Mortal Kombat 11 Review — Time Stand Still
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NeatherRealm Studios has been on a hot streak since 2011 when the developer rebooted its notoriously violent fighter with Mortal Kombat. Since then, the Chicago-based studio has released three other fighters – one of which is Mortal Kombat X, and the other two from the DC Comics fighting game series Injustice – all of which have improved the studio’s fighting formula in really great ways. Not only has the gameplay improved over the years, but storytelling has exceeded everyone’s expectations, especially with 2013’s Injustice: Gods Among Us. Mortal Kombat 11 continues to improve what NetherRealm has built with another alluring story and tight, competitive gameplay.
Any fighting game, whether it’s Street Fighter V, Tekken 7, or Dragon Ball FighterZ, will always (or should always) put gameplay first. For NetherRealm, the story seems to be a very close second. The studio has proved they can tell stories just as well as other typical story-driven experiences and this is still true of Mortal Kombat 11.
The story begins after the events of Mortal Kombat X; the corrupted Elder God Shinnok has been defeated and imprisoned in the Jinsei Temple. The Thunder God Raiden, now corrupted by the Amulet of Shinnok giving him a crimson makeover, begins to torture Shinnok who is hanging by a set of chains. Shinnok makes a comment to Raiden in which he responds by saying that, as the protector of the Earthrealm, he will take out any and all who are a threat.
After a pretty gnarly decapitation, we are introduced to the main antagonist, the omnipotent Kronika. It is revealed that she controls time itself and the destinies of each and every character in all realms. She sees Raiden’s new destructive agenda as an imbalance between good and evil. As such, she will rewrite history with the help of some friends, both new and old.
This roughly seven-hour tale is told in 12 chapters, each spotlighting one or two characters from Mortal Kombat 11’s roster; each chapter contains four to five matches. This is the same narrative device previous NetherRealm games have used and it has yet to lose its luster. Giving each character their moment to shine gives you a reason to care for each character equally. Sure, there is certainly a couple of main protagonists and a lot of ancillary characters, but even someone like Jacqui Briggs, who hardly makes a real impact in her chapter, is compelling thanks to her relationship with her father, Jackson Briggs (a.k.a. Jax).
The story itself isn’t reinventing the wheel by any means. Surely, there have been other stories where some omnipotent time lord threatened to restart history because it didn’t fit their agenda. But it does tell its story at a pace that keeps you captivated. It’s like a big summer action flick but in video game form and with no downtime. Any time two characters face each other, it feels like they are at risk of getting mutilated because of how many people are getting ripped to shreds. There were even moments that were heartfelt and made me feel emotions beyond my disbelief. Every moment in Mortal Kombat 11‘s story feels important because of how it highlights its cast.
The only problem I really had with the story was the inconsistent frame rate during cutscenes. Playing on an Xbox One X, there was more stuttering during cutscenes than there was during gameplay sections, which ran at what seemed like a consistent 60 frames per second. It doesn’t break the experience, but it was a bit jarring going from something that runs so smoothly to a cutscene that can be very long and isn’t indicative of the actual gameplay both online and offline.
In addition to the story, there are a few other modes to keep players of all skill levels busy. The Klassic Towers are back allowing you to play as any character to climb to the top and face Kronika. There is also the Towers of Time mode, which is the same idea but will change over time. Finishing one of the Klassic Towers will unlock an ending where the character you used will garner Kronika’s powers and shape the future to their liking. There really isn’t anything significant in those endings, and they aren’t really that great either. They provide very little context and really only tell us the future each character wished they lived it. I suppose it gives us an idea of each character’s mindset but that’s about it.
The Krypt mode also makes a comeback bringing you to Shang Tsung’s Island. This is where you will roam around, this time in a third-person perspective, to unlock new fatalities, concept art, gear, consumables, and more. The island is filled with chests which can be unlocked using the in-game currency you earn while playing the game. It is essentially a glorified storefront, but it is pretty awesome to see some of Mortal Kombat’s iconic locations from a different view like The Pit from the first game.
That NetherRealm fighting game formula also is improved in Mortal Kombat 11. While it has been a while since I’ve played Injustice 2 and Mortal Kombat X, from what I can recall, the studio’s latest feels tighter than anything they’ve made before it. From something as basic as landing a punch to executing a complicated combo, Mortal Kombat 11 just feels really good and satisfying.
Why I believe the Mortal Kombat series is so great is that, despite the obvious “M” rating, anyone can jump in and have a good time. The controls are easy enough that a friend can pick up a controller and familiarize themselves with the basics in a short amount of time. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have depth. Mortal Kombat 11 has a ton of depth that goes beyond that pick-up and play moment.
The new meter system is just one component that adds that aforementioned depth. Instead of the four gauged meter from Mortal Kombat X, that meter is split in half with one portion dedicated to defense and the other offense; you will burn the defensive meter when performing defensive moves like breakaways while the offensive meter will burn when using special moves that inflict damage like amplified moves.
It is also worth noting that “Fatal Blows,” those incredibly stylish and damaging moves that act as a way for you to come back when you’re at the disadvantage, are no longer tied to meter. Instead, once you hit 30% health, you can initiate the Fatal Blow by simply pressing both triggers simultaneously. However, it can only be used once per match, so you’ll want to choose when you use it wisely. They do look fantastic, so more often than not, you’ll probably want to see it.
The most noticeable addition is character customization. In Mortal Kombat X, each character had different styles that felt unique from one another; you could play the same character and it feels completely different. In Mortal Kombat 11, you have control of which special moves and stances you want to equip. Each character does have two pre-made styles if you don’t want to get into nitty gritty of customization like myself, but it is there for those who do. This is also where you equip cosmetic items, which there are a ton of and they all look pretty cool. Especially those items that are homages to costumes from previous games.
This only scratches the surface for becoming a Mortal Kombat 11 expert. For those who want to dig deeper, there is a tutorial that teaches everything from the basics to learning frame data and advanced techniques. Although you’ll be reading a whole lot of text boxes, it does explain terms like “block advantage” and “recover” in ways that even the newest player can understand.
That being said, you can never touch the tutorial and still get a general idea of how to play effectively by just playing matches. Mortal Kombat 11 feels more forgiving when it comes to executing combos or fatalities. I don’t consider myself a fighting game pro but even after 10 or 15 minutes of playing, I was able to throw down some combos and experiment with longer combo chains. I would lose on occasion, but at least I was learning something after every match.
If you like fighting games, Mortal Kombat 11 is a must. NetherRealm Studios continues to create great fighting games with compelling stories, even in the goofiest of video game universes. Every minute of my day, I am thinking of how I can improve and perfect my strategies. Whether you’re a long-time kombatant or new to the series, Mortal Kombat 11 is a bloody blast.