Whilst I’m far from a fighting game aficionado, Mortal Kombat has been a constant of my gaming life. From my debut with Mortal Kombat II, to purchasing a Playstation 4 specifically for Mortal Kombat X, battering opponents via accessible fighting mechanics before brutalizing them with hyper-violent Fatalities has been kick-ass for almost thirty years.
NetherRealm Studio’s latest offering, Mortal Kombat 11, continues the trends of pick up and play punch-outs and spine ripping splendour, all through a lens of graphical gorgeousness. But despite its fundamental faultlessness, its heart has been ripped out (and not by Kano). Mortal Kombat 11 is a phenomenal fighter, hampered by groan-inducing grinding, misguided mechanics, and obtrusive online integration.
Mortal Kombat 11 excels where it matters most: fighting! The staple simplicity of its mechanics, from combos to special moves, thrive in full force. Between a character roster of fan favorites like Baraka, new faces like Geras, and deep cuts like Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance’s Frost, and a wealth of stages (improving on Mortal Kombat X’s limited number), there’s plenty to play with. For fans of the franchise, the combat in Mortal Kombat 11 is refined to a T.
Furthermore, Mortal Kombat 11 is one of the best looking games of this generation. Whilst Mortal Kombat X set a high bar, this sequel exceeds it and then some. Characters and environments look stunning, with facial animations and gore being highlighted. And speaking of gore, Fatalities (and new Fatal Blows) boast the top-tier creativity and presentation that Mortal Kombat prides itself upon.
At its core, Mortal Kombat 11 rocks!
Continuing Mortal Kombat (2011) and Mortal Kombat X’s story, Mortal Kombat 11 bounds into its B movie-like fantasy in its Story Mode. This time around, baddie Kronika is looking to reset time, erasing history in the process. The time travel orientated narrative is schlocky fun, but stumbles headlong into plot-holes (if character’s present selves sustain damage upon their past selves getting hurt, why on multiple occasions do their past and present selves willingly fight one another?), all whilst ham-fistedly forcing inconsequential character appearances. Its best bits are its small scale character interactions, like the relationship between Jade and Kotal Kahn. Perhaps a more modest story highlighting a singular protagonist could’ve been more rewarding due to its focus and intimacy?
Mortal Kombat’s typical wealth of content returns, with Klassic Towers suitably scratching that arcade ladder itch. Towers of Time are online only (more on that later) arcade ladders, featuring miscellaneous modifiers at play. Having gained infamy for their punishing difficulty, an upcoming patch is looking to rectify the infuriating unfairness of fighting a super-strong opponent whilst rockets rain down. But regardless of their lack of balance, they’re pretty cool when you find a good one.
The Krypt is back too (with tons of unlockables within), this time taking place on Shang Tsung’s Island. It’s bursting with fan service, and unearthing its mysteries is a blast. Finally, Mortal Kombat 11’s Training mode dives into deep detail, explaining everything from basic movement to footsies to frame data. The effort is admirable, but the solutions to some of its challenges differ to their instructions, causing no end of annoyance.
But by and large, the secret weapon of Mortal Kombat 11 is its Kustomisation system. Mortal Kombat X introduced the world to character variations, and this sequel allows players to make their own. Choosing from hundreds of unlockable outfits and gear pieces (masks, swords, etc.), characters can be visually altered in endless possibilities. Other factors, like victory poses and special moves, can be tweaked too. It’s genius in theory, but fails due to the absurd amount of time necessary to accumulate the currency required for unlocking everything. Much like the Towers of Time, this grind-heavy economy is receiving improvements in an upcoming patch, but at present, it’s less balanced than a legless baby on a seesaw. Not even the spam-able AI Battles (from which players gain currency) can take the edge off.
Upon winning battles, equipped gear slowly (like, super slowly) upgrades. This leads to augment slots manifesting. What are augments? They’re stat-altering stones that can be slotted into gear to buff a character. I would proclaim “It’s a nice idea in theory”, but it isn’t. It’s a meaningless mechanic that affects gameplay in no tangibly fun way, only serving to further convolute an already jam-packed game, whilst de-incentivizing players to play with various variations.
Sticklers for completion will aspire to fully upgrade gear, but will be disheartened by how mind-meltingly long it takes. Do players stick with the same gear so it gains extra experience, or do they experiment with different options at the expense of having a randomly upgraded ugly landfill of a gear collection? Either way, the result is an un-fun compromise, all because of an augment mechanic that should have been shot down during development.
What’s the time? Online time. All the time is online time!
Unfortunately, much of Mortal Kombat 11 is tethered to players’ online accounts, resulting in those without internet being confined to the most basic features. Earning currency, upgrading gear, visiting the Krypt; all of this and more is available only when connected to the internet. The plus side is it’s easy to disconnect and disable the aforementioned gear upgrading system, but then it’s impossible to earn currency to buy new gear, spelling the world’s shittest conundrum.
Should players erase their save data, only offline aspects will be affected (meaning earned currency, gear stats, and Krypt progress will remain unaffected). I wished to start a fresh playthrough, but had to create an entirely new Playstation account to do so. I’ve never known any other game to operate this way, and it’s a dreadful decision that robs all freedom from the player, whilst unfairly handicapping those with temperamental or no internet connections.
Despite this barrage of gripes, it can’t be denied that Mortal Kombat 11 excels to new heights with its gameplay. Its presentation is outstanding, and the terrific talent poured in is evident. It’s a shame that it’s sullied by a broken economy, unnecessary gear upgrading and augment mechanics, and a dreaded ‘always online’ ethos. It’s an impeccable fighting game, but void of streamlining. There are too many ideas on display, as if somebody handed a masterpiece to a moron and instructed “Now you try contributing to it Nigel” Nigel’s not real, but in this scenario, he’s an idiot who spoils stuff. He puts in some dumb mechanics that only serve to detract from what’s fun about Mortal Kombat 11 in the first place, and uploads half of the game to an online server. Goddamnit Nigel!
But truth be told, if players can clear this hurdle (as tall as it may seem for some), they’ll be hands-on with one of the greatest fighting games ever made. Mortal Kombat 11, beyond its missteps, is fan-bloody-tastic!