Considering the success of Injustice 2 before it, it’s not like we desperately needed a new Mortal Kombat game to come along. The 2015 release of Mortal Kombat (and its XL-sized content, featuring various movie villains and additional characters) was still keeping us plenty busy. That said, NetherRealm Studios felt the need to move on, and, boy, has it. Earlier this year, WB Games gave us the opportunity to get some Mortal Kombat 11 hands-on action.
The game had initially gotten a surprise announcement (even though some folks clearly saw it coming when creative director Ed Boon took the stage) at The Game Awards 2018 a month prior, but this event gave us the opportunity to go hands-on with the title and see what changes were coming to the formula.
Well, the good news is that the fundamentals of Kombat still remain intact with this latest go-around. The fighting is just as bloody as it’s ever been; and what’s more, NetherRealm has found a steady balancing act with its cast, introducing older favorites like Sub-Zero, Raiden and Scorpion, along with surprise returns like Baraka and Scarlett. And for good measure, there’s new blood to be spilled, in the form of the powerful Geras. And there’s probably more where that came from.
The game has some components in common with the previously released Mortal Kombat XL, as well as a little bit of Injustice 2. The fighting mechanics will be quite familiar to some, including the ability to pick up items in the background, just to mix things up a little bit. X-Rays also make a return, as you can deliver bone-crunching attacks to opponents, with the camera zooming in and displaying bits and pieces of their skeletons breaking apart. However, we can’t help but wonder how someone can possibly finish a match with a broken sternum.
Not too much has been revealed about the story just yet, but Mortal Kombat 11 follows right on the heels of the events that unfolded in X. Following the defeat of Shinnok, Raiden, now corrupted by evil, vows to return to Earthrealm to destroy all his foes. But there’s an interesting time wrinkle that gets in the way, as a new character named Kronika appears.
She deems herself as “The Keeper of Time,” and feels that Raiden is too much of a threat to the current timeline, as he could easily throw everything into chaos. So she does everything in her power to stop him at all costs, including throwing her loyal servant Geras into the fold. However, her intentions may not seem as clear as she makes them to be, especially given the brutal nature of Geras.
That’s about all we know, but it does set the events in motion for the fighting, which is as glorious as you’d expect it to be. Like in XL (and Injustice 2, to an extent), you can set up a series of combos with your given character, mixing up punches, kicks and special attacks to nail your opponent for a few crucial hits. Likewise, they can block and return the favor, making for a nicely seasoned match each time around.
But there’s more to Kombat than that. The X-Rays are just the beginning, creating some pulverizing moves to chip away at your rival’s energy bar. There are some neat new additions to the formula that keep it moving forward, instead of simply doing what XL did so well.
First off, there’s the Fatal Blow. With this, you can easily turn the tide of a match in your favor. This only becomes available once your character’s health drops below 30 percent (you’ll see an indication bar alerting you when this happens), and once you activate it, you can really knock the wind out of your opponent and bring them closer to your level of health.
That said, you will need the utmost timing when it comes to executing this move. The reason for this is because the Fatal Blow can only be used once per round. So if you miss, you won’t get the opportunity to do it again. Make your timing count, and don’t be in such a rush to pull it off, especially if your opponent is unleashing a flurry of attacks on you.
Then there’s the Krushing Blow. This works as an extension of the X-Ray, with a number of moves tied together to put the hurt on your adversary. Once you pull this off, they’ll perform a number of devastating moves chained together in a cinematic fashion. For instance, Sonya Blade will set up a turret, and after hitting her opponent a couple of times, she’ll drag them in front of it, where they’ll take several shots before being thrown to the ground. Over the top? Sure, but that’s Mortal Kombat for you.
If you’re on the defensive side of things with fighting, one mechanic you’ll definitely want to take advantage of is the Flawless Block. With this, you can actually time your blocks perfectly, setting the stage for striking back at an opponent with utmost agility. This can be tricky to execute, as we learned from our hands-on with the game, but it’s so worth it. It’s just a matter of finding the right moment and using it to get back into the fight.
Combined with the combos, Mortal Kombat 11 feels like it’s got its old-school nature completely intact. It does have some of the Mortal Kombat XL feel as well, but they seem to mesh together into something that feels worthwhile, even though we only played with a handful of characters.
That said, there’s something about how Geras plays. He’s a remarkable character, generating sand to his will for a number of moves, such as a bed of spikes that he throws his adversaries into, as well as projectiles that can prove quite useful in a face-off. And for his fatality, he can actually smash an opponent to pieces, sending part of their face flying off into the screen. Um, can you say, “Ouch”?
For that matter, the “old-school” characters have terrific feeling as well. Sonya Blade, here portrayed by former UFC and current WWE Raw women’s champion Ronda Rousey, is a versatile character, with up-close strikes and distant attacks that make her feel well balanced. As for her fatality, it’s a bit strange, as she launches an opponent into the air and shoots them high enough that they go flying into the blades of a helicopter, getting chopped into mincemeat. We prefer the ol’ “kiss of death” from the original game, but who knows, that could be a good alternate fatality for her.
Perhaps our favorite of the bunch, based on who we’ve tried out thus far, is Baraka. There’s something about having this beast back into the mix, mainly with how well his speed and power come together. His bladed arms are really good for raising a ruckus, and he’s also wonderful with his feet. As for his fatality, well, he rips his opponents a new one, then tears their brain out of their head and eats it like a mid-afternoon snack.
Now, keep in mind that this hands-on event didn’t include some of the newly introduced characters in the fold, such as the returning Kano or the uber powerful Kabal. So we have yet to give them a try. Fortunately, we’re not too far off from the launch of the beta for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, so we’ll be able to give them a chance. On top of that, there are still more fighters yet to be introduced, and it’s a safe bet we’ll see some other returning favorites, as well as an iconic downloadable character or two.
Now let’s talk about the presentation. Thus far, we’ve only been able to play a handful of stages within Mortal Kombat 11, but they’re represented very well. One features Sonya’s combat arena in the background, with a large turret roaming about and sand kicking around everywhere. It’s very well done, and will keep you happy as you use her (or your given character) to kick some butt and take some names.
There’s also a barely lit fighting arena where you can see purple candles in the background, adding some nice mood to your fight. This is probably one of my favorites, just because of how well NetherRealm integrated lighting into the mix.
Finally, a torn-apart temple really shows just how much the world has changed following the corruption of Raiden. There are fallen monks everywhere, cast into stone. And you can actually fight around them as you take on your opponent, delivering crushing blows and maybe even throwing one or two of them around, depending on where you’re standing.
The animation in Mortal Kombat 11 thus far is excellent. Each of the characters brings their moves to life with thunderous ability. Raiden, for instance, crackles with electricity with each step he takes in battle. Baraka, meanwhile, looks absolutely menacing with his steely grin and his twisted facial design. And, of course, Scorpion and Sub-Zero are on point with their trademark fire and ice abilities, leaving their mark in each stage that they partake in battle.
As for sound, we could barely hear the game with our hands-on session, but it’s great to have that deep voiced announcer back calling each match as it kicks off. The music is superb thus far, capturing the same mood that worked so well in Mortal Kombat XL. And as cheesy as the voices can be at times, they fit the characters like a glove, especially Scarlett, who sounds like an absolute badass. For that matter, Rousey does give Sonya Blade the right amount of kick thus far, though some fans may prefer the previous actress that portrayed her.
There are still some questions that have yet to be answered when it comes to Mortal Kombat 11. The first is how the Nintendo Switch version of the game will hold up. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the chance to try it out during the event, though producer Trevor Traub made it clear that there’s a dedicated team hard at work on making that version handle really well.
He confirmed that a team by the name of Shiver Studios was hard at work on that version, and though there is a slight bit of compression in order to make it run, it should be just as smooth and hard-hitting as other versions of the game. Not to mention the fact that you’ll be able to take your fights wherever you go, thanks to the Switch’s portability. So it’s got an advantage over the other versions right there.
Then there are the multiplayer components. The Towers will once again be making a comeback, labeled the Towers of Time, so you can challenge a string of opponents before challenging others. Online play should work like a charm in all versions, even though it hasn’t been tested yet. Hopefully we’ll see some tournament options with the final release, as this could be a big success come EVO 2019 time, making it a key part of the yearly fighting show.
And of course, we’re left with the question of “Who’s next?,” as the game regularly asks. We know a great deal of the cast that will be included in MK11, but there are more spots open for returning favorites, as well as new faces and guest stars. Mortal Kombat gave us everyone from Leatherface to Alien and Predator, so the sky’s the limit. I’m honestly pulling for Ash from the Evil Dead series to make the rounds. However, NetherRealm has proven to surprise before, as it did with Hellboy and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in Injustice 2, so we’ll just keep on guessing in the meantime.
There’s really a lot to like about Mortal Kombat 11 thus far. The gameplay has its heart in the right place (when it’s not getting ripped out, mind you), with new and classic features to please all sorts of fans. The presentation is top-notch, even upping the game that XL provided years ago. Now we just need to see how the rest of the pieces come together before the game arrives on April 23 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and PC.
One thing’s for sure. Mortal Kombat fans will eat it right up, like Baraka snacking on that brain. Mmmmm, brain food.
(Hat tip to WB Games for having me down at the event!)