Mortal Kombat 11 (XB1) Review

Brutal in multiple ways.

It has been four years. Four years since the last Mortal Kombat game graced consoles. In that time there have been plenty of games in the genre to keep me busy, but my one true love has always been the outlandish battle for Earthrealm. Mortal Kombat 11 is a fitting homage to the classic games, much like MK9 was. Taking pieces of the darker tone of X and throwing in more fan service than I will probably ever discover, it feels like the culmination of all of NetherRealm’s work over the past ten years. The polish and care that has gone into this game is unmatched by any other in the genre.

Once again the story mode takes center stage. Playing with time travel is always difficult, but Mortal Kombat is so ridiculous in its lore that it makes it work. It also gives the team an excuse to toss in throwback versions of beloved characters. Seeing the likes of Liu Kang and Kung Lao pre-Revenant phase and full of color was refreshing. This also ties into the gear and skins found in the game. There are 60 for each character, which is a little on the excessive side thanks to the grind for them, but more on that later.

MSRP: $59.99
Platforms: XB1 (reviewed), PS4, Switch, PC
Price I’d Pay: $59.99

The story took me around six hours to complete and it is absolutely stunning. The writing and visual work is NetherRealm’s best yet. It rivals big budget movies and for fans like myself, it hits all the right nostalgia strings. Characters and locales that I had not seen since the first game make an appearance, and I was smiling ear to ear at every single one. Even for those not heavily invested in the lore, the story makes perfect sense. I would have loved a recap of events from MK9 and X, but it was gentle enough that anyone could catch up and enjoy.

In addition to the story mode there are plenty of single player modes to consume. Klassic towers return and each character has their own ending akin to a normal arcade mode. Then there are Towers of Time, which throw wrenches into the mix with various modifiers into each fight. Every tower is cycled in and out with different themes. Even here the fan service is strong. Characters that didn’t make the roster have power-ups or assists players can use. These Towers also house plenty to unlock and there are even character-specific towers. Sadly, not all is good though. While most of every tower is a pretty standard fight with some challenge, each one seems to have a brick wall. A modifier that simply feels cheap and unfair, making it hard to progress. The fire and wave ones come to mind. They make these fights incredibly frustrating and just not fun.

Then there is the Krypt, which houses an abundance of boxes to open, all containing various items such as konsumables for Towers, gear for your characters, skins, Brutalities and Fatalities, and more. What I love is that it also serves as an almost budget Metroid-style game where obtaining new items let me access new areas. It is all done from a third-person perspective on Shang Tsung’s island. The fan service comes hard here as well. There are nods and locales that had me giddy with excitement. NetherRealm really knows how to play to their fan base. Then the grind comes in, and all is not well.

As I mentioned there is a ton to see and unlock in MK11. There are multiple currency types in the game, and three of them are used to unlock boxes in the Krypt. Koins are the most obvious and plentiful. These are earned for almost everything and come pretty easy. Souls are harder to come by, and those chests feel more premium. Finally we have hearts, which are earned by performing finishing moves with characters. These are even more premium as almost every box requires 250 of them. Yes that is 250 Fatalities, or 125 Brutalities for one box for those keeping score.

Grinding is a part of MK11 and it feels dirty. I spent hours grinding enough souls to unlock an area of the Krypt which ended up housing one box, which I couldn’t open by the way since it requires a different currency than the one I was grinding. Also, an ability I gained later in the Krypt uses one of my currencies to function, which was a massive bummer. It all feels like the game is trickling stuff to me in hopes that I will purchase currency with real money to circumvent the process. It feels predatory in cases like mine where I want to unlock every single thing the game has to offer. I hope they patch these values, because right now I am reaching frustration attempting to unlock every single item.

The skins and gear system really open up the customization. In addition to creating classic characters, the gear also allows for augments that are beneficial for the Towers. These give buffs to characters and seem endless in abilities. I could also re-roll them for a handful of coins to unlock new perks. It is a neat system only marred by the aforementioned grind. It took ten hours before I could level up one enough to use an augment that I had. It is confusing what works and what doesn’t on each gear piece. For example I had several Sub-Zero augments for his mask, but they had to be a specific set, for a specific tier. It feels more complicated than it really needs to be.

All of this feels like the tale of two games though. When I first set out everything is glorious. The fighting mechanics have been streamlined. The new offensive and defensive meters work perfectly in the game. The fighting feels better than it ever has. The new tutorial system is incredible, teaching players frame data in a way that makes sense. Each character even has their own tutorial that details their move sets and what they are effective against. It is beautiful. The fighting is fun and each character has their own style. Animation during fights have been improved, and the finishing moves are as creative and incredibly gory as they have ever been. The Mortal Kombat portion of this game is the best the series has ever been, it just feels like the publisher surrounded that by gross tactics that really drag down the later game grinding.

Online modes continue to be top tier. King of the Hill returns as do lobbies and plenty of ways to play with friends and randoms alike. The net code is rock solid and feels fantastic. I will be interested to see how it holds up as more and more people join in, but right now it feels superb. AI battles also return allowing players more ways to grind rewards and there is a ton of offline modes for friends to play local. One weird thing is that every mode that rewards items seems to be locked behind an online connection, although it seems if you unlock it offline, it does update as soon as you log on. Except Towers of Time of course, that mode, as well as the Krypt are not even playable without being connected, which is a bummer.

Visually I did not think NetherRealm could top Injustice 2. That game was absolutely gorgeous on so many levels. Somehow MK11 looks even better. Running on X at 4K and utilizing HDR this game is absolutely stunning. There appears to be more color and the HDR really makes it pop. The stages are so finely detailed and animated. The animations are much improved over previous NetherRealm games. The facial capture is simply outstanding. This is one of the best-looking games ever crafted. Audio is equally impressive. The sound design and effects are second to none in this game. Every impact feels powerful, the squish of the Fatalities is gruesome and the music is just outstanding. They have introduced announcer voices which excites me for the future.

Mortal Kombat 11 is a tale of two games- the one where everything just feels fantastic, the fighting, the story, the visuals. They combine to create one of the best fighting games ever crafted. Then there is the other side where grinding for all the cool stuff the game has is a real chore. I want all my Fatalities and skins, but the game is locking them behind this free-to-play feeling system that really tarnishes an otherwise incredible experience. I hope they clean those parts up, because I feel like this game could last for years as a fan-favorite.

Review copy of game provided by publisher.

  • Visuals are incredible
  • Story mode
  • Tons of content
  • The Krypt structure is addictive
  • Grinding for unlocks
  • Towers of Time difficulty spikes
Written by
Ken is the Editor-in-Chief of this hole in the wall and he loves to troll for the fun of it. He also enjoys long walks through Arkham Asylum and the cool air of Shadow Moses Island. His turn-ons include Mortal Kombat, Metal Gear Solid and StarCraft.