When it was first introduced a staggering 27 years ago, Mortal Kombat always had that reputation of being “That fighting game where you rip people’s heads off.” Known more for its gore and violence than its gameplay. Things have changed since then with MK9 and MKX bringing the quality of gameplay up to meet the quality of violence. That upward trend continues with Mortal Kombat 11, which is not only the best Mortal Kombat has ever been, it’s also arguably Netherrealm’s best game yet. This is one of the most fully featured fighting games you can buy, with both single- and multiplayer modes that will last both casual and hardcore audiences a long, long time.Mortal Kombat’s defining quality among 2D fighters is that its combat centers around two punch buttons, two kick buttons, and a block button. This is actually more unique than it sounds. While other 2D fighters typically have some combination of light, medium, and/or heavy attacks, with weaker attacks linking into stronger attacks, Mortal Kombat has no such concept. Instead, MK employs a “dial-a-combo” system that requires knowledge of very specific button combinations in order to build a combo. It’s definitely not a super-accessible combat system for newcomers, but fortunately, Mortal Kombat 11 comes with one of the best fighting game tutorials I’ve ever played. It covers everything from basic fundamentals all the way to the most advanced techniques such as frame traps, jailing, and block strings, all while highlighting key concepts and clear instructions on how to implement these techniques.
Mortal Kombat 11 retains all of those unique mechanics that give this series its identity, and of course, the gloriously gratuitous over-the-top and often comedic violence of its notorious Fatality finishing moves. However, surrounding all of that are new fighting systems that feel unlike anything the series has ever seen, and Mortal Kombat 11 is much better for being willing to take these bold steps to keep things fresh.
In some ways, less is more, and faster is not always better. To that end, Netherrealm has slowed the action down substantially relative to the last few games, especially compared to the hyper-rushdown-focused Mortal Kombat X. The run button is gone, walk speeds have been reduced across the board, and super-far-reaching and forward-moving combo strings are much rarer. At first, I wasn’t a huge fan of how slow Mortal Kombat 11 felt, but the more time I put in, the more I started to appreciate how these seemingly small changes added up to change the flow of a match in a great way. With a greater emphasis placed on careful positioning and whiff punishing and less of a focus on all-out blitzing to impose your 50/50 mixup game, fights feel more tactical and rewarding of smart play.
In another dramatic and inspired departure from previous games, Mortal Kombat 11 completely changes up how meter management works by splitting it in two. The defensive meter is used primarily for special wake-up options, environmental interactables, and a combo-breaking move called a breakaway. The offensive meter is used for amplifying your special moves to make them safe on block, increase their damage, open up combo opportunities, and more.
The best thing about the split, though, is the fact that it allows Fatal Blows – a powerful move capable of doing 35% damage on its own – to exist independently of meter. Fatal Blows are often extremely fast and difficult to react to, but that’s balanced out by the fact that you only get one per match. If even one player has saved it, the closing moments of every close Mortal Kombat 11 fight feel extraordinarily tense – almost like an Old Western standoff.
The best new addition to the actual fighting of Mortal Kombat 11, though, are Krushing Blows. These special critical hits activate automatically, but only when certain criteria are met: For example, every character has a Krushing Blow tied to their uppercut that will activate if it hits as a counter, or if it punishes a whiffed high attack. While uppercuts typically cannot be used as combo starters, if it is a Krushing Blow uppercut it will launch the opponent high up into the air and open them up to a substantial follow-up juggle without costing any meter.There’s so much to love about this mechanic, even on just the surface level of it being super satisfying to see an otherwise-normal punch cause a complete bone explosion inside your opponent’s body. On a higher level, though, the addition of Krushing Blows adds yet another level of depth to each character, and rewards a deep mastery of their moveset. It’s also a limited resource, because you can only use each move’s Krushing Blow once per match, so it’s a huge advantage to learn the requirements for each Krushing Blow to maximize their effectiveness.
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