Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate
Released 2019
NeatherRealm Studios
Platform: XBoxOne, PS4, & PC
XBox Series X, PS5
Genre: Fighting Single or Multiplayer Rated: M

Base Roster: Baraka, Cassie Cage, Cetrion, Devorah, Erron Black, Frost, Geras, Jacqui, Jade, Jax, Johnny Cage, Kabal, Kano, Kitana, Kollector, Kotal Kahn, Kung Lao, Lui Kang, Noob Saibot, Raiden, Scarlet, Scorpion, Sonya Blade, Sub-Zero

DLC Characters: Fujin, The Joker, Mileena, Nightwolf, Rain, Rambo, Robocop, Shang Tsung, Shao Kahn, Sheeva, Sindel, Spawn, The Terminator

The character customization mode where you can pick skins, gear, special moves, intros, and outros which take a literal eternity to unlock. Normally I’d show the character select screen here, but the fighting in this fighting game is secondary to the massive grind.
I never liked guest characters in games, and they’re absolutely out of control in MK11. Seriously, what is Spawn, The Joker, Rambo, The Terminator, and Robocop doing in a Mortal Kombat game?
Now you have two separate meters that self-regenerate forming an L-shape in the bottom corners of the screen. You can spend one bar of offensive meter to enhance moves and extend combos just like Mortal Kombat 9 and Mortal Kombat X/XL.

Review by Jay Wilson

Mortal Kombat 11 is a micro-transaction filled, online-required, grind-a-thon that sets up random number generation (RNG) as its bedrock, its raison d’être, and even the god it worships (and makes you literally pay tribute to). Building off its predecessor’s variations system, MK11 offers the ability to create your own custom variations which sounds interesting except now you can’t just fire up MK11 and jump into matches like you can with every other fighting game ever made. Now you have to go into the Character Customizer, select the moves you want, then maybe head over to practice mode to test them out, and if you’re lucky, then you can jump into a match. In fairness, each character comes with two presets, so theoretically you could just go straight to the combat, but the presets usually suck, and the defaults weren’t even the tournament-legal variations back when that was a thing (thanks to patches which make googling anything MK11-related useless, but more on that later). It genuinely feels like you need an hour to setup a character, and when you multiply that by the base roster (24), that’s a full day doing nothing but building variations, and by the way, there’s thirteen DLC characters (so, thirty-seven total characters). So, want to head over to a friend’s and play some Mortal Kombat 11? You’re either playing a variation you’re not used to or hoping they have a slot open so you can recreate your custom setup on the fly.

To its credit, all the non-finishing moves are available out of the gate. Appearance, on the other hand ... welcome to 99.999% of the MK11 experience: the grind. Each character has between forty to sixty skins and then three individual pieces of gear they can pick from which, themselves have about thirty items available. In the case of, say, Scorpion, you can select his mask, his spear, and his sword, so even though two players may use the green Reptile-like outfit, they’ll still look slightly different ... if you take screenshots ... and zoom in to the pixel level. That kinda sounds cool, except you start out with only two of each unlocked (two skins, two masks, two spears, and two swords) and it’s off to the grind wheel from Conan the Barbarian for the next twenty years. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you, dear reader, that you can actually set the game up to play itself and that at least 400 hours of my play time is the CPU controlling my character while I sat across the room doing Netflix marathons while occasionally pressing a button on my wireless controller to advance to the next fight.

If you’re lucky, the skins/gear you want are in the Character Tower section of the abomination known as Towers of Time. These days, the towers are only hugely annoying. Back when the game launched, they were unforgiveable. Pretty much every single battle had modifiers, and the thing you have to understand about modifiers is they appeal to non-fighting game players. Fighting game players want to do combos. We want to have fireball wars. We want to actually play the fighting game. But when we have friends over who are button mashers and don’t stand a chance against us, then getting trapped in a bubble and suspended in the air while the other person slips on a puddle of water is goofy fun, and all are happy because this isn’t a tournament. So Towers of Time forced a ridiculous number of modifiers into play that only casual players enjoy, but the difficulty was ramped up so high that only hardcore competitive players could survive. In the original Towers of Time, you could face slow-moving, rockets that track you across the screen, fast projectiles that shoot onto the screen, entire characters that run on screen and perform a combo—and way back when, half of this was unblockable. In addition, each battle featured another modifier that could include things like blood rain that drains your health unless you stand in a particular spot, a fire aura around your opponent that deals more damage to you than any of your combos can hope to deal, a totally dark screen which naturally has no effect on the CPU, or a yellow fog that perpetually randomizes your controls and, again, has no effect on the CPU. And on top of all of that, each and every opponent had multiplicatively more health, and on top of that you might be facing a multiple-opponent Endurance Match so every single bloody round felt like a multi-hour long marathon against a button-reading AI that could all go to waste if you fell short of being god almighty and didn’t dodge, block, and attack perfectly with perfect precision every single time.

When knocked down, you can spend a bar of defensive meter to roll forwards or backwards to escape pressure. While rolling, you’re invincible to all incoming strikes; however, you can still be thrown.
If launched, you can spend two bars of defensive meter to perform a Breakaway which prevents your opponent from juggling you into a high-damage combo. However, there are armor break moves which can counter Breakaways and still deal tons of damage by triggering a Crushing Blow.
If knocked down, you can spend one bar of offensive meter and one bar of defensive meter to perform a Getup Attack, which is an armored move that lets you safely stand up, deal damage, and push the enemy out of your face.

It sounds hyperbolic, but it’s not. There’s clips of launch towers showing how insane the modifiers were, one of which features ice auras on both characters and neither side can do anything except let time run out because both sides keep freezing and refreezing each other. And keep in mind: you’re playing this to unlock things. If this is just you and some friends killing time on a Saturday night, it’s hilarious. If you’re trying to get a specific skin, it’s infuriating. And if you think I’m exaggerating even a little, look up the Kombast Kast immediately after launch and listen to the shaking, terrified voices of the developer and community manager as they all but grovel for the community to not string them up by their balls because Towers of Time was so fucking ridiculous that if MK11 had been a buggy, broken Arkham Knight launch it would actually have been an improvement because then at least you could get a refund. A refund that mattered. Not the limited-time pittance of in-game currency NetherRealm Studios offered which lasted a whole twenty seconds in the morbidly bloated and stupidly expensive Krypt which contains 99.999% garbage and only gets worse from there.

But not even Character Towers are free from grind even if you disregard the modifiers altogether because you need to spend in-game gold to unlock the platform. Once the platform is unlocked, then each individual tower has its own unlock requirements such as “Perform 75 Fatalities” and “Perform 75 Brutalities.” And by the way, there’s five towers per platform and a total of five platforms per character (5 X 5 for a total of 25 individual towers, again, per character so that’s 600 towers for the base roster) plus the game doesn’t start tracking until you’ve unlocked that particular platform. This gets really obnoxious on Platforms 4 and 5 because by then you’ve played the game an obscene amount to get there and even though you’ve performed a million Fatalities—“Oh, I’m sorry. None of them count. Crank out 150 more. Starting from scratch.” Now, they have greatly reduced the requirements in subsequent patches, but the requirements shouldn’t be there to begin with. Character Towers should be where you go to learn about your character—which means no modifiers interrupting your combos every fucking second—and get some practice in while unlocking skins, gear, intros, win poses, brutalities—yes, finishing moves, the whole reason you play Mortal Kombat, you have to unlock.

And now it’s time to talk about the Krypt. The grind, ground zero. In past games, if you played, say Kitana, you could go on google day one and find all the Kitana-relevant items. Not anymore. Now preset rewards are placed in randomized locations. This is why it takes a non-exaggerated 100 hours of grind to get two pieces of non-stupid-looking gear for the character you actually play because you’re going to get tons and tons of garbage for the other twenty-three that you do not have any interest in. You have about a 4% chance of getting anything—anything at all—for the character you want and less than 1% chance of getting something you actually want for the character you want because 80% of the stuff that you can get is garbage. And of course, opening up chests or soul jars has a nice, long, monotonous, animation, and as an additional F-you, some chests are actually invisible unless you use a special item that consumes one of your currencies (yes, you have three to worry about) and it makes your avatar run slower and you can actually get killed by monsters while using it in an obnoxious and unnecessary jump scare. And by the way, one chest has an obscene price tag of 3,000 souls just to make it appear, and then 250,000 coins to open which, at launch, was at least one full day of grinding. Probably more because back then the game awarded basically nothing. They may have reduced the price on that chest in a patch, but frankly I don’t care because it somehow still gets worse: you see, once you’ve spent weeks grinding for currency, spent weeks more exploring and unlocking everything, you still don’t have everything. Now you get to spend yet more coins to reset the Krypt and do it all over again ... and you have to go through the Krypt at least twice to get everything ... and you still won’t have everything ... and you may not ever know because it never really tells you. It kinda-sorta tells you but not really because it lies.

If you time your guard perfectly, you can Flawless Block which yields a number of benefits including stopping some combos in their tracks and giving you a chance to counter attack if you have the reflexes and meter for it.

Anyway, now that you’ve spent a full month wasting your time on non-fighting crap in this one-on-one fighting game, now the chests finally stop awarding gear and skins and only give RPG-style augments and consumables for Towers of Time. Now you can head over to The Naknadan Shrine (a literal slot machine) and pay tribute. Here, 75K will yield gear 99% of the time, and 100K will yield a skin 99% of the time ... until the shrine starts to run low, and then that percentage drops precipitously to the point where you’re spending tens of millions of coins to get the one item that lets Skarlet go maskless. Yes, you have to unlock—sorry, “grind relentlessly”—for an item to let the ninjas go without a mask. And Skarlet’s was the most prized among players, so of course, NRS made it the most rare. And fun fact: at launch, the shrine gave out duplicates! There’s videos of people dumping millions and millions of gold to get the same item five plus times.

But it’s not so bad because there’s an in-game shop where you can buy things with in-game currency that you can grind for! And if you really want to, you can pay real-world money for the in-game money to buy the thing that might or might not randomly show up after you’ve grinded your balls off for several months. It only costs an estimated $6,440 to get everything, which is totally not true ... some things never show up in the shop. And some things only show up in the shop, but here you’re still at the mercy of RNG because only a handful of items are available at any given time and those items cycle through, so be sure to check in each and every day. Actually, no, scratch that. Check in every two hours because some gear is only available as rewards for Towers of Time, which cycle randomly, and some of those towers cycle through every two hours, and some are hidden towers that require a code to unlock at specific times, and by the way, if you don’t live in North America or if you do live in North America but have an actual fucking job, then screw you, because all the good stuff comes through roughly middle of the day U.S. Mountain Time.

Did I mention there’s also limited time Krypt events for the stuff everyone wants? Like Liu Kang’s MK2 outfit or Jax’s MK3 cybernetic arms or even Kitana’s outfit from this game’s very own story mode? Yeah, that might show up in a time capsule once or twice a year ... for 24 hours. Oh wait, you have life and can’t always sign in because—I don’t know—you’re on vacation, you’re on a business trip, or you had surgery? Fuck you. Or hey, how ‘bout this: something happens beyond your control! A storm knocks out the power in your area, your internet goes down and your ISP can’t get there until Monday, hackers decided to DDOS XBox Live or PSN or Steam? Tough shit.

Some moves have specific conditions where, if met, will result in a cinematic Crushing Blow that deals massive damage. The conditions vary from "Move X must be a counter or punish" to "Land move Y 3 times" or "End an 8+ hit combo with move Z."
X-Rays have been replaced with Fatal Blows. They’re the same cinematic, overkill, super moves, that use the same left & right trigger input, but now you only get one Fatal Blow per match (thank God) and you can only perform it when you’re under ~20% health.

This game wants to be the center of your life—nay, your entire universe.

And you know what makes the entire grindy, RNG unlock process a joke? The 60 skins? It’s more like 3 Skins, each with 2 slightly different variations. For example, Skin A is exactly the same as Skin B except one has a jacket and the other does not. And each of those gets about ten colors. So, Red Skin A is counted as a completely different item than Blue Skin A (which is identical to Blue Skin B minus the jacket). And most of the color choices are god-awful, uncoordinated, rainbow puke. This is half the reason I call Mortal Kombat 11 “Garbage Collection: The Game” (the other half is because when you’re not getting ugly skins with ugly colors or individual pieces of gear that aren’t even visible, you’re getting utterly useless consumables and augments to use in the Towers of Time.)

Now the MMO crowd will take issue with that last statement because, “The consumables and augments aren’t useless!” Yes, but it’s Mortal fucking Kombat, not World of Warcraft. There’s actual guides on the internet detailing how to farm skeleton keys from the Krypt so you can give them to the Kollector to get Luck Tower keys so you can go farm Luck Towers for Augments that give you an 8% chance to activate Brutalities early so that you can then put them on Rambo who has a special move that hits 24 times (which you can increase to over 100 hits with using yet another Augment) that lets you farm any tower you want because Rambo literally one shots everything in less than a single second. Look it up. I dare you. Call me crazy, but insta-killing everything kinda takes away the fighting in this fighting game.

Not only are there farming guides, but most of the guides—especially the ones likely to come up first on your search results—are wrong because patches rendered them completely irrelevant and the authors of said guides abandoned the game shortly after launch. So basically all 2019 content no longer applies. If you have to google something, make sure the date says 2020 (preferably later in the year as November was the last major update.) I have no doubt I’m misrepresenting minor details as to the current state of the game, given that I’ve played on and off since initial release. But even though the Krypt and Towers may be less grindy than they were at release, when MK11 started out beyond the scope of reason by a full astronomical unit, I don’t see the point of being precise to the mile (much less the inch) how much better it is, for you can cut out 99% of an astronomical unit and still not be on the god damn planet. Same goes for MK11’s grind. How much better is it now? It started out so bad that it literally doesn’t matter.

Kabal’s screamer Brutality used to be funny because in a game that shows people literally getting torn to pieces, NeatherRealm Studios chose to pixelate an ugly face. But the retarded MK fanbase bitched about “censorship”, so now it’s just stupid like the original
Mortal Kombat 3 Fatality that inspired it.

And just to demonstrate this point, let’s talk about yet another instance of RNG overkill: there’s five types of augments, and the slots on each piece of gear are randomly determined. So if you want to use a blood augment, you need a blood slot. What if your gear doesn’t have a blood slot? Then you could spend coins to ... randomly select a new slot. And when that was the wrong one too (because, again, there’s five types of augments so 80% chance you get what you don’t want) you have to spend more coins to randomly fuck it up again. It took NRS over a year to figure out how stupid this was and patch it to something reasonable-ish (ie, pay once to pick the damn slot you want) but, going to my point in the previous paragraph, how reasonable is it really when this entire MMO-character build mechanic shouldn’t be in a fighting game in the first place?

And the baffling thing is NRS spent obscene amounts of resources developing this overly-complicated, non-fighting game garbage. Let me fix everything—everything—with one suggestion: put the in-game shop in the in-game customization mode. Boom. Done. It already shows every piece of gear. Put a (reasonable) in-game cost next to the item name, and let people buy whatever the fuck they want whenever the fuck they want it. If you want to give me forty-five different options for Kitana’s fans—fine—I don’t mind buying the specific set of Kitana fans I want with in-game currency earned in-game by playing the game. I’m going to play the game. I’d play the game even if I didn’t have a choice in what Kitana’s fans look like. I did so for twenty years with no less than ten other Mortal Kombat games. I actually like playing these games, and I even like playing this game when I’m playing the one-on-one fighting game. Not running around the stupid Krypt. Not crouching in the corner holding block while waggling the right analog stick to send missiles, meteors, and other modifiers to do the fighting for me because you’ve thrown so much crap into the “fight” I literally can’t do anything. And not managing augments like materia in Final Fantasy VII. If I wanted to play Final Fantasy VII, I’d play Final Fantasy VII. I want to play Mortal Kombat. That’s why I bought a Mortal Kombat game. Jesus Christ, I can’t believe I have to explain this.

The Fatalities are even more like mini-movies than before, and to be fair, Johnny Cage using his opponent as a puppet is hilarious the first time you see it; the problem is I’ve logged over ten thousand matches and I much prefer Brutalities, thank you very much.
Like most old school MK bosses, Kronika sucks to fight. Crushing Blows don’t work on her. Fatal Blows don’t work on her. And 99% of your combos don’t work on her. And to think we were actually making progress with MK9 and MKX’s bosses.

So, here’s the paradox of where I fall: Mortal Kombat 11 is my favorite Mortal Kombat. Amidst the overwhelming plethora of useless terrible (yes, I’m using ‘terrible’ as a noun), there are aesthetics and mechanics that are the best Mortal Kombat has ever seen. Was it worth it? No. God no. Fuck that. So, it’s also the Mortal Kombat I hate most to the point that for the first time in my life I’m compelled to actively boycott something. I’m boycotting NetherRealm Studios and Warner Brothers for the rest of time. After irrefutably demonstrating they have absolutely no common sense, no sense of proportionality, and no sense of respect for the player’s experience, time, or money, I have no faith in NRS going forward. And had I not put off Towers and the Krypt to play the lengthy Tutorial and Story Mode, I would have refunded the game in a heartbeat. But, by the time I did catch a glimpse of the obscene grind, the two-hour gameplay window had closed, and with it the ability to get my money back. I had the game forever at that point. And again, while I hate a lot of things about Mortal Kombat 11—a lot of things—there are parts that I really enjoy. So, that manifests in ongoing but irregular play; I’ll dabble for a few weeks, and then I’ve had enough and go months without thinking twice about it. Contrast this with SoulCalibur VI which I play with regularity. Sure, life comes up, and sometimes I do go long periods without firing up SCVI, but that has nothing to do with my desire (or lack of desire) to play. That’s just being an adult.

In closing, fuck you, NRS. And fuck you, Ed Boon. You can all burn in hell.

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