Review: 'Mortal Kombat 11' (PS4)

Scorpion attacks. Scorpion attacks. WARNER BROS. INTERACTIVE

Let’s just get this out there, the real reason we’re here: is Mortal Kombat 11 worth the price? Is it worth your time and hard earned money? Simple answer: yes. But like all MK games in the last 27 years, it’s not without controversy.

The massive flaws in Mortal Kombat 11 were quickly discovered early Tuesday morning after the midnight release: loot boxes, a currency system resembling the worst free-to-play games out there, with not one or two but five different in-game currencies (one of which, Time Krystals, is directly tied to real life money and extremely sparse even in the extremely sparse economy), and of course the seemingly endless, soulless grind for unlockables that even long time MK fans just couldn’t stomach. Nothing game breaking, but extremely disheartening.

Even after months of NetherRealm Studios and creator Ed Boon promising this game wouldn’t have loot boxes, it did in fact have loot boxes. Well, to be fair, loot chests. The bigger issue: most chests were seemed randomly filled with unlockables, unlike previous MK games where chests in the Krypt were organized to some degree. The prices in the new Krypt also seemed outrageous due the fact you earned only a fraction of what you would in previous MK titles. Even after I played through the entirety of the story mode, I barely had enough to unlock a whole single area in the massive Krypt and a single character-centric chest, which used a totally different in-game currency known as Hearts. Even after spending 200,000 coins, 500 Souls and 250 Hearts I didn’t unlock a single costume or fatality for characters I actually like to play. It’s disheartening to say the least, but more so it was extremely frustrating. Unlocking production art and background music is one thing, but most of what can be found falls into the hundreds of Variation Logos, only used to distinguish characters custom clothing and fighting layouts.

Now before we start pointing fingers, two things need to be addressed. First, Ed Boon himself tweeted (just about nine hours after the game was released, mind you), "we have a hot fix/improvements koming [sic] to address those super hard Towers of Time as well as better rewards/economy to be used in the Krypt," which is hopeful and clearly needed. However, the internet has been running hot with the idea this was planned all along. In the age of day-one patches, massive hot fixes and even complete game overhauls (No Man’s Sky), a current and very disheartening theory is that Netherrealms Studios knew The Krypt was broken. They knew the format of the game would practically force the gamers hand into buying extra in-game currency with real life money. Frankly, it’s no secret how much the gaming industry is making off credits, stubs, coins, tokens, shark cards, or even Time Crystals as in MK11. It's a little tin-hat I admit, however, I can’t put it past anyone in the video game industry at this point. I hate to be too cynical here, but look at the release of Star Wars Battlefront 2. That game left an extremely bad taste in the mouth of gamers and rightfully so. However, Ed promised us no loot boxes, but there they are. So, what else did NetherRealm and WB stretch? I don’t have the answer. Hopefully I can update this with a positive outcome.

Update: In an apparent move of good faith, as of Tuesday morning, NetherRealm Studios have made various changes to the game, specifically towards the Tower of Time, and are currently working on how currency is handed out in game. To address the random loot, it was clarified that "the chests in the Krypt are not random, the boxes are all the same, however, in different locations for different players." After spending more time in the Krypt, I could see the confusion and communication breakdown in how the Krypt works. Also, NetherRealm is offering players a lump some of all the currency, to be distributed at a later date. It all seemed to help, however there are still other issues I address farther down in this review.

Now with all that said, let’s break down the actual game.

Hardcore fighter gamers will more than likely skip the story, in the same way that hardcore Call of Duty or Battlefield players skip the story for online play. However, the main story is fantastic. It took about six hours for me to complete, which is on the short side of things, but the quality, as well as the production value, are absolutely Hollywood grade. NetherRealms have evolved and expanded what was considered a joke to some into something that actually generates excitement and interest. MK11 takes everything from the last 2 games (MK9 and MKX) as well as the last 27 years of Mortal Kombat games (and movies) and dumps it on its head. The characters introduced make sense and don’t feel shoehorned in. I will say this, though: I’m not going to name names (you can Google it), but Sonya Blade’s voice acting is terrible. There's no way to sugarcoat it. It’s just so far from the superb quality of the rest of the voice acting cast. It’s extremely off putting, clunky and awkwardly unnatural. Again, I know the voice, however, let’s just say she needs to keep her day job, and by that I mean she needs to also quit that job and go back to her other job she quit, or just stay at home as is rumored.

At its core Mortal Kombat doesn’t stray too far from the past in terms of the fighting system. I’d even argue it feels more like a successor to the original Mortal Kombat than that of Mortal Kombat 9 or X. It’s slower, in a good way. Punches and kicks have weight, and button mashing for long combos isn’t easy or fairly rewarding. The risk/reward ratio is high so keeping your distance and having time to react is a must. Levels are now smaller, so it feels like an actual fight in some ways. You carefully pick and choose your time to make a move, knowing a slight misstep could cost you.  

Just as in the original, and every other subsequent (main) game in this series, towers are the main mode of play for most content. All the usual "Klassic Towers" are here; 5, 8, 12, Endless and Survivor towers. After beating any tower the beloved “what if” endings are still there. I admittedly haven’t finished all of them but the ones I have are just as intense as ever. I highly suggest Jax’s ending, which is actually creating a whole different controversy now (but we won't get into that).

Besides that there is the new Towers of Time, which mixes the Faction Invitations from MKX and Injustice 2’s Multiverse. It needs to be said: the gimmicks in this mode are terrible. They’re used to hinder the player rather than challenge them. In once case rockets seem to never end, and I could not block anything so I just sat there, being juggled by offscreen enemies. There’s a line between hard and not fun. This mode, right now, just isn’t fun.

Update: as stated above, Towers of Time have been reworked; enemies have less health, and hazards can now be blocked. Overall, it's better.

It's also worth noting, even with the issues of currency in the game, that The Krypt is very well designed and actually quite fun to roam around. You now have a nameless ninja/monk character to control, unlike previous Krypts where it was a simple first-person dungeon crawler type of game. Lots of time and effort was clearly put into it, making it more like a secondary game, with its own cutscenes, expanded lore to find, and lots of hidden areas to unlock. The camera is frustratingly close to the character, which makes it hard to look around, which is a shame being how pretty most areas are. And I need to explain how terrible the Forge system is. It's extremely expensive, costing around 20k in Koins AND 500 Souls and if your combo of ingredients fails, well, that's too bad. You'll keep your items but lose your coin. You earn about ten Souls per fight so this is another area needing some changes.

As for the sound, there is the audio in Mortal Kombat 11 and there’s also Sonya’s audio. But in all fairness, there are some other flaws too. The story had bits of canned audio that seemed out of place and just messy. During the actual gameplay the fight sounds (cracking of bones, blood being sprayed and fists meeting flesh) are top notch. The arena sounds, background music and various unlockable announcers are some of the best in the genre.

It’s quite hard to talk about Mortal Kombat 11’s graphics right now. Between the PS4, XBox One, Switch and PC, the graphics on each could be graded completely differently. As of right now, PC players are experiencing terrible resolution and framerate issues, which is extremely problematic for a fighter. The Nintendo Switch also has issues, as the drop in graphics power is noticeable, especially in handheld mode. I played on a PS4 Pro, and everything looked amazing: smooth and clear, and just downright pretty.

Here’s the second (or maybe third?) backlash with Mortal Kombat 11: the steep price for its Season Pass. At $40, bringing the game to a hearty $100, you're buying six new characters and a handful of new cosmetic items. This prompted the question from many: why aren't they in the game already? In a tactic WB Gaming has perfected (looking at you, Arkham Knight), to increase the longevity of their games. Content is planned and advertised, but held on to for future release. Now in a fighting game you get a bit of a pass, since some of the characters you may receive may not have a single thing to do with the game itself. Examples include Freddy Krueger and Kratos in MK9, and Leatherface, the Xenomorph, Jason Voorhees and Predator in MKX.  All of these are great examples of DLC done right, or at least not terribly. However, Kenshi (MK9), Bo’ Rai Chom and Goro (MKX) were all characters already in the game in various fashions, and now you're being charged a premium to unlock them.

Additionally, re-releasing a title as a "Komplete" or Ultimate edition at a value price hammers it into place. Of course we're not forced to buy these characters, but as MKX (as well as Injustice 2) displayed, a certain amount of shame is given to players who opt out of paying up. Characters are blacked out during selection, making the game look incomplete, even if you spent hundreds of hours unlocking "kontent". Add in the additional trophies you're unable to even attempt, and gamers are mentally put in a situation to walk away unhappy with a final product or pay up. Additionally, you might be shooting yourself in the foot in competitive terms, since in MKX the most overpowered character for a long time was Jason, a DLC character.

Bottom line: this game is good. Really good. But the final product may not be here yet. And even if you grind, spending hours and hours of your life playing, you may still come up short on unlocking the full "komplete" game.

If you're a long time fan, and somehow held out, you might be in the right to just wait for a sale or the more than likely upcoming "ultimate" edition.

If you're new? It’s a good place to start. The game is extremely entertaining, the fighting system is solid and fresh, and MK11 offers things that frankly other fighters just will not nor will ever do.

However, I cannot justifiably give this game a better score. Trying to create a live service in a game which thrived without that service is unfair to its consumers. Had it just been the DLC price tag, maybe I would be eager to place this game in a 9 or even a 10 range. But instead we have massive DLC planned, an ever changing tower system design to get people back on or stay on the game, and a seemingly endless grind for cosmetic content, all driven by an extremely competitive atmosphere that is the fighting game genre. But more so, these things did not exist 27 years ago. You can't review MK11 without looking at the other ten Mortal Kombat games that came before it. But lest we forget, the original game was a arcade game cabinet, designed to make money. So maybe it is an actual precursor to the original Mortal Kombat in more ways than we’d all like to admit.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

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