“After the outstanding reboot with MK9, NetherRealms delivers another one-two punch with the latest addition. Mortal Kombat X may stumble through a middling plot and overreach with DLC, but the core remains as a solid fighter that should keep fans smiling. Pushing the franchise further rather than rest on old ideas will hopefully continue as MK moves into the future.”
Mortal Kombat X
Platform(s): PC, PS4 (Reviewed), Xbox One
Release Date: April 14, 2015
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
The latest kontender in the gory fist-fest of the Mortal Kombat series has some pretty big ninja boots to fill. After a number of fairly mediocre entries, the Mortal Kombat franchise seems to have dusted itself off as NetherRealm Studios meditated on what they would need to do to reclaim some of that past glory. The result was a fantastic reboot with Mortal Kombat 9, which managed the Herculean task of merging the frenetic and befuddling plots of the first 3 games into a wonderfully surprising and fun adventure through the franchise. MK9 went back to the basics by offering a solid fighting experience for veterans and newcomers alike. The devs smartly aimed to rebuild the foundation rather than slap a new coat of paint on a cracking surface. As a bonus, it all made sense and I had an excellent time battling through a fighting game’s story mode for once.
For those that care, the story in MKX leaps forward a quarter century from the final events of the last game. As with MK9 you’ll follow the exploits of the major line-up as they have a series of hilarious misunderstandings. With Shao Kahn destroyed, a non-aggression pact between Earthrealm and Outworld keeps things relatively sane. The new threat emerges through Quan Chi attempting to resurrect the Elder God Shinnok and claim all the souls forever. Or something.
As the story is thrust into the future, you’ll play as the Kombat Kids who struggle to come to terms within their roles as protectors of Earthrealm. The four new heroes, Cassie Cage, Jacqui Briggs, Kung Jin and Takeda Takahashi, are all related in someway to the old guard. Part of a Special Forces group tasked with figuring out what the hell is going on, they set out to Outworld and soon get wrapped up in the struggles between the new ruler Kotal Kahn and Millena who are embroiled in a civil war. Of course, shit hits the fan and soon you’ll battle across the realms.
Admittedly, I’m one of those weirdos that actually like story modes in fighters and I’ve always had a thing for the dumb lore of Mortal Kombat. MKX has the unfortunate task for following up MK9‘s perfectly delivered reboot. This plot seems less involved somehow. Part of this is the fact that MK9 had a ton of material to pull from and weaved it seamlessly into one outstanding narrative. MKX feels like awkward teenagers on a dinner date with their parents.
You bounce from character to character as you move forward in the plot fighting a few familiar faces. Chapters are pretty short — around 4 fights for each main character. The narrative struggles to be coherent but it feels a bit rushed at times. Adding to some pacing issues is the fact that the story also takes leaps in the timeline. It’s a not a huge deal as it sorta helps flesh out some the looser threads but it doesn’t focus enough on the new direction and characters.
NRS does a decent enough job at distancing the new characters and giving them direction, but it feels like a shadow compared to the epic that was MK9. It’s an unfair comparison. Still I wasn’t as invested in this newer story. Perhaps the sequel will give the newer characters a permanent place in the narration.
Ultimately, it’s not the plot that pulls you in. You’re probably here to beat fools into bloody stumps. And there’s plenty of that to go around.
With MKX, NetherRealm tweaks the core mechanics a bit while still remaining true to MK sensibilities. I mean, they really can’t stray too far from their bread and butter, or maybe in this case your bones and blood… wait, or your brains and bowels. It’s a fighting game after all. You punch and kick, occasionally blast off a fireball or two and end things piecefully — in that your opponent ends in pieces.
Throwing punches, uppercuts, and grapples are meaty and satisfying upon connecting with your foes’ faces. Combos can be as simple as a few quick button presses or super complicated by linking combos with specials for massive damage. Players that master the systems and linking can run a train over the less skilled (basically me) The special meter returns from MK9 which allows you to pull of unique power moves, interrupt a punishing combo, or perform those devastating X-Ray moves. The bone crunching X-Rays will have you wincing all over again as you’ll gain a nice internal view of what kind of damage you’re dealing to your opponent. While they won’t win a fight for you all the time, they are pretty satisfying to behold. Also, you’d think after have a spine busted in two that they’d down for the count, but these fighters keep getting back up for more.
To put them down permanently, you’ll need to bust out a humiliating Fatality. You know these best as the tipping point which birthed the ESRB as these were deemed so gruesome that the mere knowledge of their existence would shatter children’s brains. NRS goes above and beyond and deliver horrifying death animations. It’s oddly beautiful witnessing your opponent’s brains splooge out of their skull or have their organs ripped out before you burn a hole through their face. I’m sure there is a windowless room where NetherRealm safely secures the people that come up with these Fatality moves as some of them are very demented.
Brutalities make a triumphant return as well. These require a level of skill beyond a quick button sequence. To pull off a Brutality finisher, you need meet certain prereqs in battle — like defeat an opponent with chip damage as they’re blocking. Some are more ridiculous but are pretty cool when you see them. I lack the talent but though online defeat have seen these in action.
The major change, besides the roster, is the addition of character variations. Each fighter has three stances from which you can choose and each have their advantages and weaknesses. The basic moves remain the same — Scorpion still has a spear and can teleport — but some of his combos change up a bit. Some characters might gain a slight variation to existing moves or can perform a different dash or counter. Others might have tweaks that allow them to fight at various ranges. It’s somewhat similar to the weapon additions in previous iterations. All said and done, these add a bit of flair to the basic lineup and allow some room for metagaming.
A stamina bar makes a comeback as well. Stamina is used to a few things — mostly quick back-stepping or sprinting forward. It’s a decent addition that keeps the fighting close and personal but the sprint isn’t tied to dedicated button. Instead you double tap towards and hold block to full out run. Ideally, it would be a great option for covering proper distances but it just feels awkward and can lead to several missteps.
Environmental interactions have been added as well. If you played Injustice then you should be familiar with how these work. Essentially, certain background objects can be used to attack or dodge with simple button press. My favorite is a hapless old lady that can be thrown at your enemy as she screams in terror. It’s pretty great. These also require stamina, so you can’t spam the environment over and over. You can also toggle these off for competitive play.
Rounding out the story, local and online matches are a series of challenge towers to test your skills. Most of these seem to be a way to grind for Koins or faction EXP, but it offers an OK distraction for a few moments. The challenges range from a standard fighting ladder to weirder challenges. Test Your Might is a just another button mashing minigame hellbent on destroying your controller. I cheated and used a bottle cap to knock out the last tier. Test Your Luck place random elements on a standard battle such as exploding skulls or super speed. I loved these the most as the weird balances are fun and a nice break from the super serious hardcore play.
The Towers also have some online components with hourly, daily, and weekly challenges. Again, these don’t diverge too much from the offline Towers but you can use these to gather Faction EXP and Koins.
Oh yeah, Factions. Players can join one of five online Factions as they battle for weekly supremacy. Honestly, I haven’t been too invested in this as much because I just enjoy the basic game. But everything you do gains EXP and ranking within your faction. And after a week, a winner is determined. I’m haven’t really understood what the main benefit is by choosing a faction (you can switch at anytime without penalty) but perhaps new content or unique prizes will be unveiled later.
Speaking of unlocking content.
Once again, there is a slight progression mechanic found within the Krypt — a massive grid consisting of a bunch of unlockables you purchase with earned Koins. You bank Koins by playing the story mode, fighting online, and completing towers and challenges. The Krypt is even larger and more complex than ever as you plod along a spooky cemetery, dark dungeons, and labyrinthine caves. You’ll also gather up a small inventory of klassic MK tools to delve further into the Krypt. Like, you’ll need Scorpion’s spear to traverse bottomless pits or need Sub-Zero’s iceball to freeze fire or something. Really, it’s all pretty shallow but it’s still a neat way to unlock new costumes and stuff.
The actual content can be pretty hit or miss as there’s know way of knowing what you’re about to unlock without a guide. Smart players will wait until they have a full understanding of what they’re buying before accidentally purchasing some fan art for 5 thousand Koins. Of course if you’ve got more money than sense, you can just pay actual for-real cash to unlock everything automatically. It’s all part of an egregious DLC layer but I’ll get into that later.
That said, I really want a Krypt themed CRPG of some kind — something along the lines of Legend of Grimrock. The framework is practically set up already, and it’d be a wonderful way to break the franchise out from the fighter scene. Imagine partying up with offshoots of the basic MK mainstays as you explore a deep and evolving dungeon and battling revenant Shaolin monks, cybernetic ninjas, tarkan thugs and wayward elemental gods. Damn that’d be rad!
Now let’s get into some of the gross parts — and I don’t mean watching your friends eyeballs pop out of their head. DLC in this game is… is something else. The Goro pre-order is one thing. You get a bonus character for showing some kind of loyalty. Whatever. But the fact that you can pay to unlock the entire Kyrpt fro 20 dollars is insane. Couple with the purchasing of Koins and one-use easy Fatalities makes me feel ill. This is on top of the fact that you can buy the 30 dollar season pass with a few new characters. If you add it all up it’s a staggering amount of money for not that much content. All of the bonus stuff you should avoid. It’s gross at best.
Additionally, I’ve been having some issues with online. Granted it’s new and keep thing running can be problematic at the start but I’ve had a number of lost connections and have spent more time looking for games than playing them. It hasn’t been super bad yet, but just know that you might have a few issues these first couple of weeks. You may want to stick to local right now.
I can’t — and won’t — say that I’m a fighting game superfan. I can hold my own in my circle but anyone with any hint of skill will have no problem taking me out. I don’t really get discouraged so much but I thought I’d preface my experience by acknowledging where I stand in the pantheon of players (it’s at the bottom in the rusted tin can league). I do find some enjoyment in fighting games where I can and Mortal Kombat X has been a welcome addition to the franchise. While I don’t feel it does enough to separate the new from the old, NetherRealm at least attempts to branch out with some new ideas. Ultimately, I feel that MK fans will find more than enough to keep them interested in this iteration and hopefully NRS will listen to them about what worked so that the next will be even better.