NetherRealm Studios has a bit of a nice problem on their hands. Mortal Kombat 9 was not just good, but great, and really revitalized what had been a bit of an ailing series. So how exactly would they follow up on that? The game was popular and well-received to the extent that you don’t want to veer to far from the successful formula, but you also want to be careful not to just rehash a game you just put out. Mortal Kombat X was one of the most highly anticipated games heading into E3 and after getting our hands on it, it became very easy to see why.
The last Mortal Kombat game had a body count somewhere between a Game of Thrones episode and an apocalypse, so NetherRealms Studios had to fill up the roster with some new characters to replace all the dead ones. The story of the game also takes place twenty five years after the events of the last game, so even the characters that survived the bloodbath aren’t exactly still in primo fighting condition. Scorpion and Sub-Zero have already been confirmed to be making a reappearance, because it really just wouldn’t be a Mortal Kombat game without the two most iconic palette swapped ninjas. However, they have also confirmed the addition of a handful of brand new fighters, the most interesting of which is Cassie Cage. She is the daughter of Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade and will have a mixture of the two fighters’ styles and moves. Two other new characters (well, technically three) were shown off in the E3 trailer in some actual combat. D’Vorah is an insect-like woman with some moves and a combat style somewhat reminiscent of Reptile while Ferra & Torr are actually two separate characters that fight at the same time, with the smaller little girl riding on the larger brute’s back. The last confirmed newcomer at this time is Kotal Kahn. While the last game featured all the returning heavy hitters from past titles this looks mostly like a fresh new roster with some returning favorites, something that should really help the game not feel like Mortal Kombat 9 plus a little bit extra.
A lot of the core combat that made the last game so addictive has been retained, but there are plenty of new additions and tweaks along the way. One of the most interesting additions we’ve seen so far are what NetherRealm Studios is referring to as character variations. Each character will have three different variations open to them, and each style will play a little differently. For example, regardless of which variation you select Scorpion will always have moves like his spear, leg takedown, and teleport at his disposal. Scorpion without his iconic “GET OVER HERE” spear would just feel weird, and each character has sort of a base package of standard moves that will not change regardless of the variation. It is up to you exactly how to enhance the character, and for Scorpion you can decide to go with moves that give him swords to use in a combo, hellfire attacks which can be used to light himself on fire or throw fire at your combatant, or spawn a little minion which will go forth and attack your enemy for you.
What makes these variations interesting is that it slightly changes the style of the character and now each character won’t always fit into the exact niche. You can select a character and a variation that fits you best, and while one variation might be better suiting to pulling off long, hard hitting combos another might be better used for a defensive play style and luring the other player into unsuccessful attacks. The three distinct styles for each character will effectively triple the roster size, and someone who plays as one version of Cassie Cage will have a drastically different play style and strategy than another person using the same character but with a different variation. It should also open up the roster a bit, and in past games there were whole swaths of the roster I basically ignored after trying them out once because their moves didn’t fit my particular play style. Now, if there is a character design that I like I might still be able to get into the character even if one of their variations isn’t a good fit. The character’s design will also change a bit depending on the style, and for example Cassie Cage will be rocking her dad’s signature sunglasses when in her Hollywood variant but will be sadly sunglassesless in her other variants.
Another change to the game is that NetherRealm has incorporated some environmental interactions that should feel a bit familiar to anyone who played another one of their titles in Injustice: Gods Among Us. The emphasis on them has been toned down a bit, however, and this time they seem to be used more for enhancing the actual combat than acting as a substitute for it. Various pieces of scenery you can swing around, move on top of, or even transverse between to alter your position and prepare you next line of attack. You aren’t however, grabbing huge pieces of scenery and ripping them off to bash your foes face in, at least from what we’ve seen so far. By making the environment interactive but not weaponized, the focus remains on the actual combat and the environment just serves to add an extra layer of depth to it. It is a nice touch and one that should please more serious fans of the fighting genre that are adverse to luck and gimmicks.
This is also by far the best looking Mortal Kombat game to date. New hardware certainly helps with that, and the animation is dark, grimy, and gorgeous all at the same time. It still looks like a Mortal Kombat game, however, and the aesthetic screams that familiar style we are now intimately familiar with. It just looks like a better version of it. The animations are far more fluid, making the motions less jerky and awkward which was a problem even in the most recent Mortal Kombat game. The environments are similarly impressively detailed, really breathing life into the static levels and making the game look even better. For all the blood and brutality you see, the game still looks good and it is a nice juxtaposition.
The best news is that this still feels like a Mortal Kombat game, so if you liked Mortal Kombat 9 you should be excited for what this has in store. The slick combat, the brutal fatalities, the combos (kombos?) are all still there, but there are enough changes to prevent this from feeling like a simple rehash. They are being quite secretive about some aspects of the game and we currently know next to nothing about the story. They wouldn’t even confirm or deny if Johnny Cage would be making an appearance, putting our dreams of playing as old man Johnny Cage on hold. Still even with the changes we’ve already seen –the environmental interaction and the character variation — it is looking like this is a fighting game that even non-genre enthusiasts should be excited for. Mortal Kombat 9 was great, but Mortal Kombat X is shaping up to be even better.