Mortal Kombat 11 is the long-awaited third instalment in the rebooted Mortal Kombat franchise. The ridiculous mythical/martial-arts saga had its first three stories retold in Mortal Kombat (2011), and was followed four years later by Mortal Kombat X (2015), which implemented a twenty-to-thirty-year time-jump to introduce a next generation of characters (affectionately dubbed the “Kombat Kids”). This resulted in a fantastic and unique story, akin to great comic-book and fantasy films of the last few decades. To those who haven’t played the prior to entries in the franchise: I recommend watching a fantastic documentary series by a YouTube channel called 616Entertainment titled ‘The History of Mortal Kombat’, and then watch Mortal Kombat X’s story cutscenes as a movie.
Upon announcement on December 7th at the 2018 Game Awards, Mortal Kombat 11 proclaimed to be the culmination of three decades of Mortal Kombat history, tying in all threads of its multiverse of continuities and chronologies with its main plotline. The story focuses around Kronika, an Elder God who manipulates time and reality as its ‘keeper’, and shares the same penchant for misspelling words with the franchise’s signature K as her mortal subjects. Kronika attempts to reshape reality by resurrecting characters from the previous entries in the series to pit against the new generation of Kombatants.
Unfortunately, it is from this central concept which contentions over roster choices arise. Many have been left out of this relatively small cast of characters without seemingly valid reasons, considering Kronika’s temporal resurrection abilities. Mileena’s absence is the most puzzling, considering she is the direct heiress to Shao Kahn’s throne, and a highly-demanded playable character by many of her fans in the kommunity. Others left out are Reptile, Sindel, Stryker, Smoke (as the revenant Enenra), Fujin, Sheeva, Ermac, Nightwolf, Kenshi, Bo Rai Cho, Tanya, Rain, Tremor, Ferra/Torr, Kung Jin, Quan Chi and Takeda. Unfortunately, NetherRealm appears to be predictably trending toward selling many of these characters crucial to the story as downloadable content later on, as part of the already announced Kombat Packs.
MK11 ships with twenty-four in its base roster, with the unfortunate business practice of withdrawing its twenty-fifth, iconic main villain Shao Kahn, from standard editions of the game to be sold as a pre-order incentive. An additional complaint returning from Mortal Kombat X is the occurrence of adversaries in the campaign, who have full voice acting and move-sets programmed, being unplayable. In MK9, it was Goro, Shao Kahn, Kintaro; MKX, had Rain, Baraka and Sindel; in MK11, it is Cyrax, Sektor, and Kronika herself.
Three of MK11’s characters are new: Geras, Kollektor and Cetrion. Unfortunately, they, along with other returning fan-favourites, have been regulated to the disinteresting role of “henchmen” (or ‘jobbers’ as the Mortal Kombat kommunity colloquially nicknames them with much disdain). The same between-cinematic-filler, main-villain-fodder fate befalls Noob Saibot, Skarlet, Kano, D’Vorah, Frost, Kabal and Erron Black. Shinnok, MKX’s primary antagonist, is regulated to the role of a decapitated head in the background of a fighting stage in the opening few moments of the story; a massive missed opportunity to have Shinnok’s immortality allow him to taunt Raiden as an ever-present reminder of his new inclination toward tyranny. This is incredibly disappointing, as many of these characters have had excellent narrative moments in the past, but have had their storylines seemingly left on the cutting room floor here. Other characters, made enigmatic and intriguing with sparse dialogue and excellent art design, leave us high and dry for another four years till an inevitable sequel, with only their Tower Mode PowerPoint-slideshow endings expanding their personal lore.
Regarding those Towers mentioned: currently, upon release, they are incredibly difficult and are being patched to reduce their incredibly demanding challenges to make them beatable by a larger quantity of the player base. The rationale behind these difficult challenges appear to be to incentivise purchasing any of the numerous in-game currencies to spend them on Krypt items to mitigate their difficulty. There have been numerous complaints from players about the predatory microtransaction policies present for being similar to free-to-play mobile games: it has been calculated that it costs almost £5000 for every customisation item in the game (as calculated by Reddit user u/Hawk94x), meaning an unbelievable amount of gameplay hours are required to earn the items without paying for them. This has also been confirmed to be adjusted by lead developer Ed Boon, but to what extent is as of yet unknown.
Graphical fidelity has been visibly improved: almost every character avoids the pitfall of the “Uncanny Valley”, aside from a few of the female characters using the same heavy-jawed face template (making it appear that a few corners were cut during development). Cassie Cage and Sonya Blade were better served in Mortal Kombat X, in regard to both design and voice acting (casting Rhonda Rousey was most definitely a poor decision). A drawback, though, is the decision to have the camera in cinematics bob and sway, as if it were being held by an inexpert camera man or on a weak tripod. It’s not more immersive (as I presume was the intention): it simply detracts from the cinematic quality of the story, coming across as clunky as the newly-popularised Line of Duty’s first season (which has to be seen to be believed).
It's not all bad though: the story has some great moments. Jax’s moral ambiguity is incredibly compelling, despite Jacqui having somehow even less development than in her introductory appearance in MKX (undoubtedly a symptom of the beloved Takeda’s absence). Scorpion and Sub Zero’s dynamic is fantastic, particularly in their scene with Cyrax in the Lin Kuei’s cyber initiative facility. Fans of Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks will be delighted with the game’s treatment of Liu Kang and Kung Lao. Outworld’s politics surrounding the fight for the throne between Kotal Kahn and Shao Kahn, the warring factions headed by Baraka and Sheeva, and the romantic relationship between Jade and Kotal are all beautifully and intricately written. In all honesty, the Outworld politics of MKX and MK11 could be a compelling narrative in their own right; they don’t rely on, nor are particularly enriched by, the god-politics of Raiden and Kronika, nor the repetitive vendetta Sonya’s special forces has for Kano’s Black Dragon gang. Its spirits are irritatingly dampened by a ham-fisted Trump reference (with Shao Kahn declaring he will ‘make Outworld great again’), but this is par for the course for MK11: controversies around hypocrisy in costume design and Jax Brigg’s Tower ending have caused some backlash for the sudden use of Mortal Kombat as a vehicle for political perspectives. Ultimately, however, these threads all culminate in weaving a moth-eaten tapestry of inconsistently-applied universe rules about past-and-present-self interactions, with an ending too inconclusive to be satisfying (despite an incredible twist in its final chapter).
Overall, I would wait for Mortal Kombat 11 to drop in price a little before purchasing; an inevitability considering its unfortunate poor user reviews. Whilst its gameplay is compelling, graphics beautiful, and features a story with moments inducing audible cheering, player enjoyment is hindered by its grind-focused progression system, absent characters and missed narrative opportunities.