Mortal Kombat 11 review: Flawed victory

Can NetherRealm continue its streak of GOTY-caliber fighting games with Mortal Kombat 11? Our review.

7

In a gaming world filled with fighters, Mortal Kombat stands out as one of the genre's best and most recognizable franchises. It's on the Mount Rushmore of fighting games. Over the past decade, it's cemented its position there, given the series' resurgence since the 2011 Mortal Kombat reboot. With that in mind, there's been a lot of anticipation towards the 11th chapter in MK's illustrious history. And while Mortal Kombat 11 is at its best when it comes down to bare fists and bloody battles, there are a lot of problems in trying to get the full MK11 experience. If you're hoping to get into the game's slew of unlockables, you're going to either be there a while or you're going to be ponying up some money.

Time for change

Mortal Kombat 11 review

Much of the build towards Mortal Kombat 11 has surrounded the game's Story Mode. It's a direct follow-up to the events of the previous two Mortal Kombat games, taking place just moments after the events of Mortal Kombat X. Shinnok has been defeated and Raiden has undergone some intense changes, all spurred on by the dark power of Shinnok's amulet. Raiden's actions have drawn the ire of Kronika, the Elder God of time, who sets out to completely rewrite the course of history from the beginning in her own image.

Kronika has sent the past and present timelines on a collision course, resulting in the present MK11 fighters meeting with many of their counterparts, pulled directly from the climax of 2011's Mortal Kombat reboot. As one would imagine, this leads to some intriguing confrontations. Liu Kang and Kung Lao come in from the past as Shaolin heroes and must face that their future selves are Netherrealm Revenants. Shao Kahn enters a future where he has fallen and Kotal Kahn has taken his throne. Then there's Johnny Cage.

Simply put, the buddy cop dynamic between past and present Johnny Cage is the biggest highlight of the MK11 story. The stark contrast between the arrogant Johnny of MK9 and the grizzled, matured family man Johnny of the future is one to behold, showing just how thoroughly NetherRealm has turned one of their most recognizable fighters into a three-dimensional character. None of the other past/present confrontations prove as fun, entertaining, or thought-provoking as the two Johnny's.

That's part of the reason why MK11's Story Mode ultimately feels like a disappointment by the end. It's hard to go into exactly why the latter half fell flat with me without discussing specific spoilers. I'll just say that NetherRealm set up a lot of interesting plot points and often doesn't explore them to their fullest. For example, the very premise of the plot almost demands a confrontation between the determined and heroic Thunder God Raiden of MK9 and his power mad counterpart of MK11. That never happens. The plot sets up a past Kung Lao, shaken by visions of his future, to confront Raiden on his mistakes that get him and his friends killed. That never really happens. And while speaking more about the Cages would delve into spoiler territory, given the massive role that Johnny and Cassie played in Mortal Kombat X and their place in the overarching plot, they're treated like afterthoughts by the end of the MK11 story.

There are definitely good points to the Story Mode, like the epic bromance between the present Sub-Zero and Scorpion. But after watching the ending more than once, it's hard not to feel the desire for more closure with the brilliant characters that NetherRealm established.

One-on-one konfrontation

Mortal Kombat 11 review

Narrative is fine and all, but if we're talking about a fighting game, the biggest question is, how does it play? Mortal Kombat 11 feels closer to old-school MK in a lot of ways, with the most jarring change being the removal of the Run button. In some ways, this pushes more projectile zoning and teleport moves to help close in gaps. It also encourages players to learn combos that cover greater ground.

However, Mortal Kombat 11 does make a change that works for the better and that's the separation of its meters. Rather than ask players to use their meter on either offense or defense, they can now do both. That means there's meter to perform enhanced moves, as well as defensive measures to escape combos. It's certainly encouraged me to use more enhanced moves than I have in previous series entries. The expanded options are a nice feature for both casual and veteran players.

The other big additions are the Krushing Blows and the Fatal Blows. Krushing Blows add a degree of strategy to select counters. Using a certain move to counter a move will trigger an X-ray hit that does greater damage and sheds more blood. Studying a move list to determine what delivers a Krushing Blow proves to be time well-spent.

Fatal Blows, on the other hand, are going to be an acquired taste. On the one hand, it's a solid comeback mechanic, only usable when a fighter is on the brink of defeat. It's basically an emergency move. The issue becomes that the Fatal Blow can do too much damage. It's one thing to use one of these to come back against someone with a full health meter, but if two fighters are evenly matched, the Fatal Blow can do so much damage and win a round by itself. It can feel cheap after a while, especially when used by the unforgiving CPU.

Casual players have more tools than ever to make life easier, even if they can't necessarily hang online with tougher players. Those who want to learn a new fighter can jump into any single-player mode and sticky anything from that fighter's move set onto the screen. This includes special moves, combos, and finishers. While the feature's not usable online, it's handy for modes like Klassic Towers and Towers of Time for anyone who wants to learn a new character. That's on top of the Practice, Training, and Fatality Training modes that are still some of the best the genre has to offer.

Speaking of Fatality Training, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the finishers that put the MK series on the map. Mortal Kombat 11's finishers are among the best that this franchise has had to offer. There are some truly creative ways to dismember and gore the opponent to death. Many of them are gross, but some of them are both gross and provide a nice bit of levity. The Cage family, in particular, has some laugh-out-loud ones that aren't going to get old anytime soon.

The quest for more stuff

Mortal Kombat 11 review

Mortal Kombat 11 also has copious amounts of customization options for every one of its characters. This includes outfit pieces and cosmetic weapon components, along with introductions and victory screens. NetherRealm has even taken things a step further by going from the three fighter variations offered by Mortal Kombat X and offering two preset variations and two custom slots. Players can craft their own custom move sets with different specials and combos that can be added to a fighter's standard arsenal.

With multiple variation slots and the ability to customize any fighter's standard look, NetherRealm is offering dozens of unlockable outfit pieces through the Krypt and through the constantly-rotating Towers of Time. The problem is that getting to everything the game has to offer is a brutal grind. After over 20 hours of playtime, it feels like I'm just scratching the surface of what the Krypt has to offer.

If it was just coins that unlocked items in the Krypt, that'd be one thing, but MK11 introduces multiple currencies and keeping track of those is a chore in itself. Some chests are tied to other currencies, with the "hearts" standing out, in particular. There are chests in the Krypt that cost 250 or more hearts, which is fine and all, except hearts are unlocked one at a time over the course of natural gameplay by performing a Fatality. A few more are available by completing Towers of Time, but the whole thing feels set up for microtransactions, which weren't available at the time of this review. While it's theoretically possible to earn everything via natural gameplay, the process is so slow that it feels like it's geared towards pushing people into going the microtransaction route.

Test your might

Mortal Kombat 11 review

There is a significant amount of content to keep the most ardent Mortal Kombat fan occupied in Mortal Kombat 11. The Story Mode will take players about 4-5 hours to play through, while the Klassic Towers all have character endings that help build upon some of the ideas planted in that overarching narrative. Towers of Time will be the bulk of what keeps solo players occupied, with regularly rotating towers that offer their own distinct rule sets and modifiers. For Mortal Kombat 11, it won't just be the CPU getting the advantage this time, as players can use Konsumables to give them a chance to even the playing field.

For those looking to play against others, Online play proved mostly flawless. There were a few instances of lag, but those were few and far between. To help reduce those instances, players have a chance to decline matchups against those with undesirable ping rates. While certain gear can come with augments, those augments will not be usable in online matches, while local multiplayer will have its own dedicated "Tournament" mode for vanilla versus play.

Mortal Kombat 11 is a solid package, but one that's going to drive completionists up a wall. Those who are satisfied with the fighters that come out of the box will enjoy the refined gameplay and the different ways to play both alone and with friends. The Story Mode was a disappointment to me, but is worth experiencing to see how the overarching saga that started in the Mortal Kombat reboot concludes. If you're looking to get every cosmetic or are even targeting a specific cosmetic, Mortal Kombat 11 is going to aggravate you with slow unlocks and multiple currencies.

Mortal Kombat 11 isn't the ideal MK package and may not even be the best MK package to come along in this console generation. Still, it's a strong package and one that still proves fun to play alone or with friends. It's not a flawless victory, but it's still a victory, nonetheless.


This review is based on a PlayStation 4 code provided by the publisher. Mortal Kombat 11 is available Tuesday, April 23 on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch for $59.99. The game is rated M.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

Review for
Mortal Kombat 11
7
Pros
  • Refined gameplay that still feels like modern MK
  • The separation of meters is a big plus
  • Numerous game modes to keep solo and competitive players busy
  • Several features to make things friendly for casuals looking to learn
  • A wealth of cosmetic customization options
  • Variations return with room to make custom ones
  • Strong starting roster
  • Smooth online play
  • Fatalities/Brutalities among the most creative in the series so far
Cons
  • Story Mode falls flat in the second half
  • Krypt is such a grind, it's almost designed to encourage microtransaction purchases
  • Multiple currencies end up confusing
  • Fatal Blows start to feel cheap after a while
From The Chatty
  • reply
    April 22, 2019 5:00 AM

    Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, Mortal Kombat 11 review: Flawed victory

    • reply
      April 22, 2019 8:34 AM

      I used to really like MK when it first came out, but I'm not really into the gore/fatalaties anymore. I'm glad NRS is sticking with the over the top adult stuff in MK for people that enjoy that, but it's not for me anymore. I also like that their high production efforts into the story has been pushing other companies to try and increase efforts there as well.

      • reply
        April 22, 2019 8:36 AM

        Its too bad Capcom took the wrong lessons. SF:V cinematic story is so awful.

        • reply
          April 22, 2019 8:56 AM

          Yup it is. I've been watching the MK streams for story mode and the story itself also seems pretty bad, but at least the way they tell it is better.

          • reply
            April 22, 2019 8:58 AM

            The MK storyline is a clusterfuck but it is also fantastic because of that.

            Actually really bummed to hear the story in 11 falls flat. I take a dig at shacknews in my post below but it's also worth noting that Jeff was only about half way through the story...

            • reply
              April 22, 2019 9:27 AM

              The story is at its best when it goes batshit crazy with moments like Johnny Cage riding a big ass tank, just because. But it gets away from that kind of stuff by the end, to its detriment.

    • reply
      April 22, 2019 8:53 AM

      Not the excitement I was looking for.

      Mr. Gertsman and Co. seem to be having a much better time and they're scientists.