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After 26 years and ten core games, you’d think that Mortal Kombat would be running on fumes by now. After having successfully rebooted itself in 2011 and then adding to that fire with a fuel tank of innovation in 2015’s Mortal Kombat X, what could Mortal Kombat 11 possibly do next? The answer is surprisingly simple, as Mortal Kombat 11 doesn’t reinvent its signature mousetrap of carnage, it doubles down on what makes it feel so unique and then polishes it up with a mirror shine that is blinding, to say the least.

At the same time, Mortal Kombat 11 juggles numerous ideas, as it serves to not only end an era of rebirth, but it also creates a foundation for bold new beginnings and stories to take place in the future. A tribute to the past and a brave step forward into the days that are yet to come, there’s only one apt descript for Mortal Kombat 11: It’s a klassic.

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Time is broken. Kronika, god of eternity, has decided to reveal herself after having spent aeons in the shadows manipulating the sands of time and using them to shape destiny for anyone who was ever involved in the Mortal Kombat tournament. With Raiden’s recent actions having thrown a massive spanner into her plan to keep all the realms in a state of perpetual conflict so that a sense of balance could be restored, Kronika embarks on a mission to create a new era of endless war.

Finally aware of her manipulation, Raiden and the Earthrealm warriors find themselves drawn into a quest that merges the past and present together to create a new future. As powerful as she may be, Kronika realises that she’ll need an army of her own to keep Earthrealm at bay. Enter a blast from the past, as the goddess of time recruits past versions of some of Outworld’s mightiest conquerors to guard her.

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The stage is set, the warriors are ready to duel and all of time is at stake. What more could you ask for in a story?

It’s an idea where Mortal Kombat flourishes once again, combining Hong Kong action with Hollywood’s over the top style for theatrics, sci-fi themes with mystical Shaolin kung-fu adventure in a manner in which only Mortal Kombat can get away with. If Mortal kombat X proved that the series could spin a story that had plenty of heart to it, then Mortal Kombat 11 reinforces that idea with its own narrative that has pemty of moments that are both comical and tragic.

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Once again, every actor cast is perfectly in their role. Well, almost every one because as much star power as Ronda Rousey brings to the table, her skills are better suited to rearranging faces in the UFC octagon than they are in delivering an entirely okay performance as Sonya Blade that is quickly outshone by a far more talented cast. Minor gripes aside, if you were looking for a weekend of fisticuffs that’ll take around five hours to finish, then Mortal Kombat 11 has your back.

On the more mechanical side of the game, Mortal Kombat 11 feels like a wildly different beast. When compared to the 2015 incarnation, there’s a wealth of overt and covert changes to the formula, that positions Mortal Kombat 11 in a comfortable spot between casual bludgeon-fest and more serious professional fare.

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Retaining the variant system from X, Mortal Kombat 11 now also gives players the tools to further customise their chosen warrior according to their preferred playstyle. Are you a fan of Erron Black but you’d rather have him focus on twin-pistol shootouts and ditch his arsenal of acid bottles as a compromise? You can do just that, with every character in the massive roster featuring their own collection of attacks, skins and other cosmetic enhancements a’plenty.

Provided that you’re up for a long and lengthy walk throughout Shang Tsung’s island, where all those goodies are stored.

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This is where Mortal Kombat 11 makes a massive slip-up. On the surface, the idea of a dedicated level where players can explore the ruins of the original Mortal Kombat tournament and uncover treasure sounds like a delightful diversion

There are skins to be unlocked, secondary fatalities to be found and a whole host of other cosmetics to uncover to help you define your favourite character. The problem here, is that there’s just so damn much of it, with most treasure chests requiring an absurd amount of koin to unlock. While you could argue that the Towers of Time are designed to be tense experiences that reward players with the funds necessary to do so, once you realise that each character has literally dozens of skins, icons and accessories, you quickly realise that Shang Tsung’s island is a soul-sucking tour of a literal loot box location.

Compare this approach to Netherrealm’s previous work in Injustice 2, and it comes off as a backflip into more predatory business practices. Where Injustice 2 was happy to reward you high tier loot boxes just for an errant bat-fart of activity in the Multiverse, Mortal Kombat 11 makes you earn every single coin possible through bloody action, and then still asks you to gamble it on the contents of a mystery box that’ll probably reward you with concept art and a player icon. In 2019, this idea feels more dated than Kano’s 1992 wardrobe.

Fundamentally though, Mortal Kombat 11 is also a touch slower and far more measured than ever before. There’s a more subtle layer of strategy beneath the surface, one that rewards players for thinking two steps ahead and truly mastering the combos available to them. While you’ll see fewer overly-long strings of attacks that reek of dialled-in inputs, players can chain together multiple combos with skill when an opportunity presents itself.

We’ll still get a far more technical review of the deepest system mechanics in a few more days, but so far it’s safe to say that Mortal Kombat X’s obsession with incessant juggling opponents and keeping them airborne for as long as possible is an idea that has been left in the past. What still remains, is that deliciously ultra-violent action, with the new Fatal Blow system summing up this shift in competitive direction perfectly.

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The evolution of the X-Ray system from previous Mortal Kombats of this decade, Fatal Blows are simple enough to grasp: They’re Hail Mary actions, a last gasp of action that can be used once per match when your health bar goes below 30%. Do you use it when the first round of a match is not going your way or save it for the second round just in case? Maybe you’ll keep your distance, because being caught on the receiving end of a fatal blow means that the momentum of an entire bout can shift dramatically back towards the warrior who initiated it.

It’s a delightful new feature, one that adds more substance to Mortal Kombat 11 and its more cerebral gameplay as players now also have a regenerating meter that allows them to burn through special moves and environmental interactions. It’s kind of like chess if you think about, if Gary Kasparov violently decapitated his opponents every time they had him in check.

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Mortal Kombat 11 pushes its visuals to the bleeding edge of what’s possible in its engine, resulting in characters who look more lifelike than ever before and you’ll often find yourself wincing in pain every time you see a ribcage shatter or organs ripped out from torsos. It’s ghoulish and horrific content that is wonderfully over the top when you add salt to injury and pull off fatalities that have to be seen to be believed.

From end of match finishers that see spines ripped out of bodies with a bloody boot to watching an unholy nightmare fuel spider erupt from a torso, Netherrealm’s talent for creating the grisliest deaths possible for its cast is as wonderfully demented as ever. I don’t think I can stress enough just how much of a visual upgrade Mortal Kombat 11 is over X.

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What you have here in Mortal Kombat 11, is Netherrealm’s most beautiful work to date. Subtle textures pop from characters, special effects explode with carnage and every level is a work of art. I could honestly spend all day in the Shirai Ryu fire gardens, if I was given the chance to do so. Beyond the story mode, Shang Tsung’s island, and traditional towers, Mortal Kombat 11 is also taking a page out of the Injustice 2 playbook, as it plans to keep its community busy with numerous Towers spread across time.

Much like in Netherrealm’s DC fighting game, these towers will pop in and out of existence, offering new challenges and rewards for anyone who dares to take them on. You’ll need plenty of help to do so, and with Mortal Kombat 11 allowing players to enhance their combat with all manner of consumable items earned from conquering other towers, this system adds an interesting new wrinkle to the dynamics of these challenges.

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You might find yourself using an assist from Cyrax to hold foes in place, guzzle down a potion to make you immune to blood-seeking rockets or you could add a few frames of invincibility to your character. It’s a fascinating collection of power-ups, which all feature their own levels of fairness in the greater scheme of things. How this will be received from players who choose not to toggle these assists off in competition, remains to be seen in the weeks that are still to come as the fighting game community digs deep into Netherrealm’s latest masterpiece.

Last Updated: April 22, 2019

Mortal Kombat 11
A bone-breaking blast of bloody fun, Mortal Kombat 11 is a celebration of ultra-violence that pushes the franchise forward to gloriously gory new heights.
9.0
Mortal Kombat 11 was reviewed on PlayStation 4

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