Every fighting franchise would do well to take notes from Mortal Kombat 11..
The latest entry in the long-running ultra-violent fighter has leveled up from its predecessors, pulling in every positive from the series to create an all-encompassing fan service celebration that also happens to be incredibly technically-sound.
Its success hinges on one main quality: Polish. If you've been following the exploits of NetherRealm Studios since 2011's Mortal Kombat, you've come to expect a cinematic story featuring fully-voiced characters, motion capture and high-intensity action. Mortal Kombat 11 is no different, and features a story that is equal parts satisfying as it is unbelievable.
That's because the lore in Mortal Kombat should not work as well as it does.
The plot follows the mainstays of the Mortal Kombat series through their almost fruitless attempts at taking down Kronika, the game's main villain and keeper of the timeline. She isn't happy with how things panned out in Mortal Kombat and Mortal Kombat X, so she interferes and messes up the timeline. In doing so, Kronika brings younger versions of the MK cast forward to thwart their older selves and rein in the "New Era," an adjusted timeline that features no Raiden at all and a whole mess of Shao Kahn, Shinnok, etc.
After all, the modern Raiden has been tainted by Shinnok's amulet and decides to start taking out threats before they were, well, threats. Kronika's qualms with the timeline aren't unfounded, but the idea of a "New Era" sounds way too apocalyptic for the likes of Cassie Cage, Jacqui Briggs and younger versions of Liu Kang, Kung Lao and Raiden himself.
From this base, the campaign becomes a riveting ride viewed through the eyes of iconic Mortal Kombat characters, from chapters labeled Fire & Ice (Scorpion and Sub-Zero) and Shaolin Monks (Liu Kang and Kung Lao) to solo missions as Jade and Mileena. Younger characters fight Revenant versions of themselves, Kotol and Shao have a duel for the throne and Johnny Cage deals with how terrible he was when he was younger. It's emotional, hilarious and surprisingly gripping.
Of course, well-directed cutscenes can only go so far, so it helps that the gameplay of Mortal Kombat 11 is fluid, deliberate and very, very satisfying. If you felt like Mortal Kombat X was a step backwards from 2011's reboot, rest assured the fighting itself is back in top form. Things like X-Ray moves have been demoted, and now take the form of Fatal Blows or meter hits, spending less time on taking you out of the fight and more time making those moves matter. Fatalities and brutalities are here as well, of course.
Not sure you can keep up with all of the tech or combos of the game? Mortal Kombat 11 sports an in-depth tutorial that will show you the ropes. Are you a casual player that just wants to make your simple combos count? The general tutorial will get you up to speed. Want to learn about dash cancelling and block timing? You can go a layer deeper. There are even tutorials for individual characters and their play styles, allowing you to learn every aspect of the game's roster before you decide on a main character.
This is also where customization is layered in. You'll collect weapons, artifacts, consumables and more as you venture through the game's campaign, the Krypt and the Tower of Time. There are some current issues with the game's economy, though, so if the grind seems like a bit much, it might be worth holding out on these modes until fixes come through, which should be soon. There are also multiple types of currency in the game, including one purchase-able with real money. Though, unless you really want to spend a ton on costumes up front, there's not much of a reason to lay down additional dollars.
Customization ranges from costumes and other cosmetics to actual move slots, allowing you to build your favorite version of your favorite character. Consumables and buffs, however, can't be taken into multiplayer with you.
Mortal Kombat 11 features a number of multiplayer options, including local, tournament and online modes. As the new game looks to break into the competitive fighting game scene, the tournament mode will certainly come in handy, but it also helps that the online suite is fairly stable, even going so far as to show players what kind of connection their opponent has, in addition to ping.
As an overall package, Mortal Kombat 11 is filled to the brim with stuff to do. The campaign is short, clocking in at just over five hours, but expect to lose plenty of time to the Krypt and the Tower of Time. Unfortunately, the Krypt works a bit different here than in previous titles, and feels more like a quest for loot boxes than a planned out stroll through challenges for specific loot.
There is also downloadable content planned for the game, which only feels a little bit weird considering there are a number of characters you fight in the main story that aren't actually playable in the game. So, if they plan to sell us Cyrax or Sektor later, it feels just a bit shady to face fans to pay for them. Seriously, they have full move sets and everything.
Despite a handful of shortcomings, Mortal Kombat 11 is a rare breed, a successful capstone to a rebooted trilogy and a phenomenal package that any fan of the franchise needs to experience.
Mortal Kombat 11 is now available for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC. This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game.