It’s kind of an unwritten rule that stories in fighting games are a bit rubbish and forgettable but MK 11 is the exception.
In fact, it goes some way to challenging Injustice 2 for the crown of best narrative in a modern beat-em-up. That’s partly because it understands the significance of character development but also pacing.
Despite several decades worth of games before it, you also don’t need to have extensive knowledge of Mortal Kombat lore to know what the hell is going on. A problem that has really plagued the series in the past.
Basically, Raiden is still an all-powerful thunder God, Johnny Cage can still do the splits and punch people in the nether regions, and Sub Zero has gone full-on Solid Snake. There are, however, some changes to both significant characters and the world they’re fighting for.
To illustrate that, from this point on, there will be some slight story spoilers leading into the game to give you the context needed to understand the layout of MK11
Ok, so, several key characters have either been killed, turned, or are no longer in the picture, which all play into the narrative threads of the game.
At the beginning, you’ll be running a mission with Cassie Cage and a reimagined Rousey-acted Sonya Blade. Who seems completely out of step with the rest of the cast, by the way, and often indecisive about how to act.
The mission sees the Special Forces try to take down the Cathedral of Shinnok, a building which holds the power to the undead army now led by dark Liu King and Kitana who’ve been turned by Shinnok’s power. The chosen one is no more, at least for now.
While the mission proves successful and the armies defeated, the building is amazingly reconstructed by Kronika, a keeper of time. She quickly recruits the dejected duo of Kang and Kitana for her cause, and they aim to build an army of their own, while remaking the timeline in her image.
In doing so, previous MK combatants are restored for an all new battle, here to challenge current champions. This leads us to some unexpected conflicts, reunites old friends and enemies, and even puts an all new spin on mirror matches.
The way Netherrealm have carefully orchestrated some of these battles is smart, sometimes reluctantly pitting opponents against each other, sometimes settling a furious blood feud, and even giving us some mouth-watering rematches to fit the canon.
But it’s the diversity of environments and the surprising narrative plot points which really drive this. Like reuniting Liu Kang and Kung Lao in a Chapter that reminds me so much of Shaolin Monks. You also get to pay a trip to Shang Tsung’s island and even revisit some all too familiar arenas, reimagined for a new generation. Netherealm have been really respectful of previous MK games and provided a ton of fan service to get excited about.
True, some cut scenes do wear out their welcome and the story sort of loses itself a bit in the final third, but the battles mostly feel appropriately timed and I did find myself surprisingly compelled to keep watching through to the end. Which does give a hint or two on where the series could go next.
It’s not all Mortal Kombat 11 has going for it, of course, and we’re going to spend some time covering other features in future articles, but there’s a 4-5 hour campaign here that deserves a bit of recognition on its own.
For me, it shows how deep the MK lore has become, how many interesting and surprisingly well-developed characters the games have, and how easily the franchise could carve out a narrative focused niche for itself.
Just imagine a modern Mortal Kombat Musou with real-time fatalities or even an open world sequel to Shaolin Monks. I think the world is more than ready for that.
Mortal Kombat 11 is now available on PC, PS4, Switch and Xbox One. Reviewed on PS4.
Review code kindly provided by WB.