How compelling of a package is this expanded re-release of the fighter?
The Mortal Kombat series is one of the most renowned franchises in all of gaming’s history, and 2019’s Mortal Kombat 11 took the franchise to a new level with a host of new characters, technical upgrades, and gameplay mechanics. As is common for NetherRealm Studios, the developer wants to make its most recent game set the bar for what fighting games can be, especially as the industry sees the release of a new generation of consoles. With that, Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate is the best and most complete package to experience what Mortal Kombat 11 has to offer. It doesn’t add anything new that isn’t available separately, but its visual upgrades and improved loading times make it the most impressive fighting game experience currently available on the next generation consoles, though the original game’s issues remain heavily unaddressed.
At its foundation, Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate is effectively a remastered complete edition of MK11, including every piece of content separately released for the game to this point. It’s primarily intended for next-generation consoles, and it luckily allows for a free upgrade from previous generations to the Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5. Included within Ultimate are the base game, the Aftermath add-on, and the two Kombat Packs, the latter of which was released alongside Ultimate. This second Kombat Pack is available separately to those who own the base game, and it includes three new playable characters.
"Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate is the best and most complete package to experience what Mortal Kombat 11 has to offer."
The most notable of these three is John Rambo, animated to replicate his movie appearances and fully voiced by the character’s actor Sylvester Stallone. Rambo’s move set is generally what you would expect given his signature movie persona, as his attacks heavily utilize his weapons, especially his rifle, grenades, and crossbow. His appearance is more style than substance, though, because, like the inclusions of Robocop and the Terminator, much of what he has to offer pays homage to the movies more significantly than it offers a truly unique playable character. There is definitely fun to be had with Rambo, but it’s often more about the who than the what.
The other two characters, Mileena and Rain, return from past Mortal Kombat games and are more familiar in their move sets. Both have new abilities to adapt to the story and the new mechanics for all characters, but those familiar with these characters in past games will be able to hop into playing with them now easily. I found Rain to be have a more interesting and diverse set of attacks and animations, especially given that he has made fewer appearances in the series in recent iterations, but both characters are good additions that add unique characteristics to the game and the lore.
When it comes to the benefits that Ultimate provides over other versions of the game, the technical improvements are surely the most significant and noticeable, especially when playing on a next-generation console. It is instantly noticeable how much crisper the visuals can be when put to full 4K on an Xbox Series X. Character models are as impressive as they’ve ever been in the series, as is exemplified by the photo mode that allows you to examine every character in excruciating detail, and environments in the background of each stage have better lighting, more going on, and are altogether more impressive when you pick everything out.
"It is instantly noticeable how much crisper the visuals can be when put to full 4K on an Xbox Series X."
Stages already run the gamut from bright arenas under the sun to dark lairs lit only by fire pits, and the improved visuals make these differences more tangible in the way the lighting bounces off of the rest of the environment and the characters. Animations, too, are more fluid and snappier, aided by the better visuals and more consistent 60 frames per second. Mortal Kombat has always been known for having fast-paced gameplay that hinges on instantaneous reactions, and the improved reaction times within the game make this easier to accomplish on the player’s end.
The more consistently noticeable technical improvement for Ultimate is the significantly improved load times, which are reduced to just a handful of seconds on the Xbox Series X for virtually any load throughout the game. When booting up a quick play local match, load times begin to approach zero, which is both incredibly impressive and highly convenient, especially because over the course of even just a few hours of play, this starts to save an increasingly noticeable amount of time. In other modes, too, time between matches usually occurs as a result of other inclusions, such as cutscenes or tutorials, rather than due to a static loading screen. Even in the story mode, the transitions between fights and cutscenes are more seamless than ever, which makes it a lot more engaging to not have to accommodate a clunky transition.
The story mode has its own set of improvements throughout Ultimate, though it, too, is unchanged in most ways from its original incarnation. The Xbox Series X version downloads an entirely separate DLC pack specifically made to improve the story’s graphics to a native 4K, and the story is better for it. The improved graphics, alongside the much-improved loading times, make the cutscenes significantly better to explore, more so than the visuals within the gameplay itself. Character models are even more improved in cutscenes, and action between them, which occurs often, is more impressively animated.
"The more consistently noticeable technical improvement for Ultimate is the significantly improved load times, which are reduced to just a handful of seconds on the Xbox Series X for virtually any load throughout the game."
The story mode in Ultimate comes packaged with the Aftermath DLC, which contains five additional chapters that take place after the events of the main campaign, and the story takes around 8 hours to complete in total. Altogether, the story is still as hit or miss as it has always been, and the interactions between characters still feel somewhat contrived to force a one-on-one fight. However, the story is as fun and interesting to experience as ever, regardless of your suspension of disbelief for the plot, because it has the best visuals, most seamless load times, and most consistent gameplay of any iteration of MK11.
Other modes are similarly improved by a rising tide of graphics and load times but otherwise untouched in Ultimate, failing to address many of the lingering issues with the game. The Towers have had few changes in their structure and still serve as a generally better way to play a structured and increasingly difficult mode. The Krypt certainly runs better with more power under its belt, though it is still a questionable mode that generally doesn’t provide much payoff for the sizeable amount of work needed to open all of its areas. The gear system, too, is virtually unchanged and is still as unnecessarily grindy as ever.
Regardless, Mortal Kombat 11 still provides some of the best and most fun fighting gameplay any game in the genre has offered in a long time. Its pure fighting gameplay is the best the series has ever had, and it complements it with a slew of in-fight extras. One of the franchise’s signature controversies, its gore, is even further improved in Ultimate. Attacks go into the x-ray vision regularly within fights, instead of just within fatalities or brutalities. Environmental attacks, which are even more prevalent, and the new Fatal Blow system both commonly pause the fight to show someone’s head being smashed or spine being torn out, and the unfettered visuals allow these and the ever-brutal fatalities to be as graphic as ever. If you’re squeamish, this series has never been for you, and Ultimate only emphasizes its central themes.
"If you’re squeamish, this series has never been for you, and Ultimate only emphasizes its central themes."
Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate is, on its surface, a compilation of everything available for MK11 with a few new upgrades and additions. New and improved graphics and slashed loading times let anyone who enjoys the series have the best experience currently possible on consoles, but it doesn’t address or fix many of the primary problems in the original’s mechanics. MK11 Ultimate doubles down on every aspect of the original and brings every piece of content together for a more complete and overall improved experience, but don’t expect a transformation into an entirely new package.