Multi-coloured ninjas, buff fighters with metallic arms, robots that can shoot rockets, karate experts that look like they belong in the Bruce Lee film Enter the Dragon, loud-mouthed movie stars, ogrelike creatures with multiple arms, lizard-men, lady soldiers that kick butt, mythical demons, and that lightning dude from Big Trouble in Little China. The Mortal Kombat line-up has always straddled the line between a random collection of toys and things teens loved in the ‘80s and ‘90s and a universe or wold that felt believable.
Mortal Kombat 11 doesn’t so much switch things up as it does embrace all the above in a time-bending cinematic fighter full of over-the-top violence, deep combo-based mechanics, multiple modes, and a rich character-driven story. All wrapped up in a fighting game that feels as relevant now as did when it broke onto the scene in 1992.
The fighting genre has it roots, and arguably still does for the most part, in the arcade scene. Where classic side-by-side 1-v-1 competition sees established franchises tweak and refine a formula over multiple decades. The Mortal Kombat series, has always been a little different in the sense that it began as a fun and violent riff on traditional martial arts, fantasy, and the formula originally laid out by Street Fighter II. The complexity and nuance came later, across a rather sizable number of sequels spanning from the early parts of the 1990s right up to today.
And throughout it’s many hits, missteps, and sometimes complete misfires, the Mortal Kombat name has survived and thrived thanks to series creator Ed Boon and the veteran development team at NetherRealm. Where the fun and violent aspects of Mortal Kombat still serve as the main drawcard for most of the potential audience, with the depth of Mortal Kombat 11’s fighting mechanics serving up skill-driven spectacle no matter someone’s ability.
Case in point, the super or ultimate ability each fighter has. Triggering the sequence of superbly gruesome hits, stabs, slices, bone-breaks, and whatever else the designers could think up simply requires pressing two buttons. But it only becomes available once a character’s health is low and can only be used once per match-up. Throw in the ability to block or counter the Fatal Blow, as well as being able to pull it off mid-combo, then something as simple as pressing a few buttons becomes complex and strategic.
As the eleventh entry in the series Mortal Kombat 11 presents perhaps its most polished fighting engine to date with some of the best animation in the series decades long history – although some of it still looks robotic. One that thankfully also offers newcomers or lapsed players detailed and intuitive tutorials to learn everything from basic combos to advanced counters across a suite of lessons – with everything from using the environment and stringing together defensive and offensive moves covered.
Fatalities still as over-the-top as ever
Where the experience shines brightest though, outside of the inventive and borderline sadistic fatalities of course, is how Mortal Kombat 11 serves as a greatest hits collection. With a time-bending story mode that offers hours of inventive cinematic encounters weaving together a huge cast with nods to the lore’s complete reboot in 2011 and the franchise’s 1990s roots. From evil corrupted Liu Kang facing off against his younger self to Sub Zero, Scorpion, Shao Khan, and faces both new and old popping up at regular intervals the story mode is not only lively but perhaps the most intricately designed campaign seen in a fighter.
Not in the sense that it offers mechanics or interaction outside of the core 1-v-1 encounters peppered between cut-scenes, but in how each character is given their moment to shine. Or, become the crescendo in a symphonic explosion of blood and gore. Each of the new interactive environments or stages represent key locations in a multi-hour multi-realm over-the-top narrative – which all adds up to giving Mortal Kombat 11 the feeling of a singular cohesive world. And one still full of crazy outlandish characters.
Everything outside of the story mode though is built around currencies, items, and character load-outs that quickly veers off, to use some Mortal Kombat parlance, into the Realm of overload. From the stylised and wonderfully detailed Krypt that has you explore Shang Tsung’s island, to the Towers of Time that offers more arcade-like single-player progression with added modifiers and sometimes random events that fundamentally changes combat flow. Initially it all seems a bit much, especially when coupled with a progressions system to unlock skins and even items needed for Towers of Time being, well, a severely unbalanced and initially confusing grind.
It’s worth noting that NetherRealm has released a post-launch patch that lessens the more grind-y aspects of Mortal Kombat 11 as well as tweak and refine the unfair difficulty spikes seen in the Towers of Time mode. Once the story is completed, Towers of Time serves as the main single-player focus alongside a robust online suite of modes. But even after a patch the random nature of opening chests in the Krypt using currency you earn still feels unbalanced – where trying to get a skin or unlock takes on a loot box quality.
But, with the story mode, Towers of Time, online stuff, the Krypt, and other elements there’s a lot of fighting game to be found in Mortal Kombat 11 – even for those only casually into the franchise. In the end playing through the story and standard 1-v-1 competitive stuff will be more than enough for some. But for completionists or Mortal Kombat super-fans then perhaps the stingy nature of ‘unlocking everything’ will take its toll.
What we liked
Gruesome, over-the-top, and violent in ways the series is known for
Story campaign lengthy and makes full use of the entire roster
Deep mechanics and refined combat
What we didn't like
Progression outside of story can be random and grind-y
All the various currencies and items aren't explained all that well in-game