'Mortal Kombat 11': Game Review

If this is the direction the series is continuing to head in, it’s going to be an absolute pleasure to see what the inevitable 'Mortal Kombat 12' has to offer.

After nearly 30 years of savage matches and a selection of games released on everything from arcade cabinets to the defunct Game.com handheld, NetherRealm Studios has settled in once more with its beautifully brutal Mortal Kombat 11.

The latest title in the long-running fighting game series has made a few interesting alterations to its classic formula that some may find difficult to get into, but it’s proved itself another excellent entry in the seminal franchise.

Mortal Kombat 11 sets the stage with a narrative that picks up where Mortal Kombat X left off. A corrupt Raiden, one of the series' central characters, here drunk with authority and power, is working to protect Earthrealm (read: the good guys) using any methods he can. When a strange goddess named Kronika, who refers to herself as the Keeper of Time, shows up, Raiden is faced with being erased from the very fabric of time itself. Kronika is working to bring order to the universe in any shape or form she can, even if it means eliminating other gods completely.

As a result, combatants from the past and future collide, culminating in fighters coming face-to-face with their classic selves over the duration of the game — a narrative framing that doesn’t make the most sense since Kronika's ultimate aim is to erase most of them from time completely, but the premise does make for an interesting cinematic story, at the very least.

What emerges is one of the greatest selections of playable fighters in the franchise's history coupled with a story mode that keeps the player fully invested in the series' lore, especially when it's time to figure out how past and future characters will reconcile meeting the other versions of themselves.

The roster's chock-full of exciting fighters, including a few new faces added to the Mortal Kombat mythos such as the creepy Kollector, indomitable Geras, and the Elder Goddess Cetrion, daughter of Kronika. You've also got familiar favorites like Liu Kang, Kitana, Sub-Zero, Scorpion, Baraka, Johnny Cage and more making for a total of 25 characters at launch. It should be noted that some fighters are locked behind Story Mode progression.

Story Mode is by far the most entertaining portion of the game for those looking to engage in a string of single-player matches to test out all the available characters. Unfortunately, starting players off with Cassie Cage wasn't the smartest move, as her bland move set and narrative arc, frankly, aren't that exciting. Luckily, players get a little taste of each character as the game moves forward and they're tasked with completing a series of levels with each fighter as the mystery behind the enigmatic new villain Kronika unravels.

The addition of professional wrestler Ronda Rousey to voice classic character Sonya Blade wasn’t the greatest decision, either. Rousey’s voice work leaves plenty to be desired, and given that Blade’s character is somewhat central to the narrative at the beginning of the story, she has a lot of lines. Tricia Helfer (Battlestar Galactica) previously portrayed Blade and Rousey's uninspired readings will make players yearn for Helfer to return.

As for the combat itself, here’s a quick summation: satisfying and meaty. The beatdown rushes of Mortal Kombat X have been replaced with slower and methodical combat, which can take some time to get used to — especially for players used to running in, unleashing a flurry of punches and kicks and securing a victory.

The super meter is no longer at play in Mortal Kombat 11, replaced with two other meters gauging fighters' offensive and defensive progress.

The bone-crushing X-Ray moves have been replaced with Fatal Blows, which are only afforded once per match. Both appear when players have reached 30 percent health, showcasing cinematic aspects that deliver devastating damage to one's opponent. These moves can easily turn the tide of a battle, but since there's only one per match, players have to make a decision: use it to cheese the first round or pull it out when a little more damage could result in a match win?

The new Krushing Blows are similar to Fatal Blows, but they don't become available when fighters are low on health. They're more powerful versions of combos that trigger when you perform a move or combo under specific conditions. For instance, one could block an incoming blow with a devastating kick to the jaw and watch it dislocate before going in for another finishing combo. It's part of a multifaceted meta game that allows for experimental strategies and alternative means of victory rather than spamming the same attacks over and over.

Perfect Blocks let players block an attack before it has a chance to connect, which gives fighters a ridiculously small window to counter potentially damaging attacks that could otherwise be an exponential health drain.

But for all the marketing surrounding the game and its “brutal” content (aside from the numerous Fatalities) these changes make Mortal Kombat 11’s combat feel slightly less visceral. The X-Ray moves are sorely missed and while the new systems do indeed add more nuanced aspects to gameplay, they also offer less of a spectacle than Mortal Kombat X’s stomach-churning moments where a player could shatter their opponent’s skull or otherwise obliterate them in the middle of a match.

The over-the-top spirit is still very much a part of Mortal Kombat 11 but it feels like it’s missing something. Luckily, the Fatalities make up for this and players can expect some truly awe-inspiring moves, including Brutalities that take the cake from just about every previous entry in the series.

Beyond the game's Story Mode, there's a dizzying amount of ways to play beyond choosing a fighter and jumping in for a few knock-down, drag-out rounds of violent combat. Familiar options and mainstays from the Mortal Kombat series have returned, with a few brand new twists to keep things interesting. Single player "Konquer" selections include Story, Towers of Time, Klassic Towers and the Krypt Mode.

Towers of Time features challenge Towers that are always changing, while Klassic Towers are more in line with what fans have seen in previous offerings. Meanwhile, the Krypt has been fleshed considerably from Mortal Kombat X, opting for a third-person mode that employs far more puzzles than the previous game’s iteration. It also features enemies that can potentially kill you, adding more tension to a mode that was previously more about wandering around and opening chests.

Of course, there are plenty of ways to take your matches on the road via the magic of the Internet. Online mode offers ranked matches with the Kombat League and Ranked Sets available to partake in — Ranked Sets offers a first-to-three matches competition that will be factored into your ranking when the game is live. Non-ranked play options include Kasual modes, with traditional Versus, King of the Hill, and AI Only matches, which are first-to-three matches with AI similar to that of the Ranked Sets offering.

When it’s time to look back on all they've done, players will find that the game's stats are exhaustive, with online and offline history meticulously compiled alongside how many pints of blood they've spilled, how much gear they've collected, their win rate and their activity within the Kombat League. 

Mortal Kombat 11 is absolutely bursting at the seams with characters to meet, Fatalities to pull off and ways to test a fighter's might against a parade of opponents. There’s so much to see and do that it’s a bit overwhelming at first, which is a good problem to have. If this is the direction the series is continuing to head in, it’s going to be an absolute pleasure to see what the inevitable Mortal Kombat 12 has to offer.

This game was reviewed on the Xbox One.