Mortal Kombat 11 Review: (Nearly) Flawless Victory
Fighting games are in a weird position. It is tough for many series to dramatically evolve while retaining the core essence of what makes them popular. People who have been around fighting games have an idea what the difference is between the style — of both the presentation and the gameplay — of series like Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter. This is part of what makes Mortal Kombat 11 such a joy to play through.
NetherRealm Studios threw the kitchen sink at this one, offering up all sorts of ways to reinvent the classic franchise. Through it all, however, Mortal Kombat 11 feels very Mortal Kombat. It hearkens back to some of the silliness in the series' past while still maintaining the extremely brutal violence it is known for.
On the gameplay front, there are still wild juggle combos, frame traps, and a huge amount of styles to learn — all while greater emphasis is put on strategizing and the neutral game.
Since NetherRealm slightly reinvented the series back in MK9, Mortal Kombat has been a worthy challenger to the other big fighting game franchises. With Mortal Kombat 11, it may have finally pulled ahead of the pack as the one to beat.
Round One. Fight!
Most fighting games won't make much of a dent without a rock-solid fighting system in place, and the fighting mechanics in Mortal Kombat 11 have been fine-tuned very well. This is still a game focused on intricate, precise combos and long juggle strings, but MK11 also does a good job of rewarding strategy, patience, and spacing.
There are multiple characters designed around nearly any fighting style you could want to play: rushdown, zoning, keep-away, counter punching, grappling, and more. Even better, there are loads of customization options for every character. Each one comes prepackaged with multiple fighting styles — which swap out some special moves — and you can create your own custom styles, too.
It probably won't be legal in professional tournaments, but it's fun to fine-tune your favorite character to match up to different playstyles that might trouble you.
On top of that, Mortal Kombat 11 also features a robust training mode, possibly the best one I've ever seen in a fighting game. There are options for working on everything from the most basic maneuvers to insanely complex ones but, most importantly, MK11 tries to tell you when to use certain things and why you would do it.
For a genre that's totally unforgiving to newbies, the MK11 fighting experience does a wonderful job of trying to decipher some of the more complex systems in the fighting game community. If you're trying to be a more competitive player, Mortal Kombat 11's training modes would like to speak with you.
Regardless of if you want to square off against the CPU, sit on the couch with some friends and trash talk, or go online and train to become the next EVO champion, you aren't going to find a lack of content in Mortal Kombat 11. Outside of standard 1v1 matches against friends, there are tons of ways to play the game.
Mortal Kombat 11's story mode is pretty good, involving a time-traveling baddie who brings back older versions of characters from past MK games. It's pretty fun watching old-man Johnny Cage spar with his neon-clad, action movie star past. The story mode weaves an interesting tale and allows you to play as a variety of different characters, but you will find yourself sitting for five to 10 minutes sometime, wondering if you're playing a fighting game or watching a movie.
There are Klassic Towers, which simulate arcade single-player modes of old. There's the Towers of Time, which is billed as an "evolving" single-player mode, offering big challenges and rewards in an ever-changing landscape.
There's the Kustomization mode, where you can mess around with your favorite fighters. Add new skins, change out their gear, and swap out special moves for one another. Partnered with that, there's the Krypt, where you can walk around Shang Tsung's island (and the evil sorcerer is even voiced by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, who played the character in the 1995 film), solving puzzles and opening chests full of loot.
You can even create A.I. setups for individual fighters, adjusting sliders to determine how the CPU will approach battles. You can then send these A.I. creations out to battle other A.I. opponents and analyze the strategy. This, of course, will earn you rewards.
There is A LOT to do. And that's a bit of a double-edged sword with Mortal Kombat 11.
The sheer amount of content and, more specifically, how you earn it, is the central drawback in MK11. You earn coins through fighting — winning matches, executing long combos, etc. Coins then open up chests in the Krypt, which are entirely randomized; they may contain a mythical skin for your favorite fighter, or they might contain some concept art that will get buried in an options menu and never seen again.
There are also souls, a second form of currency. These are earned only through winning matches and can open up rarer things in the Krypt.
Oh, and there are hearts, which are earned through executing fatalities at the end of fights. Those open the rarest chests in the Krypt.
And there are Time Krystals, too, which you can use to outright buy things like skins and equipment from the store. However, the store is randomized as well; you may find several pieces for your favorite characters, or you may find a bunch of stuff for someone you'll never play as.
That's four different units of currency, earned through different means, which unlock different equipment at varying rates. Each character has dozens of skins, pieces of equipment, and even finishing moves to unlock; yes, each character only has one available fatality when you start playing. Even if you know the button combination for other finishing moves, you can't execute them until you've unlocked them.
And, again, the method for unlocking things is entirely randomized. You can't look up which chest in the Krypt will have which specific item in it because it varies from game to game.
If that sounds infuriating, congratulations. You could play MK11 for hours, looking solely to pimp out your favorite character and find practically nothing for them. Luckily, NetherRealm has already said they plan on tweaking the game's economy so unlocks don't take quite so long, but it is frustrating.
Get Over Here
None of this — a massive character roster, a huge number of game modes, a gigantic digital wardrobe — would be worth anything if Mortal Kombat 11 didn't play well. Thankfully, it does. Animations and transitions don't suffer from any stutter or odd clips, the netcode has offered up consistent lag-free matches, and everything has the gruesome polish you'd expect from Mortal Kombat.
Fatalities are over the top and violent but have a hint of playfulness without becoming overly cute. Certain moves have the impact that we crave in a fighting game, and properties change on the fly depending on if you land a counter hit or an anti-air with certain things.
Combat in MK11 is deep without being too daunting — even a relative newbie can grab a controller and start throwing out fireballs in no time. Like any fighting game worth its salt, newcomers won't be taking out seasoned pros any time soon, but it doesn't feel like too steep a hill to climb due to the game's polish, focus on combat mechanics, and excellent training modes.
- Great polish on characters, modes, and fighting mechanics.
- A good fit for newcomers and series veterans alike.
- Tons of ways to play and customize the game.
- Playfulness helps balance extreme violence.
- Almost too much — four different types of currency, extra fatalities need to be unlocked, and no clear direction what the best way to do it all is.
If you like fighting games, it seems unlikely you'd dislike Mortal Kombat 11. It has an impressive array of ways to play, some well-manicured combat systems, an impressive story, and tons of stuff to do.
Some aspects can get a little tedious and, like all fighting games, it can be tough when you're just starting out. However, an impressive tutorial mode can help teach you the ins and outs of the series and give you a fighting chance.
MK11 should stick around for a while — NetherRealm has already announced some serious DLC plans and esports support. If you want some good fisticuffs, solid coach co-op, or a game you can get lost in for a while, Mortal Kombat 11 should scratch your itch.
[Note: A copy of Mortal Kombat 11 was provided by NetherRealm for the purpose of this review.]