To the casual observer, Street Fighter V might seem like the biggest fighting game in the world, with its main-stage tournament finals at EVO and globally-renowned roster of characters.
But if we’re talking pure sales muscle, Ed Boon’s unassuming team at NetherRealm quietly shifted 11 million copies of Mortal Kombat X, placing it comfortably mid-table in the Premier League of game franchises, while other fighting games struggle to make the League One playoffs.
After the excellent Injustice 2 delivered the best DC cinematic storyline in years, Boon is back with Scorpion, Sub Zero, Sonya and the rest in this packed, dense and gruesomely beautiful 11th edition of Mortal Kombat, and it might just be his finest work yet.
NetherRealm definitely has a ‘thing’ for time travel and multiverse theory. After Injustice 2 dragged DC favourites in an out of timelines and dimensions quicker than a sugar-addled Thanos, Mortal Kombat 11’s excellent story mode does practically the same thing.
In its brilliantly acted, directed and visually-stunning cut-scenes, MK11 breaks down and rebuilds its own universe multiple times, pulling in characters from past, present and future to craft a surprisingly robust and engaging story.
Ultimately, the story mode is a series of fairly tame fights against AI interlinked with these excellent slices of ridiculous narrative, and is probably best enjoyed on Easy mode unless you have a particular liking for bashing your head against AI opponents when all you want to do is see what happens next.
As an example of what’s possible for solo players in a fighting game, though, Mortal Kombat 11 is (decapitated) heads and shoulders above the competition, and the its has comfortably eclipsed its own work in MKX here.
Fighting games have become increasingly esoteric over the years, with those who grew up battling their mates in the 90s on Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter and Tekken now faced with having to learn about things like Frame Traps, Tech Throws, Whiffs, Punishes and all manner of baffling jargon.
The recent Mortal Kombats have done a fantastic job of appreciating that while high-level tournament players and dedicated followers lap all that stuff up, the vast majority of the audience just want to be able to beat the crap out of their friends.
Mortal Kombat 11 straddles this line superbly, offering a beautiful tutorial mode that quickly scales up from basic attacks and mechanics to covering things like combo (Sorry, Kombo) strings, the aforementioned frame traps, counters, cross-ups and everything beyond. And crucially, it makes most players realise they were actually doing a lot of this stuff all along - it's a fantastic equaliser for those who’ve been left out in the cold by the fighting game scene’s recent shift towards elitism.
Don’t get it twisted, though, this is absolutely a high-tier scrapper, and arguably the densest it has ever been. MK11 plays a slower game of absurd violence than its predecessor, but it still features those key components - the sweeps, the uppercuts, the simple directional-input specials - and the learning curve from button-bashing to five-hit kombo cancels is seriously smooth - Mortal Kombat 11 teaches you what you’re doing almost subliminally.
In terms of actual new features to the kore kombat, meters are now separated from attack and defense. Use some offensive meter to add some sauce to a special, or defensive meter to break out of an opponent’s own kombo.
Health-crushing Fatal Blows are now only available when your own health bar is at its lowest, and while they only required a tug of both shoulder buttons to activate, timing is everything. There’s still a very high skill ceiling here, but the barrier to entry is low, and you’ll be having intense back-and-forth battles from the get go.
Along with the superb story and silky-smooth online play (a revelation compared to the laggy hell of MK9), you’re going to be spending a lot of time in Mortal Kombat 11’s towers - evolving single-player battles that are the best way to earn the currency (kurrency. Again, sorry) needed to unlock chests in the Krypt.
Like Injustice 2’s multiverse mode, the Towers Of Time sets you an ever-evolving series of challenges, many of which have unusual modifiers that alter the action. So you might be having a standard Baraka v Kitana fight, but every few seconds both characters will receive an electric shock. Or perhaps missiles drop from the sky.
It’s a mode for those who want to spend hours in MK but don’t necessarily enjoy the stress of playing online against human competition. As it stands, it can potentially provide hours of content, but the amount of currency rewarded and the difficulty of some of the challenges means that the sheer grind is seriously off putting. NetherRealm has already issued a statement saying they’re going to alter the balance between challenge and reward here, so hopefully Towers Of Time will deliver on its potential.
Tales From The Krypt
Now this is a tricky one. The Krypt, essentially a fancy way of unlocking bonus items, loot and cosmetics, has been a centerpiece of Mortal Kombat for a while, and in MK11 it’s absolutely gorgeous - a third person jaunt around Shang Tsung’s island, taking in stages from the original game and positively dripping in blood-soaked nostalgia.
However, unlike previous games, the loot here in now randomised, so there is no real sense of completion. When you kombine this with the kurrency grind (getting the K thing now, finally), you’re left with this gorgeous but ultimately unfulfilling hub.
And it doesn’t even necessarily feel like a financial thing - yes there are microtransactions in the game, but plenty of the chests in the Krypt only open using items and kurrrency that can be gathered for free - it just takes a lot.
And this is a shame because MK11’s kustomisation is spectacular. Not only can you alter skins, cosmetics, taunts and player intros, but each character can have their movesets altered, so your Scorpion might be different to someone else’s. Not great for tournament play, although there are presets in place for competitive action, but a real Boon (yes!) for those who plan to invest hours and hours into their Kombat Kareer.
Mortal Kombat 11 verdict
The grind gear is miserable, but the rest of Mortal Kombat 11 is everything a fighting game should aspire to be. The kore kombat is slick, engaging, brutal and deep, and its propped up by a superb storyline with world-class production, deep and engaging persistent modes (if tweaked) and some of the sharpest netcode in the game.
It might never have the true hardcore cache of Street Fighter, but there’s a reason MK is the true biggest fighting game in the world, and MK11 is its finest moment yet.