NetherRealm Studios have had an incredible run in recent years from successfully rebooting the Mortal Kombat series with MK 9 and then introducing the DC Comic’s Injustice series. Each release improves the next game with so many improvements and refinements from lessons learned from each release transferred into the next including new ideas. That has now brought us to Mortal Kombat 11, perhaps the most ambitious entry into the series seen yet and one that has quite a high bench mark to reach. But happily, I can say that it does just that but not without the shadow of a style of progression that could prove problematic.
The first stop for me when it comes to a NetherRealm game for me is always the story mode, which in MK 11 picks up right after the events of MK X which saw Shinnock defeated by Cassie Cage but the shock twist which saw Raiden himself, finally tired and frustrated with having to always defend Earth Realm from those who seek to invade and take it over and takes Shinnock’s own Amulet, which evil power corrupts the God of Thunder and protector of Earth Realm. This new Dark Raiden is prepared to seek out the enemies of Earth instead of waiting for their attack, and MK 11 opens with him actually torturing a chained Shinnock. The torture leads to Raiden actually decapitating Shinnock, to use his head as a warning to all others who might threaten Earth Realm, almost basking in his new power, Raiden leaves.
It is then when the story’s big bad appears as time stops and we are introduced to the entity known as Kronica, Goddess of Time and keeper of the balance between Good and Evil who is angry that Raiden has executed Shinnock which has upset the balance, forcing her to step in to put things right. Kronica’s big plan is to undo recent events by colliding generations of Mortal Kombat history, bringing the past versions of the good and evil of the series together with their current version with the ultimate goal of removing Raiden from all of time so to prevent his actions. This adds a new threat to our heroes as now their younger selves are at risk from the fighting such as the younger Jonny Cage and Sonya Blade, before they developed a relationship which led to the birth of Cassie Cage, who defeated Shinnock in the last game.
The story mode is by far the biggest cinematic effort NetherRealm has put into their games since they added a full story mode in MK 9, the quality of the cut-scenes as well as the writing and voice acting it really off the charts here. Visually, MK 11 looks incredible, with the gameplay slotting in seamlessly with the cut-scenes as the traditional format of story being told through the cut-scenes with the player taking over the various character fights that spring up along the way. It took me just under 3 hours to complete the first run through the story mode which can also be replayed on tougher difficulties. As a story, it really is one of the most satisfying ones NetherRealm have told in this series and not only is it a fantastic part of MK 11 but also a real celebration of the series itself with some really fun call-backs and nods to earlier versions of the iconic characters with some rather epic moments such as the original Liu Kang and Kung Lao meeting their Revenant versions and having to deal with the thought of their deaths and corruption at the hands of Quan Chi and bringing characters not seen for a few games such as my new personal main character to use, Frost who was last seen in MK Armageddon. Whom by the way, is a big reason to play through the story as she can only be unlocked by completing Chapter 4 or, and something I will come back to later, purchased with a booster to unlock using real money.
For me MK 11 is the most visceral game in the series yet as the violence and the gore levels really have been taken to the highest level they have been yet, helped by the best visual engine the series has used to deliver the most incredible visuals in the series to date. Every character model looks incredible and the animation of combos, special movies and Fatalities are so silky smooth in MK 11 even on a standard Xbox One but just enhanced even more by being on the Xbox One X. The combat really caters for veteran players as well as newcomers as for me, MK 11 has the best training and practice dojos in any fighting game, helping to learn and teach the basics of each character to arm players with enough to jump into the online competitive mode and stand a chance but also allows the more experienced player to hone their craft with the practice area which allows for every possible tool to try out characters and combinations. The attention to detail here is truly off the charts and I wholeheartedly suggest spending time here when wanting to learn a new character as you will benefit from it so much.
One of the big changes from MK X in 11 has to be the new Fatal Blow, which replaces the X-Ray moves of the last game. Fatal Blow is a last gasp power move that is available once a player’s health bar is close to being depleted, and when triggered and it connects, will deal massive damage to your opponent in the hopes of that big fightback situation. The difference here, is that Fatal Blows can only be used once per match, if it connects that player will not have the option to use it again, however if its blocked or missed then it will have a cool down before it can be used again that round but use it too early such a in the opening round and you will not be able to rely on it again, giving it a real strategic value now in matches. Fatal Blows are quite long animations, and for me at least, they are far more gory and violent then the actual Fatality moves which makes no sense as unless you can finish the round with one, that player will simply get up and carry on the fight. But they are a true spectacle to see on screen as are the Fatalities themselves.
Something that has been brought over from Injustice 2 is the character customisation in the form of new cosmetics and ‘gear’ that can boost abilities and attributes through augments that can be found or forged in the Krypt or from completing the Towers and Time Towers. This allows players to refine and craft their own variations of the characters on the roster. Cosmetically this is something I actually really appreciated in Injustice 2 as it allowed me to make my versions of those characters to take online, and something the story itself allows as now different character versions from different timelines are made possible. The only issue comes in the augments that can be applied to the new gear system, which at the moment feels clumsier and more unintuitive to use. Each piece of gear has augment slots but these are only unlocked by wearing the gear piece in battle to earn enough XP to unlock the slots. This has to be repeated for every piece of gear you can find, and finding augments to use is a slow and tedious process so far due to the insane progression system which NetherRealm themselves have now admitted needs to be reworked.
With Injustice 2, gear was literally thrown at you for everything that you did such as playing online or completing towers in the multiverse mode. Picking them up was so easy it made customisation smooth and relatively pain free, but MK 11 has really overcomplicated it to silly levels, locking a lot of them behind the Towers mode which up to just 2 days ago, I actually had to go back in and rewrite this part of the review as a result, was incredibly over difficult for players, with some of the Time Towers that had the best rewards, being nigh on impossible to complete. Now, the latest patch has toned down this difficulty making them far more accessible but there is still much work to do as again, the Krypt is used to hide new fatalities, brutalities and other character items in chests that players must spend the Gold Coins earned from gameplay on. Along with the recent patch came a Community gift to all players in the form of a massive boost of all the currency types used to unlck chests in the Krypt, which is very much welcomed but the sheer amount of what was gifted just shows how slow progression would have been without it or the patch.
A lot of controversy around micro transactions and the slow progress grind has been made since MK 11 launched, and it is something I thought WB would have learned the lesson from after the whole mess of Middle-earth: Shadow of War fiasco, which saw that game having all its micro-transactions removed from the game in the first year of release. There is a micro transaction currency in the form of time crystals which can be used to purchase boosts or items from the in-game store, the items being lifted right out of the Krypt as a form of short cutting actually playing through the Krypt to find them as designed. Skins can cost up to 500 Time Crystals which although they can be earned in very small amounts for playing the game, can set you back £5 in real money to just buy which is what has annoyed many people. The argument of yes, you can unlock everything by playing the game is valid, but if it will take hours over multiple play sessions to earn the gold needed to explore the Krypt until you find the right chest with the right item you want or just spend real money to have it right now through the in game store still sticks in the teeth a little too much. But the patch and community gift has shown that NetherRealm is aware and acknowledges the feedback so I am hoping they will continue to refine the progression system going forward.
Overall Mortal Kombat 11 has reclaimed the throne as the best fighting game right now, there is so much depth to the combat and the roster of characters for players to dive right into both experienced and for newcomers. The visuals are a real benchmark for fighting games and every character on the roster will take time to truly master but with a combat system that allows quick access to their move-sets. The Krypt is a fantastic mode to explore Mortal Kombat lore with huge amounts of references to old games and the fantastic choice of having Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa return to voice Shang Tsung, who fans may know portrayed the character in the 1995 film adaptation of the series, with the Krypt now being on Shang Tsung’s island. The story mode is well worth completing and the online is smooth to play with modes for the casual and more competitive players, with a ranked league kicking off before the end of May.
Sadly the awkwardness of the progression system stops this from getting a Flawless Victory in terms of review and the whole shady micro-transaction system could have been completely left out at this point, Mortal Kombat 11 is for me, the best in the series yet and if the progression system can continued to be refined to make it more accessible for players, this will be the king of fighters for some time to come.