If Mortal Kombat 11 has taught me anything, perhaps there is a timeline out there where this game is a massive success, and my entire review process can just be a spewing forth of sycophantic praise in the hopes that Ed Boon adopts me, renames me THE KOMBAT KID and I can become heir to the Mortal Kombat franchise’s legacy.
Instead I am torn clean down the middle, with a towering mountain of praise that mirrors a deep valley of criticism – as I somehow find a diplomatic way to say, ‘the game is fantastic, but I can’t possibly recommend it.’
Let’s tread this landscape together, shall we?
I can actually hear the song starting in my head just looking at this
Gameplay wise, Mortal Kombat 11 is an ideal example of an ‘iterative sequel’, where the developers clearly pay attention to what did and did not work in their previous game (though it may be considered cheating that Netherrealm gets to leapfrog over their Injustice titles to benefit Mortal Kombat, though the same can be said for Injustice sequels as it were). The ‘Fighting Game’ part of this title is well executed (ha, get it) and addresses many complaints that your average gamer may have with other fighters, such as endless special move inputs and mad bonkers combo strings. Instead, MK11 opts for a more reserved approach to how a match plays out. Pick your fighter, pick your variation to determine your special moves, and play it your way. Past modern MK titles received praise for the method of having smaller combos that you string together however you wish (or are capable of) and it’s no different here. A contentious choice must be levelled at the ‘kustom’ variations, where you actually select what particular special moves your character (kharacter?) is packing.
Sure, some may approach it in a standard sense of ‘grab the biggest, hard-hitting attacks you can’ and just wail on a dude – but really the freedom is there to tailor-make a gameplay experience that suits your own needs. Personally I was able to piece together something that suited my apathetic fighting fingers, and had much joy in employing it to some modicum of success. The part where this entirely falls apart however is that when you take these customised fight styles online, they are restricted from any game mode where skill is measured and quantified. Wanna take your freshly painted Kung Lao loadout online and strut your stuff? Sorry, you can’t do that. Standard movesets only.
Konsidering what usually goes down in Mortal Kombat, being smacked in the jaw with a gun is a walk in the park
Part of me understands this is likely a balancing issues, where Netherrealm were critically aware that such a system was rife for ‘player discovery’ – aka ‘finding the broken shit and milking it to victory’ and thus opted for the just avoid it entirely approach. This logic I can understand, but at its core it leaves the would-be power gamers running rampant through what should be the ‘kasual’ matchmaking, where the scrubs like myself dwell. There are petitions and no end of begging for Netherrealm to reconsider this, but really that’s a whole other story.
Speaking of story, the plot of Mortal Kombat 11 is bonkers. The GOOD kind of bonkers, the ‘fun to discuss with other people’ kind of bonkers. MK11’s story is so ridiculous, that I fear that with this entry they may have finally jumped the shark. The beauty of introducing time shenanigans into a narrative is that the door is flung open to any possibility you can dream of, with copious hand-waving towards explaining oddities as you can simply thumbs up the ‘TIME SHENANIGANS’ excuse. Characters old and new get to interact in fun ways, with young characters reacting to their older self in fanfiction-y ways that left me grinning like a moron. Want to see old-and-mature Johnny Cage slap young-douchebag Johnny in the face and tell him to grow up? Buckle in kid, we’re going there. This plot is pulpy 90s action garbage and I will love it forever.
The sour note with the incredible story is unfortunately levelled at its weakest link – and that’s the voice performance of one Ronda Rousey. Playing the classic character Sonya Blade, her narrative arc is one that excites me on paper, but in practice is just damp and unenjoyable thanks to her soulless performance. Emotion-charged moments (odd words to be writing when describing a Mortal Kombat game’s story) are more puzzling than believable, which is doubly frustrating when you take into account the stellar voicework of everyone else involved. Every character that isn’t Sonya Blade is voiced so well, and animated so brilliantly that I didn’t even care that cutscenes might go for minutes at a time. Cutscene production is off the charts, with character interactions carrying real weight and generating proper interest in the story. Even some of the more tired tropes got subverted in believable ways. It’s transparent that the story serves as a vehicle to introduce particular characters into a scene and give a reason from them to fight – but it never felt hackneyed and eye-roll inspiring. The game has come a long way from Mortal Kombat 9, and it shows. Even the mostly-seamless transition from cutscene to fight sequence was fantastic, and real props has to be given to the developers for doing something as simple as allowing me to choose who I wanted to fight as in a scene with multiple characters. I dig it.
MK11’s story is so ridiculous, that I fear that with this entry they may have finally jumped the shark.
Unfortunately, here is where my digging-it ends. The rest of the game – though brilliantly presented and polished – is draconically player unfriendly. I must make note that at the time I am writing this review, Netherrealm has issued a statement regarding these issues, but nevertheless they were present at my time of playing and no resolution is present yet. (Edit: The proposed changes have now been applied to the game)
The game employs a number of design elements to encourage long-term playability, however the chosen elements are not of the ‘make it so fun they can’t put the controller down!’ variety. What we are faced with is a plethora of unlocks within the game, with hideous time grinds gated behind currencies that are awarded at a trickling pittance and in-game challenges that border on impossible without the use of consumable items that are also drip fed to you, the player. Couple this with a rotating cash shop offering a shortcut to your coveted ‘kosmetic’ items and you have a general look at my distaste.
Welcome to The Krypt – Don’t forget, you’re here forever
Perhaps you’d rather explore The Krypt for your kosmetic fix. This time around, The Krypt is a fully realised environment for you to navigate with a third person avatar – delving into iconic (ikonik?) Mortal Kombat locales as you solve puzzles and unlock chests for goodies. In the past, the static locations of the chests meant that the GameFAQ savvy player could look up guides online to pinpoint exactly where the treasure they wanted lay – somewhat defeating the point of exploration. In MK11, these chest locations have been randomised in order to preserve some dedication to getting stuck in and looking around, but the issue is that this has the adverse effect of completely fucking assassinating my urge to explore. Because opening the majority of chests is a crapshoot, this leads to situations where I will solve a puzzle to reveal a chest or two, only to open them and be greeted with treasures the likes I have never been more underwhelmed by. If I absolutely want the good stuff, I need to open the special chests, which require one of those aforementioned currencies that you acquire at a pitiful rate – of which the contents are static, so I can of course google them for my fix. This just soured the entire experience, and meant that the time I spent in the Krypt (initially, quite excited by it) left a bitter taste in my mouth, as every basic chest came to resemble a lootbox rather than a reward.
Who on earth throws a shoe!?
Following this, the premium shop in particular is a joke that seems to ape games like Fortnite, with rotating items trying to suggest a false exclusivity as you consider IF I DON’T BUY IT NOW, WHO KNOWS WHEN I WILL GET ANOTHER CHANCE. The biggest joke being that these same items are routinely available in The Krypt as well should you wish to follow that route, so it boils down to bashing your head against RNG or whipping out your wallet, a really deflating affair. The design of this platform feels unmistakably predatory, combining the worst elements of modern in-game stores to no benefit to the player.
Double the scumbag grin for your scumbag buck
This leaves you with challenge towers as a means to unlock items and entertain oneself. Certain cosmetics are only available in the Towers of Time, so perhaps this means that you are exempt from any grindy strategy and can instead rely on your own personal skill instead? If only.
It’s readily apparent that some of the challenges within the towers instead rely on consumables – cleverly named Konsumables – to bypass some of the tougher match ups. These items will negate certain bonuses on your opponents, or buff yourself in order to swing some favour your way. The kicker? These konsumables are only gained via a time investment in places like the Krypt, so once you are out it’s time to grind some more. What should have been a simple game of rock/paper/scissors to deal with interesting challenges instead feels more like a mobile games monetisation system. At least the konsumables can’t be purchased with real-world cash (to my knowledge).
Scorpion has long accepted the burning sensation that comes with his line of work
As a time-poor player/father, these systems hunger for things I am unable to spare – vast amounts of time, or money. I must stress that entitlement plays no role in my criticism, I am happy to work hard and be rewarded thus for my efforts; it’s a big part of what makes one satisfied with their gaming experience. At this time, Mortal Kombat wants me to work very hard for very little reward, which is enough to leave me unwilling to invest more time.
As mentioned before, there has been statements made by the developers in regards to the grindy nature of the game, with promises made to ‘rebalance’ it, but until such time as this occurs…
…The game is fantastic, but I can’t possibly recommend it.
Reviewed on Playstation 4 | Review code supplied by publisher