It’s been a great few years for fighting games, that’s easy to see. Basically all of the top franchises have seen new games and there have been several impressive newcomers to the genre as well. One of the biggest surprises in terms of quality was 2011’s Mortal Kombat 9, a game that many felt would be terrible, yet ended up reviving a series that had long degenerated into stale dreck.
Flash forward a few years and the mood has changed considerably in the franchise’s favor. The DLC-laden mobile tie-in may have beaten it to market by a week, but now the full version of Mortal Kombat X has been unleashed to the hordes, proving that Netherrealm Studios has kept the momentum going, building on the gory foundation of MK9 with new content and improved gameplay.
Mortal Kombat X focuses on a new plotline taking place 20 years after the events of MK9. If you’ve played that one, you might wonder how that’s possible given…uh, nevermind, let’s just say that things get better before they get worse. The fallen elder god Shinnok, previously seen in the ending of MK9, is stirring up trouble and it’s up to our heroes to solve the problem by delivering beatings. Lots of beatings. It’s still MK, after all.
In terms of gameplay, the most significant change in MKX is the way the roster’s been expanded. Most obviously, there’s a huge number of new faces – as opposed to MK9, whose only real newcomer was Cyber Sub-Zero. One notable trend with the new characters is that there are plenty of descendants and relatives of old favorites, with Cassie Cage playing the role of the story mode’s protagonist backed up by Jacqui Briggs, Kung Jin and Kenshi’s son Takeda. These all have their own unique playstyles that vary heavily from the classic Kombatants you’re used to. Other newcomers include the hulking Kotal Kahn, Western-themed gunslinger Erron Black and the symbiotic brute-and-kid combo Ferrah/Torr.
New characters aren’t all, though. The Character Variation system offers multiple spins on newcomers and old favorites alike. Each playable character features three Variations, which changes that character’s look, feel and moves. If that sounds like it might be a cop-out leading to watered down versions of each character, you’ll be surprised to find that each Variation feels like a new character in themselves. For instance, Johnny Cage’s Variations provide a focus on up-close combat (Fisticuffs), special moves (A-Lister) and the usage of shadow clones for self-backup (Stunt Double).
The actual Kombat is fairly similar to MK9, though there’s a larger focus on the use of environmental objects to gain an advantage during the fight. It’s possible to wallrun up the sides of many of the stages to get out of the corner, for instance; another personal favorite is an Outworld bazaar stage where you can grab an old lady and throw her as a projectile at the opponent. You even get an achievement for doing that. This game is amazing.
There are plenty of modes of Kombat available for your fighting pleasure, though the highlights are the Story Mode and the online play as you’d expect. The Story Mode continues in the same style as previous Netherealm fighters like MK9 and Injustice, so you’ll switch from fighter to fighter experiencing various sides of the plot between battles. MKX has a slight focus on the use of QTEs during the story, which might come as a surprise at first – don’t just put the controller down during the plot! Online play, meanwhile, works well enough and the netcode appears to be more stable than MK9’s PC release, so if you’re after competition than it’s there for you to enjoy.
New modes include the Living Towers, a series of daily challenges, and the Faction War, which allows you to assign your wins to one of five Factions in an effort to claim dominance over the others. These are cute, but they’re not really what you’ve came for. I might just be a purist but I don’t tend to spend a lot of time in fighting games messing with anything but the actual fighting. Awful, I know. Still, it’s there if you want it.
Not all is perfect in the (nether)realm of Kombat, though. One thing that’s not so great about MKX is the prevalence of nickel-and-dime DLC. Breathless news stories on other gaming sites have surely informed you about the presence of “Easy Fatality” consumable DLC, for instance. While I’m not quite so filled with indignation at this assault on the noble tradition of electronic gaming, it’s still just a bit lame. The game also pushes DLC on you in the main menu, and advertising in a game that’s already full retail price is as tacky as ever. Finally, fan favorite Goro is locked behind DLC as well…unless you pre-ordered, of course, but if you didn’t then your money is worth less than others’ so you get less content. Nice.
A caveat for those who prefer their Kombat on the PC: the streaming installation used here is a little bizarre as well. At this point the whole situation is probably fixed, but when MKX launched the system, uh, didn’t work. At all. I’d say I don’t know why they’d choose a popular AAA release to test this sort of thing, but I do – it’s tough to get refunds on Steam and most won’t even try, so there’s very little risk in doing so. Still sucked. The PC version also has pretty sizable system requirements above and beyond what’s listed on the store page, so you’ll want a machine with some beef to play this one with decent settings and a solid framerate.
In the face of such a well-made, content-rich title, though, these are fairly small quibbles. Mortal Kombat X continues MK9’s tradition of updating the series for the modern age and does so with style. If you’ve ever enjoyed Mortal Kombat, you owe it to yourself to give this one a look. The graphics and sound are fantastic, the gameplay is the best the series has ever seen and there’s enough new content to go with the old. It might not be a flawless victory, but MKX is worth a look.