Since Mortal Kombat got a reboot in 2011, the game has gotten decidedly story heavy, with many big moments playing out in fully rendered scenes instead of being a wall of text when beating the boss at the end of a tower. Things continue in this vein and learning from the last two games and the Injustice series, the story has reached a level akin to a movie.
Time for a change
After the events of the last two games, many fan favourite characters are undead revenants, and Raiden has gone from the kind but stern defender he used to be to an authoritarian who strikes first, red lightning marking his wake. After a strike against Netherrealm, a new foe appears, who has control over Time itself. Kronika merges the current timeline with the past, allowing her to recruit several defeated individuals to her cause, telling them they can get the timeline they want. Her attack is powerful and her allies draw considerable armies to defend her as she works, while heroes from both past and present Outworld and Earth work together to try to stop Kronika and possibly change the timeline. The stories woven in here are fun and also give a lot of characters a chance to push their storylines and values forward. The game isn’t scared to let you watch fighting, with throwaway combat against unnamed assailants being used to show off the fighting prowess of characters, with the game almost seamlessly segueing between cutscenes and fighting matches.
The system used now is so comprehensive that it should become the new standard for fighting game tutorials.
Mortal Kombat has had a history of teaching players the ropes of fighting games, but the system used now is so comprehensive that it should become the new standard for fighting game tutorials. It starts off with the barest basics, explaining how to throw an opponent, how to block and start off a Kombo. From there it goes into the game’s two meters, explaining stage interactions, Krushing Blows, Flawless Blocks, Getup Attacks, Reversals, Punishes and more. From here it goes into frame data, explaining start-up time, recovery time, hit advantage, block advantage and much more with colour coding to help players see the frames that are being focussed on. From there it moves onto extending Kombos, how damage and gravity scaling both shape the fights to prevent infinite combos. There are also character specific tutorials that go through several of the moves, explaining which are safe and unsafe and when, if that comes into the calculations, so that you can know which moves are risky before being punished several times in fights against humans or harder AI opponents.
This only works once…
A big change up has happened since the previous game with the introduction of the Fatal Blow system. While on the surface it appears to be just a renamed X-Ray attack, the changes make for a refreshing pace during matches. Fatal Blows, like X-Ray attacks, are flashy moves where your character proceeds to slice, dice, bash, shoot, burn or otherwise be really mean to your opponent for a significant amount of damage. What is different here is that you can only perform a Fatal Blow when you are below 30% health, making it something reserved for when you are hurting and possibly desperate, rather than using up special meter. Another change is missing the attack doesn’t mean it is gone, it just needs a while to recharge and the final, most important change over the previous system, is that you can only land a Fatal Blow once per match. This means you need to make it count, and not just use it because it is there. This changes the dynamic of play a lot. Suddenly an opponent who narrowly dodged a miss in round 1 by landing a Fatal Blow no longer has that attack to fall on for the rest of the fight, making taking them below 30% health a lot less dangerous.
This once and done philosophy applies to the game’s Krushing Blow system too. Certain attacks, like the uppercut, if hitting an attacking opponent, will cause a Krushing Blow. This attack does more damage than possible and always leaves the enemy in the air ripe for a juggle. The trade off is that each attack capable of landing this type of blow can also only do it once per fight, making it another “resource” at disposal during play.
My enthusiasm for the game is somewhat curbed after a fair amount of time in the Krypt. Resources vanish into the ether as you progress, each chest asking for a fair sum of your earnings. In the beginning this is fine, as the story mode and unlocking new parts of the Krypt all lavish you with a tidy purse to go spending. When you run out and want to go get more, that is when you realise some of the issues at the centre of this. Mortal Kombat 11 is home to four completely different currencies: Koins, Souls, Hearts and Time Shards. There happens to be a pretty prominent Store button that currently has nothing in the Store tab, but the Premium tab shows all sorts of rotating purchases for a hefty sum of Time Krystals. I can only imagine that purchasing Time Krystals, Koins, Hearts and Soul Fragments will be appearing really soon in the game and it feels… a lot like playing a mobile free-to-play game.
Getting Koins is probably the easiest of these currencies. The story, each Tutorial and most Towers award you with Koin, as does participating in fights and getting high-damage kombos. You can earn roughly 350 Koins a match, with chests requiring anything from 1,000 to over 15,000 to open. There are hundreds of chests, with an option to spend Koins to refill chests with loot.
Souls and Hearts are a bit harder to earn. You gain 10 souls per match, unless you get them as a Tower objective or reward, this is going to be a long farm. Each Soul Prison costs 100 to open, and there is one big portal that costs 2,000. So 200 matches to open one section of the map? Hearts are 1 per fatality, or 2 per brutality. The chests that use these require 100 or 250 Hearts per chest and there are so many of them that I can only imagine the grind for this without spending any extra money on time savers to measure into the tens of thousands of matches. The game hints at augments and konsumables to boost your earnings, but the augments I have seen give 3% more Hearts in a fight. 3% more of 1 Heart?
As much as I enjoyed the initial arrival in the Krypt, talking to Shang Tsung and discovering puzzles and items to unlock new areas and the like, the joy of exploring Tsung’s island wears off when you realise the sheer grind it will require, all seemingly to encourage currency purchases. This is exacerbated by several key items coming from outside of the Krypt, meaning exploring the Krypt isn’t going necessarily going to help you progress further or unlock a new pathway. Eventually, you are just loading in to see how many chests you can open in a small room before you run out of Koins, before loading out and looking if anything is worth grinding.
The Augment and Gear system are also rather counter-intuitive. To put an Augment in a piece of gear, you need to unlock slots in the gear by getting fight XP, essentially wearing that gear in fights often. Each gear piece has three slots in them, but you can’t tell which type of slot it is until you unlock it, and there are 5 different Augment types. If you like your Augments and can equip them, why would you take them off to level up a new piece of gear, then hope it has the correct slots or spend Koins to reroll the slots? It feels backwards and as a result, you will probably only wear the starting equipment on a character unless you ignore the Augments and care more about the fashion. Which is fine unless you want to do Towers of Time, where all those various “+Blood resist” Augments become far too important to pass up.
NettherRealm Studios also appears to have fixed up the stances and movements of characters so that attacks and poses look natural and believable.
Towers of Trouble
The game allows you to take on challenges and fights under special conditions to get rewards, but you better have an empty schedule and a stock of konsumables before you even try. While these towers lure you in with the promise of skins, equipment and more, those rewards are often what you get if you finish ALL the towers in that section. Sometimes this means beating five or so towers in a row, all before the timer causes the towers to disappear. Also, if you realise that say, on the final fight of a tower that you really need to equip such and such an augment to help out, you can’t leave to equip it, unless you want to throw your progress on that tower away. The towers can be downright frustrating too, as if you don’t pay attention to the various icons on them (and sometimes it appears these changes are not marked) you will find yourself face to face with an enemy with double the normal size health pool, or attacks that cause you to go blind or catch on fire for a while. A lot of these don’t feel like a test of skill, but rather a test of if you have enough Konsumables and know which ones to burn through on a fight. Considering these items require a fair amount of grinding to get, the idea of burning through a dozen or more to beat several towers to get a skin or piece of equipment loses its appeal.
I love Mortal Kombat 11, and there is so much to praise here. Characters have been changed up enough to add some spice, new characters bring new strategies to the line-up and the game’s story mode and tutorials are absolutely stellar. NettherRealm Studios also appears to have fixed up the stances and movements of characters so that attacks and poses look natural and believable, instead of someone just jiggling around as much as possible while flailing random limbs out. The fatal and krushing blows add depth, and take the pressure off of the special gauges, allowing them to be used for proper special extenders, and defensive manoeuvres. If you want to see more Mortal Kombat lore, beat up your friends or wail on the AI a bit, this is great. But if you are a completionist who wants to tick all those items off the list in the Krypt, be careful of a grind that feels like it was ripped out of a free-to-play game with the same speed and precision as a spine-ripping fatality. Who’s Next? Hopefully the grind.