Mortal Kombat 11 Review

By Kevin Tavore, 29 days ago
Surely everyone remembers Mortal Kombat growing up. For me, I have fond memories of my mother expressly forbidding me from playing it; but as any good boy would I went to friends who had it and played anyway. It was bloody and it was exciting. I fought in the tower and almost always lost early on, but the ninjas and cool fatalities made every victory sweet and memorable. As I grew older, I fell out of love with fighting games and I'll admit, I haven't played Mortal Kombat since it was on the Genesis; but I haven't forgotten those memories and so I looked forward to Mortal Kombat 11 with excitement. The end result is a game that feels just like I remembered it with a dash of a modern gameplay. In other words, it was just what I hoped it would be.

MK 11 Cover Art

The story brings a fresh plot to the series, but it carries the same spirit of absurdity it's long been known for. Right at the outset of Mortal Kombat 11, a goddess gets angry another god was killed in the previous game and so she merges past and present and begins to hatch an evil scheme to restart time. It's completely ridiculous and is quite obviously used as a remedy to the fact that tons of the series' main characters had been killed (and then resurrected and turned into villains) in recent games. It should have been terrible, but the story ends up being fun to follow and thrilling at the end so long as you recognize that this is a popcorn action flick, not Casa Blanca.

I admit I often struggle at fighting games. There's something about long combos and frame-perfect blocks and interrupts that makes the entire genre give me frequent headaches. Even button mashing doesn't do much for me, so I approached Mortal Kombat 11 with an expectation that it might be impenetrable for me. Luckily, it wasn't. Mortal Kombat 11 starts you off with a great and deep tutorial where you can learn all the basics and, eventually, a lot of the more complicated stuff as well. I sat down with the tutorial and tried to learn — and learn I did but only with a lot of practice. I'm still a novice, but I found a way to learn enough to have fun.

The gameplay revolves around combos and simple special moves at its most basic level. You'll block and then launch your attack at the enemy, hopefully breaking their defenses and putting in the damage you need. I had better players obliterate me online, but offline in story and other modes the game showed itself to have plenty of back and forth with me blocking and working on combos to take down my opponents as they did the same to me. The game seems very offensive, which suits my playstyle well, and it rewards mastering your character while providing a great learning curve that ensures you can actually grow and become better. I lack the experience with the genre to determine whether there's enough depth to foster a competitive environment, but I can say that, as a very casual fan, there's plenty of depth in the gameplay to keep you interested for many hours.

Screenshots

Beyond the story mode, there's a ton of other single player content as well. Primarily, this comes in the form of towers — a series of battles in which you'll fight against AI to win a prize at the end. There are "klassic" towers, which mimic the older games' single player experience and that's how you'll see each character's alternate "what if" ending and learn how they'd remake history if given the opportunity. I found the klassic towers to be a bit simple — you'd probably be dreadfully bored if you tried to burn through them all quickly, but the "what if" scenarios were fun enough to keep me playing for a while just to see what would happen.

The bread and butter of the post-story experience are the Towers of Time. These are randomized towers with RPG-lite elements intended to keep you playing for a very long time. You'll play through towers where opponents have special abilities and attempt to defeat them. When you do, you'll be rewarded with gear and other items that will allow you to customize your fighters so that they do more damage, gain unique abilities and generally find more success against the enemies in the Towers of Time. The concept is fine, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired.

Screenshots

First and foremost the problem is how long everything takes. While you can get upgrades for any character at any given time — they're mostly random which makes it hard to focus on one fighter. The developer tries to remedy this by allowing you to purchase a tower to play through for a specific fighter, but the purchase is expensive and you have no idea what you'll actually get as rewards other than that it'll be for that specific fighter. Even once you get gear you'd like, you need to level it up and that process feels like it'll take forever. It's certain that one fighter alone will take a long time to make good, much less a whole roster. The entire enterprise is tedious and screams out as a bad attempt at creating a games-as-a-service mode.

Then there's a secondary issue in that, unlike the rest of the single player modes, you can't control the difficulty here. I found myself up against enemies who far outclassed me on top of having a ton of special abilities and I just didn't feel like there was a path to victory for me. That's a massive negative when this most is supposed to keep me playing for dozens of hours or even more.

Screenshots

The rest of the single player experience is composed of the Krypt and AI battles. The Krypt is a third-person adventure minigame on an island filled with treasure chests that you can pay to unlock for random rewards and skins. That's not exciting, but the adventure aspects have you exploring to find ways to unlock new areas with new prizes. I spent a solid hour wandering around, making progress and genuinely having fun. It's a nice change of pace, though I can say that I never felt compelled to return after that hour.

AI battles, on the other hand, are exactly what they sound like wrapped up like a free to play mobile title without the microtransactions. You'll field your team against other players' defenders that they set up in asymmetrical multiplayer. The fighters take all the items and abilities you gave them in the Towers of Time and then the AIs fight each other at increased speed while you watch and generally twiddle your thumbs hoping the opponent's life total goes down first. There's really nothing to this mode and it felt way too random to actually be fun, though perhaps with a ton of hours invested into progressing your fighters it could be worth playing to those who like this kind of thing. I suspect most players will move on fairly quickly.

Screenshots

I've spent a ton of time talking about Mortal Kombat 11's single player experience, but for many the star of the show will be the multiplayer. I didn't encounter a ton of lag, but I did notice that you can't expressly limit your matchmaking to good connections which is a negative for this type of game if it's going to be competitive. I also hope that, even in casual, the game will try to match you with opponents of your own skill level — there were too few people playing in pre-release for that to work for me, but I can say that when I was evenly matched it was fun. No one wants to spend their online time getting beaten into the earth round after round, so hopefully balancing and connection issues are resolved quickly.

Check out our Best Xbox Fighting Games Available in 2018 article for a compilation of other great games in this genre.

Summary

I came into Mortal Kombat 11 as a long-lost fan hoping to rediscover the franchise. What I found is a fighting game true to its roots that's accessible but still with enough depth to keep things interesting for a casual player. I had a great time following the story all the way through its six hours, with the absurdity of what was occurring only fueling how fun it was to watch unfold. When I got to the end, I wished there was more. Unfortunately, I can't say the same for the rest of the single player content. The series' trademark towers are either very simple or overly difficult and complicated. They're surrounded by RPG-lite elements that create massive time sinks and don't seem to offer rewarding progression whatsoever. Then there are the AI battles, which feel better suited to mobile than anything else. Luckily, fighting online looks to be another enjoyable experience for the casual and competitive players alike. Mortal Kombat 11 has some design issues, but overall I enjoyed my time and I can sincerely say I'm looking forward to the inevitable sequel.
3.5 / 5
Mortal Kombat 11
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent approximately 10 hours playing through the story, completing some fight towers, losing a lot online and spilling a ton of blood. An unknown number of achievements were unlocked as they were not live at the time of review. The game was played on an Xbox One X. A review code was provided by the publisher.
Please read our Review and Ethics Statement for more information.
Kevin Tavore
Written by Kevin Tavore
Kevin is a lover of all types of media, especially any type of long form story. The American equivalent of Aristotle, he'll write about anything and everything and you'll usually see him as the purveyor of news, reviews and the occasional op-ed. He's happy with any game that's not point and click or puzzling, but would always rather be outdoors in nature.