It's been four long years since Mortal Kombat X hit store shelves and it was a chapter in the series that is looked back on with mixed emotions from a fan perspective. The game was lightning quick and most of the time you ran from one end of the stage to the other firing off wild combos. None of these mixed feelings were present at the big reveal event in London. While fans all over the world watched we got the chance to try out seven characters in order to get to grips with Mortal Kombat 11. After the vast number of complaints directed at Mortal Kombat X, things have been torn apart and it would appear this is the game to take the series to new heights.
The starting point does not appear to have to evolve the gameplay we know, but rather to provide a completely new angle on the well known Netherrealm formula. All the progress achieved with Injustice 2 has clearly left a mark on what Mortal Kombat 11 is. Honestly, part of why we are so happy with is that it felt like a truly great two-dimensional Street Fighter. How is that possible? Well, now it's going to get a bit technical, but Mortal Kombat 11 is much more to do with small movements, footsies, and nailing short combos rather than hitting a juggle and triggering 200-hit combinations. In fact, you don't even trigger a juggle by jumping and punching as in Mortal Kombat X. It feels like a more natural approach. Most of all, the game seems to feature all the optimisation Mortal Kombat lacked.
First and foremost Mortal Kombat 11 looks amazing. Even if the build we got our hands on is a slightly older one we have to say they're close to achieving their goal of making the best-looking fighting game ever made. The series has a well-earned reputation, not just for vicious brutality, but for graphical expression that holds little back. Now we've reached a point where it almost gets to be too much. The returning Skarlet gouges eyes out and Geras, the new time-travelling supervillain, beats out the brains of his opponents, and it's all very visceral and in your face. Mortal Kombat 11 is certainly not for the delicate souls among us, certainly not with this level of visceral fidelity. The character animations offer an amazing flow, and the somewhat jaggy look of Mortal Kombat X is completely gone.
The gameplay changes also mean that the game is markedly slower. It is a concern given that lightning-fast punches and kicks have always been part of the package. As mentioned, the concept of footsies is more of a focus than ever before, and it becomes a case of gaining the upper hand by making your opponent swing at empty air. Defence and attack have also been given an overhaul as the three-part energy bar from Mortal Kombat X has been thrown out and replaced by a couple of meters: one for defence, one for attack. They charge up as you interact with the stage, amplify special attacks, and once more it puts added emphasis on a slower, more defensive approach. X-Ray moves that are triggered with attacks are also gone, in their place are Fatal Blow attacks that can be activated when you've taken enough damage, and work in a similar way. It also recharges after a couple of seconds, in case you miss on your first attempt.
These changes were apparent as we played the game, moving back and forth and using block to try and get the opponent to commit to risky moves and then punishing them. Just like in Street Fighter. Historically these two franchises have been each other's opposites, so seeing this development is very exciting. This doesn't mean Mortal Kombat has lost its unique charm, as the X-Ray feature has been replaced by Krushing Blow, which is triggered if you time an attack perfectly. Time stops, the camera zooms in, and you get an opportunity to follow up with combos from a punch that normally wouldn't allow for this.
Speaking of time, it was something of a hot potato at the reveal event. Geras was introduced as a time traveller and time-manipulating villain. We were also shown a returning Baraka, and Kronika who appears to give Shinnok his body back. Time travel may not sound like the most exciting of themes, but as Ed Boon stepped onto the stage to announce that we could see plenty of older characters return, the potential of the time travel concept becomes apparent. Is this going to be a situation like the one with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate where we get pretty much every character imaginable and the kitchen sink? The character selection screen in the build we got our hands on had 25 slots, where seven were filled by Baraka, Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Sonya Blade, Raiden, Skarlet, and Geras. A number that, compared to other recent fighting games, seems a bit low. There is reason to hope for 28 or 30 characters at the time of launch, and perhaps there's a bit of deception involved.
What is more troubling is the sheer number of attacks, especially seen in the light of the new so-called amplified moves. These have their own unique inputs, unlike in Mortal Kombat X where you make a special version of an attack simply by tapping the block button, which means there is a huge amount of moves to memorise for each character. Truly huge. Thankfully, this is not the finalised implementation of these amplified moves. It remains to be seen if it changes. As the three-part energy bar has been removed, the same goes for breakers, and these are replaced by various forms of block moves, Kounter and Flawless Block, something that requires more time with the game to master than we were afforded at the reveal event.
The overall impression of the game is, however, incredibly strong, and there is still time to perfect things. Netherrealm Studios, under the leadership of Ed Boon, is known for listening to its fans and there is already a bunch of constructive criticism coming out of the reveal event. As we've mentioned, it felt a bit strange to be rewarded for not doing anything, compared to the old energy bars, and the vast amount of attacks is overwhelming. The visuals, animations, response time, and overall game experience are, however, top notch. If you're a fan of the series there's every reason to expect something spectacular. If you're not that familiar with the series, but know fighting games in a broader sense, then this could end up being a great entry point. There's still some time to go until April, so Netherrealm has time to polish the last few details ahead of launch.
We still don't know how things will look on the Nintendo Switch, but wouldn't it be neat if Sub-Zero made an appearance in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate?