Very few franchises can claim to have 11 mainline titles under their belt. Such is the case with Mortal Kombat, a series going strong for 27 years. After the roaring success of Mortal Kombat X, a lot was riding on the sequel to continue the streak and build on its foundation. While there are some nicks in the armor, Mortal Kombat 11 is another success from the house of NetherRealm Studios.
The game features a unique cast of 25 characters at launch. While series regulars like Sub-Zero and Scorpion are to be expected, some old favorites make their long awaited return like Kabal and Jade. There are only three new fighters this time around: Cetrion, the Elder Goddess of Life, Geras, the sand-wielding time bender, And Kolletor, a four-armed creature who has given Shao Kahn his complete loyalty. Even with a smaller newcomer roster, the three fit well with the cast, especially considering their relationship to the new boss, Kronika, the mistress of time that allegedly conspired all the events in the series thus far.
Getting to the plot, Kronika is the main focus of Mortal Kombat 11’s story mode. After the events of MKX, Kronika is dissatisfied with how Raiden has been warping the timeline constantly. She sees this as an opportunity to intervene in order to create a new timeline without his interference. Her powers causes a time rift that causes several characters from an earlier time meet up with ones of the present. While the concept of time travel is crazy to fit in a franchise like Mortal Kombat, 11’s story feels like a rehash in some areas. Mortal Kombat (the 9th game) was all about altering cataclysmic past events, so by introducing Kronika and time shifting to the mix this early, it robs the narrative from its selling point.
That isn’t to say the story itself is bad, because NetherRealm Studios remain the masters of storytelling in the genre. The cinematography is top notch with a variety of camera angles that extenuate the action on screen, which is on a far larger scale than any game in the series before. There are some good character moments as well. Seeing the wiser Johnny Cage interact with his younger self can be entertaining, but it’s Kotal Kahn who steals the show. While many of the newcomers of the last game did not get much of a backstory, Kotal in particular has an engaging arc with expanded depth. Similar to Injustice 2, there are chapters that feature two characters. Before each fight, players get to choose which character will engage the enemy. After completing the story, it becomes possible to play the same fight with the other character.
Besides the story mode, Mortal Kombat 11 has some meaty single player content in the form of Towers. Similar to its predecessor, Towers are essentially battles against a variety of CPU opponents. Klassic Towers function similarly to Arcade mode of past games; beat Kronika at the end and you will witness a character specific ending. All endings share a similar theme of being able to control time, and some of the outcomes can be surprising to say the least.
The main attraction are the Towers of Time. These towers have a unique theme and they cycle in and out depending on the timer attached. Battles will often feature a modifier that would enhance the opponent. One example is the blood element, where opponents can absorb health from the player. To help mitigate the disadvantage, players can use consumables to even the playing field. These consumables can have perks like characters providing backup projectiles or specific immunities for a limited time. Due to the sheer amount of different towers and the constant cycling, there’s plenty of kombat to enjoy.
Speaking of which, Mortal Kombat 11 made smart changes to the system from its predecessor. The most notable is the omission of the X-Ray attacks. Being a part of the main bar that handles both amplified special moves and combos means most players will be inclined to build up their energy towards the devastating X-Ray attack, making battles redundant. In MK11, X-Ray moves are now “Fatal Blows” and players can only perform them when health is at less than 25%. To avoid repetition, if the fatal blow connects, the player cannot use it again in the match. However, if it doesn’t, a player can attempt to exact it on the next round. Not only do fights become less redundant after seeing someone bash a skull for the umpteenth time, but it allows the losing fighter to gain the upper hand.
The bottom meter is now divided into two different bars: Offensive and Defensive. The offensive bar is where amplified special moves are relegated. While not every special move can be amplified, the ones that can will prove useful not only in dealing more damage, but being an excellent combo finisher. The defensive bar is mainly for evasive maneuvers. Such techniques include Getup, in which the characters can rise quickly after being knocked down. There’s also Breakaway, where a character can instantly dive down without becoming a victim to a destructive air juggling combo.
While Mortal Kombat 11’s system is an improvement
over its predecessor, it also became more convoluted. Defensive maneuvers in
particular require utmost timing to execute, which can be difficult in the heat
of a battle. Thankfully the game’s tutorials explain all the mechanics in a
coherent and comprehensive manner. Players can even customize the precision of
button presses in case some combos are harder to execute (which I personally
Mortal Kombat 11’s other big addition is its emphasis on customization. While MKX gave each character three unique variations to mess with, MK11 may seem to regress by only offering two. However, players can create their own variation of their favorite character, which goes beyond what special moves they can use. It ranges from cosmetics such as masks or weapons, to even battle intros and outros. There are also many skins to unlock, and though many are color swaps, they still grant plenty of opportunities to individualize one’s favorite fighter. Each character has their own default special moves, such as Kano’s Cannon Ball for example. If the player chooses, they can add other moves into three extra slots. Some moves, however, can cost two slots instead of one, dealing more damage.
It also wouldn’t be Mortal Kombat without its Fatalities. The bloody finishers in Mortal Kombat 11 are perhaps the best in series since Mortal Kombat 9. Unlike Mortal Kombat X’s fatalities that leaned more on shock value than creativity, MK11’s are some of the most creative in the whole series. From Kabal speedily dragging his victim along the ground with his hookswords, shredding their skin, to Kano dancing with the corpse of his bloody victim. You can tell the developers had fun creating these moments.
Brutalities are also back from the last game, and they are much harder to execute. Those moves often have a specific condition to meet before executing the final blow. For example, Kitana must use her Square Wave move while airborne to activate her special Brutality. If players miss their chance to execute Brutalities, or just want to mess with their opponents’ heads, they can perform Mercy. Mercy was originally introduced in Mortal Kombat 3, letting the opponent have a sliver of health to fight back. The only problem is that you must unlock Brutalities in order to make them available to use. Those, alongside other aforementioned items, can be unlocked in not only Story Mode and Towers, but the rejuvenated Krypt.
The Krypt returns in perhaps its most ambitious and incredible rendition yet. A nameless fighter is sent to Shang Tsung’s island to discover all of its treasures. In fact, Shang Tsung himself serves as a guide which adds to the atmosphere significantly, mostly thanks to the wonderful performance of Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa who portrayed the sorcerer in the 1995 Mortal Kombat film. The island harbors many callbacks to the original Mortal Kombat game, featuring classic locations like the Warriors Shrine or Goro’s Lair. Each area is teeming with chests to unlock, all filled with different prizes. There are also items players can use to discover new areas, like using Shao Kahn’s hammer to break through crumbling bricks. Turning the once simplistic grid-like system into a miniature adventure mode is one of the greatest genius strokes from NetherRealm.
The only problem with the Krypt is how the loot system works. Chests that would cost a significant amount of coins would grant menial items like consumables. There are special chests that require 250 hearts to open that offer the most rewards. While those do offer a hefty boon, collecting hearts is a grind. Players collect hearts by either performing Fatalities, Brutalities or Mercies, but they usually don’t grant more than three to five at best. At least it is a major step up from the pre-patched version of the game that only handed one or two hearts, so there is hope that NetherRealm Studios is working to improve on the system, just like they made the Towers of Time more manageable.
It’s also worth pointing out the game has a premium store that sells various items using the currency of time crystals. Those are given at random, and players can use real life money to purchase them as well. The main issue stems from how extremely high some of the item costs are, adding more insult to injury. Microtransactions are always a touchy subject, and Mortal Kombat 11 is still figuring it out.
Another way to gather currency is by facing others online. The game offers a variety of different modes, from traditional 1-on-1 fights to the classic “King of the Hill”. Online works surprisingly well, as I have had little to no connection issues in any of the matches I played. Mortal Kombat 11 might be one of the most solid online experiences of any fighter to date.
Graphically Mortal Kombat 11 is easily the most gorgeous game in the series yet. After its gloomy predecessor, 11 adds a lot of necessary color and life to its violent landscapes. Arenas like Sea of Blood, with its shades of red, and the Shirai-Ryu Fire Garden, with its Fall-time aesthetic, present themselves beautifully. Even more striking are the new character models. Not only are characters more detailed than ever before, but the facial animations in particular is the best in the business. Characters emote with such nuance, it’s downright uncanny, especially Raiden.
The soundtrack, unfortunately, isn’t much to write home about. The music fits the mood, but none of the tracks stand out, the sound effects often drowning it out. Another unfortunate aspect is the change of the majority of the voice cast from the previous game. However, many newcomers do a great job with their characters, such as JB Blanc as Kano. The only sour point of the cast is Sonya Blade, played by UFC fighter-turned-WWE star Ronda Rousey. While the professional wrestler does have physical similarities to the character, her wooden acting doesn’t do the character any favors. It’s a major shame, since she had a wonderful portrayal by Tricia Helfer previously. She’s an accomplished actress with many credits to her name, making Rousey a downgrade.
Finally, NetherRealm Studios shattered expectations by releasing the game on a Nintendo Console. The Nintendo Switch version of Mortal Kombat 11 was developed by Shiver Entertainment. Many sacrifices were made to bring a full HD (or 4K) experience down to the humble portable. The resolution takes a major hit, as characters models in particular look blurry and muddy, especially up close. There’s also some odd texture pop-ups here and there. On top of that, I ran into several lighting issues, especially while performing Brutalities.
The Switch version also needs to be online to access many of the game’s features. The problem is that many of the modes are strictly single-player, such as the Towers of Time or The Krypt. Trying to access any of the modes offline does not affect any currency gained. Due to the nature of the Switch as a portable system, it becomes a hassle since taking it everywhere doesn’t guarantee that every spot would have immaculate online service available.
Online requirements aside, the game plays as one would expect on Nintendo’s platform. It’s pretty impressive how it still runs at a solid 60fps during gameplay despite its graphical deficiencies. The only major qualm is the Krypt. While it runs at 30fps on other platforms, the Switch doesn’t quite reach that milestone. It looks significantly worse than its console counterparts. On top of that, the framerate sinks into single digits even with its simple visual design.
Mortal Kombat 11 proves once again why NetherRealm studios are masters of their craft. The improved combat makes clever changes that make battles not only more visually engaging, but also encourage more strategy. Even if learning all the new mechanics can be overwhelming, the tutorial is a valuable asset. With the Towers of Time, a well-produced story, the revolutionary Krypt, and a solid netcode, it’s really a testament to the game’s overall excellence. Luckily, the game’s most glaring flaw, the progression system, is currently being tinkered by NetherRealm. It’s a shame because grinding for every single unlockable feels far less satisfying since a lot of it relies on partaking in monotonous activities. Fortunately, when it comes to providing action-packed, violent fun, there is no other fighting game in the market that can achieve such flawless victory.