I’m a pretty casual fan of fighting games. I’ve enjoyed my fair share over the years, but I’ve always sucked at them. They’re deep and intense, presenting an intimidatingly high skill ceiling that players have been mastering for two-and-a-half decades now. Although I’m never going to commit myself to get good at it, I’ve always been drawn to Mortal Kombat. I love the absurd comic book lore and the pulp aesthetic. I ended up putting a good 50+ hours into Mortal Kombat X - a product of the exciting competition it generated between my friends and I - and so naturally, I was pretty excited to get my hands on Mortal Kombat 11.
Right away, MK 11 makes a striking first impression. It looks and sounds fantastic, with great-looking characters, impressive particle effects, blood splatter, and silky-smooth animations that give the game a wonderfully cohesive look. There’s a powerful crunch that accompanies breaking bones, shattering skulls, and snapping limbs. It's infinitely satisfying. Intense impacts are amplified by slick close-ups and slow motion. It’s the perfect companion to defeating a tough opponent and is as satisfying to play as it is to spectate.
The beta offered a pretty limited slice of Mortal Kombat 11. Five characters, three stages, and a glimpse of the myriad cosmetics characters can equip. Standard 1v1 online and the Klassic Towers mode - a gauntlet that has you facing off against a series of AI opponents - were the only modes available in the beta. As in previous games, completing a Klassic Tower will grant you a unique ending for the character you enter it with, but these weren’t present here. Unfortunately, the basic training mode was also unavailable. I understand limiting modes in the beta, but it would’ve been nice to be able to get a quick handle on how each character plays before jumping into a proper match.
Mechanically, Mortal Kombat 11 appears largely similar to X, but a handful of key changes are lurking under the surface. The most obvious gameplay change is the replacement of the traditional EX meter with a dual meter system. Your special moves now divide into two meters: Defensive and Offensive. Defensive special moves like rolls or dodges will take from your defensive meter, whilst enhanced moves that deal more damage or hit more times cost offensive meter. Moves that offer both defensive and offensive benefits - like ones that grant invincibility frames or armor - cost both.
Previously, Fatal Blows (called X-rays in Mortal Kombat X) would spend a chunk of meter to unleash easily-executed finishers. This time around, you’ll get one chance to execute these savage moves once you dip below 30% health. It serves as a kind of desperation move, offering respite that can turn a match around when things are looking rough. Environmental attacks also make a return, allowing you to devastate your opponent with objects in the stage. They come with some gruesome animations and the tight situational positioning required makes them satisfying to pull off.
Meanwhile, Variations are back. As in Mortal Kombat X, these varying character move-sets provide multiple ways to play each fighter, granting them more depth and a larger potential move-set. This time, however, there’s a degree of customization available to you, allowing you to mix-and-match moves from a character’s three Variations. It’s unclear at whether tournament play will allow these, but they’re available in casual competitive matches.
The series’ infamous fatalities are present and more brutal than ever. One such bloody finisher has Scorpion engulfing himself in flames and flying through his foes’ spine. Then, the ninja beheads them, kicks their head away, and then pierces his chain through their jaw. The impressive detail and intense gore would be disturbing if it wasn’t so hilariously over-the-top. There’s a commitment to the game’s ridiculously pulpy aesthetic and high fantasy that keeps things from getting too grim. Blades impale flesh like paper, whilst skulls and spines crumble like cookies. It probably goes without saying, but Mortal Kombat’s fatalities have never been sharper or crunchier.
As for the general flow of a match, it feels like the series is returning to its roots. There’s a focus on shorter combos and higher damage, leading to more devastating combos and potentially quicker matches. Environmental moves, Fatal Blows, and Crushing Blows - a special kind of bonus added when you land a counter-hit, land an unblockable move while blocking, etc. - deal significant chunks of damage. A round could end real quick if one player knew what they were doing. As someone who definitely doesn’t know what he’s doing, my ass got handed to me real quick more than a few times.
Aside from a single choppy match suffering from a poor connection, my experience was pretty smooth. The beta was clean and almost without issue. Hopefully, the final game will launch with an equally robust online experience. Ultimately, the beta left me with a great impression, leaving me even more hyped for Mortal Kombat 11. If the story mode shapes out well and the rest of the characters are as fun and varied as the five available in the beta, the game is looking to be an excellent entry in the long-running fighting game goliath.
TechRaptor previewed Mortal Kombat 11 on PlayStation 4 with a copy provided by the publisher.