The competitive fighting game scene is in rude health in 2019 – pick almost any of the titles released for current generation systems and you’ll find not only a fine game but a community of dedicated players striving to get better.
Training resources are easier to make and even easier to find and if you’re looking to get into a fighting game, be it UNIST, Street Fighter V, Tekken or anything else, it’s out there and it is available.
However, there’s a distinct divide between the hardcore and the casual audience when it comes to this genre. Your average fan of Ken and Ryu doesn’t necessarily want to spend their time in a woefully unequipped training mode drilling combos just to get absolutely blasted once they step online.
They’re not going to reach further than the game itself when looking for guidance when it comes to improving and, ultimately, they’re going to want to be entertained by content designed primarily for the single player. Mortal Kombat 11 attempts to merge these two worlds and, in the process, dominate the fighting game market.
This isn’t NetherRealm’s first rodeo. Mortal Kombat X was a huge success, proving that MK still carried substantial weight within the gaming community as a whole and, with each release since MK9 (including the two Injustice titles) they’ve honed their products into something that offers everyone in their substantial audience something to get their teeth into, regardless of what they come to the table expecting.
Out of all of the current batch of fighting games, Mortal Kombat 11 has the strongest showing out of the gate. It is an incredibly slick, polished and content rich game. The single player story mode is little more than a series of scraps against AI, bookended by some cutscenes.
But what cutscenes they are: absurdly high production and a story, which has the big bad Khronika rolling back the literal sands of time to prevent Raiden from ever bringing order to the various realms. Ultimately, it’s time-bending nature is little more than an excuse to bring back loads of canonically dead characters, but for fans of the series this is going to be a joy to watch unfold.
Mechanically, it is a slower game than its previous instalment. Gone is the Stamina meter, which allowed players to dash at their opponents and apply relentless ‘rushdown’ offensive pressure, instead going for a much more traditional fighting game approach. Looking for those hits in mid-screen and converting them into damaging combos, pushing your enemy back to the corner where you can begin inflicting some tricky situations to break through their defenses.
A new approach to fighting game resources comes in the form of separate offensive and defensive meters – each one two bars and refilling automatically once used. Traditionally, these build when giving or receiving damage, but in MK11, it’s more like a cooldown timer in a MOBA or MMO, which in 2019 is something far more people will be familiar with, given the popularity of those genres. Some Special Moves can be ‘Amplified’ by hitting R1/RB at certain points during the animation, burning one bar of the offensive meter and granting the attack different properties.
Some will launch an opponent into the air and grant new combo opportunities, while some will simply gain a whole load of extra damage. Defensive meter can be used to perform ‘get up’ attacks, knocking opponents away as they try to continue their assault after a knockdown, rolling out of a corner or for a ‘breakaway’, causing you to fall, fully armoured, out of a juggle combo at the cost of both pips of the defensive meter. Risky, but can be the difference between life and death.
“Mechanically, it is a slower game than its previous instalment. Gone is the Stamina meter, which allowed players to dash at their opponents and apply relentless ‘rushdown’ offensive pressure, instead going for a much more traditional fighting game approach.”
Another new mechanic is the ‘Krushing Blow’. When certain criteria have been fulfilled, such as landing an attack as a counter hit or after performing a specific amount of special moves, using a move that triggers the crushing blow will result in a X-Ray shot of your opponent’s innards being scrambled, before adding additional damage or allowing for a unique combo opportunity. Learning what triggers these, and when to use them, is going to be a huge part of truly mastering Mortal Kombat 11.
Finally, there’s the Fatal Blow. Every character gains access to a Fatal Blow when in the final quarter of their health. Land it, and you’ll be treated to a spectacularly violent sequence that will deal huge damage and potentially swing a match back in your favour. You can only use one per fight – NOT per round – so learning when to save it and utilise the mere threat of it to your advantage is also another important tactic.
They’re flashy, violent and will leave your opponent leaking screaming bloody gore. There’s a whole lot of it in Mortal Kombat 11, unsurprisingly, for a series built off of the back of dismembering your beaten foe with the now – let’s be honest here – legendary fatality routines. Mortal Kombat X had some seriously grim ways to finish off your opponent but here everything seems dialled up to an even more ridiculous degree. That’s the key word here – ‘ridiculous’.
Although there’s no denying that some players are going to find it to be a bit off-putting, this is hardly a series that has come out of nowhere with its ultra-violence. Mortal Kombat has over twenty five years of gradually increasing bloodshed as the technology available to developers has improved and, although the levels of realism are at an all-time high, so is its tongue-in-cheek nature. This isn’t ‘Martyrs’, this is ‘Evil Dead’, and every Fatality, Brutality and Crushing Blow has a clear moment where they push into the absurd, almost darkly comical.
Once you’re done with the story, it’s either into training mode to practice for online battles or to tackle the various Towers of Time, essentially a reworked version of the Multiverse mode in Injustice 2. Time sensitive ‘towers’ of fights appear, each with different modifiers to keep things interesting, rather than a straightforward fight. Finishing a Tower nets you anything from currency, player card backgrounds and event unique skins, but there are some balancing issues with these and some extreme difficulty spikes.
“The grind is inevitable – fighting games are supposed to be played regularly over years, not weeks – but even for the dedicated, hardcore players, it’s simply not a great use of anyone’s time”
Fighting two characters, each with additional health, while unblockable, status effect inducing and unblockable missiles spawn every three seconds, preventing you from starting any meaningful offense, just isn’t fun at all. NetherRealm has already gone on record of saying this is an aspect of the game that is set to be improved within the next week, but at the time of review, it can be an unfair, frustrating mess.
Currency is needed for The Krypt – the series’ long-running means of gaining unlockables – returns, this time in the form of a third-person romp around Shang Tsung’s island from the original game, now abandoned, ravaged by time, full of puzzles and traps to navigate and chests to crack open, provided you have the appropriate currency.
This is, unfortunately, another area where Mortal Kombat 11 makes more than a few missteps. Koins are the primary currency and yet, despite getting it for taking part in almost every mode in the game, you always find yourself wanting for it after opening a few boxes, the contents of which are, for the most part, completely random. You could open an expensive box and be greeted with some ‘Konsumables’, one use items that are used in the Towers of Time mode to grant health boosts or other perks, rather than a cool, unique skin for your chosen character.
Then there are the other currencies: Soul Fragments are used for opening another type of box as well as utilising some of the abilities you gain to progress through the Krypt, so again you just burn through them at an alarming rate. Hearts are currently the most egregious, however. One heart is granted for performing a Fatality in the game, and some boxes require 200 (!) of them to open. Sure, sometimes you gain batches from chests, but the grind here is quite severe.
It’s clearly something NetherRealm has taken to heart. Much like the tower difficulty, the developer has announced that currency payouts are set to be increased in a patch due any day now. The grind is inevitable – fighting games are supposed to be played regularly over years, not weeks – but even for the dedicated, hardcore players, it’s simply not a great use of anyone’s time. Banging your head against a near-impossible tower challenge isn’t going to be enjoyable whatever your skill level, so it’s a situation that needs resolving before the Mortal Kombat 11 ‘endgame’ can reach the potential it appears to have.
Mortal Kombat 11 is an undeniably great, deep and enjoyable fighting game that has a varied roster full of fun characters, a brilliantly entertaining story mode and a suite of learning tools that could coach anyone to a decent standard should they wish to jump into the shark tank that is online ranked play. It’s just a shame NetherRealm massively misjudged what these players are willing to do to unlock a hat for Sub Zero. With a few tweaks to this area, it’s a fighting game that could be recommended unequivocally.
Mortal Kombat 11 is so close to being the best all-round fighting game package, but falls just short due to an aggressive need for currency grinding to unlock content.
- Incredible visuals
- Deep and rewarding combat system
- Genuinely entertaining and fun story mode
- One of the best tutorials in the genre
- The grind for currency is far too steep