should have been left out. Mortal Kombat 11 is the most beautiful game NetherRealm Studios has ever developed that’s backed up with familiar combat honed to perfection over the years. The story may stumble towards the end, but overall is the best narrative ever included in a NetherRealm game thanks to an excellent combination of comedy, emotion and character-driven moments. Mortal Kombat 11 provides a solid if unremarkable cast of characters to choose from and plenty of ways to customize them. It’s just a pity that much of the activities and rewards revolve so heavily around grinding and microtransactions. Mortal Kombat 11 delivers with its story, presentation and online capabilities. It may not land the flawless victory fans were hoping for, but it’s still a victory nonetheless.