“Oooh,” my friends shout as they watch Cassie pierce Kabal’s head on a spike in the stage — doing minimal damage, but looking particularly gruesome. “Oh wow,” they exclaim, as Skarlet finishes her Fatality and they see Scorpion’s skewered eyeball. I hear them constantly praising the graphics as entrails and limbs go flying.
As for myself, I’m rather numb to the violence. Mortal Kombat’s buckets of blood and guts never really appealed to me. Instead, I was focused on the battle ahead. What made Mortal Kombat 11 tick? More importantly, was the appeal of this fighting game more than skin deep?
The answer to the second question is yes. Beneath the surface of Mortal Kombat 11 is a mechanically sound and fun-to-play fighting game. A few strange design decisions do muck up an otherwise great experience, but it’s not quite enough to drag the newest entry to this iconic series down.
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Kill and Kontinue
Mortal Kombat, as a series, does something a little different from most of its fighting genre brethren. Instead of relying on quarter circles and memorizing long strings of combos, Netherrealm Studios decided to stick with simpler directional controls and just four attack buttons. It’s more complex than Super Smash Bros.’ “press a direction and a button” controls, but nowhere near the complexity of many 2D anime fighters (we’re looking at you, Dragon Ball FighterZ, you gorgeous nightmare you).
It’s not a control scheme I was used to, but once I started breaking the habit of attempting quarter circles and using the D-pad for more deliberate button presses, I really started to dig Mortal Kombat 11 combat… Er, kombat. The action is fluid and feels realistic — well, as realistic as a game about demons and magic can be, anyway. Button mashing can work for easier battles but is discouraged early on, since you can’t string combos together by just randomly pressing buttons. It’s more about timing those attacks to specific circumstances that pop your enemy into the air, giving you an obvious signal to press the advantage.
It’s been a long, long time since I last played a Mortal Kombat game (I also skipped Netherrealm’s very similar Injustice series). Now, though, I fear that I’ve been missing out. The controls are less punishing than the likes of Street Fighter, and that makes me want to keep coming back and playing more. And there’s always plenty more to return to — for better and for worse.
Of course, it’s hard to talk Mortal Kombat without touching on its gratuitous violence, and it’s equally obvious that it’s back for Mortal Kombat 11. Blood, guts, and eyeballs constantly fly across the screen — even if you don’t perform the series’ signature Fatalities. Sometimes it’s hard to understand how some of these characters can have friendly banter seconds before they slice each other’s bellies open.
There are three main ways to get your gore fix one. First up, you have Fatal Blows. Fatal Blows pop up when one character is low on health, and are easily activated by a single command. It’s essentially a special move that can turn the tides of battle, while also being a gruesome spectacle. They’re nearly identical to X-Rays in the previous two Mortal Kombat games, except that you can only use them once per match.
But Fatal Blows just soften them up (typically by putting out some eyes or breaking multiple bones — no big deal right?). When it’s time to finish your foe, you can activate a round-ending Brutality, which are frankly a bit disappointing. They’re sort of like early arcade Fatalities that you can use to end a battle with a flourish. Finally, though, you can go all out with a full-on Fatality. Fatalities are Mortal Kombat violence in all its glory, and focus on killing, dismembering, and obliterating your opponent in the most over-the-top fashion possible.
Honestly, though, the gore and violent spectacle of Mortal Kombat aren’t what I play MK11 for. Many consider it a core pillar of the series, but I find the violence more silly and overdone than anything else. It is fun to watch the same Fatal Blows and two-per-character Fatalities a few times around, but eventually, I’m looking for something new. Thankfully, the core gameplay is strong enough that it doesn’t need the gore to get my blood pumping.
I just have to say, the Mortal Kombat 11 story mode is fantastic. Not in such a way that you would call the actual plot “good,” but Netherrealm wholly embraces the absurdity and campiness of the series within its canon. The story gives a reason for past and present versions of longtime characters to exist in the same space, and it’s endlessly fun to watch — even if I’m not completely up to date on my lore to make sense of it all. This is very much the conclusion to a trilogy that started with Mortal Kombat (2011) and carried on in Mortal Kombat X. If you didn’t see what happened in those two games, like me, you’re going to be somewhat lost.
But it helps that the cutscenes (not to mention the moment-to-moment action) are downright beautiful. Playing on a decent PC, Mortal Kombat 11 has no issues with its cinematics, usually offering seamless transitions from cutscenes to fights.
As I expect any good fighting game story mode to do, the main Mortal Kombat 11 plot introduced me to a bunch of fighters, and let me try many of them out in low stakes (but still challenging) bouts. Sometimes the hardest part of getting acclimated to a new fighting game is figuring out which characters gel with your playstyle. Well, this story mode gives new players that chance.
After the curtains close on the story, though, there’s still plenty more to do.
Mortal Kombat 11 has a boundless supply of content. Each character has a ton of equipment to choose from. And each can be subtly augmented to change how the character plays. There’s also a bunch of purely cosmetic costumes to unlock, and you can even earn inputs for “secret” Fatalites that are otherwise obscured.
So, for the discerning fighting game fan, there is plenty of reason to keep returning to MK11. With so many layers of customization for each character, there are almost endless combinations to try. Pretty much everything is unlockable in-game, too — from icons to taunts to victory posts. It’s also a bit overwhelming, though, as the sheer number of choices can shock you into… well, just sticking with the default gear options and nothing else!
However, unlocking everything won’t be easy, and therein lies the main issue with Mortal Kombat 11.
The Krypt and the Towers
There are two ways to unlock new stuff. First, you have the Krypt. It’s essentially a third-person side game where you wander around the wealth of Shang Tsung’s Island, spend money to open treasure chests, and just explore. The contents of each chest are practically randomized (the higher the price, the better the reward). Although each chest is character-specific. By opening one chest, you’ll get an assortment of goodies for a single character.
You’ll also get Koins (the general currency for the Krypt) relatively easily by playing every other Mortal Kombat 11 mode. But with its randomized nature, it can be surprisingly frustrating to get some of the Krypt stuff you really want. I was personally interested in unveiling the button combinations for each character’s second Fatality —something I already found less than ideal because it felt like I was being punished for not wanting to look them up online. But you need to pray to the RNG Gods that you get the items you want. If you don’t get what you want, you just need to come back later with more Koins and… Try again!
The second way to unlock new gear and outfits is within the Towers of Time. A twist on the Klassic Towers, you’ll take on a series of time-limited challenges for unique rewards. These towers aren’t easy, either. You need to know how to counter whatever advantages the opponent has, while scoring high enough to get the best rewards. And countering the challenge modifiers is also tied to RNG. You need semi-random “Konsumables” to counterattack annoying disadvantages, like endless rockets hitting you from off-screen.
That makes the Towers of Time extremely difficult. The disadvantages you’re placed against can even seem unfair at times. But these Towers are essentially the main endgame of Mortal Kombat 11 — offering plenty of interesting, unique fights after the Story and Klassic Towers are completed. For a casual player like me, though, they’re a bit too difficult to return to consistently.
But if there’s one thing Mortal Kombat 11 wants you to do, it’s keep you grinding. The wealth of items to unlock forces the player into a specific loop — at least after you finish the story mode. It boils down to taking on the Towers of Time (and sometimes Klassic Towers), then returning to the Krypt to continue looting, using Konsumables and augments you gain there to beat more towers.
Since you can’t choose what you’ll get from the chests (even if you save up for only the highest value ones) there’s a chance you won’t get the specific unlockable you’re gunning for. The Krypt is at least merciful enough to not put duplicates in the chests. But considering how many irrelevant character icons and concept art photos you unlock, you still feel like you’re getting junk a lot of the time.
All of this should sound familiar if you’ve played a “live game” in recent years. It appears to be a front to push the players towards spending real money. And… there is a premium currency, called Time Krystals. However, you cannot use them in the Krypt — or for any gameplay-relevant items for that matter. Instead, you only use Krystals to buy costumes or “Easy Fatality” tokens. And the latter only allows for super easy, super messy finishers. So the grind feels pretty unnecessary all around.
While the grindy nature of the Krypt is a bit of a disappointment, Mortal Kombat 11 is just too fun to play. I’ll never unlock everything (or hell, even half of everything), but I’m excited to come back and tackle some Towers and enjoy the core mechanics some more. While fighting online tends to be the endgame for many fighters, Mortal Kombat 11 offers a bundle of content for solo play as well.
For any fighting game aficionado, Mortal Kombat 11 is a worthy addition to your Kollection. It’s also pretty welcoming to newcomers and people that have been away from the series for a while I’m a living testament to that. While the violence and over the top Fatalities will still turn away those not keen on gore, underneath the splattered organs and detached eyeballs is a solid and fun fighting game.