NOTE: This is an incomplete review of Netherrealm’s Mortal Kombat X. Although we have had the game for nearly a week, numerous features, such as the Faction Wars and online play, have not been accessible prior to launch and cannot be judged at this time. We will update this article later this week with thoughts on those features and more as well as a final grade.
Everyone has that one game franchise that they love unconditionally; the one that they manage to find enjoyment in no matter how bad the individual release. For me, that is Mortal Kombat. This has been my go to series from the moment I first laid eyes on the original arcade release. The franchise has had its share of good, bad, and REALLY bad titles. Even still, I’ve always found myself running back to Ed Boon’s creations without hesitation. Thankfully, Mortal Kombat X (MKX) doesn’t look as bad as some of the titles the franchise has dropped in the past (cough, Special Forces, cough). In fact, the glimpses that Netherrealm has given us of the game, it looks absolutely amazing. After getting my hands on the final version last week, I can assure that it more than looks the part of an excellent game, it is an excellent game.
Fans of Netherrealm Studios and veterans of their previous titles should have some sense of just how much content this package has in store for them. Although the fighting game genre is usually considered to be a shallow one, this developer always seems determined to flesh out the total experience to something that goes beyond simple pugilism. There is more to this game than just fighting and blood; a lot more. This game is packed full of modes and features that will keep you occupied for hours upon hours, easily, whether you are looking to play by yourself or with your friends.
The first stop for most players is likely the franchise’s now-patented story mode. The story mode, albeit a bit shorter than the previous edition, has shown that Netherrealm is definitely the master of the solo, fighting game experience. This tales isn’t just a series of random encounters between characters, but rather a lengthy, interactive tale that has you controlling things both in battle and out. Even during the cut-scenes, you have many moments where you will interact with button presses that control the direction of the action. These aren’t plot altering events, but simple quick time events that dictate how a non-playable fight or short scene play out. Thankfully, the game doesn’t rely on them too heavily; they are very brief and meant solely to keep you on your toes and embedded in the action.
The story does a really good job of tying together of the 25 year gap between MK9 and MKX. There has been a lot happening in these worlds and you get to see it from a bunch of different viewpoints. The chapters play out through a combination of flashbacks and modern events which plots the course that most of the characters have taken to the current situation in the game. The story and its dialogue do get extremely corny at times, especially considering I saw the ending coming about 20 minutes into the game, but I mean that in the manner that the franchise has always had a bit of a “corny” side to it. Johnny Cage, for example, is always full of cocky-one-liners that bring out as many groans as they do laughs.
While this isn't a Emmy award-winning tale by any means, it is a very entertaining 4-5 hour romp that will suck you into the lore of the Mortal Kombat universe. I do wish that there had been a little more variation in who you get to play with throughout the story mode. While you will touch on a wide variety of characters, it's really a perfect opportunity to introduce players to every character in the game. That doesn’t happen here. There are some key players on the roster who simply appear in the background of the tale that I feel could have made interesting additions to the story’s playable cast given their situations within the context within the story. The fanboy in my gets a little upset that I don’t get to take control of some of my favorites like Rain or Baraka, either in the story or in the game as a whole, but at the same time I know that we're not going to be able to get all the characters that we all want every time. Netherrealm has done a wonderful job at tying in a lot of other familiar faces into the adventure as you will see a lot of people you did not expect to see throughout the story arc.
If you have seen any screenshots or video footage of the game, you know just how amazing it looks. This isn’t just the best looking fighting game on the market (sorry, Guilty Gear Xrd, you had the title for a few months), it is one of the best looking games period. The amount of detail that is in each character and level is mind blowing and it all runs silky smooth at an incredible 1080p / 60fps. The only time that I noticed issues with the visuals was occasionally during the cut-scenes of the story mode, which were obviously crafted using the in-game engine. Some of the shadows were incredibly blocky at times and there were some issues of textures clipping and disappearing into one another. This never happened during the action though, which is what you will be looking at most of the time.
Obviously, the crux of the gameplay, both in the story mode and out, is one-on-one combat. The basic fighting gameplay has really been fine-tuned over the last iteration of the series. All of the new mechanics that MK9 introduced, such as the 3-level super bar at the bottom of the screen and X-Ray maneuvers have returned, along with a slew of new features. Boone and company have done a lot to change the “way” people will play the game which could cause a bit of a shake up on the competitive scene. Traditionally, fighting game strategies are heavily based on timing and reading your opponents’ moves; with MKX, players have the ability to alter the timing of many moves and character recoveries. If you want to stall the process of standing up after being knocked down, you can. Many characters also have the ability to delay their special moves, such as their projectiles or attacks that launches them towards an opponent. This can really go a long way to throw off the timing of your opponent it really adds a different element of strategy to the game I did not expect, forcing players to rethink how they engage their opponents and makes the confrontations more tense.
Another addition to the gameplay isn’t groundbreaking for the genre but it is new to this franchise: the stamina bar. This small meter, which lies under each health bar, dictates how often your fighter can perform certain physical feats. This applies mainly to dashing and running, but also to the new interactive environments as well. Just like Netherrealm’s Injustice, each environment contains items and stationary objects that the characters can use for a tactical advantage. This ranges from objects they can boost jump off of to items that can be picked up and thrown across the screen (including a poor, old woman at the Outworld markets). You don’t have to worry about someone spamming these and taking advantage of them constantly.
Perhaps the one addition to the game that I love the most is the new and improved Brutality moves. I have to be honest: I was never a fan of the Brutality as it was known in the previous Mortal Kombat games. These finishing moves always felt very stupid to me and seemed like nothing but rip-offs of the Ultra Combo maneuvers in Killer Instinct. In MKX, there name describes them best as they are simple displays of utter brutality. The moves are now more violent versions of regular moves and they fit in perfectly with the flow of combat. I particularly like how many of them can be discovered in manners similar to the old arcade days of the original MK games, by accident as well as trial and error. While there are specific requirements that must be met in order to pull them off, the requirements don’t force you to do ridiculous things such as play without blocking or restrict yourself to one class of attack buttons. It's more of a matter of successfully pulling off a certain move or combo multiple times within a match and then completing the match with that action, which is something most players will do organically.
One of the things that can make or break a fighting game is its roster; in that department MKX really meets and exceeds all expectations. Although the base roster only consists of 24 characters, the introduction of multiple variations goes a long way to make it feel like a ton more. Each character’s three variations really do make a huge difference in how they feel and play. There are numerous instances where I find myself liking one variation of a character and completely despising the others. I can definitely see a competitive benefit to learning and mastering the basic, shared strategies of a given character and being able to rotate through their variations given your opponents’ strategies.
As I said earlier, there are a ton of modes and options available for players. In addition to the story and traditional versus fighting, both the Krypt and the Tower modes make a return from MK9 and we have the new Faction Wars option to play with. I can’t really touch on the Faction War content yet because it has been fully operational prior to the game’s official release. The towers though, are completely functional and are going to be the lifeblood of the extended solo experience. This mode is no longer restricted to a set number of levels to complete, where once your done there is nothing else to see. Now there are multiple tower options that change constantly and compare your results to other players on your friend list. The weekly, daily, and hourly challenges all provide fresh objectives and ways to play the game constantly; plus, you’ll earn yourself both koins (in game currency) as well as points for your faction of choice. I have already found myself checking in with the game at random points in the day just to see what the current hourly tower has in store for me.
The Krypt has also evolved and it has almost developed into a miniature game of its own. It plays out as a bit of a roguelike adventure now. You not only spend earned koins to unlock graves to access additional fatalities, brutalities, artwork, costumes, and music, but also collect items that allow you to access new areas features in the Krypt. It really has become a world of its own as you are no longer inhibited by the amount of money you have earned, but also how much exploration you have done and which tools you have acquired. There are even combat sequences against random enemies such as spiders or wolves, although they are extremely simple.
MKX doesn’t just look amazing, it is amazing. Boon and his crew have crafted an excellent fighting game that really sets their franchise a part from the pack when it comes to the current lineup in the genre. Complete with both extensive solo and multiplayer experiences, MK X is really a new take on the fight game concept and should push other developers to up their game(s) in the future. If have loved every bit of the experience thus far and really look forward to exploring the Faction War options once the game is open up to everyone later tonight. I just want to play around with them a little bit and put the netcode to the test for online multiplayer before I put a solid score on things, but I can tell you now it is still going to be high regardless of what happens with both modes. I love the game how it is now and can’t recommend it enough, especially to fans of the franchise.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Guess who's back!!! If you have been here before, you know the basics: lifelong gamer, father, and of course, former certified news monkey. I still consider myself all of those things, just maybe not in the grand scale that I once did. I’ve been blogging on the industry for more than decade now, in some form or another. It wasn't until I landed here at Gaming Nexus that I really dove in head first. Now, writing about games has become what I do for fun (and sometimes work) and something I intend on doing until the day I die (in some form or another).
I'm a huge fan of just about everything you can interact with using a controller, no matter how old or new, good or bad. If you put it in front of me, I will play it (at least once).