Yesterday Mortal Kombat 11 released and I spent some time last night playing it. Warning there will likely be spoiler information included in this post, but seeing as I have not gotten terribly deep into the game it won’t be very complete. One thing you need to understand about my psyche is that I was a fighting game arcade rat. During my High School years the world was having its renaissance of fighting games that began with the release of Street Fighter 2 and continued through until the franchises evolved into 3D and the arcade construct as a whole eventually petered out after my college years. That time however was one of mystery filled with random messages scrawled on the proto-internet message boards like those of CompuServe and AOL and a heaping dose of misinformation. I still remember the day my local arcade… and by local I mean one thirty minutes away from my house… got one of the beta boards for Mortal Kombat II. It had a limited set of characters and only a handful of fatalities introduced in the game… but we hungrily devoured what content it did have trading home made guides with each other to try and level the playing field.
From the very beginning I found myself drawn to the lore of this world and its weird inhabitants. Mortal Kombat 1 was a fairly dry game that was more or less a straight rip off of Enter the Dragon. With the second installment in the franchise they expanded this lore to include the Outland a realm which the Earth Realm was in a constant struggle for domination. Only through the rules of the tournament were we the players able to keep this other realm at bay and from invading our own. Then with the third installment of the game… we learn that unlike the first tournament… we didn’t actually win. This was crazy for me to wrap my head around at the time… because here was a game that was telling a narrative through a fighting game that had both an official canon that was different from that of the player “heroes journey”. It was always trying to do something really unique and cinematic with its storytelling that other fighting games at the time were not, and I appreciated that. However as my personal tastes changed I found myself exiting the Fighting Game genre and moving on with my life… eventually getting engrossed in MMORPGs. There was something however about what I had been seeing surrounding Mortal Kombat 11 that made me want to pick the game back up and see what the story mode was like.
Time has passed and a new generation of characters is effectively taking the place of some of the names I recognized. The long canon relationship between Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade apparently bore fruit in the form of a daughter named Cassie. Similarly we are introduced to the daughter of Jackson Briggs (Jax) named Jaqui who happens to serve in the same defense force unit as Cassie under the command of Sonya. The opening scenes of the game revolve around the family connection and how in order to get her promotion to Commander… Cassie has to defeat Sonya in combat. Then bam… we are immediately and seamlessly transitioning into the fighting game with no real pause… the camera rotates and the familiar 2Dish playing field is presented with the combat bars overhead. The game controls pretty much like I would expect a Mortal Kombat game to control and before long I was able to pick up some of the basic muscle memory of how to do this thing. Cassie more or less controls like Johnny Cage… with some tweaks here or there that make it more an amalgam of both Cage and Sonya’s move set.
What I found most odd about this whole experience is how once you get started you are largely on rails and working your way through a story sequence without any pauses. Eventually I needed to go do something else for the night… and it was awkward to find a natural place to break off the game. I am guessing the story sequences will pick up where I left off as I get pushed into the next fight. I made it through the opening sequence which involved a strike on Kitana’s Castle in the outland… where both her and Liu Kang have apparently been corrupted by Shinnok… a perennial baddie in the series since Sub Zero Mythologies and natural foil to our own protective Elder God Raiden. I feel like there is a ton of story here that I have missed over the years… and while I own Mortal Kombat X because I got it as part of another package I never really cracked it open and played it to see how its story worked out. In theory this first mission was to stave off an invasion of Earth from the Outland… but not everything goes entirely as planned.
Raiden is not the person we knew, because he too seemingly is being corrupted by the influence of Shinnok. You can see he is wearing Shinnok’s amulet around his neck… but his eyes and lightning attacks now glow red as opposed to the usual blue. That’s right… Raiden has fallen to the dark side and is now a Sith… or something like that. He still seems to be dead set on protecting the Earth Realm… but is way more harsh than the Raiden I remember. The team escapes from Outland back to Earth only to have another player peek her head onto the stage. We are introduced to Kronika the Keeper of Time who is tired of Raiden’s corruption of the timeline and probably pissed at him beheading Shinnok her apparent child. So some timey wimey stuff happens and suddenly we have a mix of timelines where characters from Mortal Kombat 1, 2, 3, and other games that I don’t recognize get blended together into one amalgam timeline that allows quite simply for us to play all the things in a single game without having to care much about why. Most time travel storylines are complete nonsense and bullshit… and I sorta expect this one to end up that way in the end. However for the moment I am engaged… but cannot play for long because my muscle memory for a fighting game ain’t exactly what it used to be… and my hand got to hurting after a handful of fights.
Other random observations… I never liked Johnny Cage. He always annoyed me as the consummate incarnation of a dudebro and the rich kid bully “Blaine” character from every 80s teen movie. You take his same actions and place it in a female character and it is insanely way the hell more tolerable… so I kinda like Cassie Cage so far. Jaqui seems an awful lot like her father Jax… so there is a weird mirror of some of the same dynamics I remember between Jax and Sonya before. So you get this whole feeling of getting the band back together… but the band performers are the children of the previous generation. Based on this game and what footage I have seen of the Injustice series… NetherRealm Studios seems to have perfected the art of telling a story through a fighting game. I look forward to making it through the story mode, but I am honestly doubtful that I will ever play this in any sort of a mode that allows the game to go online with other players. My days of slapping a quarter on the monitor to reserve the next game are well past me… and I doubt I would come anywhere close to enjoying playing random strangers on the internet. I do however appreciate a good story told through a vehicle that I enjoy playing… so this might cause me to go on a renaissance of playing other NetherRealm fighting games to experience more of it.
All in all… I am digging it heavily. The game is getting panned hard by critics due to the inclusion of micro-transactions but I have not gotten anywhere near enough into the game to be able to judge that. They are claiming that the game gains currency to unlock things from the “Krypt” very slowly… but I also remember sitting in our RV at the lake grinding the same tower over and over to unlock randomized coins in Mortal Kombat Deception on the PS2… which incidentally is probably the last MK game I heavily played. The coins did not come quickly and it find super grindy to get unlocks… so I am guessing this game is going to feel very similar. Those are vehicles for folks to invest more time in the game… not necessarily for casual players like myself. There is a really cool customization system that lets you swap out appearances and abilities on various characters which seems like it might be a cool idea… so that your sub zero might perform slightly different to that of your friends adding a bit of the whole MOBA character design into the mix. I cannot however gauge how that will work out in the end, because I am just a tiny bit into the game right now.