As the numbered entries in any series start hitting double digits, it can be difficult to still feel inspired by a new release – for both developers and fans. That’s not been the case for Mortal Kombat and the team at NetherRealm (Injustice 2), however, as 2015’s MKX was the biggest success for the fatal fighting franchise yet. Having to follow that means the pressure is on - so, does MK11 deliver?
Krushing Blows are a new feature which differ between characters, barring some more widespread triggers. These devastating variations on existing moves might be prompted by, for example, hitting the same maneuver twice consecutively or from a certain distance - everyone has access to multiple, which can individually be used just once per match in order to prevent spamming.
The final major change to MK11’s core gameplay is a split meter, now comprised of two chunks for defence and two for offence, all of which recharge automatically over time. The former can be used for things like breaking out of juggle combos, rolling out of range when floored, or utilising the environmental interactions available in most of the 20+ stages. The latter can be turned to modifying special moves and performing getup attacks (which also draw on defence), the idea being to enforce a more balanced play style by disallowing the use of meter in any exclusive fashion. It works.
All of the many, many interacting systems and their governing data are broken down and then layered on in a clear and digestible fashion.
Of course, the series' iconic Brutalities and Fatalities return untouched, allowing fights to reach excitingly over-the-top climaxes. They’re a celebration of humanity’s morbid love for the macabre, exquisitely illustrating the snap of bones and cutting of flesh alongside some gnarly audio that’ll squeeze equal amounts of wincing and disbelieving laughter from players.
Despite being a defining feature, these murderous moves can’t be busted out during the campaign for the sake of continuity. It’s easily forgiven, however, since story modes in NetherRealm fighters traditionally stand several severed heads and shoulders above the competition. The pulpy narrative follows directly on from MKX and revolves around the introduction of Kronica, a character with command (kommand?) over time and a distaste for the present, which conveniently slot together to form a time-bending celebration of Mortal Kombat’s past and present.
It’s unadulterated fanservice from a franchise that’s earned the distinction during more years in existence than the person writing this, but, having clambered abound at too early an age, things still got plenty nostalgic. Even if you don’t have any direct connection to old-school MK, everyone should at least recognise the classic costumes and character models which have long since been absorbed into the zeitgeist.
Throughout the story you’ll switch between multiple character perspectives, making it a great place to learn who you do and don’t click with. Outside of kombat, lavish cutscenes tell a fittingly outrageous eight-or-so hour tale which any lover of goofy, big-budget action flicks would jump at the opportunity to see on the silver screen. It’s easy to care about what’s happening, in spite of the unbelievable events and characters, plus a distractingly hammy performance from WWE and UFC star Ronda Rousey as Sonya Blade.
As with Fatalities and Brutalities, your custom character builds can’t be carried over to the campaign. MKX let players pick between preset character variations, massively diversifying its roster simply by fiddling with what was already there, and MK11 takes that ingenuity to the next logical step. Fighters still have a couple of presets each, but you can now build your own by equipping special moves across three slots (some of the more powerful abilities taking up two of them), whilst also switching out a slew of detailed cosmetics and, once you’ve won enough bouts with those cosmetics equipped to level them up, imbuing them with elemental augmentations. This essentially means that two players’ renditions of Scorpion, for example, can look and play very differently.
That being said, amassing the gear to fully deck out a specific character can be tough. Ignoring premium Time Krystals, along with the three premium consumables you can then buy with them, there are three in-game currencies which are paid out sparingly. Hearts are particularly bad, with most fights rewarding only one or two depending on whether you finished with a Fatality or a Brutality respectively. Most related purchases require 250...
What’s more, those purchases take the form of random loot chests, so it’s entirely possible that the ‘reward’ at the end of a long grind will be something useless to you. Delving the expanded and more involving Krypt to locate those chests at least proves engaging, since the gamified storefront is a mini metroidvania with puzzles and item gates all of its own.
Mortal Kombat 11 is a celebration of humanity’s morbid love for the macabre, exquisitely illustrating the snap of bones and cutting of flesh.
There’s no doubting the fact that an unreasonable time and/or money investment would be required of anyone looking to unlock everything, but we actually quite like the fact that we could dip in and out of MK11 in the years leading up to its inevitable sequel and have something new to show for each and every visit.
The ever-changing Towers of Time seek to ensure that you do keep coming back, presenting consecutive fights with devious gameplay modifiers to stack the odds against you. You can retry as many times as you like whilst incurring small incremental penalties to your score, plus equip ‘konsumables’ found in the Krypt to counter the disadvantages at hand, before eventually reaping the greatest rewards for time invested if you can overcome the challenge. Some seemingly insurmountable combinations are nothing short of infuriating though, ushering you towards buying premium Skip Fight Tokens since the alternative is to quit and lose your progress. Like the wider economy, this is being looked at.
There are plenty more ways to occupy yourself within MK11 in the meantime, like exhibition bouts in local co-op or against AI, which can be set to five difficulty levels. There are also Klassic Towers, minus any shenanigans, culminating in a boss encounter with Kronica followed by a trademark ending animatic tailored to your chosen character.
Online modes round out the offering, the most bizarre of which are asynchronous CPU-controlled battles, where you’ll choose three attacking combatants to face those assigned to defence by another user. You can enjoy the spectacle or fast forward, but we really have to wonder why it’s here at all, besides maybe offering a way to passively alleviate some of MK11’s grind. Characters can’t get injured or anything, so there’s no need to manage your roster, and, as far as tactics go, you could look to create custom variants to counter the most common character picks, at least on paper, but acquiring and levelling the gear to do so wouldn’t be worth the effort
Competitive modes encompass ranked first-to-three contests (no custom variations allowed) through ‘kasual’ single and King of the Hill matchups. Early netcode has been great, which is absolutely vital to any fighting game worth its salt, while the community is variable as ever, though there are tools in place to find players of a similar mindset and/or skill level. When you manage to do so, the deeper mechanics really start to shine and matches unfold like thoughtful games of chess, despite looking like mindless violence to onlookers.
There’s a hell of a lot to Mortal Kombat 11 then, as you can see, most of which is absolutely fantastic if you can overlook the current gouging. If you can’t, then maybe wait it out and see how things settle, but you shouldn’t allow peripheries such as currencies, cosmetics and just one of many modes stop you experiencing the immensely fun story and gratifyingly balanced kombat systems at the core of the game.