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2011’s Mortal Kombat reboot by NetherRealm Studios was the beginning of a new era not only for the series, but also the fighting game genre as a whole both positively and negatively. On the positive end, it’s story mode is the best of the genre and no other fighter has matched it’s quality, the amount of content both offline and offline is enormous keeping players of all skill levels busy for months after and the gameplay systems are both simple to understand while being deep at the same time. However, both NetherRealm’s past two games, MK9 and Injustice: Gods Among Us, provided us with netcode that is not tolerable and a DLC strategy that has irked some fans. Does NetherRealm keep up with what worked in the past yet also fix their previous mistakes in Mortal Kombat X? That answer is both yes and no respectively.
Mortal Kombat X’s story mode takes place 25 years later since the last game. Shinnok and Quan Chi are the main antagonists again as they attempt to take over all the realms. Earthrealm, Outworld and the Netherrealm all have key roles and characters in the campaign that lasts around five to six hours. The protagonists are mainly the Special Forces with Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade, but the story mostly revolves around four new characters that had relations to the existing cast. Cassie Cage is Sonya and Johnny’s daughter, Jacqui Briggs is Jax’s daughter, Kung Jin is a descendant of Kung Lao and Takeda is Kenshi’s son. Along the way you’ll play as some of the characters making their returns such as Sub-Zero, Scorpion and Raiden, but also other new characters Kotal Kahn and Dvorah.
If you’re familiar with MK9 and Injustice’s story modes, this one follows a similar progression of a chapter of four fights and some quicktime events that can dictate the next fight. The QTEs can be distracting if you’re trying to pay attention what is happening during the cutscenes. In addition, the story as a whole sporadically jumps back and forth in time in certain chapters. Some of these flashbacks have to explain some of the new characters’ background such as Kung Jin and Takeda, but they end unnecessary to the core plot. Speaking of the plot, there are many plotholes in MKX’s story mode. For example, why is Outworld in civil war between Kotal Kahn and Mileena? There was the comic that came out before the game’s release, who also introduces another new character Erron Black, but casual players will be wondering why how in the world is all of this set up? Plus, characters that were playable in previous games such as Stryker, Sindel and Kabal are in the story, but they’re on Quan Chi’s side in revenant forms and not playable. The presentation for Mortal Kombat X’s story mode is still top notch and unmatched compared to most of the fighting games out there, but I was a little letdown how the story itself panned out. At least the mode is easier to beat than MK9’s.
At its core, Mortal Kombat X retains the majority of mechanics from MK9 and Injustice from enhanced moves, combo breakers, x-rays, and stage interactables. The new additions however make the game much more deeper than NetherRealm’s last two games. The stamina meter governs stage interactable usage, backdashing, combo breakers, block breakers and the return of the run mechanic. Running at first takes some time to get used to implementing into your fighting style because of it’s input. You to have dash forward (right right on the left side) and then press block to run. It also becomes pivotal to executing high damaging combos. Along with managing your super meter of when to use enhanced special moves, breakers and x-rays, there’s also a stamina meter to worry out managing as well and that’s fine especially if you’re gonna play it more seriously competing at tournaments.
Then there is the variation system (pictured above) where the depth really kicks in. Each character has three variations of different fighting styles. The major differences are mainly the playstyle and certain special moves being specific to a variation. I’ll use Sub-Zero as an example, since he is the character I’m using the most. Want to more aggressive against your opponents? Play Cryomancer where he has access to ice weapons. Prefer to play more defensive? Grandmaster is your variation where Sub-Zero get his signature ice clone and even throw it at opponents. Frustrated by online players spamming teleport moves? Give Unbreakable a shot where he as a parry that he freezes himself and if he catches someone attacking him, they’re frozen for a limited time. The variations are a worthy addition especially for character loyalists that tend to just one character and you need to do is change variation to counterpick if the one you picked didn’t pan out. My only issue with the variation system is some lack of originality with certain characters. Reptile for example has The Flash’s ability to slow down time from Injustice and one of Kitana’s variations is reminiscent of Jade.
There are plenty of finishing moves in Mortal Kombat X besides the signature fatalities. While the fatalities are the most gruesome ones yet for the series thanks to the power of the current gen consoles, brutalities are back but worked significantly different. These brutalities require specific events to happen. While some are pretty easy such as using Ermac’s EX teleport punch in the air as your last hit against your opponent, others have crazy stipulations such as having high health leftover, holding forward or back and then doing a certain special move to finish it off. Each character has five of them, so there’s enough to mess around trying to beat someone with style. Then there’s the faction kills, which I’ll talk more about factions in a bit, where they are simple fatalities in terms of inputting them and look. Quitalities are also in especially for those online ragequitters.
Besides the story mode, the other offline modes consist of various towers. Traditional towers are your classic arcade mode ladder and survival modes as well as test your might and luck towers. Test your luck returns from MK9 where custom modifiers are thrown into the fold. Another tease of characters from past games coming back as DLC in the future are some of these modifiers from Rain’s water bubble and Cyrax’s bombs. Living towers are separate towers that change on a daily and hourly basis. These will usually have custom modifiers as well and also an opportunity to play as a downloadable character without buying them in the premier tower. Currently that tower has Goro but that will change with Jason, Predator and the other characters that are coming with the Kombat Pack.
You would think after MK9 and Injustice, NetherRealm will finally get things right with the netcode for Mortal Kombat X. Turns out the third time wasn’t the charm because online play has been less than stellar because of laggy fights. For a game with a stricter input system and timing to execute combos, input lag, especially online, has been frustrating to deal with. It is tolerable at best but good luck trying to find playable matches on a consistent rate in the current state is in. Other than ranked matches and lobbies, king of the hill is back from previous games and there’s also tower battles, which are basically living towers you compete for high scores against other players. Friends can be challenged in tower challenges too.
Another feature in Mortal Kombat X the developers have been promoting before the game’s release big time is the faction war. Players select a faction to represent such as the Lin Kuei, White Lotus and Special Forces contributing points to what they chose by doing consistently well and completing faction challenges. There’s also invasions which happens randomly while there’s a boss character to defeat and you can contribute hits to that superpowered opponent even though the Mileena I fought last week is nearly impossible to beat. The whole faction system is an interesting idea and as long you’re doing anything both offline and online, your contributions will be there.
Mortal Kombat X is definitely an amazing looking game graphically on the Playstation 4, Xbox One and PC despite the PC version having a botched launch. The framerate also never dips below 60 frames per second, which is always a must in a fighting game Even the load times between fights are pretty fast on all versions. The soundtrack is pretty standard with past games, so don’t expect classic tunes to fight to compared to other fighting games out now. The Krypt is also back with tons of unlockable goodies such as fatalities and brutalities without trying to figure them out by heart, concept art and costumes if you don’t unlock them in the traditional towers. If you don’t have the time to grind out koins, there is a $20 microtransaction fee to unlock everything. Speaking of microtransactions, MKX is chalk full of them along with heavy advertising for DLC, but we’ll save that issue for a later time.
While I was impressed with the new gameplay additions such as the stamina meter and the variation system, Mortal Kombat X’s flaws prevent it from becoming another home run for NetherRealm Studios. The story mode is still enjoyable to play through and it’s presentation is still unmatched by other fighting games, but numerous plotholes and sporadic jumping around timelines were my problems with it. The biggest disappointment however is the netcode performance so far because it’s not improved from MK9 and Injustice. It is tolerable at best, but the majority of matches I played so far on Xbox One were riddled with input lag. The fatalities are arguably the most brutal ones yet for the franchise and the game does look amazing on the current gen consoles. We’ll see if NetherRealm improves the netcode in future patches, but Mortal Kombat X is still the complete fighting game package despite it’s issues.