The Defenders of Earthrealm definitely showed up to play in 2020.
Despite the challenges that came along in 2020, NetherRealm Studios released two significant upgrades to Mortal Kombat 11, bringing players six new characters, an extended story, and plenty of balances and changes. Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate is the latest in these updates, offering players all of the major content included in both Kombat Packs and the Aftermath expansion for a significantly reduced price. This makes it a great entry point for new players and an enticing upgrade option for those who have only played the game casually and would like access to nearly everything the game has to offer.
The Next-Gen Difference
While Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate is also available on last-gen devices, the experience truly shines on an Xbox Series X|S or PlayStation 5 with improvements that take advantage of the latest hardware. MK11 was already a technological marvel, providing the most lifelike fighting game characters to date. These visuals have been improved immensely, now running at a dynamic 4K resolution for both gameplay and story mode cutscenes. Playing MK11 on a base console before as opposed to a top of the line PC really makes this jump feel even more immense. Everything is clearer and much more detailed. I definitely can’t wait to see what’s visually possible in NetherRealm’s next title that is built from the ground up for next-gen, or should I say current-gen at this point?
Unfortunately, some character animations are still on the rough side. With how lifelike the characters look in stills and cutscenes, they move like stiff mannequins in actual gameplay. While these rocky animations have been a series staple since the original title this was to be expected then due to the limit to the number of sprites. Mk11‘s approach doesn’t achieve the same success as other titles that attempt to emulate classic arcade titles like Guilty Gear, Dragon Ball FighterZ, and Granblue Fantasy Versus. I have to assume this is a stylistic choice at least because with the budget Warner Bros. puts into these games nowadays there’s no way a lack of resources is an excuse. Still, the animations don’t completely detract from the gameplay experience since it is still a lot of fun and I am constantly impressed with what the characters can do, even if the in-between frames leave much to be desired.
Thanks to the new SSDs on the Xbox Series X|S and PlayStation 5, loading times are nearly non-existent. Matches start within a couple of seconds of players selecting their characters and stage. You don’t even have time to read a single hint on the loading screen. If you blink you won’t even realize there was a loading screen, to begin with. This makes it incredibly difficult to play fighting games that aren’t yet optimized for these new pieces of hardware knowing that Mortal Kombat is there waiting for you to not have to wait. While faster loading times might not exciting at first, once you start experiencing the difference for yourself, you can see how much of a game changer the hard drives are in these new consoles. It makes you wonder what the next Mortal Kombat will look like that’s built from the ground up on this hardware. Will there even be a loading bar or those nifty pre-fight animations the developers are known for? If instant gratification wasn’t a problem for you before, it is definitely going to be now.
This next part is not a criticism of NetherRealm Studios or the title itself but an observation of how PlayStation and Xbox upgrades differ since this is the first major fighting game to feature a free next-gen upgrade. On Xbox, the process is completely seamless. Whenever you download a game that features Smart Delivery, (which is indicated multiple times on box art and on digital storefronts), you get the best version of that game on your console, along with all of the DLC you’ve purchased thus far. So if you own an original Xbox One, Xbox One S, Xbox One X, or a new Xbox Series X|S, all you need to do is purchase the content once and your console does the rest of the work.
The experience is much more involved on PlayStation. Since I owned a digital version of Mortal Kombat 11: Aftermath Kollection on PlayStation 4, the free upgrade path was available for PlayStation 5 version. In order to access your PS5 content, you need to claim each piece of owned content individually. For reference, Mortal Kombat 11 has added 13 characters, not including Shao Kahn as a pre-order bonus. That means just to get the next-gen versions of the character DLC, you will need to go to each and every character’s page on the PlayStation Store and click redeem. Same goes for costume packs and any other DLC you’ve purchased. Hopefully, Sony comes up with a more fluid experience in the future because if you still plan on owning both consoles, you will need to do this for each piece of content in the future unless otherwise noted as being something that redeems on both PS4 and PS5.
A Kombat for the Ages
Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate features “Kross-Play” between players across console generations and certain brands. This means that players can join together in certain matchmaking modes whether they are on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, or Xbox Series X|S. This dedication to supporting previous platforms seems to be a trend in this current console generation as more competitive titles are making the jump to next-gen while keeping the less powerful but more abundant console-base in the fold. With this dedication, it makes you wonder how much longer Mortal Kombat 11 will be supported with new characters and features.
While this is definitely a step in the right direction, it makes you wonder what kept NetherRealm from opening up Kross-Play to all platforms since its current form leaves PC, Nintendo Switch, and Stadia players out of the fun. This is increasingly odd whenever Power Rangers Battle for the Grid, a game with a fraction of the resources, is able to establish crossplay on every platform it’s available on. (Those are the same platforms MK11 is on by the way.)
This all said, the “Kross-Play” feature is technically in beta, so there might be more platforms and modes added in the future. In practice, it works really well. Players can link up with friends on Xbox or PlayStation through a lobby or battle with a larger pool of players in Kasual matches. My experience online was just as solid regardless of whichever platform my opponent was on. There weren’t any instances of lag. While you can’t add crossplay players as friends, you can view their Kombat Cards in a separate menu where you can view their stats and note their names to try to reach out to them through some other means. Perhaps in the future, there can be a more integrated way to connect with others on different platforms, making it a more social experience as opposed to just giving me more folks to play one time only or friends I already have in a lobby.
Three new Kombatants add more to the experience
Mileena was perhaps the most requested character to make their way to MK11. I skipped MKX and I started with MK9 (let me know if I should go back and play MKX in the comments below!), so my memory of how Mileena is supposed to play is a little hazy but I didn’t remember her essentially being a rabid spinning hedgehog. That being said, she is still a fun fighter, with plenty of mobility options and gloriously gory attacks. Mileena also has quite a few cool costumes as well, I especially like the one that emulates Shao Khan’s look.
Rambo brings along a variety of spontaneously materializing booby traps and his hard-hitting ingenuity to the cast along with his likeness and voice being provided by none other than Sylvester Stallone himself. Rambo is a pretty fun character with solid attacks at both long and close range. He can use his iconic bow and machine gun to keep foes at bay while setting up tripwires and swinging rocks to keep your opponents on their toes whether they are in the air or on the ground.
Rain is my favorite fighter out of the bunch, offering plenty of elemental attacks to qualify his name. He is exceptionally quick with moves that push and pull the opponent lining them up for wherever you plan to strike next. His Argus Plunge move is perhaps my favorite in his arsenal, with Rain hopping into a giant bubble that can absorb the opponent and take them across the screen for a devastating slam. Quantum Slice is another incredibly cool move that strikes the opponent with lighting, if used in-air, Rain dashes either across or down, offering another great option for speed and mobility.
All three characters play very differently and are definitely worth checking out. Kombat Pack 2 is priced at $14.99, making it a fairly reasonable cost for three new characters. The “Ultimate” name comes along with an update, so you will be on par with anyone else who started out with Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate. Unfortunately, if you didn’t pre-order either Kombat Pack 2 or MK11U, you will have missed out on the Time Warriors skin pack. It will still show up on storefronts, but will be unavailable to purchase, leaving you with one less costume for Skarlet, Liu Kang, and Noob Saibot.
Work still to be done
While Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate offers an incredible amount of value, there are still ways that it can improve. First off, NetherRealm should release all previous pre-order bonuses as purchasable costume packs. Having these pre-order bonuses alone makes sense from a business perspective, but after the game or expansion releases, they should be available to purchase for anyone who decided to join the party a little later. There are plenty of great skins that some players won’t ever be able to have and it just seems like an incredibly missed opportunity for both parties. There’s no reason not to put them up for sale unless the plan was to keep them locked to the Tower system or make them purchasable with in-game currency, neither of which are ideal for the players. Even these “all-in-one” packs like the Aftermath Kollection and Ultimate don’t include previous pre-order bonuses, but hey, at least you get Shao Khan, for what it is worth.
Also, it still baffles me that there isn’t a toggle in versus mode that locks all variations to the tournament-legal ones. Sure, the casual versus mode is meant to be just that, casual, but the fact that both my friend and I have to create all of our loadouts for each of our characters while signed in to our user accounts is an unnecessary chore. I get that you are supposed to let your custom loadouts shine in versus mode, and they still can. Keep versus mode exactly how it is but add a switch to enable all three tournament legal variations to make things quick and easy.
If we end up getting a Kombat Pack 3, hopefully it focuses on bringing lesser utilized characters from the series’ history. Throw in fighters we have only seen mentioned in character’s stories in older titles, characters from movies, comics, or why not use the novel for some inspiration? Guest characters are great and generate a lot of hype, heck, I was originally interested in MK11 because Spawn was announced for it, but with how many we have gotten so far, why not bring attention to the players and fans from throughout MK‘s extensive mythos?
Mortal Kombat 11 has continued to impress me with each new character, balance patch, and major addition. With its extended lifespan on Xbox Series X|S and PlayStation 5 (through either free upgrades or standalone purchases) and its dedication to building cross-platform and cross-generation play, there’s no doubt that we will continue to see more content coming in the near future, whether its more characters, modes, or costume packs. NetherRealm Studios is dedicated to bringing on as many new players as possible with each new expansion at a price point that works whether you are just adding more characters or starting out your MK11 journey with nearly everything the game has to offer. If you’ve ever been interested in picking up Mortal Kombat 11, there’s no better time than now to see what all the hype is about.
Warner Bros. Games provided Shoryuken with a review code for this review. Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate was played on Xbox Series X and PlayStation 4.