To celebrate the simultaneous worldwide release of Mortal Kombat (Midway, 1992) on home consoles, 13 September 1993 was dubbed “Mortal Monday”. Mortal Kombat’s move to home consoles impacted not only the ongoing “Console War” between SEGA and Nintendo but also videogames forever thanks to its controversial violence. Fittingly, to commemorate this game-changing event, I’ve been dedicating every Monday of September to celebrating the Mortal Kombat franchise.
Released: 17 November 2020
Originally Released: 23 April 2019
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Also Available For: Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Stadia, Xbox Series X
Mortal Kombat was a phenomenal success for Midway; thanks to its controversial violence and unique digitised graphics, the game stood out from the likes of Street Fighter II: The World Warrior (Capcom, 1991). While the franchise went from strength to strength during the 2D era of gaming, Mortal Kombat struggled to really stand out amidst a slew of revolutionary 3D fighters and, following the lacklustre release of Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe (Midway Games, 2008), the series looked to be in serious trouble after Midway went bankrupt in 2010. Thankfully, Warner Bros. Interactive stepped in and the Mortal Kombat team was rebranded as NetherRealm Studios. Their first order of business was to get their violent franchise back on track, which they did with Mortal Kombat (NetherRealm Studios, 2009), a particularly well-received reboot of the surprisingly convoluted lore. This gritty, violent reboot again stirred controversy but sales of the game alone were enough to cover the costs of Midway’s acquisition and work on a follow-up soon began.
Mortal Kombat X (ibid, 2015) instantly impressed and out-did its predecessor in every way, being both the most violent entry and having the biggest launch in the franchise’s long history at the time. Mortal Kombat X also scored very well and the success of the game earned it not just a host of additional downloadable content (DLC) but also an expanded version, Mortal Kombat XL, in 2016. Keen to capitalise on the good will they had earned back with these releases, NetherRealm announced the development of Mortal Kombat 11 at the Games Awards 2018, a game that saw the triumphant return of actor Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa to the role of Shang Tsung and sold over eight million copies by October 2020. Like its predecessors, Mortal Kombat 11 received an expanded addition that included all of its DLC fighters and even additional story mode content and was met with favourable reviews, though some criticised the randomisation of the game’s unlockables and the overreliance on grinding, mechanics that, for me, affected the appeal of Injustice 2 (ibid, 2017).
After the defeat of Shinnok at the conclusion of Mortal Kombat X, Raiden has become corrupted by the Elder God’s amulet and, angered at the Thunder God’s repeatedly meddling in the fabric of space and time, the keeper of time (and Shinnok’s mother), Kronika, plots to rewrite history to erase Raiden from existence. With past versions of classic Mortal Kombat characters showing up all over the place, and Earthrealm’s most dangerous and long-dead enemies forging an alliance to usher in Kronika’s “New Era”, Earthrealm’s Special Forces and allies face a battle against time itself to keep the realms from being torn asunder.
As you might expect by now, Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate is a 2.5D fighting game in which players can pick from one of thirty-seven characters and battle through the game’s single-player story mode, fight one-on-one against another player or computer-controlled opponent, battle their way though a variety of arcade-style towers, or challenge other players to a variety on online battles. Battles take place in a best-of-three format and against a time limit, though you can alter these settings (and many others, including the difficulty of computer-controlled opponents) from the game’s comprehensive menu to speed up gameplay or make it more accessible.
As in the other 3D Mortal Kombat fighters, fights in Mortal Kombat 11 are extremely accessible and easy to master. You can attack your opponent with punches with either X or Y, kicks with A or B, block with RT, throw (again, this is more like a grapple) with LB or X and Y and a directional input, and interact with the game’s environments when indicated with RB. You can also dash towards and away from your opponent, jump in or crouch down to attack or avoid projectiles, and string together combos by pressing the attack buttons and using directional inputs quickly. The game features a comprehensive tutorial mode that teaches you all of the basics and intricacies of the game’s combat, which gets deeper and more complex depending on your skill level and who you play as but is still extremely easy for even novice players to pick up and pull off a few simple combos.
Each character also boasts a number of special moves, also pulled off by a few simple button and directional inputs (back, forward, X, for example, or forward, down, B); these can be stringed together with combos and augmented with a well-timed press of RB (this will, however, drain a meter at the bottom of the screen but this will quickly refill in time). Unlike in the last two games, though, you can no longer build your meter towards a gruesome X-Ray move; instead, when your health is sufficiently depleted, you’ll have the option of pulling off a “Fatal Blow” once per fight (not per round) to mash your opponent into mush. While these are suitably impressive, violent, and gory, I have to say that I miss being able to build up to and pull off a momentum-changing special move whenever I want rather than when I’m near death. While special moves are pretty easy to perform, you can review them at any time from the pause menu and even “tag” team so they appear onscreen for easy reference, but I would have liked the option to pick and choose which ones are displayed for quick reference.
As horrific as the Fatal Blows can be, though, the real star of the show is, once again, the game’s Fatalities, the trademark of the franchise. At the end of the deciding round (usually round two), you’ll be told to “Finish Him!!” (or her…) and given a short period of time to stand in a specific spot and enter another button combination to tear your opponent to pieces, usually resulting in their guts, brains, and eyes bursting from their body or them being shredded and blown apart. Every character has three Fatalities available to them: one that is readily available, one that is locked and must be unlocked in the Krypt (or looked up online…), and one that is assigned to pulling off special Fatalities in certain stages (“Stage Fatalities”, like the classic uppercut into an acid pit) and you can also find (or purchase) “Easy Fatality Tokens” to pull them off more easily and practice them in the Fatality Tutorial.
Fatalities aren’t the only way to finish your opponent, though; by following a specific set of instructions during a fight (such as not blocking or hitting a certain number of moves and ending the decisive round with a specific attack), you can once again end your foe with a “Brutality” (although, as Factions are no longer included, Faction Kills are also not present this time). You can also pull off a non-lethal “Friendship” if you don’t wish to eviscerate your opponent and even replenish a small portion of their health by showing “Mercy” to allow the fight to continue a little longer. There are benefits to finishing off your opponent, though, as this will award you Hearts, one of four different forms of in-game currency, additional Koins (the primary form on in-game currency), and contribute to your player level and allow you to unlock additional bonuses.
One of the biggest complaints I had about Injustice 2 was the sheer abundance of different in-game currencies and the unfortunate emphasis on grinding for levels and unlockables and the randomness of the game’s loot crates. Sadly, Mortal Kombat 11 carries a lot of this forward; there are numerous customisation options available to you, from backgrounds and icons for your gamer card to individual gear and skins for each character but pretty much all of them are locked behind the game’s time-consuming grinding system. You earn Koins, Soul Fragments, Hearts, and Time Crystals by playing every single one of the game’s modes; while each of these can be spent in the Krypt to unlock chests and release souls (which will net you additional currency, skins, gear, augments, and Konsumables), Time Crystals can be spent in the in-game shop but, as items in the shop at so expensive, you’re encouraged to spend real world money to unlock additional stuff.
Unfortunately, while each character has a whole load of gear and skins and customisation options available to them, these are locked behind grinding; you can find many of these in the Krypt but others are unlocked by playing story mode, completing the character tutorials, or besting the game’s many towers. As in the classic 2D games, you can once again pick between three different towers (Novice, Warrior, and Champion); which tower you pick determines the amount of fighters you’ll face and the degree of the rewards you’ll earn from completion. You can also take on the Endless tower to face and endless number of opponents until you quit or are defeated and the Survival tower in which the damage you receive from each fight carries over to the next. Similar to Mortal Kombat X and Injustice 2, you can also challenge a number of different online towers, the “Towers of Time”; these provide you with a variety of challenges but are only available for a set amount of time before they’re replaced with a fresh challenge. However, you even access this mode you first need to clear a number of tutorials first, which seemed a bit redundant, and you will need to pay and also perform certain tasks (such as a certain amount of attacks or specials) to complete each character’s specific tower and unlock more gear and skins for them.
A big part of the game is its story mode; once again, the story is broken down into twelve chapters, with each chapter assigned to at least one character but, every now and then, you’ll be given the option of picking between two characters. It doesn’t really matter which character you pick, though, as you don’t even need to tick off all of these options to 100% the story mode and it hardly affects the narrative at all. Despite the fact that you can’t finish off and kill your opponents, the story mode is a great way to earn Koins and gear and get to grips with each character; the story sees characters from the past return to life as Kronika attempts to rewrite history, which effectively undoes a lot of the development done to the series in Mortal Kombat X but it’s a good excuse to have classic characters return to the series. You can set the difficulty setting for the story mode whenever you like but there are no Achievements tied to beating it or any of the other mode son higher difficulties but you do generally earn better rewards for taking on more difficult challenges.
Graphics and Sound:
Mortal Kombat 11 looks fantastic; character faces still look a bit shiny and odd at times (particularly the females) but there’s even less distinction between the in-game graphics and the many cutscenes you’ll see as you play through the story. Every character is full of life and little quirks, such as Liu Kang constantly hopping from foot to foot in true Bruce Lee style, Kano nonchalantly spitting on the floor, and Skarlet cutting herself open. If the winning fighter is too close to their fallen foe when a round ends, they’ll back away with their own unique animation and voice clips and taunts can be heard throughout each fight as you pull of special moves, combos, and gain victories. Unfortunately, as always, the developers continue to render the character’s different endings using a motion comic aesthetic and voice over rather than utilise the full motion CGI cutscenes used to great effect in the game’s story, which continues to be a disappoint for me and I’ve never really understood this choice.
Where Mortal Kombat 11 fails a little bit is in the stages; stages are a big part of any fighting game but especially Mortal Kombat and NetherRealm Studios’ recent efforts since they introduced the concept of interacting with various parts of the environment. This returns again, allowing you to skewer opponents with spears, throw bodies at them, wall run out of harms way, or toss or wield a variety of weapons (such as a chainsaw and a sledgehammer) to deal additional damage. These will often finally utilise the gruesome x-ray feature that was a big part of the last two games (which can also be triggered with certain special moves and augmented specials) but it feels as though there are a lot less opportunities to interact with the background and pull off Stage Fatalities than normal, making environments look and feel very alive but being disappointingly light on interactive elements despite all of the cameos and interesting elements at work in the background.
One thing I did like, though, was the return of some classic stages from past Mortal Kombat games, such as the courtyard and the dead pool; the best stage for this is, easily, the Retrocade stage, which randomly generates pixel-perfect recreations of classic Mortal Kombat stages complete with music. The game also goes above and beyond to recreate Shang Tsung’s island in immaculate detail in the Krypt; not only does it feature every stage from the first Mortal Kombat but it also recreates scenes and locations from the brilliant Mortal Kombat (Anderson, 1995) and cameos and references to numerous Mortal Kombat characters, which makes it a fantastic area to explore that is sadly let down by how confusing the Krypt’s map system is. Not only that but Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa lends his voice and likeness to Tsung once again, adding his unmatched gravitas to the character, and you can even buy a skin pack that adds skins for Sonya Blade, Johnny Blaze, and Raiden that adds three more likenesses and voices from the film.
While the game does excel in its many cutscenes and does a great job of telling its story with just the right level of cheese and seriousness, the main draw of the game is in its violence and gore and Mortal Kombat 11 certainly delivers in that respect. Skin is literally peeled from the bones, eyeballs fly in geysers of blood, bodies are dismembered, split into pieces, dissolved, and shredded, and limbs are torn apart in a variety of ghastly ways and it’s always a joy to see the horrifying ways characters are going to mutilate their opponents. The Fatal Blows are sometimes just as good, if not better, as any of the game’s Fatalities, with characters being stabbed, shot, and blasted in ways that would surely kill them only for the characters to hop right back up afterwards. While character’s clothes and accessories don’t rip or tear during the fights, they do seem to get stained by blood at times and skin can be seen baring wounds and scars from battle.
Enemies and Bosses:
As a fighting game, every single character in Mortal Kombat 11 is your enemy and you’ll be forced to do battle with all of them at least once, at some point, as you play through the story mode and arcade towers. Because every character controls and fights a little differently, with some focusing on ranged attacks or brawling while others emphasis slow but hard-hitting attacks, it’s best to sample each for yourself and to get an idea of your favourite character’s different abilities and variations in order to achieve success. Also crucial is mastering a handful of the game’s combos; many are as simple as X, X, Y or X, Y, X but others require directional inputs, longer button presses, and the co-ordinated stringing together of frame-perfect attacks and special moves. Luckily, though, every character usually has one or two simple combos for you to master so it’s simple enough for players of any skill level to pick up and play.
Some characters, though, play a little differently to others and this affects not only how you play but also how you fight them. Shang Tsung, for example, can not only steal the soul of his opponent, which not only drains their health but also has him assume their form and moveset for a short period, but can also morph into various masked ninjas from the franchise; Shao Kahn primarily attacks with his massive hammer, which can make his attacks slower; Jax Briggs can charge up his metal arms with punches and other attacks, which allows him to pull off his projectile attacks; and Erron Black can whip out a shotgun, which allows him to fire at and melee attack his opponent but also needs reloading and to be manually put away. Other opponents can be a lot cheaper than others; Noob Saibot, for example, is always a bit of a pain because of his vast array of teleporting attacks and the same applies to Mileena, who’s capable of quickly teleporting about the place and launching sais at you. There are also some returning favourites you’ll have to watch out for, such as Sub-Zero’s ice ball, Scorpion’s kunai spear, and Liu Kang’s lightning quick kicks and fireballs but the new characters have their own tricks to watch out for, too. Geras, for example, loves to spam his little sand pit trap and Certrion will spawn elemental hazards out of thin air to trap and hurt you.
When playing through the game’s story mode, you’ll also have to fight a couple of familiar faces in the form of Cyrax and Sektor. These cybernetic ninjas sadly don’t make the cut this time around so they essentially fill the role of mini bosses, in a way, despite appearing quite early on in the story mode. In addition, there will also be time sin the story (and in certain towers) where you have to face two opponents in a handicap match very similar to the “Endurance” matches from the first game, which see your opponents automatically tag into battle once their comrade has fallen while you’re forced to continue with whatever health you have left. When taking on the Towers of Time, you’ll get to battle against a character that has been augmented to “boss” status; this means that you can’t use Konsumables and that your opponent will be super tough, requiring multiple players to take on the challenge while its active to help bring them down and earn rewards.
When you play the story mode or battle through one of the other towers, your final opponent will be Kronika, an unplayable boss character who presents a unique challenge compared to the likes of Shinnok and Shao Kahn. The battle against Kronika takes place in one round but is split between three fights against her and three different locations and time periods, with each phase seeing you having to battle a randomly generated opponent. Unlike other characters, Kronika cannot be thrown, staggered, or hit with a Fatal Blow; when you try any of these attacks and certain combos, she’ll take damage but you won’t see the usual animations play out, which can leave you open to one of her devastating attacks. Kronika likes to teleport around the arena and summon energy balls and projectiles but her most lethal attack is a time warp that renders you helpless and drains a massive chunk of your health bar, which basically means that it’s best to reach her final phase with as much health as possible or else you have to replay the entire fight from the beginning. At the conclusion of the Aftermath story mode, you have the choice of facing either Shang Tsung (who has usurped Kronika’s powers) or “Fire God” Liu Kang (a merged form of Liu Kang and Raiden) as your final opponent. Unlike Kronika, though, these are standard battles and subject to all the normal gameplay mechanics, meaning you’re free to hit your Fatal Blows and augmented special moves and combos without fear of being left vulnerable. Indeed, as long as you’re proficient enough with a few combos and special moves, these fights should be noticeably easier than the one against Kronika though be wary as Shang Tsung and Liu Kang are also much more versatile in their attacks than Kronika, who favours bursts of temporal energy over combo strings.
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Like in Injustice 2, each character has a number of gear that can be equipped but, thankfully, unlike in that game, these do not affect the character’s stats or abilities and are merely cosmetic. As you battle with your character, their gear will level up and unlock up to three augment slots and you can then equip augments to their gear to increase their special attacks, defence, and other attributes to make them more efficient. Similar to Mortal Kombat X, each character has a number of variations available to them but, this time, it’s up to you to equip and assign these variations to each character; these are limited to three slots, which allow you to assign different special moves and abilities to each character to differentiate them (you can have Scorpion, for example, focus on flame or kunai attacks, or mix and match them). You can also assign different intros and outros for each variation (once you unlock these) and tweak their artificial intelligence (A.I.) stats to make them more focused on reversals or brawling, for example, or a more balanced fighter when taking part in A.I. Battles.
To help you clear these modes, you can choose to have the computer battle through each tower on your behalf and also use up to four Konsumables to tip the odds in your favour. These allow you to flick the right analogue stick and call upon assistance from other characters or effects (such as a brief acid rain, missiles, or similar projectiles) and/or earn additional rewards from battle or performing finishers. Other times, especially in the Towers of Time, your opponents will have access to similar Konsumables and augments, which essentially recreates the Test Your Luck feature from Mortal Kombat (2009), and you’ll again have the option of teaming up with others to take on super tough boss battles.Each time you take on a tower, you’ll be asked to take on a number of “Dragon Challenges”; these appear at the bottom of the screen and ask you to do such tasks as switching stance, ducking, jumping, or performing (or not performing) a certain number of actions throughout the fight and the more you complete, the more additional Koins you can earn so I recommend drawing the fight out so that you can pull off as many as possible.
There are fifty-eight Achievements on offer in Mortal Kombat 11 and, unlike most games, most of these are tied to repetitive actions rather than playing though the story mode. You’ll earn an Achievement for pulling off a certain number of Fatalities and Brutalities, one for performing two Fatalities with every character who isn’t a DLC fighter (which is a good way to test out each fighter), using a certain number of Konsumables, and opening a certain number of chests in the Krypt, for example. You’ll also earn Achievements for clearing the Klassic Tower with first one and then ten characters (why not all of them is beyond me), running five miles in the Krypt, and for taking part in A.I. and online battles and clearing half of (and all) of the main story mode.
Sadly, however, the Achievements do not extend to any of the DLC fighters or story content; there are no Achievements to be earned from clearing Aftermath or specifically tied to any of the DLC fighters, which is a real shame when you’ve got RoboCop and the Terminator in your game and when you consider that Mortal Kombat XL had sixty Achievements to earn, with an extra thirteen added with its DLC fighters. On the one hand, this does mean that it’s a lot easier to get Achievements in Mortal Kombat 11 since there are far less devoted to online play but, on the other, I was disappointed that the Achievements didn’t encourage more replayability and variety; instead, it’s all repetitive actions and nonstop grinding and I’d be pretty pissed off to have paid £40-odd for the Aftermath DLC and all those fighter packs only to find that they don’t come with any extra Achievements.
Speaking of which, Aftermath and all of the DLC fighter packs and skins are included in Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate (…except for those released after the game) but you should be aware that your previous save data from the base Mortal Kombat 11 is not compatible with Ultimate. This means that you can play Aftermath right away, if you want, and thus complete the actual story since the main story just kind of ends unresolved. The additional fighters include the likes of Spawn, RoboCop, the Terminator, and even John Rambo (with Keith David, Peter Weller, and Sylvester Stallone all lending their voice talents (and likeness, in Rambo’s case) to the game. You can also play as returning characters such as Sindel, Fujin, and one of my favourites, Rain though I question the inclusion of the Joker as I really think Pennywise the Dancing Clown would have fit a lot better. There are also a number of cheeky DC Comics skins and gear to equip that turn Cassie Cage into Harley Quinn, Geras into Darkseid, Kitana into Catwoman, and Baraka into Killer Croc and you can even dress Jacqui Briggs up in Spawn’s costume.
Aside from fighting, much your time is also spent exploring the Krypt and spending all of your hard-earned currency on skins, gear, augments, and the like. The Krypt is the biggest it has ever been, encompassing the entirety of Shang Tsung’s island and is full of treasure chests, death traps, and references to the videogames and movies. Unfortunately, though, as great as the Krypt is for Easter Eggs and such, it’s a bitch to navigate; you can create shortcuts by smashing through walls and pulling levers and such but the map is dreadful and it can be extremely difficult to get to where you need to be as it relies on an awkward coordinate system. It’s also ridiculously expensive to open the chests, which can lead to you spending over 10,000 Koins just for some useless icons and concept art and it’ll cost you 100 Soul Fragments and 250 Hearts every time you want to open one of those chests. There’s a lot to see and do, though, with new areas to stumble across and fun little Easter Eggs to find but, again, no Achievements really tied to this; when I find the statue of Reptile’s reptilian form from the movie or examine Drahmin’s mask or find Goro’s corpse, I’d expect at least a fun little 5G Achievement but…nope.
I knew that we would eventually be getting Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate and specifically held off from purchasing the base game or Aftermath while waiting for this release, which bundles 99% of the game’s content all onto one disc (well…technically it’s two…) for you to play at your leisure (after the lengthy download and installation process, of course). In many ways, I wasn’t disappointed; Mortal Kombat has never looked better, with blood and guts and gore being rendered in exquisitely visceral detail and the recreation of Shang Tsung’s island for the Krypt is stunning, full of little details and references that really reward my many years of fandom. Equally, the story mode and fights are brought to life fantastically and the scaled back approach to gear and customisation is appreciated since it means I don’t have to worry about my character being underpowered if they look how I want.
Unfortunately, though, there are a few things that let it down. The Fatal Blow system is great but seems catered more to new players and a defensive playstyle; tying so much of the game to online servers results in a lot of dodgy slowdown and loading on the menus at times; locking everything behind the towers and such is fine but forcing players to grind for in-game currency to spend on even challenging those towers is not; the handful of Achievements might be pretty simple to get but there’s not a lot of variety or fun to them; and I question some of the choices made for the roster. First of all…why thirty-seven fighters? Why not go all-in and bring it up to a nice, even forty? Where are Takeda Takahasi and Kung Jin, the actual descendant of the Great Kung Lao? They weren’t exactly my favourite characters from Mortal Kombat X but they were just as important to the “new generation” of fighters as Cassie and Jacqui but they’re missing yet that lumbering oaf Kotal Kahn is still there. In the end, there’s a lot of fun to be had in Mortal Kombat 11 but it’s notably more finite and time-consuming than in the last two Mortal Kombat games; it’s not as bad with the randomness and loot boxes as Injustice 2 but some of the better skins and gear and such is still annoying locked away and will take a lot of time and effort to unlock, which is especially aggravating when the game uses four different types of in-game currency and yet your options for actually purchasing new stuff in-game are severely limited.
What are your thoughts on Mortal Kombat 11: Ultimate? Did you wait for this version to come out or did you buy the base game and DLC separate? Either way, do you think there was enough value for your money or, like me, were you disappointed to find the DLC didn’t have any new Achievements to earn? Which fighter in the game (or the franchise) is your favourite and why? What did you think to the story mode and the use of competing timelines to bring back classic characters? Were there any characters or features missing from the game for you? What did you think to the online options and the different towers the game had to offer? Which Mortal Kombat game, movie, comic, or other piece of media is your favourite? Whatever your thoughts on Mortal Kombat 11, or Mortal Kombat in general, leave a comment down below.