Mortal Kombat is one of the longest-running and most successful videogame franchises of all time, thanks largely to its ability to adapt and change with the times. After a series of misguided spin-offs and main-game misfires in the 2000s, developer NetherRealm Studios went back to basics in 2011 with a hard reboot titled simply Mortal Kombat, which revitalized the series with tight, focused fighting mechanics and an innovative cinematic story mode.
NetherRealm has refined this formula to great effect, alternating between Mortal Kombat and the DC Comics fighting series Injustice every few years, with each learning and borrowing elements from the other. Mortal Kombat 11 feels like the culmination of the studio’s decade-long resurgence, although to slightly diminishing returns. While it’s a super-solid and enjoyable fighter, it hews so closely to 2015’s Mortal Kombat X and 2017’s Injustice 2 that it’s hard not to get a strong sense of déjà-mutilation.
It’s strange to fault a game for being merely as good as its excellent predecessor, but MK11 does surprisingly little to push the series forward. The story mode introduces a new big bad, Kronika, the Keeper of Time. Unhappy with the events of MKX, which saw Raiden defeating the Elder God Shinnok, she starts bending time to try rewrite history, which revives dead characters and brings back younger versions into the present. All this to allow players the goofy joy of seeing an older Johnny Cage nut-punch his obnoxious younger self.
The roughly six-hour campaign has you play through many different characters (from many different timelines), and it’s a good introduction to the game, although MK11’s band of ninjas, gods, and demons isn’t quite as compelling as Injustice’s pantheon of DC’s heroes and supervillains, and the story comes off as pretty corny. It’s enjoyably schlocky in its over-the-top way, but it’s still a B-movie that you probably won’t need to play through more than once.
Fortunately, the gameplay is as strong as ever, offering multiple playstyles per character, which you can customize to your heart’s content. MK11’s greatest strength might be the sheer amount of customizability you have over how you play. Playing through the game’s various modes unlocks different items, outfits, and even special moves and fatalities, letting you craft characters to your specific playstyle, which you can then take online to fight other players in unranked battles. Ranked battles limit you to two loadouts in order to keep fights on an even playfield.
Much like NetherRealm’s previous games, there’s a rotating series of challenges to play through in the Towers of Time mode. Fights can vary from standard matches to ones where rockets are constantly raining down on you, or where getting too close to your opponent will set you on fire. Players can equip “Konsumables,” items that you acquire through battles or exploring the game’s Krypt mode (or presumably, by spending real money once the store goes live), to help in fights, but some of these stacked fights feel more gimmicky and annoying than rewarding, and having to find the right antidote to a particular challenge can get old quickly. But all in all, there’s a staggering amount of content to keep players grinding to unlock new gear, even if battling for an hour to unlock a new cosmetic item such as a spearhead or headband might not always feel entirely worthwhile.
At its core, Mortal Kombat 11 is a bloody good fighting game, but after two (rebooted) Mortal Kombats and two Injustices, it doesn’t feel quite as exciting or innovative anymore. It’s the culmination of the studio’s work this decade and one of the best fighters on the market, but it seems like it might be time for NetherRealm to reboot the series yet again to keep us playing through the next decade. B
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