Not many franchises get as many chances as Mortal Kombat has. The franchise has had a fair share of ups and downs, struggling to evolve with the times with every jump to new technology. From the stilted jump to 3D in Mortal Kombat 4, Deadly Alliance, Deception and Armageddon to the downright dreadful DC crossover, Mortal Kombat is truly a survivor. The ninth game successfully reinvented the franchise once more, by going back to its roots while Mortal Kombat X continued to build upon that further. Now, with Mortal Kombat 11, Netherrealm Studios have reinvented Mortal Kombat once more, though despite being better than Mortal Kombat X from a gameplay perspective, it is bound to divide fans.
Mortal Kombat 11 follows the story of the previous games, though finds yet another way to bring back characters from the past who have died or haven’t been seen for a while. The story this time centers around a mysterious being who calls herself Kronika, whose power eclipses even that of the strongest Elder Gods. Following specific events in the story, Kronika decides she isn’t happy with how events have played out and manipulates time to try and mould the universe into her perfect image. Naturally, you follow the good guys as they try to defend their realms from invaders previously thought to be defeated as well as form new alliances to beat Kronika herself.
I’ll be blunt here – the story in Mortal Kombat 11, like previous games before it, is a schlocky mess of contrivances but I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way. The team at Netherrealm have, once again, delivered a ridiculous storyline with soaring production value that does its absolute best to please fans of the series and its convoluted lore. The story itself is prone to every legitimate criticism possible but ends in such a bombastic way that I’m not sure I can hate it for doing so. You’ll enjoy every beat it hits along the way to it’s ending, and that’s all I can ask for in a Story Mode for a fighting game, really.
As a game, Mortal Kombat 11 plays just as you’d expect. You choose a character and use them to beat down an opponent using a combination of combos and special moves. I mentioned in my Mortal Kombat X review that the main draw of the series is its eclectic cast and ultraviolent sensibility, and Mortal Kombat 11 continues that tradition while still being as substantial an offering as ever. It plays differently, and the way your battles flow has changed a lot since Mortal Kombat X, but it’s such a substantial reinvention that I think it’s the best Mortal Kombat yet.
These changes are numerous, but the most obvious is the removal of the X-Ray Moves which featured in the last two games. This time around, they’re replaced with Fatal Blows, which operate as a “comeback” mechanic for when you’re close to death, allowing you to deal significant damage to your opponent in a spectacularly cinematic way. These aren’t tied to your meter anymore – so every player can pull off a Fatal Blow when close to death. You’ve got to be smart about it though, as you can only use your Fatal Blow once per match.
That’s not to say X-Ray Moves are wholly gone. Instead, they’ve been rolled into the new Krushing Blow system. Every character has four to five of these attacks which activate when adhering to certain conditions. If you land Jade’s dash kick twice in a row, for example, her second kick will be a Krushing Blow, which zooms into the opponent’s ribcage as it shatters from the force of her boot. Krushing Blows are unique to every character and make the battles feel more dynamic than ever without slowing down the fight. Seasoned veterans will revel in learning them and using them to effectively punish their opponents, while casual players will just feel awesome when activating them.
Variations make a return from Mortal Kombat X, but they’ve been reworked entirely. Every character has two set variations, but now it’s possible to create your own variations too. Every character has the preset moves that they’ll always have, but now it’s possible to customise your character with a bespoke set of moves that best suit your playstyle. It’s a fantastic evolution of the system introduced in Mortal Kombat X, which I honestly thought they couldn’t top. Unfortunately, as is a running theme with Mortal Kombat 11, this well-designed component won’t work unless you’re connected to the internet. Given how much the excessive customisation elevates Mortal Kombat 11 above X, it’s an odd design choice.
When I say excessive customisation, I don’t mean that in a bad way, though the system does come with some obvious (and unfortunately predictable) caveats. The good part is that this is easily the most content-packed Mortal Kombat game ever made. Every character has 5 or so costumes (of which each has more than ten colour variants each) as well as 90 or so customisable parts as well as ten or so finishing moves each. This meshes beautifully with the “create your own” system of variations, but a lot of this gear must be unlocked through either the Towers of Time mode or the Krypt mode.
Towers of Time is the same as the living towers from the previous game – though their progression feels unbalanced at this point. Like the Multiverses from Injustice, these online-only towers refresh daily, hourly and weekly to offer pieces of gear to those who conquer them by defeating a set number of enemies in a row. It’s a great idea, one that I love, but they’re balanced in a way that they’re so time-consuming that I seldom find them to be worth the time for the rewards you get. The cynical side of me says they’re repetitive and overly challenging to sway you just to buy the gear you want using real money – though at the time of writing the Premium Store isn’t even online, so I can’t even see if that’s the case.
The Krypt is the other way to unlock pieces to customise your character – though this is not the Krypt players have come to know and love since Deadly Alliance. Once again, the Krypt is a fantastic idea – you play as a warrior in a third person view (that honestly reminds me of a very light Bloodborne or Metroid game, sans enemies of course) who must explore Shang Tsung’s island to open chests and unlock gear. It’s utterly awesome to walk around a modern recreation of the setting of the first ever Mortal Kombat game, and it’s ridiculously atmospheric, but the Krypt itself is online only and entirely randomised. What does this mean? It pains me to say, but Mortal Kombat 11 essentially has loot boxes, they’re just dressed them up in such a pretty metagame that you might not notice it at first.
To loosely quote Shao Kahn himself, it just sucks that Mortal Kombat 11 is such a strong game with so much to offer that’s held back by these questionable design decisions. There’s the age-old argument to be made that all these unlockables aren’t an issue if they are entirely cosmetic – and they are. But the rate at which these things are awarded to players is glacial at best. Personally, I feel that as a game, it’s still the best in the series thus far, and a game that I can enjoy playing online with friends regardless of what costume or skin my character is wearing. But those looking to collect everything and play the game solo will be disappointed by all these online-only caveats.
Speaking of online, Mortal Kombat 11 performs admirably and consistently. I was fortunate enough to fight over 200 matches during my time with the game and only had one significant disconnection during this time with minimal latency. The same modes that appeared in Mortal Kombat X appear here in a simple but robust offering – namely casual rooms, casual lobbies, ranked and the king of the hill. More bizarrely, the things we’ve come to take for granted in fighting games, like matchmaking while training, are absent here, however. Some of the Towers of Time can even be taken on with a mate while online against a powerful boss powered enemy, which is excellent fun.
Being the first Mortal Kombat game built from the ground up for this generation of consoles (which is strange to consider at first), Mortal Kombat 11 is easily the best-looking game in the series thus far. The greatest thing about 11 is that everything here is new; returning characters have been completely redesigned with an almost photorealistic look, while the newcomers fit right in too. Perhaps more importantly, the stages you’ll battle in are all visually stunning and all original also. Without a doubt, Mortal Kombat 11 easily has the highest production values in a fighting game yet, and it really shows.
While the soundtracks of the original games are unique and memorable, the later Mortal Kombat games have always struggled to offer a memorable score. Unfortunately, that trend continues ever so slightly with Mortal Kombat 11. The score that plays during your battles, though somewhat better than Mortal Kombat X, often fades to the background and is barely memorable. The voice work is a significant step up, however, with some of these characters handing in their best performances in the series thus far. Despite this, Ronda Rousey as Sonya is the most jarring thing I’ve ever had to hear in a video game though – especially during the more dramatic moments of the story mode.
THE PLAYSTATION 4 VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED ON A PLAYSTATION 4 PRO FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. A PHYSICAL IMPORT COPY OF THE GAME WAS PURCHASED BY THE AUTHOR.
Mortal Kombat 11 is both joyful and frustrating. It’s far and away a superior game to Mortal Kombat X where it truly matters - the roster is strong and varied, the visuals are phenomenal, and the flow of battle is as sharp as ever. If you play with friends, solid online offerings will deliver in droves. If you’re thinking of playing solo, although Story mode is some of Netherrealm’s best, the grind to unlock everything beyond that is sobering. It’s this grind that means Mortal Kombat 11 stands besides Mortal Kombat X, and not above it.