Developed by NetherRealm Studios
Published by Warner Bros. Interactive
Available on Xbox One, Switch, PS4, and PC
Rated M for Mature
Remember when fighting games were about mashing buttons with your friends, whittling away countless hours while destroying both controllers and friendships? This formula has withstood the test of time, launching
flagship franchises like Super Smash Bros., Street Fighter, and Mortal Kombat. From the hyper precise Guilty Gear to the jiggly Dead or Alive, there’s enough variation to fit any gamer’s fancy. Mortal Kombat has always been about brutal spectacle, a high skill ceiling, and a very manageable entry point for new players. Such has it been for decades. But now, with Mortal Kombat 11, something else has been added to this core concept: grind.
Yes, grind. You know, that thing that MMO’s and mobile games are notorious for. Days upon days of pointless busywork in the endless pursuit of ever shinier loot. In MMO’s it’s acceptable, as the social aspect of building your guild and trying to recruit your girlfriend to roll a healer for your raid team adds some context to the pointless whittling of weeks. Mobile games use it as a way to incentivize in-app purchases, the bread and butter of the click-based free-to-play economy. As Mortal Kombat costs $60, has no guilds, and doesn’t require you to roll a tank/healer, it’s a bit shocking to see it go down this route.
That being said, this isn’t actually anything new for NetherRealm’s fighting games. Injustice 2 also possessed a large amount of grind, with unlockable special gear required to beat certain challenges. So why is the internet ablaze this time around over Mortal Kombat 11’s loot box fiasco? Have gamers the world over finally had it with rolling dice as their bank accounts dwindle? Is Mortal Kombat 11 really as an egregious affront as forums would have you believe?
As with most things, the true and infinitely less sexy answer lies somewhere in the middle. While loot boxes are a big thing, they are just one of the many changes that come with Mortal Kombat 11. Thousands of “dollars” worth of equipment, consumables, and cosmetic skins hide behind a wall of grind. What’s more, equipment and consumables are vital for completing the harder challenge towers. To be very clear, some of these challenge towers are bullshit. Some will have you contending with constantly spawning nets and missiles that make movement impossible. They very clearly did not properly test all the modifiers.
Bullshit untested challenge towers aside, Mortal Kombat 11‘s greatest affront is locking half of the Fatalities and Brutalities in these randomly generated loot boxes. I understand skins, intros, and victory dances being behind a wall of grind. But the Fatalities and Brutalities are a lot of the reason people buy Mortal Kombat. To have to randomly win these is ridiculous. I’d be down with having to complete a character’s story mode to earn one. But having to just roll the dice at the cost of real hours or money to experience one of the things that makes the series great is unconscionable.
It’s a sad state of affairs that is sure to eclipse what is otherwise a fantastic game. Mechanically, this is my favorite Mortal Kombat to date. Mortal Kombat 11 comes with a whole slew of new gameplay features that elevate it well beyond most sequels. Bear in mind, I’m not an EVO level fighting game player. I’m a moderate casual at best, adept at stomping friends on couches and immediately outclassed by any experienced online opponent. I play these games for maybe a few weeks, get proficient at a few characters, and then pick it back up at parties. With that in mind, Mortal Kombat 11 is the perfect mix of easily understandable mechanics, deep potential skill cap, and rewarding moments that make you feel like a Shaolin badass.
The first major change comes to the brutal Finishing Moves, previously known as X-Rays. Previously, this was a super move you could pull off when you got your energy level up to max. This is a nigh ubiquitous mechanic for fighting games. With Mortal Kombat 11, Finishing Moves are not tied to how many fireballs you can fling. Instead, you’ll now be able to activate your Finishing Move when your own health reaches below 30%. Able to dish out a good 25-35% of your opponent’s health, this means that rounds naturally get tenser as you get close to the end. What’s more, you’re only able to use this move once per match. If you use it in Round 1, you’ll be out of luck if you need it again to cinch the match win in Round 3.
Tying these super moves to your health bar is an incredibly effective way to ramp up tension, and makes for some potential epic comebacks. What’s more, it also frees up the charge bar for other moves. As a casual player, I always had trouble figuring out if I should spend my energy to power-up my regular special moves, or save it for a brutal X-Ray. With Finishing Moves not consuming energy, you’re now free to amplify your special attacks without worry. There’s still enough of a restriction on energy regeneration, but new players are now encouraged to really learn when best to amplify their attacks rather than just horde the energy.
Mortal Kombat 11‘s next key addition comes in the form of attack modifiers known as Krushing Blows. Similar to the Finishing Moves, each Krushing Blow can only be activated once per match. Unlike the Finishing Moves, these Krushing Blows are just regular attacks triggered by special conditions. The most common one is the uppercut. A familiar move in Mortal Kombat, executing an uppercut on an enemy doing a high attack will trigger the Krushing Blow. Time slows down, the camera zooms in, and the same bone shattering X-Ray camera gives visual feedback to your devastating attack. These moves can easily chunk away at 20% of your opponent’s health, making them well worth the effort.
There are a wide variety of Krushing Blows, each with their own special trigger condition. Some are pretty basic, like landing a charge kick while your opponent is trying to do a middle attack. Others are a bit harder, like Scorpions amplified spear when connected at max range. Experienced players will be sure to learn every circumstance, and exploit them to their advantage. However, the sheer variety of trigger conditions means that newer players will also frequently trigger them on accident. It’s a delightful surprise to watch your opponent’s lungs explode as your charge punch crashes into their sternum. It’s the perfect marriage of skill and satisfaction, while also accessible enough to new players to draw them in.
Some of Mortal Kombat 11‘s other changes I’m more on the fence about. Along with the cosmetics, characters now also have partially customizable move lists. Certain special skills, combos, and traits have to be equipped. Each character has three skill slots, with each skill requiring either one or two slots to equip. Some skills just grant a special move, while others give new combos or combat styles. It adds a lot of variety, but I’m iffy on increasing fighting game complexity in this way. I’m sure some pro will come along and tell me why I’m entirely wrong, but this just makes learning the game far too difficult. I can grasp which characters are zoners, strikers, jugglers, grapplers, etc. I have a harder time memorizing which combos swap between high and low attacks mid-assault. Having to memorize which combination of skills do what on top of that is just a nightmare.
I’d feel remiss if I didn’t mention Mortal Kombat 11‘s story mode. Series fans should know at this point what they are in for. NetherRealm fighting games have at this point become movies with brief fight scene intermissions. This is easily the most robust movie so far, with hours of cinematics and a lot of truly epic moments. The story is ridiculous, but this is a game about a lightning god fighting inter-dimensional demons and warlords with his Shaolin Monk friends. It’s a good kind of cheesy, a Saturday morning cartoon with way more decapitations. It’s incredibly fun and goofy, but not super substantial. I take some issue with how it all ends, but I’m not going to argue the narrative integrity of cartoons on the internet.
That all being said, Mortal Kombat 11 is the most satisfying Mortal Kombat experience I’ve had to date. Too often do fighting games evolve in a linear fashion, either dumbing down to draw in a larger audience or piling on complicated mechanics to appeal to the hardcore. Mortal Kombat 11 manages to evolve and expand the game while making it even more accessible to casual players. It’s as brutal as ever, and peppers in even more dramatic moments with the Krushing Blows. The fatalities are spectacularly bloody, and each fighter has their own identity.
It’s just so unfortunate that the paywall is such a drastic barrier to so much of the game. While you can ignore it in multiplayer and the story, much of the single player content will be inaccessible if you do not commit to serious grind. I can play multiplayer. but as I do not feel like getting instantly curb stomped by a man who has been playing 12 hours of Mortal Kombat a day for 20 years, I stick to single player. As a human with a job and social life, I can’t commit to the daily grind of the single-player campaign. What I’m left with is a Mortal Kombat experience that just feels largely inaccessible to me. Mortal Kombat 11 is a brilliant fighting game, and the new mechanics will deftly draw in new players. but the grind will likely push away those very same new players.
Mortal Kombat 11 changes adds a lot to the franchise, both good and bad. Great new fighting mechanics, terrible new monetization and progression model.