After Injustice 2 became one of my personal top fighting games of all time, I was super excited when I heard that Mortal Kombat 11 was in development. It seems that NetherRealm Studios just gets better with each game and I couldn’t wait to see how it would turn out. I also got both the PS4 and Switch versions because I’m just weird that way.
I don’t need to explain what kind of game this is to anyone, right? Everyone knows it’s a 2D versus fighting game, so I can just skip the basics and get into the nuances, right? Okay, just checking.
Whether you’re a veteran fighting fan or a noob, as soon as you load up the game, you’ll probably want to head to the tutorial mode, which contains surprisingly in-depth, hands-on lessons to get you up to speed with the finer points of Mortal Kombat 11 – but also contains a lot of good advice for 2D fighters in general. After that, you’ll probably want to go through the story mode at least once to see the story, earn a bunch of Koins to get you started and to access the one unlockable character, Frost. It’s exactly what you’d expect – a movie broken up by frequent fights, and it’s very well-produced and quite entertaining. It also left me wondering where the series could possibly go next after the ending (you’ll see what I mean).
Once you’ve done that, you’ll be ready to sink your teeth into the game proper in whichever modes take your fancy. Local versus or online versus will probably be the go-to modes for players who have others to fight against. I might venture there on occasion, but I’m a huge no-lag snob so I seldom play online and don’t have many friends who are fighting fans to play against on the couch. For these reasons, I prefer the single-player modes and NetherRealm knows how to provide for their solo customers. First up, there’s the Klassic Towers, which contain the classic arcade ladders in which you fight through a series of opponents to defeat the boss, Kronika, and see your character’s ending.
Then there are the Towers of Time, the meat of the single-player modes. If you’ve played Injustice 2’s Multiverse mode, well, this is basically the same idea – a constantly-updated live content mode that rewards players with three different types of in-game currency, gear pieces, kombat kard art, new character skins, and konsumables. There are several platforms on the screen, four of which spawn new towers with fresh rewards at different time intervals. There’s a central platform in the middle that contains a sort of extended tutorial for beginners to get them accustomed to the Towers of Time, and two platforms on the sides on which players can generate towers themselves to fight for specific rewards.
These towers may or may not contain special conditions you have to overcome, such as a titling arena which increases the damage for the character on the lower side; the opponent calling in another character to perform attacks; endurance matches where you must beat two or three opponents in succession; and annoying shit flying at you from off-screen regularly. The worst by far are the auras. I hate the auras. They affect your character if you stay close to your opponent for too long and have various effects, such as an ice one that freezes you if you linger too long, a blood one that saps your health and gives it to your opponent, and a sticky one that pulls you towards your opponent – screwing up your zoning game and your juggle combos. I hate them, they suck, and I wish the developer would get rid of them.
On the plus side, you can use konsumables to give you an edge in the Towers of Time. You can acquire these konsumables as rewards in the Towers of Time or in the Krypt and they impart bonuses such as allowing you to restore your health, summon a character to perform an attack, nullify certain types of damage and increase the rewards for winning. Also, I received an in-game notice about a week ago stating that the developers were taking the complaints into consideration and would be reworking some of the mechanics of the Towers of Time – and here’s a gift of kurrency for your patience. That’s pretty cool, and I guess it means some tweaks are coming in the future.
But, silly me, I haven’t even talked about the core mechanics yet. In a word, they’re great. It’s got that NetherRealm feel to it, smooth 2D combat with canned-combos, special moves, devious juggles and devastating supers. In the past, I’ve been able to choose my favourite characters relatively easily, but in MK11 they’re all so well-designed and have such cool moves it was hard to decide who I wanted to master first. Eventually I settled on Skarlet, Frost and Kabal as my starting trio.
Some of the changes are, firstly, the super bar at the bottom of the screen. In all previous NetherRealm games, it was divided into four segments and filled up as your character dealt and took damage, allowing you to enhance special moves or blow it all to perform a super – but not this time. In its place are two smaller meters with two segments each, the Offensive Gauge and the Defensive Gauge. Each of these charge slowly over time, by dealing or not taking damage. The Offensive Gauge allows you to enhance your special moves, and the Defensive Gauge allows you to perform invulnerable wake-up attacks and counter attacks.
Another huge difference is the super attacks, or Fatal Blows as they’re called in this game. Previously you could perform a super by spending an entire super gauge, but in MK11 it’s different. Instead, when your health bar is reduced to 30% or below, you can press both triggers to perform a Fatal Blow, which is your usual, painful looking, spectacular, high-damage super move. Here’s the catch though, you can only perform one Fatal Blow per match – not per round, per match. If you miss or your opponent blocks it, you have to wait a few seconds before you can try again, but once you land a Fatal Blow, that’s it, you can’t perform another one for the rest of the fight – no matter how many rounds you have left to go. So yeah, don’t waste it.
Oh, and one more new mechanic to mention is the Krushing Blow. Each character can have up to several moves that might become a Krushing Blow under the right circumstances. For instance, Frost’s Out Cold canned-combo becomes a Krushing Blow on a counter-hit, and Skarlet’s Scythe Slam move becomes a Krushing Blow if you land two in a row. Beyond a wince-inducing animation, Krushing Blows deal more damage and usually open up combo opportunities the move in question doesn’t normally allow. I’m almost certain they “borrowed” this idea from Soul Calibur VI, which has the exact same mechanic in it.
I was initially quite excited about the character customisation side of things. I spent months of my life farming for gear in Injustice 2, so I liked the idea of it being incorporated into MK11 – but it’s not quite as cool. Why? Because the gear you grind for doesn’t change your character’s appearance as drastically as it does in Injustice 2, where you could mix and match head pieces, body pieces, arms, legs and accesories. In MK11 you can choose an overall character skin – which all look cool and come in several colour schemes – and then change only three minor accesories of that skin. It’s nice enough, but it’s not as impressive as Injustice 2 in this regard.
Although, one area in which it is better than Injustice 2 is the custom movelists. Injustice 2 has some extra moves you could equip on your character to change their play style – but the catch was you had to farm for them and sometimes you just wouldn’t get them. I’ve been farming for Harley’s rolling cupcake move for years and I still don’t have it. In MK11, however, all the custom moves are available right from the start, so you can mix and match to create your deadly character right away. That’s much better.
The gripes I have with the game are few. At launch, I would have bitched about the ridiculous grind required in the Towers of Time, but it seems like the developers are on that. They’ve already reduced the requirements for character-specific towers. When I first did it, I had to perform 75 Brutalities before I could enter one tower – 75! Are you mad? I did it, but it sucked. Now the requirement has been dropped to 10. That’s much more reasonable. Also, a few features seem to be missing. For instance, there are no stage fatalities. I’m sure they’re coming, but I wouldn’t have minded waiting a few months for the game to launch with them. Also, each gear piece has a locked slot with a “coming soon” tag on it. So who knows what that will be. Although this isn’t as bad Street Fighter V’s abysmal launch with huge chunks of missing content, it does smack of it a bit, however faintly.
And lastly, why did I buy both the PS4 and Switch versions? To have a portable one, surely? Yes, but only half. To be honest, I just wanted to see what the Switch version was like. It really takes me back to the mid ’90s, waiting for the home releases of Mortal Kombat II, devouring every magazine that had pictures and hoping that the version for your console would be “arcade perfect”. I haven’t heard that term in a long time. Back in the day, arcade machines were way more powerful than home consoles, and ports of arcade games always had to be scaled down. We crossed our fingers hoping the developers could make the ports as close to the arcade as possible, “arcade perfect” being our wet dreams. I remember meticulously noting every little difference between my Megadrive version of MKII and MK3 and the arcade versions.
Well, the Switch version let me briefly recapture that feeling. It obviously had to be scaled down some. The result? It’s uuuuuuuuuuugly! I’m not saying that to be a jerk, it’s true. Good lord. The lighting in some stages is washed out, some hair models have a weird dithering effect on them, there’s some noticeable slowdown in some stages, and the lighting actually gets brighter when you perform a finisher – what? But the point is, at least they bothered to give us a Switch version and it basically plays alright. It’s being patched constantly so they should get it as close to perfect as possible eventually.
Mortal Kombat 11 is the most highly-polished fighting game you're likely to find this year. The roster may be a bit smaller this time, but the characters all feel like they've had much more attention paid to tweaking their move sets. Quality over quantity. Although, the only thing stopping me from scoring it higher is the lack of certain things, like stage fatalities (or maybe even a new type of finishing move) and a few characters I'd hoped to see.
Buttery smooth, fast-paced fighting system with surprising depth allowing for devious combos
Amazing visuals on the PS4 version - each character looks really unique and badass and the stages are amazing and full of cool background details
The Fatalities are as bloody disgusting as you'd expect, but the Brutalities are where it's at
NetherRealm is one of the few fighting game developers who still seems to give a crap about single player fans, giving us an entertaining story mode, klassic arcade ladders and the ever-changing Towers of Time to play through
Could have done with a bit more kontent, such as stage fatalities and maybe a few more characters
The Krypt is still the most tedious and insipid part of the game, as it always is – although the fact that it's a fully-realised replica of Shang Tsung's island we get to explore is pretty cool and dulls the pain a smidge
Only two fatalities per character? Maybe this is because they're so intricately animated, but still, it feels a bit lacking (but Brutalities make up for it a bit)
While the custom moves are cool, the custom outfits aren't as much fun to mix and match as those in Injustice 2
Good lord the Switch version is ugly – seriously, you have to see it to believe it