NOTE: This review is based on the PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X, and Xbox One versions of, “Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate.” Review code was provided by publisher, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment.

 

It feels like an entire lifetime has passed since Mortal Kombat was thriving as a mindless blood sport guzzling quarters from edgy 90’s teenagers. Those were the days under original publisher, Midway, back when the Mortal Kombat franchise ruled arcades, and later struggled through an awkward three-dimensional adolescence on consoles during the 2000’s. Following Midway’s bankruptcy and closure in 2009 however, the Mortal Kombat franchise came under new ownership at Warner Bros., alongside most of Midway’s other IP’s, with original franchise co-creator, Ed Boon ultimately continuing to oversee the Mortal Kombat IP under the new banner of freshly-minted developer, NetherRealm Studios.

The rest is history, as NetherRealm Studios went on to reboot the Mortal Kombat games with two stellar entries in 2011’s Mortal Kombat and 2015’s Mortal Kombat X. The pinnacle of their technical and gameplay achievements to date however would come via 2019’s Mortal Kombat 11. This climactic installment within NetherRealm Studios’ rebooted Mortal Kombat franchise arc brought together multiple incarnations of various fan-favourite Mortal Kombat characters, while also presenting the most expertly refined set of fighting mechanics to date. No longer was Mortal Kombat a silly popcorn fighter based around a giddily gory gimmick. In the modern era, NetherRealm Studios’ work has turned Mortal Kombat into a legitimate triple-A powerhouse, where it’s celebrated both as a revitalized, fan-favourite casual fighter, and a legitimately deep, robust and rewarding competitive fighter for even professional eSports players.

Thus, it’s no wonder that NetherRealm Studios would want to keep the Mortal Kombat 11 party going with an early next-gen upgrade, one that brings in even more DLC fighters, as well as a boost to dynamic 4K resolution, while maintaining the same uninterrupted 60fps performance. This upgrade is Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate, and true to its name, it’s the idealized version of what already stood as one of the best fighting games on the market at this point. It’s glossier, more efficient, and just as fast-paced, flexing the speedy load times and heightened visual prowess of the newly-released PS5 and Xbox Series X|S, while also tapping into some more specialized next-gen perks, such as the haptic feedback of the PS5’s hyper-immersive DualSense controller.

It’s not necessarily a massive upgrade over its already-impressive last-gen console build, but Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate’s next-gen incarnation is certainly the best way to experience the game, if you’re fortunate enough to have gotten hold of a next-gen console at this point. Bear in mind however that some of Mortal Kombat 11’s stubborn flaws, most notably its microtransaction-oriented loot grinding and some problematic always-online demands, are still present on PS5 and Xbox Series X|S. If you aren’t bothered by those returning issues however, and are eager for a tested-and-true fighter to enjoy on your next-gen console of choice, Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate easily stands as the best option in the genre for new PS5 and Xbox Series X|S owners, especially when it can ride off the excitement of this year’s imminently-premiering Mortal Kombat movie!

VISUALS

NetherRealm Studios has defined much of their work by pushing the visual bar for modern fighting games with every new release, a tradition that stands proud with Mortal Kombat 11, and Mortal Kombat 11 UltimateMortal Kombat 11 already pushed the last-gen PS4 and Xbox One consoles to their limits, sporting virtually flawless 60fps performance during gameplay as a staple on every platform, alongside tons of visual flourishes and impeccable detail across fighters, environments and gore effects. Even Mortal Kombat 11’s Nintendo Switch build, the first time that a NetherRealm Studios game has been released on Switch, in fact (courtesy of Switch port developer, Shiver Entertainment), almost never compromises its hard target of 60fps performance during actual fights (save for Fatal Blows, Fatalities and fighter intros, which run at 30fps on all platforms), despite a considerable knock to resolution that barely places its pixel count above 2011’s Mortal Kombat on PS Vita when playing undocked. That being said, the Switch version nonetheless remains very technically impressive in terms of performance, making it a very solid purchase for fighting game fans that wish to play Mortal Kombat 11 on the go.

Obviously though, the real question with Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate is how it fares on next-gen consoles, and fortunately, all three next-gen builds of the game are very impressive! Both the PS5 and Xbox Series X builds of Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate naturally remain at a rock-solid 60fps performance clip, complete with reduced load times in contrast to their last-gen cousins on PS4 and Xbox One. The dynamic resolution on PS5 and Xbox Series X also achieves an effortless 4K image during cutscenes in particular, even if both versions do sometimes see some knocks to pixel counts here and there, since they obviously prioritize performance during fights above all else. Any slight compromise to the 4K image appears to be rare on both PS5 and Xbox Series X regardless though. By contrast, on Xbox Series S, you do predictably get a resolution downgrade to 1440p, placing that version on the same resolution level as the PS4 Pro build, but the performance does remain at a crisp 60fps during fights otherwise.

The one slightly baffling element to Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate on next-gen consoles is the fact that its cutscenes, Fatal Moves, Fatalities, Friendships, and anything else that isn’t direct fighting is still reduced to 30fps, even on the ultra-powerful PS5 and Xbox Series X. The game does do a good job of moving back and forth between 60fps and 30fps when you use Fatal Moves or Fatalities, with no screen tearing or anything of that sort, but some may be frustrated that the cinematic style of these violent flourishes necessitates a 30fps drop, even on the mightiest of next-gen hardware. I suppose it’s not entirely unexpected however, since even the high-end PC and Google Stadia builds of Mortal Kombat 11 also reduce to 30fps during cutscenes, Fatal Blows and Fatalities, even when they otherwise run at an unflinching 60fps clip.

Because the game was already a visual and performance marvel on even the base PS4 and Xbox One, and holds its own surprisingly well on Nintendo Switch, Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate represents a rather modest visual upgrade on next-gen consoles. The main visual advantage on PS5 and Xbox Series X is a more consistent native 4K resolution, something almost achieved when playing Mortal Kombat 11 on Xbox One X, but not as consistently as PS5 or Xbox Series X manage to pull off with their own dynamic 4K resolution. In motion, you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference on next-gen hardware when playing on less than a 55″ display, but that serves as a testament to how beautiful Mortal Kombat 11’s visuals already were.

Even with an ultimately small visual advantage on PS5 and Xbox Series X however, Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate likely inches the game forward into officially becoming the best-looking fighting game on the market at this point. Its texture detail, shadow mapping, outstanding character designs, pitch-perfect physics and liberal blood and gore effects are all the cream of the crop from a technical standpoint, especially when PS5 and Xbox Series X can balance the game’s hard 60fps demand with true, virtually uncompromised 4K resolution. The next-gen console builds of Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate more or less bring it completely in line with the highest PC settings, providing a modest, but worthwhile spit shine to a game that already looks fantastic when played on a base PS4 or Xbox One console in 1080p.

AUDIO

Mortal Kombat 11’s music suite is what you’d no doubt come to expect from the series. It remains an eclectic blend of Asian-inspired string and woodwind instrumentation, gritty rock, and some edgy ambience for good measure. This is another reliably well-produced Mortal Kombat game soundtrack, but it will no doubt be quickly overshadowed by the bone-crunching sound effects throughout the various fights. True to form, NetherRealm Studios delivers some excellent sound design on this note as well, with every blazing special attack, squeamish splatter of gore and stomach-turning bit of blunt force trauma realized in legitimately sick detail. As expected, Mortal Kombat 11’s Fatalities are a particular highlight on this note too, once again deftly walking the line between hilariously over-the-top and delightfully disgusting.

The Fatalities function all the better with a cast full of well-developed, memorable characters to boot, another strength that’s been maintained throughout the entirety of the Mortal Kombat franchise. Mortal Kombat 11’s characters are well-performed and full of personality as well, providing a strong mix of self-aware humour and surprisingly adept, otherworldly drama throughout the Story Mode, while also interjecting some amusing banter both before and during fights. Just like Mortal Kombat X, the fighters’ banter changes depending on who they’re matched up with, especially before a match begins, adding more of a dynamic, lifelike flair to what’s otherwise an intentionally over-the-top orgy of violence.

Even modes as outwardly passive as the Krypt carry a surprising amount of audio punch. Krypt chests are ripped open with an astonishing amount of aggression, and earned loot also flashes in front of players with bright, proud style. It won’t necessarily wash the bad taste out of the Krypt’s frustratingly RNG-style design, but it’s nonetheless true that Mortal Kombat 11’s audio polish is easily felt across the board. It’s definitely worth breaking out a pair of high-end headphones during prolonged online competition especially, where both your domineering victories and crushing defeats can always be exceptionally punctuated by the rending of flesh and the crushing of bone.

GAMEPLAY

Mortal Kombat 11 delivers the latest refinement to NetherRealm Studios’ catalogue of triple-A fighting games, and Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate plays as excellently as ever on next-gen consoles! The game’s fighting mechanics remain surprisingly robust and customizable, with each playable fighter having multiple fighting styles, alongside unlockable special moves and finishers that keep giving you rewards to strive for with your preferred Mortal Kombat personalities. Every positive refinement that Mortal Kombat ever delivered in its previous games is back and presented in its ideal form throughout Mortal Kombat 11, and it’s no exaggeration to say that the series has never played better than it has with this latest installment.

A lot of this comes down to small, but very effective refinements to some already excellent mechanics featured in NetherRealm Studios’ previous Mortal Kombat X and Injustice 2. These include Fatal Blows substituting for the X-Ray Moves from Mortal Kombat X, which now trigger when a player falls below 30% health, allowing that player to use both trigger buttons to activate a super-damaging attack that could potentially turn a losing match around for them. This also avoids some of the tiresome ‘spamming’ of X-Ray moves from Mortal Kombat X, allowing the Fatal Blows to be more strategic, and more rewarding to pull off in a pinch, especially when they can only be used once per match in Mortal Kombat 11’s case.

Another smart addition comes in the form of Krushing Blows, which are triggered when satisfying certain kombos or special move combinations during a match, depending on which character you’re using. Krushing Blows find a way to bring one of Mortal Kombat X’s best mechanics, its revised ‘Brutality’ system (which also thankfully makes a comeback in Mortal Kombat 11!), into the proper progression of a match, allowing you to deal extra damage, or a variety of other effects, when you successfully pull them off. Like Fatal Blows, Krushing Blows can only be used once per match, but when used strategically, they can put your opponents on their back foot with damage over time, enhance a player’s own special abilities, or leave opponents vulnerable to a Kombo that they wouldn’t have otherwise been open for.

Even if you don’t dig into the staggering amount of mechanical science and rewarding strategy behind Mortal Kombat 11’s finer fighting mechanics however, the game’s polished movesets are perfectly easy to learn, while being impeccably difficult to master. The game excellently rewards skilled players as well, despite its accessibility, allowing truly apt players to manipulate the tide of fights with careful, well-paced execution of special moves, Kombos, and both Fatal Blows and Krushing Blows. Even if you’re a casual player though, Mortal Kombat 11 is lots of fun to pick up and play, especially when Its characters feel so diverse and distinct. All of them are amazingly crafted with unique, hyper-customizable gameplay potential that truly enables you to forge the perfect fighter, once you get into Mortal Kombat 11’s enormous customization suite.

Fundamentally, Mortal Kombat 11 is not only the best game in the series to date, but also one of the most polished, impressive fighting games designed in any franchise to date! That’s why it’s upsetting that the game is unfortunately somewhat hobbled by its needlessly complicated virtual currencies and loot mechanics, as well as its frustrating RNG-style Krypt. In several previous Mortal Kombat games, the Krypt offered a series of unlockable rewards dotted across the same hidden locations, allowing players to coordinate and share information on where the best goodies were. In Mortal Kombat 11 however, the Krypt’s rewards are completely random, even in the next-gen versions, completely eliminating any ability to coordinate earning rewards with other players.

This is made worse by the fact that it’s basically unfeasible to secure every single reward on offer in Mortal Kombat 11, at least without sinking thousands of hours into the game, or spending an absurd amount of money on the unwelcome microtransactions. Granted, NetherRealm Studios has tweaked the ‘grind’ in Mortal Kombat 11 to be less painstaking than it was when the game’s initial build launched in 2019, a positive change that carries over to Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate on next-gen consoles, but the mere existence of a grind still makes progression feel innately less rewarding, because it’s virtually impossible to truly complete the game in a satisfying manner. I suppose this is good from the perspective that you’ll definitely get your money’s worth with Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate’s fantastically robust package, but completionists in particular will lament the fact that Mortal Kombat 11’s loot system is uncomfortably close to that of an exploitative mobile game.

Another issue marring what’s otherwise a near-perfect fighting game is the frustrating demand for a persistent online connection throughout the majority of Mortal Kombat 11’s modes, especially when it comes to its loot drops. This is an even bigger headache for Nintendo Switch players, who will likely want to take Mortal Kombat 11 on the go as much as possible. Even when playing at home on PS5, Xbox Series X, or any of the other home console or PC options available however, Mortal Kombat 11’s incessant demand to check in with Warner Bros.’ servers gets tiresome very quickly. The game needs to ping the online servers to register most of its rewards, even during solo play sessions in modes like Klassic Towers most notably, which is both baffling and unnecessary. Why does Mortal Kombat 11 need to be this aggressive with its online stat-tracking, even in its supposedly ‘Ultimate’ package?!

Now, to be fair, I wouldn’t go as far as to say either of these issues truly ruin the game. If your console/PC isn’t currently hooked up to the internet, for example, you can still play Story Mode in its entirety, as well as local Versus matches with friends, and Klassic Towers (even if you need to ping the online servers to retain rewards from this mode), even when you’re offline. Likewise, while the RNG-based Krypt, one of many online-mandatory modes, is no doubt disheartening for longtime series fans, it isn’t essential to enjoy the gameplay, and you can completely ignore the Krypt, along with any of Mortal Kombat 11’s loot mechanics, if you so choose. If you want to stick to good old-fashioned Mortal Kombat fighting across the Story Mode, Klassic Towers, and of course, online matches with other players from across the globe, and ignore everything else, you don’t lose anything significant. You do have the option of treating Mortal Kombat 11 and Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate like a no-frills Mortal Kombat experience that plays by the book, and never requires microtransactions nor any pursuit of persistent rewards to truly enjoy it.

If you do choose to dive in to Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate’s massive suite of customization and rewards however, you’ll quickly find a seemingly endless number of ways to remix the excellently-refined fighting mechanics throughout the game, so long as you don’t mind the always-online demand for this section of gameplay. The best place to do this is in the Towers of Time, Mortal Kombat 11’s latest spin on the ‘Living Towers’ mechanic. This is where you take on a series of fighters within a tournament-style ladder, as you would for character-based endings and no additional fight twists in the Klassic Towers, with the difference now being that fights can be modified in any number of ways. You may, for example, have to take on an opponent while your health continuously drains, or with missiles constantly threatening to home in on you and interrupt your attacks, among other unique hazards.

With the Towers of Time, potential fight combinations in Mortal Kombat 11, and their suite of potential rewards, can truly become limitless. Longtime fans will no doubt still have fun playing a series of straightforward fights before taking on final boss, Kronika in standard tournament-based style via the Klassic Towers, but the Towers of Time are where the real meat of Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate’s most unpredictable fight mechanics lie. On top of being able to bring Konsumables to each match, a limited supply of items that can do things like trip up your opponents with a wave, summon an ally to briefly assist your attacks, or perhaps skip a fight entirely, players can deck out their preferred fighters with Gear, a carryover mechanic from Injustice 2. Gear is a series of cosmetic rewards that don’t alter stats by themselves, though they do come with ‘Augment’ slots that allow you to outfit fighters with various improvements, perhaps increasing their offensive or defensive capabilities, boosting the quality of a player’s rewards, or granting other character-specific bonuses.

Every character in Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate, including its newest trio of ‘Kombat Pack 2’ fighters, Mileena, Rain and Rambo (all of whom can be purchased in a separate bundle for those that already own a last-gen build of Mortal Kombat 11), comes with both generalized and specific incentives through which to Augment them through Gear drops, which can be earned as rewards from the Towers of Time, or through generally battling the A.I. across several modes. This is also how you accrue in-game currency, which includes Koins, the base resource for opening and re-stocking Krypt chests that can be earned through pretty much anything, Soul Fragments, which are earned from winning ether A.I. battles or Tower battles, and are used to open ‘Soul Canisters’ in the Krypt, and finally, Hearts, which are earned by successfully performing Fatalities or Brutalities in a match, and can be spent to open high-end ‘Shao Kahn Chests’ in the Krypt.

The real coveted currency in Mortal Kombat 11 however is Time Krystals, at least for those seeking specialized cosmetic loot. Time Krystals are Mortal Kombat 11’s premium currency, which can be earned in modest increments through finishing tutorials or playing Towers, or, for those so inclined, they can purchased with real money. Time Krystals allow you to buy time-sensitive cosmetic rewards for your preferred fighters, bypassing any grind or challenges necessary before they disappear, and are replaced with different time-sensitive loot to earn. Anything that you can buy with Time Krystals is purely cosmetic, granted, and doesn’t offer Augments or other gameplay advantages. Still, the mess of currencies throughout Mortal Kombat 11, which persists in Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate, presents a needlessly confusing set of loot mechanics that reinforce a grueling grind. even in Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate’s extra patched, ideally refined package. We don’t need three different in-game currencies on top of a separate paid currency! It’s confusing, tedious, and worse than that, it contributes nothing of real value to the game.

Thus, you can see how it’s sometimes difficult to divorce some of Mortal Kombat 11’s persistent online and loot problems from its otherwise stellar gameplay package, especially when it comes to its more specialized secondary modes. The game doesn’t have paid loot boxes, but the RNG-based chests in the Krypt do nonetheless function as a similar mechanic in-game, not to mention that any sort of stat tracking or persistent rewards being tied to the online servers feels unwelcome and unnecessary. Like I said, you can completely ignore the time-sensitive challenges, loot rewards and anything else tied to the Towers of Time, the Krypt or the A.I. Battles if you don’t want to go anywhere near this stuff. Even considering that though, the caveats to those robust secondary modes are worth pointing out. It’s also worth cautioning would-be players that Mortal Kombat 11’s loot grind can be ruthless, especially when it intrudes on the Krypt, one of the more fun selections of rewards that was present in prior Mortal Kombat games.

Outside of its really unfortunate live service/loot elements though, Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate still stands as the best rendition of an instant classic in the fighting game genre. It’s the new gold standard, and its excellent gameplay feels that much more refined and cool on next-gen consoles!

STORYLINE

Mortal Kombat 11 finally achieves a superb middle ground between the classic sensibilities of 90’s-era Mortal Kombat, and the fresh, reinvented style that the series has enjoyed under Warner Bros. and NetherRealm Studios. A lot of this is due to the game’s storyline, which is even more epic in scope than its two predecessors, while also presenting an all-new antagonist that finally brings together every generation of Mortal Kombat into one all-encompassing battle, even more effectively than Midway’s climactic Mortal Kombat: Armageddon did during the 2000’s!

Picking up immediately where Mortal Kombat X left off, following the defeat of disgraced Elder God, Shinnok, Mortal Kombat 11 sees EarthRealm’s protector and resident Thunder God, Raiden begin an aggressive reign of terror and violence against his foes, leading a massive scourge against the forces of NetherRealm. With Raiden forsaking his code and upsetting the balance between the realms however, Shinnok’s mother, and gatekeeper of time, Kronika intervenes in events, erasing ‘Dark Raiden’ from history, which causes time itself to become unstable. At this point, 90’s-era renditions of several of the series’ fan-favourite heroes and villains, including Liu Kang, Kitana, Sonya Blade, Johnny Cage, Kano, Shao Kahn, Jade, and even Raiden, among others, become warped forward into the present day, and inevitably find themselves swept up in the ongoing conflict between the franchise’s present-era characters and Kronika.

This ambitious foundation goes on to serve as the basis for quite possibly the best Mortal Kombat storyline to date, one that spans time itself, even giving birth to some rendition of a Mortal Kombat Multiverse, where every match-up you’ve ever had, no matter how bizarre, is canon in some timeline or another! It’s even implied that both the Midway catalogue of retro Mortal Kombat games, as well as New Line Cinema’s Mortal Kombat movies (including, presumably, their soon-releasing 2021 reboot!), factor into Kronika’s plot, an ingenious affair that somehow finds a way to encompass the scope of the entire Mortal Kombat franchise, across all modes and mediums! This really is the ultimate Mortal Kombat storyline, one that finds a way to reward Mortal Kombat fans of multiple generations, and makes all of their preferred Mortal Kombat media feel valid and important, both the best and worst of it!

Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate also happens to include the “Aftermath‘ expansion that was initially released for last-gen consoles in 2020, which delivers another engaging storyline that picks up immediately after the battle against Kronika, one that brings back OG baddie, Shang Tsung on a quest to help the heroes fully repair time. Mortal Kombat 11 Aftermath feels smaller in scope than Mortal Kombat 11’s main story campaign, naturally, but it does bring even more recognizable Mortal Kombat characters into the fray, including Sheeva and Fujin, along with the aforementioned Shang Tsung. It’s a nice cherry on top of what’s already a well-realized, time-bending storyline, one that provides an epic, far-reaching climax for the entire Mortal Kombat franchise to date, to the point where it’s impossible to say where NetherRealm Studios could possibly take a potential Mortal Kombat 12. I guess, in fairness, there’s certainly no hurry with that!

THE VERDICT

Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate is the best version of an overall excellent fighting game, one that unites the best of Mortal Kombat’s classic sensibilities with its modern, cutting-edge innovations. This is the new pinnacle of the Mortal Kombat franchise, and that pinnacle inches slightly, but noticeably higher in its ‘Ultimate‘ rendition for PS5 and Xbox Series X|S. When it comes to modern fighting games for laid-back casual players, ultra-skilled eSports fighters, and everyone in between, it just doesn’t get better than this, at least in terms of the fundamental gameplay mechanics and outstanding technical presentation.

Once again, the only thing holding Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate back is its unfortunate loot grind across the Towers of Time and the now-randomized Krypt (and that’s before recalling the game’s problematic microtransactions that exploit cosmetic-hungry players’ FOMO), as well as its intrusive, unnecessary demand for most gameplay modes to be online, lest they be completely non-functional. Being forced to connect to the internet to maintain rewards earned from modes like Klassic Towers is just as frustrating and pointless in Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate as it was in the game’s original last-gen build from 2019. These two issues unfortunately smear two inconsequential, but nonetheless conspicuous stains on what’s otherwise a thoroughly stellar fighting game.

In the end though, that thoroughly stellar fighting game still shines through in Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate’s foundational modes, from its engaging Story Mode, to its fan-favourite Klassic Towers, and of course, its ever-faithful online competition. The building blocks that make up Mortal Kombat have been polished to a bloody sheen here, complete with a healthy batch of fighters both new and old, as well as a mix of iconic special moves alongside all-new Fatalities, Brutalities and Friendships. Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate may merely offer a slight next-gen update to the classic 2019 experience on PS5 and Xbox Series X|S, but when Warner Bros. and NetherRealm Studios already achieved a Flawless Victory with Mortal Kombat 11’s last-gen build, I suppose all they can realistically do is further gloss up a recipe that they’ve already konquered.

Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate Review
Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate is the best version of an already excellent fighting game, even if its next-gen update still can't fix some of the original package's aftermarket annoyances.
VISUALS95%
AUDIO85%
GAMEPLAY90%
STORYLINE95%
THE GOOD STUFF
  • Outstanding technical presentation that's especially polished on next-gen consoles
  • Massive selection of new and old fighters with insanely customizable styles
  • Excellent fighting mechanics for both casual and hardcore players
THE NOT-SO-GOOD STUFF
  • Several modes and rewards are needlessly dependent on an online connection
  • RNG Krypt and intrusive microtransactions are frustrating and unnecessary
91%Overall Score
Reader Rating: (0 Votes)
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