Review: Mortal Kombat 11 (PlayStation 4)

Reviewed by Jakub Kowalski, posted May 14, 2019, last updated May 14, 2019
There's only a handful of games that change the gaming industry irreversibly, and if there's one that truly affected it both in the eyes of gamers and the public alike, it has to be Mortal Kombat. The game was so brutal, so gruesome and so outrageous that it almost single-handedly resulted in the creation the ESRB by the U.S. Senate in 1993. Mortal Kombat has been a staple of the fighting game universe ever since and a big tournament favourite. Despite having its ups and downs, it's a series that's been with us for years and all signs on heaven and earth show that it's here to stay. Does the latest installment of MK live up to its legacy? There's only one way to find out.
May 14, 2019
  • Release Date (NA): April 23, 2019
  • Release Date (EU): April 23, 2019
  • Release Date (JP): April 23, 2019
  • Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
  • Developer: NetherRealm Studios
  • Genres: Fighting
  • ESRB Rating: Mature
  • PEGI Rating: Eighteen years and older
  • Also For: Computer, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer
    Co-operative
Mortal Kombat 11 is a fighting game by NetherRealm Studios, available for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch and PC.
Jakub Kowalski

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Why did the Chicken Cross the Road? Because Scorpion Told him to Get Over There!

It's hard not to like Mortal Kombat as a series. It's one of those games that are easy enough to simply pick up and play - you can learn a couple of basic moves, mash your way through the rest of the kombo list and somehow finish the arcade ladder, albeit with some difficulty. That being said, the game truly shines when you take the time to memorise the most efficient button kombinations and juggle your helpless opponents across the map like a true martial arts master, finishing the shameful display with a juicy Fatality that splatters them across the screen. I've been a fan for a long time, I don't even know how many hours I sank into the series, particularly in MK4 and MK9. Sadly, I didn't really enjoy Mortal Kombat X, the first current gen installment of the series, as much as other gamers seemed to. If we were to judge games just by their review scores, you'd think that MKX was the best thing since sliced bread, but to me something just felt off about it. The presentation felt cold, with blue being the dominant colour choice, and the controls just weren't as tight as I'd want them to be. As such, I was excited to pick MK11 a spin when I got my hands on a copy - I expected it to refine and fine-tune the game, and boy, did it deliver. My impressions were very positive from the start - gone was the cold colour palette, replaced with the warm colours much more reminiscent of MK9, alongside buckets upon buckets of blood, bile and other bodily fluids that are gratuitously splattered all over the screen at all times. The game "looked" more like the Mortal Kombat I knew and loved, so this was the first sign of good things to come.

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The time distortion in MK11 leads to some... interesting encounters

I started my adventure with with the story mode. Now, with most fighting games the story is simply an elaborate way to introduce, or in the case of series veterans, re-introduce players to the controls of the game, but MK11 manages to achieve so much more. To make a long story short, Mortal Kombat is, and always has been, about the eternal conflict between Earthrealm and its enemies. Outworld or the Netherworld attacks, Earthrealm assembles a crack commando of their best fighters, they duke it out in a bloody tournament, rinse and repeat, right? Wrong, my friends! Raiden, the protector of Earthrealm has gotten more and more power-hungry over the years. With each passing kalamity the Thunder God became less and less interested in protecting humankind per se and more interested in obliterating the forces of evil, by any means necessary. During the events leading up to MK11, Raiden attempted to secure a future for Earthrealm that would render its enemies permanently incapable of mounting an offense against it. At the end of MKX Raiden absorbs the power of Shinnok, decapitates him and delivers his disembodied head to the rulers of the Netherealm, Liu Kang and Kitana, as a bloody reminder of what happens to those who dare to attack his protectorate. Corrupted by the evil power of Shinnok, Raiden introduces a brutal policy of crushing any potential foes of Earthrealm pre-emptively, regardless of what it takes to achieve and with no regard for human life. By doing so he upset the balance of time itself, catching the attention of Kronika - the Keeper of Time. She certainly was not amused by Raiden's actions, particularly due to the fact that Shinnok happened to be her son - whoopsie! This sets in motion a series of events that weave a surprisingly engaging and very cinematic storyline well-worth the price of admission. Where the past and the present collide, unlikely alliances and interesting twists are certain.

Why Does Sub-Zero Freeze his Enemies? Because Revenge is Best Served Cold!

With the story mode complete, I had a taste of all the other features MK11 had to offer, starting with the Towers. You have a choice between Klassic Towers - the usual arrangement of arcade ladders which rewards you with alternative endings for each character you play them as, and Towers of Time - a rotating selection of arcade ladders which feature time-specific modifiers, rewards and difficulty, similar to how the Multiverse of Injustice 2 or The Living Towers of MKX used to work. This aspect of the game saw much criticism from both the press and the gaming community as your performance in the towers can be dependant on the Konsumables used, and as you might imagine, those entail grinding or spending in-game kurrency. I can understand and relate to gamers who have a problem with this kind of a monetisation vector, but personally, I never found myself in dire need of any konsumables and haven't purchased any kurrency for the purposes of this review. Just playing the game gives you enough rewards to go around, but admittedly, I am not a kompletionist, nor a hardcore Mortal Kombat fanatic, so I have to mention this aspect of the game for the sake of transparency. While I may be satisfied with just unlocking different endings in the Klassic Towers, MK fanatics interested in unlocking everthing there is to unlock might find it hard to grind their way through the Towers of Time available at any given time. To make things worse, rewards can only be earned when connected to MK11's game servers - an issue that I expect to be particularly annoying on the Nintendo Switch due to the portable nature of the console.

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Don't mess with Jacqui Briggs - she packs a punch!

Speaking of unlockables, there's a wealth of them - there are literally thousands of costume pieces, konsumables, banners and so on which allow a fair bit of customisation. When I was faced with the sheer amount of kontent available I simply resigned myself to never being able to unlock it all, which is a blessing and a curse. The blessing part is simple to grasp - it was liberating to just not worry about it and accept rewards as they come, which I think is the way the developers intended the game to be played. The curse is fairly obvious too, and it further inflates the problem I touched upon with the Tower section - the cost. There are several kinds of kurrency available in-game - Koins, Hearts, Soul Fragments and Time Fragments, and while you are rewarded with them all throughout the course of gameplay, expect to hit a wall sooner or later. Many of the skins are simply random rewards, and since RNG is a fickle mistress, you will have to grind to get what you want most times. What I found really surprising was the fact that the game only offers two unlockable characters - Frost, who can be unlocked by finishing the main storyline, and Shao Khan, who either comes as a DLC code with the game or can be purchased separately, depending on the version you buy. This was a little odd to me as unlocking characters used to be the main drive to finish arcade ladders in fighting games, but on the bright side, you get access to pretty much the complete roster from the get-go.

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Welcome to Shang Tsung's Lootbox Resort - No Refunds!

While we're on the subject of rewards, it's time to mention The Krypt, MK11's mechanism of rewarding the player with items and skins. So, you've finished the story mode, you've bravely scaled the Towers and now you have a boatload of kurrency to spend? Great! Shang Tsung's island resort offers players a Krypt where they can spend the hard-earned money they literally spilled blood to get on opening chests filled with goodies. While initially fun to fool around in, I found the Krypt to be a thinly-veiled attempt at introuducing Lootboxes to the game without actually calling them that. Let's face it, we know what's going on here - every chest takes kurrency to open, and the rewards are, for the most part, random. Wrapping it all in an interactive exploration minigame, while somewhat entertaining, was a little tedious at times and did very little to hide the monetisation aspect of the game, if that was even the intention. It was certainly more involving than just clicking a button and seeing my kurrency wash away in the whirlwind of RNG, but I'm not sure if that's a good thing. The Krypt has an air of a Rube Goldberg machine, overcomplicating an almost universally despised mechanic in an effort to make it more enjoyable. Was it though? At times, yes. It feels good to solve the occasional puzzle on Shang Tsung's island, or to randomly get a really cool-looking skin from a chest, but more than anything I found the Krypt to be one thing - very time-consuming. It's certainly no Konquest mode and could've been so, so much more than just an overcomplicated reward delivery system.

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The occasional puzzle or exploration mechanic give the player something to do in-between opening chests

Lastly, the game offers a brand-new feature often requested by fans, AI battles, and it does so with a twist. Many players wanted Mortal Kombat to include a mode where they could pit AI players against each other in order to observe kombos and study different strategies they could deploy themselves in battle, and in that respect, MK11 delivers. You get to assemble teams of three Defenders and three Attackers, which you are free to kustomise to your liking and send off into the cyberspace to fight other player's teams. For doing so you get, you guessed it - daily invasion rewards, and a bloody spectacle you can either watch or fast forward through, depending on your preference.

What's Johnny Cage's Favourite Part of a Joke? The "Punch" Line!

After reading everything I had to say about MK11 you might get the impression that I'm conflicted about the game - you would be wrong. The fluidity of kombat is unparalleled, the story is engaging and fun, the roster is excellent and the "look" and "feel" of the game are just right - those are the aspects of the "game proper" that are worth talking about as they're the ones that contribute to the overall gameplay experience you will have with MK11. Yes, the game has problems with the relentless grind and its "Loot Island", but will that affect you in any meaningful way when you grab a pair of controllers with your friend or your significant other to duke it out? It didn't affect me. While I can overlook optional monetisation in a world where nearly every game is monetised, and I'm not one to complain about an excessive amount of unlockables as I follow a "more is better" policy, I do think that the game could've done a number of things better. The Krypt in particular could've been a more adventure-oriented mode, especially since MK11 does not feature the series' staple trials like the goofy Test your Might challenges I so fondly remember from MK9 to fill in the void. The game does offer content for players who have finished the main storyline and want more, but in their effort to create mountains of loot to collect, perhaps the developers overlooked some other aspects of the game that make players like me come back to it time and time again.

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MK11 is certainly impressive to look at - it's very sparky and very juicy!

With that said, I do urge players to perhaps squint a little and give MK11 a chance, despite the negative press it gets. The game is easily the best Mortal Kombat game since MK9, and those are some big shoes to fill for sure. With its juicy fatalities and a renewed focus on making the fights as fluid, bloody and spectacular as possible, MK11 does not fail to impress. The core gameplay experience is there, and it's more refined than ever before - it has its "heart" in the right place, so... go on ahead and rip it out! FATALITY!

Verdict
Pros
+ Stunning visual presentation
+ Very satisfying and fluid kombat
+ The newly-introduced "Quitality" finally punishes Versus quitters with well-deserved humiliation
+ Tons of unlockable content allow the player to fully customise their fighters
Cons
- An excessive focus on monetisation can be discouraging to some players
- The Krypt mode leaves a lot to be desired
10 Presentation
MK11 certainly looks the part - it's easily the best-looking Mortal Kombat game to date, and its colour palette is warmer and much more suitable compared to its predecessor, at least in my opinion. The blood and gore that constantly washes over the screen is truly a sight to behold, earning this game a well-deserved high score.
8 Gameplay
The game hits the nail on the head as far as kombat is concerned - it's very fluid and greatly improves upon the mechanics of MK9 and MKX. It "feels" right, which is hard to achieve in a franchise with this much baggage accumulated over the years. Its only shortcomings are not in what the game offers, but rather what it lacks - further interactivity in the Krypt which would make it more than just a glorified Lootbox Resort and the Test your Might challenges that made MK9 truly "pop", among other small tweaks, would've been welcome.
7 Lasting Appeal
NetherRealm Studios set out to make MK11 a long-term title by introducing the Towers of Time and I'm sure that the rotating pool of challenges will be much to the playerbase's liking. There's loads of costumes unlock and a mountain of chests to open in the Krypt, so there's certainly a lot to do. Sadly, the game is missing some of the quirkier elements of the previous installments and the sheer number of kollectibles can be discouraging to some players.
8.3
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
Mortal Kombat 11 is a very divisive game, most notably due to the heavy focus on unlockables and in-game kurrency, but if you look past that, it's a very competent and enjoyable fighting game that I would happily recommend. I have no doubt that it will become a staple of tournaments in the coming future, and it deserves to - it polishes the kombat model introduced in MK9 and MKX, making it a fighting game to die for.


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