Mortal Kombat 11 is the best fighting game in years and one of the best entries in the franchise, featuring stunning combat and a fun story.
Coming just over four years after its highly regarded predecessor Mortal Kombat X, Mortal Kombat 11 does something that perhaps many didn't think was a possibility: it gives fans one of the best fighting games in years. It doesn't accomplish this by doing anything major to reinvent the series but by taking everything that has worked before and amplifying it to new levels. The combat is polished and exciting in all the right ways, the story is campy and ludicrously entertaining, and of course, there's plenty of blood and gore to make every big move feel exceptionally brutal.
The story of Mortal Kombat 11, which runs just over six hours (give or take a couple hours depending on skill level and difficulty), is truly absurd in all the best ways. Introducing a new villain in Kronika, who can manipulate time, the game finds ways to bring past versions of characters face-to-face with their current counterparts. This not only makes for some fun interactions, it allows fans who have been following the series to see just how these characters have grown and changed over the years (especially after the big time jump in Mortal Kombat X). Basically, if you've been a fan of the story up until this point, Mortal Kombat 11 will not disappoint.
Like past entries, players will spend most of the time in Mortal Kombat 11's story mode either watching action packed and gory cutscenes or fighting one on one with new and old enemies alike. Developer NetherRealm Studios has removed the repetitive and dull quick time events that plagued Mortal Kombat X's story mode, letting the player better take in the story before each hard-hitting battle. The game also offers up some incentive for replaying certain sections of the story, as there will be certain fights where you'll be able to choose between two different protagonists to play as. While it doesn't change anything in the story, it does offer players the chance to implement different strategies depending on which character they choose.
Most fans will be coming into Mortal Kombat 11 for the actual fighting itself and the game doesn't disappoint in this area. Pulling off combos has never felt so smooth, with every push of the button feeling impactful to the action playing out. Much like every game in the MK series before it, patience and timing are vital to winning. Unlike Mortal Kombat X, however, there are also times in this game where losing health strategically is beneficial. Mortal Kombat 11 brings in a new system called Fatal Blows, a replacement for X-Ray moves, which are only activated when the player character's health drops below 30 percent. These moves can only be used once per match, so it's not only beneficial to wait for the ideal moment, it's extremely important to keep an eye on both your own health and your opponent's for maximum effect.
It also helps that Mortal Kombat 11's roster of fighters feel more distinctly different from each other than ever before. Some feel heavy and slow moving, but are balanced by better power moves while others feel light and weaker but better attuned for quick combos that deal damage fast. Whichever strategy you favor, fighting against other actual players in multiplayer - be it in a standard online match, locally or in the game's returning tournament mode - will prove to be a war of attrition rather than straight up button mashing. The game's tutorial modes are very helpful, especially for newer players, offering up basic, advanced, strategy and character lessons. There's no reason not to take full advantage of these tutorials.
Also returning to Mortal Kombat 11 is the Towers mode, which again pits players against a certain number of opponents in a series of fights. This can range from 5 to 25 (there's even an endless Tower), but there are also different difficulty levels attached to the mode. Next to fighting real players, the Towers mode is as equally exciting and frustrating as Mortal Kombat 11 gets, especially in higher difficulty modes where health lost carries over into the next fight. Keeping with its story theme of time, the game also introduces Towers of Time - a replacement of Living Towers from Mortal Kombat X. These towers once again will change after a certain amount of real world time has passed and they offer loot associated with characters, various currencies and rare artifacts. For those who prefer fighting NPC characters rather than against other players, Towers of Time will be where they likely spend most of their time.
For those looking for a more RPG-like experience with their Mortal Kombat, the Krypt once again makes an appearance. This mode allows players to explore an open-world map, find different chests and treasures (which can be opened using Kombat Koins) and complete various puzzles. Unlike in Mortal Kombat X, the puzzles and open world here feel like a more fully realized game mode than something that was just tacked on last minute. There are tons of different little treasure chests to find, which are filled with consumables that are useful in Towers mode (some of which can optionally be purchased for real money). This mode is a nice break from the constant bloody action that fills the rest of the game and offers up a way for players to feel like they're accomplishing something even when they're not engaging in any actual one-on-one combat.
While narrative themes and complex storytelling have never really been areas in which a Mortal Kombat title excels in, Mortal Kombat 11 at least tries to add some sophistication in between all the carnage. Constantly shifting allegiances has long been a staple of the series and its stories, but here the game really plays with the complex themes of morality and how even the "bad guys" have goals and dreams that are not entirely unsympathetic. This is especially true of main antagonist Kronika, who is perhaps one of the best and most fully realized characters the series has introduced in years. This isn't to say that Mortal Kombat 11 is high art, either. It's just as cheesy and silly as any other game in the franchise, but the added hints of complexity sprinkled throughout the big action set pieces and break neck fighting makes for a better storytelling experience all around.
Mortal Kombat 11 isn't perfect, though. While its insistence on fine tuning and perfecting what's worked in the past ultimately plays as a strength, it's a little disappointing that the game doesn't try anything new with mechanics. This is amplified by the fact that there are very few new characters introduced. Mortal Kombat X introduced a ton of new characters thanks to its big time jump, but other than Kronika and a few of her minions, Mortal Kombat 11 fails to do so. There's also the frustrating grind involved with unlocking gear in the Towers of Time mode, which contains overpriced Character Towers that need to be purchased with in-game Kombat Koins.
While currency can be earned in game through most activities, everything is so expensive that it comes off as if the game is encouraging players to use their hard earned real money to purchase currency instead. With gear and augments that can be applied to that gear needed to improve stats and give players an edge in competitive combat, the game runs the risk of becoming a pay-to-win experience. This is especially true thanks to how needlessly complicated applying augments to gear is. While grinding towers and other activities is always an option for gaining Koins, more casual players with less time on their hands may be disappointed by how this system is implemented in Mortal Kombat 11.
In spite of all of that, Mortal Kombat 11 is still a truly next generation fighting game, taking the series into a bright future even while keeping most of its core mechanics relatively the same. Even in a crowded genre that includes awesome fighters like Dragon Ball FighterZ and the Injustice games, Mortal Kombat 11 reigns supreme. From a combat system that's as polished and exciting as it gets to various game modes that offer something for every kind of player, this will be a game that others will mimic and learn from for years to come. Mortal Kombat 11 is indeed one of the finest fighting games in years, but it's also one of the best games in the franchise, even with its potential to abuse microtransactions. How NetherRealm Studios eventually tops this is unclear, but it'll be exciting to watch them try.
Mortal Kombat 11 releases April 23 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and PC for $59.99. Screen Rant was provided an Xbox One copy for the purposes of this review.