Mortal Kombat 11 could have been the series’ best game ever, but it’s held back by some terrible grinding mechanics.
One of the longest running gaming franchises in the industry, Mortal Kombat can proudly call itself one of the few fighting series that has a pedigree arguably unmatched by its contemporaries. Touted as a game that is more than 25 years in the making, Mortal Kombat 11 is perhaps NetherRealm Studios’ most ambitious game. But targeting those grand ambitions can sometimes lead to confusion in what the end product is trying to achieve. I use the word “confusion”, because at times, certain modes in Mortal Kombat 11 don’t seem to know what they are supposed to be doing.
Don’t get me wrong though. This is still very much a Mortal Kombat game at heart. The game arguably has one of the best story modes in the franchise’s illustrious history. No, it’s not as good as the roller coaster ride of Mortal Kombat 9’s excellent campaign, but it’s way better than I would have ever expected. But first, I suppose a little bit of a recap is in order. Raiden has messed up the timelines by communicating with his past self during the conclusion of Armageddon through the amulet, which eventually leads to the reimagination of the first three Mortal Kombat games. By the end of Mortal Kombat 9, almost all heroes are now revenants (basically the bad guys now) and this is what Quan Chi and Shinnok had apparently planned all along. During the events of Mortal Kombat X, Shinnok is trapped inside the amulet, only to be released and defeated by series’ newcomer Cassie Cage.
Raiden, apparently quite upset and angry at the other realms’ continuous intimidation and potential invasion of Earthrealm, goes dark and cold and gives a ‘fate worse than death’ to Shinnok, to send a message to Liu Kang and Kitana, the new rulers of Netherrealm. This is where Mortal Kombat 11 picks up, and this is also where we are introduced to Kronika, the time keeper- and she is not at all happy with Raiden’s meddling with time.
"Something worth special praise is how the developers have focused on giving each character in the roster ample screen time, which allows them to resolve most of their threads in a satisfactory manner."
Controlling an Hourglasses, she brings back the younger selves of various fighters, thereby creating a time paradox, so that she can set the events as per her liking. This results in interesting plot points, such as giving ample opportunities to the developers, for instance, to create situations where a younger fighter is now in a one to one duel with their older self. For example, Johnny Cage, and the entire drama surrounding the Cage family, has been handled in an exceptional manner, often resulting in several jocular and entertaining moments. Time getting messed up also creates a sense of mystery amongst the various characters, resulting in changing allegiances, thereby taking the story into interesting yet convoluted threads that will put a smile as big as the Joker’s on several nostalgic fans’ faces.
Once again, just like Mortal Kombat 9 and Mortal Kombat X, the story is divided into chapters, with each one of them focusing on specific characters. During some moments within a chapter, the game will allow you to select characters, thereby giving you a slightly different view of how the story unfolds. I wouldn’t say this choice greatly impacts the story in the long run, but it’s a nice touch, and it’s something that NetherRealm can exploit to greater effect as storytellers in future entries.
Something worth special praise is how the developers have focused on giving each character in the roster ample screen time, which allows them to resolve most of their threads in a satisfactory manner. This is backed by some exceptional voice acting across the board, with Richard Epcar (the voice of Raiden) leading from the front. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the game’s musical score. There are some tracks that are appealing, but many of them are disappointingly bland. It’s a mixed bag of sorts. At this point, NetherRealm should just release the original trilogy’s soundtrack as free DLC for Mortal Kombat 11 and be done with it.
"The graphics look great on the PS4 Pro, with beautifully detailed characters and costumes. Yes, you can now clearly count Baraka’s teeth. It’s that good!"
Though the audio side of the experience is slightly uneven, where the visuals are concerned, Mortal Kombat 11 knocks the ball out of the park. Stages are extremely well designed, and the art style accompanying them is equally strong, while fighting animations are on point as well. The graphics look great on the PS4 Pro, with beautifully detailed characters and costumes. Yes, you can now clearly count Baraka’s teeth. It’s that good! Shockingly, this is all running on a modified version of Unreal Engine 3, the very same engine that was used in Mortal Kombat 9. Although, we will cover the technology behind Mortal Kombat 11 in much greater detail in a later article, for now, suffice it to say that Mortal Kombat 11 is easily one of the best-looking fighters of this generation.
Once you are done with the game’s story mode, which should take anywhere between 7-10 hours on medium or higher difficulties, Mortal Kombat 11 offers a ton of single player and multiplayer modes to partake in. Before I delve into describing all of that though, I wanted to talk a fair bit about the game’s gear system. Borrowing the gear system from Injustice 2, Mortal Kombat 11 allows players to develop different builds for their favorite characters. So, you can customize your favorite character, say, Sub-Zero, with different skins, augmentations, entry and exit animations, abilities, and a few other parameters. These builds have no value in competitive online mode, so this should be a reasonably simple and straight forward gear system, right? Unfortunately, the answer is a big no. The gear system in Mortal Kombat 11 is one of the most unbalanced and grindiest RPG mechanics, which is bafflingly present in a game that is not even an RPG to begin with.
Let’s say you want to customize the gear for Scorpion. The game gives you three types of gear which you can equip. Once you have equipped them, you need to grind with Scorpion, so that each of those three variants can level up and in turn unlock augmentation slots. At launch, each of these gears can be leveled up twice to unlock two augmentation slots for each gear variant (a third augmentation slot will apparently come in the future). So, you do the hard work and you unlock the augmentation slots. Things should be easy now, right? Easy- if your augmentation’s elemental type matches with the augmentation slot’s elemental type.
If it doesn’t, you have to grind more to get more augmentation drops, and hope you get the correct one. There is an alternative, though- if the elemental types of the augmentation and the slot don’t match, the game gives you the option to modify the slot type- but that change is randomized, and there is no way to be sure if the type you want is the type that you’ll get. On top of that, you need to spend 1000 Koins to modify your slot type. To make matters worse, if you want to unequip a particular augmentation, you will need to spend another 1000 Koins to unequip it.
Still with me? It gets even worse from here.
"The gear system is one of the most dreadful RPG mechanics I have ever experience in a video game."
Let’s say you don’t want to grind, but want to unlock the two levels for each gear type. What do you do then? The game gives you the option to use XP boosts (the in-game store hasn’t been opened up by Warner Bros at the time of writing this review, so there’s no way of knowing yet if this is related to microtransactions- it might well be). Okay, so this has to be it, right? Well, no. Because all of the grinding which you did to level up all of the gear only applies to that gear type. Just as an example, change your headband to a different type, and you have to re-do whatever I mentioned. In short, the gear system is one of the most dreadful RPG mechanics I have ever experience in a video game. Simply adding layers over layers of grinding over something as miniscule as equipping an augmentation is, simply put, unacceptable. I understand the need for this, and how it likely ties up with the in-game store, but doing this in such a grindy manner for something so miniscule is laughable at best.
As I mentioned before though, this kind of customization only applies to the non-story single player elements of the game. So why the game has it in the first place is beyond me. Oh no, wait- it may have some use after all. You see, Mortal Kombat 11 features Injustice 2-styled timed multiverses called Towers of Time. As the name suggests, these are single player-focused timed events that expire as soon as the counter is up. You get rewards such as augmentations, Kombat Koins, and Konsumables. However, the CPU difficulty is quite unbalanced, with some matches being ridiculously difficult. In some cases, you may come across a highly challenging CPU character with added environmental effects such as ‘Lava on Ground’, which makes the fight extremely difficult. All of this leads back to the Gear system and augmentations.
If you have powerful augmentations, you can inflict more damage, or be resistant to certain types of effects, thereby giving you an advantage in battle. Of course, there are some towers in this mode that were quite manageable, but largely speaking, expect an unfair difficulty spike in Towers of Time. To make matters even more confusing, some towers in Tower of Time (and even Klassic Towers, which we will speak about in a bit) allow players to toggle between AI and player-control of their characters. I won some towers by simply using the AI, and thereby earning rewards. All I had to do was just sit back and press the required buttons between each match. So, my question obviously is- why have such a difficulty spike and then also provide the player with an AI-controlled option? This absolutely makes no sense and further raises the question about the uneven balance of this mode. Fortunately, at least Klassic Towers are still fun. You can change the difficulty as per your liking, and although the rewards are not as good as the Towers of Time, at the very least we get to see the endings of each of the characters.
Talking about characters in Mortal Kombat 11, I think that NetherRealm Studios have done a terrific job in designing them. Everything, from their Fatalities to special moves, and then from Fatal Blows to Brutalities, matches their narrative characteristics. The fighting in this game and the response time for each of these characters feels spot on. There don’t seem to be any overpowered characters either, and for the most part, all the moves are balanced fairly across the roster, thereby not giving you unfair any advantage with a particular character. Konsumables add a new dimension to gameplay as well, wherein you can call certain characters for assistance, increase your health while a match is going on, or call in an air missile strike- just as a few examples.
"What’s unique about the Krypt is its dark and creepy atmosphere, however given its very nature, I am totally expecting a microtransactions options to unlock everything by paying real money, just like in Mortal Kombat X."
That said, the game can be quite punishing for newcomers if they want to perfect a character. Mortal Kombat 11 does a decent job with its in-depth tutorials, but they will eat a good chunk of space in your brain, especially if you want to learn each and every move of the character of your choice. Once you get the hang of it, however, the it’s well worth the effort. Overall, the moment-to-moment fighting, backed up by environmental interactivity, is unmatched, and I look forward with eagerness to how the developers can better this in their next fighting game.
Like previous entries, Mortal Kombat 11 also features a Krypt mode, where you take on the role of a certain character and unlock collectibles such as skins, Fatalities, Brutalities, artworks, and more. Before I begin describing my experience with the Krypt, I must note that it’s pleasant to hear the voice of Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, the voice actor of Shang Tsung from the Mortal Kombat movie, who narrates the tale of the Krypt. So, kudos to NetherRealm Studios for doing something special for old geezers like myself. In Krypt mode, you unlock everything using either Souls, Hearts, or Kombat Koins. To be completely transparent though, I am not a big fan of certain elements of the Krypt.
I strongly feel that Fatalities and Brutalities should not be locked behind Krypts, as they are essential parts of the core gameplay loop. Regardless, finding them in a well-designed Krypt like in Mortal Kombat 11 could be fun for some players, and I totally get that. The Krypt features puzzles to solve and some fodder enemies to take down. What’s unique about the Krypt is its dark and creepy atmosphere, however given its very nature, I am totally expecting a microtransactions options to unlock everything by paying real money, just like in Mortal Kombat X. It’s worth noting though, that the developers haven’t really said anything about this- so we’ll just have to wait and see.
As noted, you need certain amount of coins, souls, and hearts to unlock the several Krypt chests, and the game is not very reasonable in doling those out to you; which once again ties back to grinding factor that I mentioned previously. The Krypt also includes several secrets that I am sure a lot of Mortal Kombat fans will appreciate, along with a ton of useless collectibles like Icons, that I am sure a lot of Mortal Kombat fans will not appreciate. There is also the forge, which can be used to combine several items to develop artifacts such as key items. To be honest, I never felt motivated to use the forge given the grindy nature of the Krypt. There are far too many requirements to move forward, such as getting a set number of souls so that a further path can be opened, and such obstructions only made me disinterested in exploring any further. It’s a shame, because as I mentioned before, the Krypt is well designed, and has a ton of secrets that long-time fans will love to see.
"Competitive online gameplay is what you expect- pure Mortal Kombat based on skills without augmentations and konsumables. One to one- the way it should be."
Despite the grindy nature of Towers of Time, the gear system and to an extent, the Krypt, much of the core experience lies in playing the story mode, Klassic Towers and competing in online modes. The Towers of Time and the gear system were something that I was able to avoid due to how detached they felt from the core gameplay experience, and they didn’t ruin my experience thanks to how good the game’s other modes are.
The online competitive mode in Mortal Kombat 11, which, along with the story mode, is easily one of the most fun parts of the game. As mentioned earlier, none of the customizations and augmentations get carried over to the online component, provided you switch on the competitive mode. I will primarily focus on the Versus and King of the Ring modes here, which will most likely form the bulk of your experience. First of all, I noticed a bit of lag during some matches despite being on a reasonably fast 50 Mbps connection. Matchmaking was fine for the most part, but given that the game is not even out, I expect it to be much better once the servers start filling up.
The versus mode pits you against a random player, whereas the King of the Hill mode pits you against a player with the highest number of win streaks in an ordered fashion. Once you take them down, you become the King of the Hill till the point your winning streak is broken, and the cycle continues with other players challenging you. Opposing players then rate your performance out of 10, which is accompanied by an emoticon of how they feel, all of which adds a bit of a welcome social element to the proceedings. The actual gameplay is what you expect- pure Mortal Kombat based on skills without augmentations and konsumables. One to one- the way it should be. There is also an upcoming Kombat League, which is expected to begin in a month, so it will be interesting to see what the developers do with it.
The game also introduces an AI Battle mode, wherein you form a team of defending and attacking fighters. The objective is to attack other players with this team, and to defend yourself while other players attack you. It’s completely AI controlled, and gives you daily rewards, which also includes augmentations. I found this to be a fun little diversion from the main course, and I totally expect players jumping in this mode over and over again.
"Fortunately, Mortal Kombat 11’s core gameplay loop is exceptional."
As a long-time Mortal Kombat fan, I am expecting most players to invest their time in the story mode, Klassic towers, local versus mode, followed by competitive online modes, especially given the atrocious grind the gear system and Towers of Time pushes on the player. The unbalanced implementation of these two elements is unfortunate, especially for someone who is planning to build and personalize their character, so hopefully the developers will tone down the requirements. But as of now, it just feels like they’ve found a way to frustrate the player and lure them to use XP boosts.
Fortunately, Mortal Kombat 11’s core gameplay loop is exceptional, the fighting is better than ever, the story mode is great, voice acting and visuals are phenomenal, competitive online and AI battle modes are addictive, Klassic Towers are fun, exploring the Krypt and unlocking items can be enjoyable for some. All said and done though, you are in for a mighty good time with Mortal Kombat 11.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Stunning visuals and voice acting; Satisfying plot; Core gameplay loop is better than ever; A great list of moves; Competitive online mode is addictive; Krypt can be fun for some players.
Music could have been better; Gear system and Towers of Time are grindy.
Mortal Kombat 11 features an addictive core gameplay loop and a ton of interesting gameplay modes, but some weird grinding mechanics with the gear system and Towers of Time may put off some players.