The long-awaited bloody return of Mortal Kombat is here. After skipping E3 2018, NetherRealm Studios showed up today for a giant, blood-soaked reveal. Mortal Kombat 11 has arrived, and it’s packing gore, dismemberment and a healthy dose of fatalities. Packed with a new engine, new customization options and some time travel, Mortal Kombat 11 appears to be packing quite the punch. We went hands-on with Mortal Kombat 11 to see just how well the latest game is shaping up.
The demo gave us a chance to try out seven characters, five classic, one kind-of-new and one brand-new. Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Sonya Blade and Raiden return and are similar to their Mortal Kombat X incarnations. Baraka returns following his death in Mortal Kombat X (it remains unknown how he returns). Skarlet, a DLC character from Mortal Kombat (2011), finally makes her main roster debut after being unceremoniously left out of the previous game. Finally, we have Geras, a character in service to 11’s main antagonist, Kronika. Geras manipulates the sands of time to crush his opponents. Pre-order character Shao Kahn was not playable.
Each character feels unique and useful in combat. Raiden, Sonya, Sub-Zero and Scorpion all feel comfortable to play due to their Mortal Kombat X similarities. Meanwhile, Baraka and Skarlet feel different enough from their 2011 incarnations that they feel almost like new characters. Geras, however, is a fun addition to the roster. A hulking brute, he’s slow but packs a punch. It’s also visually entertaining watching him manipulate sand to create deadly weapons. It appears that the game launches with 25 characters plus Shao Kahn, which puts Mortal Kombat 11’s roster at the same size as Mortal Kombat X, but still lower than Mortal Kombat (2011). While we don’t know who else made the cut, the current seven characters are a strong start.
Those familiar with the Mortal Kombat formula should have no trouble jumping back in. Punches are assigned to Square and Triangle and kicks to X and Circle with a block button assigned to R2. Players can string together various punches and kicks to create combos and pressing the directional buttons plus a face button in the correct order activates special moves. Nothing too shocking for anyone keeping up with the franchise. That’s not to say there haven’t been changes to the core mechanics, though.
The power meter players build up over a round in previous games is gone, instead broken out into offensive and defensive meters. You can still amplify attacks or use breaks, but you’ll need to keep an eye on both meters. Each only has two uses, though they do refill over time. Learning when to use them and save them is a crucial element of the Mortal Kombat 11 experience. Breaking the meters up also means players won’t have to sacrifice amplifiers or breaks to earn a super move like in previous titles.
NetherRealm Studios also removed the beloved X-Ray moves and replaced them with Fatal Blow moves. Rather than building up a meter for a super attack, Fatal Blows are only available when your character’s health drops below 30%. Fatal Blows serve as the last stand that can turn the tide of a battle. With only one use per round, players must think carefully about when to activate it. They’re visually brutal and gory, and due to their rarity, feel like they won’t turn as dull as X-Ray moves over time.
Variations return from Mortal Kombat X and players get more control over the system than before. While there wasn’t an opportunity to play around with custom variants, there’s a sense that Variations offer more variety this time around than before. It’ll be interesting to see the extent of variety that Variations provide in the full game.
What will likely become the most controversial addition to Mortal Kombat 11 is Injustice 2’s Gear System. It has been tweaked heavily to work within the Mortal Kombat universe and the visual changes each piece makes to a character’s model is more apparent than in Injustice 2. NetherRealm Studios wouldn’t confirm or deny, but it doesn’t look like skins will return. That’s not too much of a surprise considering skins were also removed from Injustice 2.
New ways to customize the look of your character would have drawn a lot of excitement a few years ago, but today is different. A system like this brings one thing to mind: microtransactions. Like the Gear system in Injustice 2, Mortal Kombat 11’s Gear system is the entire basis for the game’s cosmetic customization. NetherRealm Studios told us they weren’t ready to discuss loot boxes, monetization or how players acquired Gear, but did say that all items can be obtained just by playing the game. We’ll have to wait and see how this all unfolds, but considering how Injustice 2 was monetized, this could be troubling.
Mortal Kombat 11 continues NetherRealm Studios’ tradition of using a heavily modified version of Unreal Engine 3. The game looks great from what we’ve played with enormous attention to detail made to each character. Limb removal, hearts bursting and faces ripped straight from the skull have never looked so detailed. NetherRealm Studios also appears to have upped their animation game after receiving criticism over their previous titles. Punches, kicks and movements appear more natural than in any prior game.
Mortal Kombat 11 is off to a bloody strong head start. The game came pouncing out of the gate at the reveal event with a strong initial roster, a gorgeous presentation and all the blood and gore we’ve come to expect. The core mechanics remain as engaging as ever, and the tweaks to the power meter and introduction of Fatal Blows will keep players on their toes the entire match. The only real concern is the Gear system, which is an easy gateway to microtransactions. Still, Mortal Kombat 11 is looking mighty toasty so far and we can’t wait to see who’s next.
Mortal Kombat 11 is out April 23 on PS4, Xbox One, PC and Nintendo Switch. Players can try out the game for themselves on March 28 with the beta. Sadly, it’ll only be available on PS4 and Xbox One.