The 2011 Mortal Kombat reboot (or MK9) was a return to form for the franchise and it was fantastic overall. I even enjoyed the shit out of it on PS Vita. So saying I was hyped for the current-generation Mortal Kombat debut would be an understatement, and Ed Boon and team have mostly gone way beyond my expectations. Unlike the disappointment of WWE 2K15, Mortal Kombat’s current generation debut is mostly fantastic.
Most of the mechanics introduced in Injustice: Gods Among Us and Mortal Kombat 9’s story mode are here. Story modes usually don’t matter in fighting games, but Mortal Kombat always manages to hold my interest. Story mode is split up into different chapters, each dedicated to separate character. It is set 25 years after the events of Mortal Kombat 9 and introduces a new generation of fighters, like Cassie Cage and Jacqui Briggs. It’s quite funny seeing the characters we’ve grown to love look older with grey hair. You won’t be spending too much time in the story mode though. I managed to beat it in close to four hours on normal difficulty. However, story mode does a great job of getting you to try out most of the characters in the roster.
Gameplay, however, is where Mortal Kombat X shines. The changes to characters, additions of new towers, and the Krypt, make the core gameplay feel fresh after all these years. Each character has three variations now. Some of the moves you were familiar with and probably used in chain combos earlier might be split into different variations. Ermac’s tele-lift just suspends the opponent mid-air in the Mystic variant, while it also does the slam in the Master of Souls variant. The introduction of these variations and the new characters like Erron Black (John Marston, anyone?) and Kotal Kahn kind of make up for the otherwise small roster. I wish the variations had a bigger difference in costume than just small colour changes or accessories visible.
While previous entries had challenge towers and allowed gameplay modifier input on the versus screen, X goes a step further. Traditional towers are the same as in past games, but Living Towers are the daily challenge equivalent for Mortal Kombat X. Living Towers range from tower challenges that change every hour to every day and even a “Premier” tower that offers very challenging matches. I love the Living Towers implementation because each refresh results in new modifiers and different opponents. Mortal Kombat games have always allowed changing gameplay through modifiers on the versus screen by tapping the face buttons to change the pattern. That has been removed here and you can now set modifiers before the match.
Visually, X is fantastic. The game UI and the effects are just stunning. Fatalites are more gruesome than ever before and I’m not just saying that. Jax’s first fatality in particular is a sight to behold. X-ray moves are absolutely bone crunching (pun intended) and Brutalities make a return to the franchise after a long break. The implementation for Brutalities is very different, and in most cases, you’re required to fulfil certain criteria in the match before attempting one. Fatalities are a joke to execute for the most part, which makes me wonder why they had to implement scummy consumable microtransactions for “easy Fatality” input. The only real complaint I have visually is how the cutscenes in story mode immediately make you feel like you’re playing on a last-gen console, with poor character models in many cases. Also, Fatalities and X-ray moves are for some reason capped at 30 fps, while the rest of the game is a steady 60 fps. It doesn’t feel “more cinematic”; it just feels jarring having the framerate change that much suddenly when you press L2 and R2.
The Krypt makes a return in X and it is more like a first-person dungeon crawler with similar controls to exploration in games like Persona Q and Etrian Odyssey. There are also monsters in the Krypt and you’re rewarded for reacting in time to the QTEs. If you can’t be bothered to actually explore the well designed Krypt to unlock Fatalites, cover art, and more, there’s a nice option for you to pay to unlock everything. Haven’t you been dreaming of paying full price for a fighting game to only be presented with an option to pay more for easier finishers, more characters, and concept art?
Another new addition to X is the Faction Wars. On launching the game for the first time, you’re prompted to select a faction. This is a bit like the club system in Driveclub except on a much larger scale. There are daily faction challenges that let you earn for your faction and even menial single-player fights let you earn rewards and level up.
If, like me, you play the story mode first, get ready to be sort of disappointed by the final roster. Many characters from previous games are missing, even though they appear often in story mode. There’s already a lot of DLC announced and it just feels like more DLC will be made available with these characters. I’ve been playing X for over two weeks now and it is still pissing off seeing “Press X to purchase Goro” in the character select screen. I thought I’d be used to it by now, but the in-your-face DLC is annoying. The first image on the main menu is also an advertisement for DLC on the store. Seeing even Mortal Kombat go down this route is sad.
Mortal Kombat X also has a companion iOS and Android game with the same name. This lets you unlock rewards for the console and PC versions, and vice versa. The mobile game is pretty monotonous and plain bad overall, barring the visuals. It also employs the worst bait-and-switch ever. It’ll cost close to Rs 20,000 to unlock all the fighters in the mobile game through in-app purchases and even then there’s some content locked behind the Kombat Pass (season pass) after linking your Warner Bros. account.
I’ve waited till today to finish the online aspect of this review. The online mode on PS4 is region-locked and still quite poorly implemented. I’ve had matchmaking take close to five minutes sometimes and it feels like combat is much slower online. There’s a bit of input lag that is still prevalent after three patches. I’m going to stick to local play for Mortal Kombat X until they fix their netcode and hopefully allow cross-region play on PS4, since it is region-free on PC and Xbox One.
Overall, Mortal Kombat X is a really great fighting game. The gameplay changes, character variations, and combat tweaks make it hold its own even next to more competitive fighting games. I just wish the microtransaction bullshit was kept out of it. If you’re even a casual Mortal Kombat fan, it might make sense to wait for the eventual “Komplete” edition with all the DLC and hopefully no microtransactions. If you love the franchise like me, you’re probably already playing it.