E3 2014: How Mortal Kombat X Is Improving the MK Formula

The streets will run red.

Mortal Kombat is back with another bloody entry in this long-running fighting franchise that’s set 25 years after the events of the last game. When developer NetherRealm Studios released its first trailer for Mortal Kombat X, there was a lot of speculation about what could be different in this new Mortal Kombat. Here at E3 2014, I was finally able to get my hands on the game and chat with designer Brian LeBaron about the many changes coming to the Mortal Kombat formula. There is a lot to get excited about in this sequel, so let’s dive in!

In an effort to make the fighters feel less robotic, NetherRealm is stepping up the number of animations per character.

Variants Change Your Fighting Style

Variants are a fascinating addition to the Mortal Kombat formula that dramatically change each character’s fighting style. Each character has three variants available to him or her, which you select at the start of a match, and each variant unlocks different special moves. Playing as D’Vorah--the creepy bug lady shown above--I had variants that gave me access to either a close-range, poisonous spray, or a bug trap that would detonate after a few seconds. I focused on the third option, dubbed Swarm Queen, which granted me bug attacks that stunned my opponent, letting me follow up with another attack. Using that variant, I played D’Vorah as a keep-away fighter, but when I took the poison spray, for example, I had to play her much more aggressively.

Variants feel like they break the fighting game tradition of designing each character with only one play style in mind--be it grappling, zoning, or otherwise--and I’m excited to see how NetherRealm expands upon it. As an added bonus, the variant you choose also affects your character’s outfit. For D’Vorah, she would fight with her hood up or down, or with green ooze flowing from her wrists and ankles. Did I mention she’s a creepy bug lady?

Interactables Have Been Toned Down

With Injustice: Gods Among Us, NetherRealm introduced a new system that let players use certain objects in the background to assist in the fight. Mortal Kombat X has a similar mechanic, but it has been toned down significantly. In the three stages I played, there were fewer interactable objects; the ones that were present were used mostly for mobility, and all fighters used these objects in the same way. Using an object also required some of my fighter’s stamina meter, which we’ll cover in a moment.

The variants system feels like it breaks the fighting game tradition of designing each character with only one play style in mind, and I’m excited to see how NetherRealm expands upon it.

Together, these changes made background objects feel more like utilities than smart bombs. They had less of an impact on the fight, but were still a helpful tool nonetheless. According to LeBaron, these were deliberate changes on the team’s part. He also noted that some background objects can be linked together, such as in the frozen woods where players can swing between two tree branches--provided you have enough stamina.

Stamina Meter Unlocks New Options

Before we talk about the stamina meter, I should note that, like most games here at E3 2014, Mortal Kombat X is still very much a work in progress, meaning certain aspects could change between now and release. With that in mind, the stamina meter is a new addition to Mortal Kombat X that does a few specific things. As I mentioned earlier, it restricts how frequently you can use background objects. The meter is divided into two sections, and using an object drains one of the sections.

Back dashing also drains one of the sections. Running forward--another new mechanic--drains the stamina meter, but at a slow rate. Finally, LeBaron mentioned that the team is experimenting with letting players use stamina to perform throw canceling; however, he wasn’t able to elaborate beyond that point. Stamina will recharge to full after a second or two of being used.

Running lets you quickly close the gap between you and your opponent, and you can cancel out of running into an attack.

While variants, background objects, and the stamina meter were the most obvious changes to the Moral Kombat formula, I also picked up on a few smaller changes. According to LeBaron, you build meter much faster in Mortal Kombat X compared to its predecessor, and the game’s speed has been increased as well. This, combined with several new character animations, helped the action feel less stiff and robotic, which has always been a sticking point for this series. And despite what that initial trailer showed, Mortal Kombat X's counter system is no different from its predecessor. There's still a lot to discover--including what's going on with the story mode--ahead of the game's release sometime next year, but until then, these initial changes have me more than a little excited about the future of Mortal Kombat.

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