Mortal Kombat 11 Review – Gore and Grind

Apr 23, 2019
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GAME INFO

Mortal Kombat 11

April 23rd, 2019
Platform PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch
Publisher Warner Bros. Interactive
Developer NetherRealm Studios

Mortal Kombat X was a landmark release in the long-running skull-crushing series, selling more than any previous entry and proving NetherRealm’s fighters could stand toe-to-toe with Street Fighter, Tekken and other competitors in terms of depth and polish. NetherRealm then upped their game another notch with the almost shockingly-good DC Comics brawler Injustice 2. Ed Boon and company have gone from the silly blood ‘n’ guts guys to arguably the leading fighting game developers on the scene.

Given NetherRealm’s recent successes, Mortal Kombat 11 has a lot to live up to. Does the game continue their winning streak or is there nowhere to go but down after the achievements of Mortal Kombat X? Time to find out if Mortal Kombat 11 is a Flawless Victory or just a bloody mess…

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A fighting game is nothing without good base mechanics and Mortal Kombat 11 is built on a rock-solid foundation. This is Mortal Kombat as you know it, which is to say, only four attack buttons (back punch/kick and front punch/kick) and forgiving, easy-to-remember special attack inputs. No thumb-blistering half-circle special moves here. That said, a few significant tweaks have been made.

Running has been axed, and lengthy, strung-together combos have been dialed back in favor of shorter attack chains and mixing up your specials. The Super Meter from earlier MK games has been split into separate shorter Offense and Defense meters, discouraging players from leaning too heavily in either direction. Your Offense Meter charges can be used to power up your specials, while your Defense Meter is depleted when you use specific defensive moves (combo-interrupting Breakers have got the boot this time around). It feels like NetherRealm wants players to use a wider array of special moves and techniques, rather than sticking to the same old reliable strategies. The result is a game that’s a touch slower than some previous entries in the series, but, ultimately, more varied. But not all the changes are entirely successful – the new Fatal Blows (essentially the MK version of Injustice 2’s Super Moves) are impressive, but they interrupt the flow of matches and eventually get tiresome once you’ve seen them 100 times.

Beyond the fundamentals, there’s a ton of complex stuff for hardcore competitive types to chew over. Combos, special strengths and weakness, situational strategies – it can be a lot to take in, but if you just want to throw fireballs and bicycle kicks with Liu Kang, you can do that too, as Mortal Kombat 11 has a wide range of difficulty options. The game also offers up an impressively deep tutorial that can get pretty much anybody started on their path to becoming a Mortal Kombat master. This is an admirably accessible bit of blood sport.

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Once you get a handle on the basics, the first thing you’ll probably jump into is Story mode, which plunges into full-on time-travel craziness this time around. It turns out everything that’s happened thus far in the Mortal Kombat games has been secretly manipulated by an evil time lord named Kronika, but Raiden’s meddling has become too much for her to tolerate, so she’s decided to reboot time and erase the thunder god in one fell swoop. This, of course, leads to all sorts of shenanigans, as the current mostly-middle-aged MK cast come face-to-face with their younger counterparts and the Lin Kuei, Shaolin monks, and various NetherRealm factions vie for power.

None of the time-travel details make much sense if you think about them for more than a minute (this type of stuff never does), but if you can ignore that, this is a nice tribute to Mortal Kombat history. Some long-mistreated characters like Liu Kang get some redemption in what feels like a bit of a mea culpa by NetherRealm, and we even get a sort of sweet, sort of weird love triangle between Sonya Blade, Johnny Cage, and Johnny’s obnoxious younger self. This is a fun comic-book-style crossover tale (NetherRealm has learned a lot doing the Injustice games) and the writing is, dare I say it, kinda clever? Also, how weird is it that Mortal Kombat now has some of the most impressive cutscenes in all of gaming? This is a great-looking game, featuring some fantastic character models and facial animations. The game’s score and voice acting is also very good (a few clunky line readings from new Sonya Blade actress Ronda Rousey aside).

Once you gobble up Story mode, you’ll likely move on to character Kustomization, or at least that’s what NetherRealm would like you to do. Each of Mortal Kombat 11’s 24 fighters (25 if you get pre-order character Shao Kahn) can be tinkered with extensively, but I never felt particularly drawn to it. Unlike Injustice 2, where the gear you collected had both a function and unique appearance, MK11 splits things between purely cosmetic skins and functional gear. Skins are a full-body thing, meaning you can’t create your own looks, and while each fighter has 60 skins, many are just simple color variations. Meanwhile, each fighter only gets three gear slots (compared to five in Injustice) and, overall, the helmets, shields, weapons and other accoutrements just don’t feel that important. You can also tweak individual moves, animations, add augments to gear, and more, but for all the depth, I never felt like I was doing much.

Maybe I would have been more excited by Kustomization if the flow of new goodies was a little more generous, but, as it is, Mortal Kombat 11 is a slow grind. You can earn stuff by beating arcade-style Towers, but the easiest way to collect loot is to hit up The Krypt. This 3D version of Shang Tsung’s Island doesn’t have any enemies to fight, but it does feature the occasional puzzle and a whole lot of treasure chests that can be opened by spending in-game currency earned in other modes. NetherRealm has been doing The Krypt for a while, and I’ve always found it a rather odd concept, although I suppose it helps disguise the fact that the chests you’re opening are, essentially, loot boxes. Blind loot boxes that are flooded with useless junk like character icons and backgrounds for your Kombat Kard. I’ve poured over 20 hours into Mortal Kombat 11 and am still just scratching the surface when it comes to unlocks, with most of my fighters only having maybe five or six skins to choose from. You don’t have to pay real-world money to open any of the chests in The Krypt, but MK11 will have a store at launch that will let players buy cosmetics using “Time Crystals,” the game’s new premium currency. NetherRealm is already promising to fix Mortal Kombat 11’s grindiness, but I have the feeling any changes they make will be relatively minor.

But hey, as much as NetherRealm wants players to focus on Kustomization, you can still largely avoid the drudgery if you want. Between Story mode and the “Klassic Towers” you can play through to earn character endings, there’s a solid dozen-or-more hours of traditional single-player content here. Once you’re done with that, you can jump into online multiplayer, which is quite robust. If all you really care about is ripping spines, this game never has to be a grind.

This review was based on a PS4 copy of Mortal Kombat 11 provided by publisher Warner Bros. Interactive.

8.5

Mortal Kombat 11 is a first-class fighting game experience, featuring rock-solid core mechanics, impressive production values, and a story that wouldn’t be out of place alongside the summer’s biggest blockbusters. Of course, the game also suffers from some of the drawbacks of big-budget game development, including grindy customization and tacked-on microtransactions, but that stuff is largely superfluous. Beneath the triple-A fat, Mortal Kombat’s bloody heart still beats as strong as ever.

Pros

  • Tweaks the action in smart ways
  • Wonderfully kooky time-travel story
  • Top-of-the-line presentation
  • Robust online multiplayer
  • Accessible for all skill levels

Cons

  • Fatal Blows are all flash
  • Kustomization is uninspired
  • Getting new gear is a grind

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