It’s something of a marvel, that after 10 entries in the Mortal Kombat franchise, NetherRealm can still make a new game that not only appeals to new entrants, but also caters to old fans. That’s the case with Mortal Kombat 11. Gameplay tweaks, and streamlined gameplay and tutorials make a fantastic experience for vets and newcomers alike. Varied modes give life to a fighting game that shouldn’t be this good 27 years after its introduction.
For those interested in the story, it might seem daunting jumping into a franchise on the 11th iteration. Don’t be put off though, because the new antagonist in Mortal Kombat 11, Kronika, basically sets up a new series direction. As a time keeper, Kronika attempts to rewrite history to stop Raiden, following the events of Mortal Kombat X. This ultimately leads to past and present versions of characters colliding in time.
The cast of Mortal Kombat 11 did a really great job of bringing their characters to life. With the exception of Sonya Blade (voiced by Ronda Rousey), who often felt flatter than the other characters. One might not expect characters to be so relatable and fun to watch in a fighting game, but that’s part of the magic of Mortal Kombat.
The story mode is the true star of Mortal Kombat 11. Incredible cinematics lead directly into fights with almost no transition, and the cutscenes are rendered beautifully. Granted, most of the players’ time will be spent watching videos instead of actually fighting in this mode. NetherRealm has a strong history of creating intricate and delicate plots that complement the brutal fights and fatalities. Because of this, the narrative works as a foil to the gameplay, but it absolutely works.
Even though I’m familiar with a lot of different fighting games (I play most of them, even if I don’t stick around for more than a few months) I always start with tutorial modes, even in franchises I’m familiar with. The tutorials in Mortal Kombat 11 surprised me with how robust they were. Introducing some new gameplay mechanics and movement alterations make the tutorial modes more important here, because while Mortal Kombat 11 feels similar, it also feels like the franchise has been revamped.
Fights play out like players expect, bash opponents into bloody oblivion. Running isn’t present here, instead players have a short dash they can utilize. However, you can’t dash immediately into a block. This makes each input feel far more important than they ever have. Inputs have to be deliberate and precise, otherwise you will get punished for it. I want to note how excessively violent Mortal Kombat 11 truly is. I’m familiar with fatalities and brutalities in the franchise, and am not squeamish at over the top violence in the slightest. MK11 takes the series’ signature violence and ramps it up to 11 (see what I did there?). It definitely isn’t for the faint of heart.
Because the running isn’t here, fights often feel a bit slower paced than before. I definitely don’t think this is a bad thing, but because of how precise inputs have to be here, it felt like I was relearning how to play a fighting game. Frames and hitboxes matter more, and players will end up in the practice mode significantly more often to learn spacing and combos.
The roster for Mortal Kombat 11 is exciting, and diverse. None of the characters really play the same, meaning that ending up in the practice mode often ends with switching between a handful of characters. D’Vorah was a favorite of mine from Mortal Kombat X, so it was great seeing her return. With 24 (25 if you include DLC character Shao Kahn) characters to pick from, players should be able to find a few fighters to pick between for gameplay style or interest.
There are a few other modes for those who prefer to play single player modes. Klassic Towers return, which serve as the arcade mode for Mortal Kombat 11. Players battle through enemies until they fight Kronika at the end. This is a decent distraction for those just wanting to get through a handful of fights quickly.
I said the real star of Mortal Kombat 11 was the story mode, and I meant it. What stands out once the story is complete are the Towers of Time. Each fight ends up being unique due to enemy or environmental modifiers that work against you in battle. Enemy modifiers give combatants an advantage over players, while environmental modifiers provide hazards for players to watch out for. Some of these fights end up even slower paced than Mortal Kombat 11 ended up being due to changes in the movement system.
A lot of these fights end up being challenging, especially around the time that Mortal Kombat 11 launched. The Towers of Time were incredibly unbalanced, which NetherRealm realized quickly after launch and made adjustments both in difficulty and rewards accordingly. Players have konsumables they can use the help even the playing field against enemies. These must be equipped before battle, and can range from giving players a health boost to providing cameo attacks from other fighters. The modifiers in the Towers of Time provide varied fights, and rotate out to give players more and more reason to keep coming back.
The Krypt in Mortal Kombat 11 had some welcome changes from the previous outing. Instead of navigating on a first person grid unlocking items at gravestones, players actually get to explore and open treasure chests using in game currency. There are lots of hidden secrets here too, and environmental puzzles to solve.
The one drawback to the Krypt mode is that opening chests can often provide really lame rewards, while others can give players new finishing moves. I’m not sure if chests are randomized or rewards are deliberate, but paying significant amounts of money to open a chest just to get a reward I didn’t care about really sucked. But hey, that’s part of it, and I’m familiar with how loot chests work.
The online modes in Mortal Kombat 11 are what players should expect from a fighting game. Ranked matches, casual matches, and private lobbies are all here. Because of the pace of Mortal Kombat 11 and the tutorial modes, even novice players stand a chance out there against the community. I’m not a competitive player, but I found myself winning relatively often. The online modes worked really well too, which is probably due in part to a stress test (beta) a week or two before launch to test everything. I was playing a ranked match though when the servers went down, which was a bummer.
Luckily I wasn’t working my way through a Tower of Time though, because Mortal Kombat 11 requires players to be online all the time. Players won’t get rewards or bonuses until they’re connected to the servers, including the single player modes. The online connectivity of the Towers of Time makes this a reasonable request, but it doesn’t explain why you have to be connected for the story mode. I know, I know, almost everyone is always connected all the time anyway, so why does it matter? Ultimately, it doesn’t, but I would’ve hated to lose progress on a difficult Tower just to have to go back and do it all again.
Mortal Kombat 11 honestly feels like a brand new fighter. The refresh to the fighting and movement system is fantastic, and a robust tutorial mode is a great introduction to this iteration for both veterans and newcomers. This isn’t a Mortal Kombat for long-time fans, but for fighting game fans in general. The large roster means everyone should find a few fighters to enjoy playing as, and a handful of modes make sticking around easy. You’ll come for the story, and stay for the Towers of Time.