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Review: Mortal Kombat 11 (PlayStation 4)By justin-p At 03.05.2019 10:13

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Mortal Kombat 11's blockbuster storyline reinforces the established lore of the series and sets the foundation for its base roster of 24 characters (25 if you count pre-order bonus Shao Kahn). It's unusual for a fighting game to place so much emphasis on its story mode - it's usually nothing more than a distraction and an excuse to try out a handful of the characters on the roster. Mortal Kombat 11, however, goes all in with its story, and it's a great thing that it does.

Series newcomer Kronika - a time-shifting witch hell-bent on rewriting history - is the game's big bad, and as usual, NetherRealm does a good job of introducing new characters into the existing lore; a tricky task when said lore is over a quarter of a century old. Plot circumstances cause a divide in the ragtag slew of characters in the Mortal Kombat universe. Kronika's meddling with timelines has caused past and present to collide, resulting in older versions of staple characters meeting their younger selves. These characters are split down the middle by the choice to either aid Kronika or resist her, and players may be surprised by which side some of the characters fall on. This naturally leads to some hilarious, heart-breaking, and outright baffling story moments, and this reviewer loved every second of the over-the-top action set-pieces and fan-service.

Story events see three new characters join the roster: Elder Goddess Cetrion, Shao-Kahn's six-armed servant Kollector, and Kronika's invincible henchman Geras. Unfortunately, with the minor exception of Cetrion, they are not given enough story time to really make an impact, and as a result feel much less weighty than series mainstays. It will be interesting to see if they are reintroduced in inevitable future Mortal Kombat games, but they don't have any of the flair and style that Mortal Kombat X's handful of new characters did, most of whom made it into Mortal Kombat 11's line-up.

While the story is one of MK's most entertaining yet, many of the characters regrettably seem to appear just for the sake of it without having anything worthwhile to say or do. Fan-favourite gunslinger Erron Black's role in particular is very disappointing and not fleshed out at all, which feels like a missed opportunity given that he is voiced by the exceptionally talented Troy Baker (Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, inFamous: Second Son, Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor).

Then again, there is a limit to how much "fleshing out" can really occur in a fighting game's story: as NetherRealm's story and voiceover Director Dominic Ciancolo aptly put it, there are only so many reasons for characters to keep beating each other up before it gets stale. In this sense, Mortal Kombat 11 certainly does not overstay its welcome. Then again, this is Mortal Kombat, and there's so much more to see and do than the brief but enjoyable story mode.

The roster is just about as diverse as it's ever been thanks to seemingly limitless customisation options for each fighter. Character variations return with a twist - players can craft their own variation sets by piecing together various special moves and combos for each fighter. This is a great touch and brings the player closer to the characters than ever before, catering to newcomers but also going deeper mechanically to appeal to the seasoned Kombat veteran. Most of the character animations are excellent as well. Going on style and mechanics alone, this is pound for pound one of the best fighting games of the generation.

Visually, the game is often captivating. The enhanced realism of Injustice 2 has been bolstered further here, serving to make blood effects and fatalities more cringe-inducing than ever. Speaking of the fatalities, they are gloriously gory and horrifyingly creative - for those with weak stomachs, it might be a good idea to play this game before a meal.

Building upon Injustice 2's Multiverse mode, Mortal Kombat 11 has a new mode called Towers of Time, in which players can battle through ever-changing spires of fighters. In an attempt to keep things fresh, many of the stages in each tower have modifiers which impact the gameplay, such as the screen going black when taking a hit or missiles periodically raining from the sky. At launch, this mode was a bit of a let-down: it felt like Towers of Time was not play-tested thoroughly enough, as some of the challenges transcended the concept of difficulty to become unplayable.

Additionally, the often-meagre rewards for completing these challenges were not compelling enough to warrant suffering through the gauntlets of god-like AI opponents. This has since been patched, however, and Towers of Time now provides a much more stable and enjoyable experience, by balancing difficulty and increasing rewards for kicking, punching, and stabbing a path to glory. NetherRealm have promised to continue providing support and updating the game throughout its lifecycle as well, so things can only get better. The only sore spot is the fact that the game didn't ship in this ideal state.

What is somewhat less fixable, however, is the convoluted progression and gear system. Injustice 2 introduced the concept of advancing from simple fighter skins to having gear unlockables, and they work similarly in Mortal Kombat 11. However, this time around gear does not have any stats - they are purely cosmetic, and only provide boosts if they are augmented with gems. Gear and augments, as well as new fatalities/brutalities, intros and victory poses, can all be obtained in the Krypt - a returning mode that allows the player to freely explore a map filled with treasure chests and secrets. The Krypt itself is a joy to explore, even if it can feel like a slog at times. For better or worse, most of the chests in the Krypt are placed uniquely for each player, making it a grind in the truest sense of the word to locate a specific item. It's simply disappointing that these systems fail to work cohesively. It's clear what NetherRealm was trying to achieve and it's painful to see it miss the mark.

It isn't all doom and gloom, though. While it is often a nightmare to unlock specific customisation items for each fighter, the characters themselves are thankfully fully playable from the get-go. No combos or moves are locked, and even "locked" fatalities and brutalities can be performed as long as the correct input is entered. The online experience was mostly good for this reviewer, with only a few minor connection interferences occurring to detract from the joy of being pummelled by players with significantly more skill than he. And it does take skill to be good, even though Mortal Kombat is as accessible as it's ever been thanks to a very deep tutorial. It takes intensive practice to become competent with each combatant, but that is the joy that fighting games offer: being rewarded for putting in the necessary effort. In this, Mortal Kombat 11 excels, and will doubtless provide a source of inspiration for future fighters.

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Final Score
[i]Mortal Kombat 11[/i] caters to the hype as far as its combat is concerned, managing to expand on the series' trademark formula and provide an entertaining story mode to boot. In a truly admirable feat of game design, every character manages to feel fresh despite some of them being around since 1992. Long-time fans and newcomers alike will have plenty to enjoy with this title. The only thing holding [i]Mortal Kombat 11[/i] back is its convoluted gear system, but with NetherRealm committed to continually improve upon its creation, that is subject to change. As it stands, this is a great fighting experience.



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