Time is everyone's biggest enemy, it can lead a franchise into ruin after mediocre iterations gradually tear its reputation down or it can help establish a great legacy in being one of the greatest fighting series ever made. For Mortal Kombat 11, time is even more important. It firmly establishes itself as a fantastic fighter, maybe the best, alongside a generation of fantastic fighters like Tekken 7 (opens in new tab), Dragon Ball FighterZ (opens in new tab), and Street Fighter 5 (opens in new tab). It does so with a variety of great mechanics and a wonderful story about a universe warped by time.
Kronika, the keeper of time, mother of Shinnok, and main antagonist of the game, sees an imbalance between evil and good after Raiden becomes too brutal in his protection of Earthrealm. She attempts to rewrite history to make a perfect timeline. This, in turn, throws the past and present into chaos - bringing villains and allies, both new and old, together. A wiser, hardened Johnny Cage clashes with his young, arrogant self, Raiden struggles with the tyrant he sees in his future. Everyone from Scorpion to Kitana has several versions of themselves, making for some interesting reunions throughout the campaign.
Below: Watch our review in 60 seconds.
Release date: April 23, 2019
Platform(s): PS4, Xbox One, PC
Publisher: Warner Bros
Don't get me wrong, plenty of moments made absolutely no sense to me. But, it's impressive - even as a Mortal Kombat fan, to never make a joke about or question why a cowboy, cyborg, and immortal conqueror are walking down a mystical hallway together. That's a brand, and group of characters, well built. I enjoyed every second of it.
At the same time, a staple of the Mortal Kombat series, over-the-top violence and gore (in the form of Fatal Blows and Fatalities), are one of the biggest issues that Ed Boon and NetherRealm Studios creation faces. Their stale commitment to the blood and gore hasn't aged well as special moves have become needlessly excessive to the point where they make the violence showcased at certain points in the story feel hollow (and these new moves interrupt the flow of battle).
I've been playing Mortal Kombat for a long time. While never being a huge proponent of the series, I've enjoyed fighting as Scorpion and Sub-Zero at dozens of arcade cabinets and in several console iterations of the series. Mortal Kombat 11 feels faster, tighter, and more challenging than those previous entries, even if only by a small margin. Players, both newcomers and fans, will have a lot to love from this 27 year old franchise.
As Boon (opens in new tab) has said, Mortal Kombat 11 does have a slightly different style of play than the Mortal Kombat X that came out in 2015. It's slower and more claustrophobic, emphasizing the need to get right in your opponent's face if you want to stand a chance. Combos usually start by gaining advantage over the enemy while being inches from their fist. One wrong move can mean losing a big chunk of your health bar, but if you're quick enough you should be able to break a grab or block a jab fast enough to turn the tide of battle in your favor.
These mechanics are fairly accessible as well since Mortal Kombat 11 features an extensive tutorial that walks you through basic movesets, combos, and other things you should know before taking on Shao Kahn. There are even quick reference combos on the first screen in the pause menu. You're never that far away from a helping hand to push you to improve.
A failure of Fatal Blows
The great breadth of mechanics and their approachability only makes the severity of the Fatal Blows more consequential. Each and every fight lets both fighters use their Fatal Blow move as their health bar drops close to zero (alongside some other slow motion, gruesome moves). These moves take control away from the players and feature incredibly gory, over-the-top acts of violence like Erron Black ricocheting two bullets off coins through his opponent's eyeballs or Kitana slicing through her enemy's spine with her fans.
We're long past the days where blood and gore made Mortal Kombat the hallmark fighter it is today. These Fatal Blows seem like a relic of the past and have the opposite effect of something like Dragon Ball FighterZ's cinematics. I'm all for Boon and NetherRealm sticking to their roots, but at least give me the option to turn Fatal Blows off or offer a toned down version.
Even more, these Fatal Blows had a deep effect in Mortal Kombat's narrative. They ruin big story moments that otherwise would've been quite impactful (I'd provide an example, but they all include heavy spoilers). Despite the ridiculousness of the overall plot, there are moments where the violence moves the story forward, but those moments are tarnished by the fact that these Fatal Blows are far, far more violent in every way.
A Classic Kombat Chronicle
The breadth and variety of characters, which nearly all are playable and featured during the story, is my favorite element in Mortal Kombat 11. The approach I take to playing Kotal Kahn is nothing like the one I take for Sub-Zero, although the mechanics are deep enough to allow a newcomer to play both easily. Everyone is a delight to play, both because of their long history in the series and fresh designs in this entry. I played as and against four different Scorpions and none of them felt like similar fights.
New fighters, however, like Geras, a servant of Kronika who can control time, Cetrion, an elder goddess, and The Kollector, a servant to Shao Kahn were all flat and boring alongside Kronika. They had a lot to live up to when sharing the screen with the likes of Raiden and Liu Kang and they fell short. None of their motivations, moves, or moments in the game felt memorable. Nothing leads me to want to care about them - let alone play them.
That blunder aside, there are more than twenty other characters that I want to play - so a handful of duds doesn't deter me much. Between the campaign, which lets you jump between a bunch of fighters, the multiple tower modes, The Krypt, offline and online casual play, and ranked play, there are a ton of ways to make use of those characters.
Mortal Kombat 11 struck a rare chord in me where, even after playing twenty hours in a few days, I want to go back and play more. I doubt I'll be next in line to compete at EVO, but as a casual player who enjoys putting extra time in - I love what NetherRealm Studios has put together.
Reviewed on PS4.
A previous version of this review conflated Fatalities with Fatal Blows; it has since been edited for clarity. GamesRadar+ regrets the error.