[NOTE: I’ve sampled a little bit of everything that the game has to offer, but I’m not gonna be able to spend enough time with some of the game’s more involved single-player content to provide a thorough judgment on the game. As such, I’m keeping the scope of this piece just to the parts I’ve played so far.]
Ever since the release of Mortal Kombat 9, NetherRealm Studios has set the gold standard for what a complete fighting game should be. Sharp visuals, tons of single player content, and combat – er, kombat – that’s appealing to casual and competitive players. They’ve never rested on their laurels either, as the Mortal Kombat and Injustice games have introduced a number of innovations to the genre, from a Variation system where different versions of the same character will have altered move set and costumes, to the ability to leverage background objects as weapons or jumping-off points in battle.
Based on NetherRealm’s glowing track record, Mortal Kombat 11 should have been as close to a guaranteed home run as one could get in the genre. Based on what I’ve played, it reaches or exceeds those lofty expectations.
Starting with Mortal Kombat 9, NetherRealm created the blueprint for how good a single player story mode can be for a fighting game. Often imitated but never duplicated, these campaigns go the extra mile by telling a compelling story with cinematic visuals to match. All of that is present here, including some minor branching paths that give you the ability to choose between one of two characters in certain fights. It’s a nice touch that also helps when I’m stronger with one character over another.
Over the course of two Mortal Kombat campaigns, NetherRealm has run its cast of characters through the ringer. Many characters have died or been permanently altered. How do we bring back certain characters without breaking the established lore? Time travel, of course! Mortal Kombat 11 introduces a new character named Kronika, who is essentially the god of time. Upset by the way certain things in the world have transpired (particularly the beheading of her own son by Raiden in the last game), she aims to rewrite time from the beginning. This leads to the return of characters long dead, as well as older characters returning as their younger selves.
Having played the first three chapters, I was really impressed with the insane production values between fights, as well as the interesting story it opens up. Having branching paths in certain spots also helps in certain places where you may want be better with one character over another, while also making sense within the narrative. At some point, I will finish this story.
Other major single-player modes include the Klassic Towers and the Towers of Time. The former is essentially a traditional arcade mode with character-specific endings. Besides having different towers that vary in the number of opponents you face, you can also adjust the AI difficulty as well.
The Towers of Time are an ever-changing set of towers that include modifiers to make fights more difficult. I’ve heard a lot of bad things about this mode, from it being way too hard, to the challenges later on not being particularly fun to play. I didn’t really get past the tutorial towers to make a judgment. I know there are a lot of rewards tied to this mode, but I don’t have much interest in unlocking things in this game, so I probably won’t spend much time here.
As one would expect, blood is spilt by the pint as the action is as gory as ever. Casual players can enjoy the game for its flashy special moves and its gruesome fatalities, but competitive players will note the numerous changes made to the action under the hood. One of my gripes with Mortal Kombat X was the return of the franchise’s seldom-used run button. That has been banished yet again and it’s for the best.
Even without considering the impact of removing the run button, the overall pace of play is intentionally a touch slower and a bit more methodical. Modern NetherRealm games have gotten a bit wacky with regards to how reliant they are on lightning quick high-low mix-ups, as well as juggle combos that seemingly go on forever. Instead, moves and dial-a-combos have been reworked so that they are a touch slower and easier to block. Generally speaking, combos are also shorter in length. Personally, I loved creating ridiculous juggle combos in training mode, but these adjustments make for a game where every move matters more while better rewarding skillful play.
To compensate for shorter combos, a new Krushing Blow mechanic has been introduced. A number of normal and special attacks have a Krushing Blow stipulation attached to them, where the move will trigger a cinematic while also dealing extra damage if the condition is met. Conditions are different from move-to-move, so knowing how to trigger them can really give you a leg-up on the competition. That said, even if you’re not mindful of how they trigger, the conditions for some of them are loose enough that casual players will still get the visual treat of a Kritical Blow during the course of normal play.
As much as I’ve liked the more recent Mortal Kombat games, I’ve taken issue with the way those games have handled its meter. With only one meter shared across defensive and offensive options, it always made more sense to use your meter for combo breakers rather than the game’s devastating X-Ray moves. Thankfully, the game’s meter system has been completely reworked to address this issue.
You now get one bar for defensive moves like rolls, wake-up attacks, and combo breakers. The offensive meter can be used for EX moves, giving you additional properties to your regular special moves, such as more damage or the ability to use the move as a combo extender. Furthermore, both meters recharge over time on their own.
Finally, X-Rays have been replaced with Fatal Blows. When your health goes below 30%, you gain access to your Fatal Blow. It does not cost you any meter, and if it misses, it will reactivate after going through a cool-down phase. However, once you connect on a Fatal Blow, you can’t use it again for the rest of the fight. Since it’s a one-shot deal, you need to think very carefully on when to use it.
All of these adjustments to meter management create an environment where players are rewarded for using every tool available to them, versus banking all of their meters for one. This makes for fights that are more dynamic on defense and offense, while giving players more reasons to showcase their most bone-shattering and flesh-piercing techniques. There’s a lot of other changes made to the game’s mechanics that I don’t have time to cover in this review, such as universal overheads and perfect blocking, but all of this makes for the most refined Mortal Kombat yet.
For me, I’m going to be spending most of my time online. You get your standard issue suite with ranked, casual, king of the hill, and custom lobbies. Thankfully, the game also includes an online practice mode, which more fighting games need to include. Not sure what Kombat League is, but that wasn’t activated at the time of this write-up. Based on my early impressions of the netcode, the game seems to run really well. I feel like the input windows are a bit tighter, but it’s not unmanageable.
Mortal Kombat 11 is a meaty package that has a lot for casual and hardcore fans of the series. Can’t speak to how the game handles its economy and difficulty for certain modes, but I love what they’ve done to make for an even more refined fighting experience. Hopefully with a few patches, they’ll get the towers part fixed and this would definitively sit at the top as the best in the series.
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