Ever since the series debuted back in 1992, Mortal Kombat has had a long and storied history within the video games industry. This is the series that was partially responsible for the kreation of the video games ratings board in the ESRB, and famously saw kourt kases that tried to show that video games were the spawn of Satan and too inherently violent alongside the likes of things like Doom and the original Grand Theft Auto. We’re now 11 entries into that series and nearly three whole decades since Mortal Kombat was in arcades (REMEMBER THOSE!? MY GOD, I’M OLD) and the franchise has had a lot of growing pains as well as showcased the best and worst of the industry. From intense violence and ridiculous blood and gore to the objectification of the female kharacters within it, Mortal Kombat has always been at its best when it reflected the era it released in. What was once typical 90's schlock has led way to a much darker and broodier series. In many ways, much like those of us who have been there since the beginning, Mortal Kombat has done some growing up in the industry. Some for the better and some for the worse. It's why the reboot storyline introduced in 2011’s Mortal Kombat (MK9) was initially met with mixed reaction, and what we got was a game that was not only trying to fix its konvoluted and bloated story line, but also fixing its message and place within the video game industry.
Mortal Kombat 11 kontinues the time travel shenanigans this time picking up right at the end of Mortal Kombat X and introducing new villain Kronika who has command over time. Raiden’s time travel shenanigans have messed with her plans, so she steps into the fold to recruit kombatants both new and old to protect her diabolical plot from the heroes and correct history with a major do-over, this time with no Raiden. She opens tears in time to bring in characters from Mortal Kombat II and she brings in both heroes and villains for whatever reason. (I felt she could have just brought in the villains and have the upper hand, but that’s Mortal Kombat storytelling for you.) Regardless, the story does a fantastic job by mixing the old with the new; it's kontent that's kampy when it needs to be but deftly shifts towards a more serious tone when the story demands it. There are a lot of serious story beats including an early death of a major character, Jax dealing with the fallout of his time as a Revenant and Liu Kang and Kung Lao being the driving force of the game alongside Cassie Cage. Kitana, Jade, Kotal Kahn, Jax, Jackie and Scorpion also get moments to shine and all the different threads are extremely kompelling to follow. NetherRealm Studios innovated the kampaign story mode structure found in today’s games and the blend of excellent kutscene work and transitions into the fights works well with the animations and dialogue. It’s easily their best narrative effort to date and I even shed a tear or two at key poignant scenes. What I enjoyed best about the story is that it acknowledges its campy roots, and through character growth and directing it showcases just how much the series has grown up. Showcasing strong female characters, person of color representation and respecting the various kultures within have been Mortal Kombat staples given its diverse roster and its all put to fantastic use in this game more so than any preceding entry before it. By the time the kredits roll, you’ll definitely feel that this one is the bow wrapping up on the series and should it kontinue, it will do so on a klean slate.
Of kourse as a fighting game, the real meat and potatoes of this title is online and versus modes, and I’m happy to report that it works well enough. Very few instances of lag or dropped konnections and the meta is ever evolving as the kommunity works to learn who is the most konsistent for tournament play. As a former kompetitive Mortal Kombat player, I’m proud to feel that fighter spirit re-emerge in me. I’m having a ball figuring out Noob Saibot (my main) and Scorpion all over again and like checking out the new kharacters like Kollector and Cetrion. Online battles have been pretty diverse across the range and no one kharacter feels too cheap or annoying.
The actual fighting is slowed down from the previous iteration, but the shift in the style allows for a much better pace of fighting game. Each strike or move carries weight and enhances the bone breaking nature of the game. The X-Ray mechanic is removed in favor of a Fatal Blow move that activates once per match and is meant to be a komeback mechanic of sorts. If there is any komplaint of these it’s the sudden shift from in-game graphics to what appears to be a near-kutscene and initially it took me out of the impact of the fight but hearing the exclamations from the announcer during these fatal blows made me kome back to it just as fine.
Another positive aspect of the game is how varied the roster is across the board. There is a ton of depth and nuance between the kharacters that adds to the learning kurve of the game. Each kharacter can have three or four variations available to them since you can now pick and choose what special moves they’ll have. If you played Injustice 2, the character customization will feel rightly familiar. You can customize the look and even alter certain moves of your kharacter for online modes. Only Ranked, when it launches, will forcibly keep everyone at default fighter status. For everything else, its really kool to be able to take a fave kharacter and make them “yours.”
Part of this is aided by the returning Krypt mode. This time around it’s a third person adventure mode where you traverse Shang Tsung’s island and unlock various chests. The Towers return as well and though these modes can be great time-sinks, they rely too heavily on the game’s loot system to be enjoyable. It feels forced and tacked on, making the greed of WB Games even more apparent when you consider that Frost is available for purchase for $4.99 in the in-game store but she’s unlocked if you do the story mode. The grind is tedious to build up the various kurrencies of koins, hearts and souls needed to open the chests in the Krypt. While it is rewarding for the effort put in its extremely exhausting and the forced nature of it feels like its purposely done to spend real world money on the microtransactions involved. NetherRealms has stated a patch is koming to fix the loot system, so time will tell on whether they deliver. Kurrently though, it’s the only sore spot on an otherwise fantastic product.
The game is also available on the Nintendo Switch and there isn't much difference between the two versions save some noticeable scale down in the textures and frame rate. The game isn't the most comfortable on either the Joy Cons or the Pro Controller, but the added advantage of being able to take Mortal Kombat 11 on the go is an intriguing prospect.
It took three entries, but Mortal Kombat 11 stands as not just the best in the series but also amongst one of the best fighting games ever made. It has superb visual spectacle with a ton of variety for all players regardless of skill level and kontains one of the best fighting game stories I have had the pleasure to play through. More importantly, the decision to really earn that M rating with a more mature outlook in terms of story and character design really help solidify this game as a potential kontender for game of the year.