Mortal Kombat X has to be the best Mortal Kombat game title. It is deeper, mechanically richer, and more fully featured than any of the nine games before it, hands down. Also the developer NetherRealm Studios has taken a few new risks by adding eight new characters to the MK roster, while introducing fun, distinct variations to the returning ones.
Each of these risks pays off to varying degrees, but they also serve to highlight some of the ways in which the franchise is also still stuck in the past. In a nutshell Mortal Kombat X is an excellent fighter game, and the most fun I have ever had with any of the Mortal Kombat games. (Fighter games being not really my favorite type of games to play.)
One thing Mortal Kombat X does to make it feel new and fresh to both old skool fans and the casual fighters is a major roster shakeup. Before DLC ever enters the picture, MKX now has 24 fighters, and one third of those are new characters not palette swaps or tweaked alternate versions of the existing ones. making MKX so much the better in the long run for doing so.
Takeda is the most eye catching new design, and he shows what MKX does right with the new characters. He fights like you would imagine a 21st century ninja might, with an interesting mix of traditional weaponry and high tech gadgetry. Takeda is equipped with remote controlled laser swords he can plant and recall at will, explosive kunai throwing knives, and arm mounted, retractable grappling hooks that can open up into imposing blade covered whips. He wields it all with a confident martial arts swagger that makes it all seem to somehow just work well.
In fact, most people say their fighting style is more effective than in NetherRealms prior games thanks to the much needed and improved animations. Injustice was a step in the right direction of addressing the shortcomings of 2011’s Mortal Kombat, but Mortal Kombat X gets the rest of the way there. Dash and hit animations no longer look like hapless flailing, for instance. Little details like this used to distract me from the fighting all the time, and I am glad to see them finally sorted out.
This helps MKX feel like the smoothest playing Mortal Kombat ever to date. Walk speeds are snappier, pokes feel more useful, and with the awesome new variation system that gives each character three possible abilities to choose from at the beginning of a match. Also there is more to explore, discover, and exploit than ever before. Liu Kang has a variation where he can switch on the fly between healing and damaging stances, new grappler Torr employs an assist character to double team opponents, Kotal Khan can place totems to grant himself temporary buffs, and seeing NetherRealms open up so many fun new doors is really refreshing.
One mild distraction from the excellent combat is the visual inconsistency between characters. Some fighters, like Scorpion or newcomer D’vorah, look excellent, with tons of little details in their faces and costumes. Others, like Sonya and Jacqui, look far less detailed, with comparatively plain facial textures. It stands out because of the high peaks MKX hits during its best moments. With two of the better looking fighters duke it out against one of the many beautiful backgrounds, this is one of the best-looking console games around, so it sticks out when everything is not up to the same high quality level.
The inconsistency that sticks out the most for me, though, is the content of MKX’s alright story mode, and how completely at odds it is with the dark and gruesome aesthetic Mortal Kombat has built over the years. Again, NetherRealms has created something substantial for folks who like a single player experience, but it’s far less successful than previous attempts when it comes to providing a meaningful context for the awesome bloody brawls.
The chapters set in a civil war torn Outworld fit the Mortal Kombat tone the best, but there is just no reconciling the feel good tale of a single father who loves his daughter in story mode with the image of him gleefully tearing a hole in her chest and proudly standing over her fresh corpse in every other mode. Yes, of course, Mortal Kombat is ostensibly “about” Fatalities, and they are gorier and more satisfying here than ever before, but MKX’s story mode also wants to be about characters with deep ties to one another: fathers and sons, estranged lovers, budding romance, and long-standing blood-feuds finally laid to rest.
Adding all of that drama to a series that began as a thrown together story of a bunch of loners fighting to their deaths for their own reasons in strange, dangerous feeling places leaves Mortal Kombat X feeling a bit confused in that regard.
Each character has a long list of attacks and combo chains that serve different purposes, from high/low mixups to safe block strings and juggle starters. X-Rays, the MK equivalent of super moves, have been retuned to be more worth the resources they cost to execute, and throws can be canceled out of and linked into full combos, giving you another meaningful way to spend the meter.
This makes resource management decisions that much richer. Most importantly, the ability to choose between 3 version of every character means there will be more matchup specific stuff to learn, since playing against Sonya’s martial arts focused Special Forces variant will not prepare you for the oki setups she can create with her Demolitions style.
That is what really matters in the end. Sure, the 3 or 4 hour story mode experience feels middling and largely out of place, but story mode is not really what a fighting game is about. It’s endless nights learning the combos, and hopefully outsmarting your opponent in single combat. MKX provides all this with an incrementally improved version of the same great training mode from Injustice, and a solid line up of online features.
The best of these is King of the Hill, which allows you to queue up and chat with a bunch of players while training, watching live matches, and paying respect for performances that impress you. It is a fun, social way to play and learn with other people.
The netcode is mostly up to the task of keeping online fights reasonably smooth, but there was usually just enough input lag to throw off my combos or punish timings relative to what I am used to playing locally. Still that is a huge improvement over Mortal Kombat 9, and while online is not a replacement for in person competition, it is close enough to keep me learning and playing for some time.
One more thing that will keep me coming back is the returning Krypt, where you unlock MKX’s humorously massive array of costumes, finishers, and supplemental materials. More than ever before, this interactive unlockable menu feels like a game of its own. There is a certain thrill to spending your hard earned “koins” to open up treasure chests that could have anything in them.
That joy is somewhat dampened by the knowledge that you can just buy your way out of the entire thing with a separate $20 unlock key. It is not the only thing that has been monetized, sadly new options for executing easy, two button Fatalities or skipping story or tower fights require tokens, which are also sold on PSN and XBL. It is also worth noting I never felt pushed to get any of this stuff, but between all that and the big “push X to buy Goro” message that appears when you cursor over him on the character select screen, for me it is a bit too much in game marketing for me to be okay with. It did not really impact my enjoyment of the experience exactly, but any more marketing schemes, and it would have. It is really sad that gaming has come to this over the years. Whatever happened to just playing and having fun?
Story really only matters so much in a fighting game. Combat is king, and there is a ton of depth to me from Mortal Kombat X. A much needed transfusion of new blood, along with the ability to choose between three variations of every character means we will be learning, grinding, and discovering for a long time to come. Its universe keeps getting harder and harder to take seriously, and its micro transactions are borderline gross, but Mortal Kombat X is a great fighting game all the same.
If you are looking for another sweet game that has come out this year check out my review on Bloodbourne by Clicking HERE. Enjoy.