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Mortal Kombat: Onslaught Turns The Franchise Into A Team-Based RPG

Mortal Kombat: Onslaught is the latest mobile MK game and thrusts the franchise into a real-time, team-based RPG with a new standalone story.


If there's anything Mortal Kombat has always been known for, it's the crack, crunch, spurt, and gurgle of its graphic violence. But over the last decade, the franchise has become just as synonymous for its Hollywood-caliber cutscenes and epic storytelling, and that's exactly what Mortal Kombat: Onslaught, NetherRealm Studios' new mobile game that is out now, hopes to capture in its gameplay.

That's a tall order considering the grandiose scale of its cinematics, often displaying over-the-top battles of dozens of characters taking on larger-than-life villains--even the mainline games' usual 1v1 fights rarely capture the same Hollywood blockbuster spirit. But Mortal Kombat: Onslaught, a real-time, squad-based mobile RPG, sets out to replicate that sense of scale in the palm of your hands. During my hands-off preview of the game, I got a look at exactly how the gameplay intended to capture that and chatted with lead designer and NetherRealm veteran Mike Lee.

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Now Playing: Mortal Kombat: Onslaught - Launch Trailer

"We designed gameplay off what we wanted it to look like--what we wanted it to represent: the cutscenes," Lee told me. In Onslaught, you'll craft a team of four to five fighters selected from a roster of 50 MK characters and take on a squad of enemies in a standalone story-focused adventure that sees its heroes, once again, fighting to protect several realms under attack. Spread over 10 chapters, the story will unravel over 300 battles that feature the same level of theatrics and high fantasy of its mainline series. Chapters are planned to roll out all the way into 2024, with four chapters available at release.

Before every battle, you'll get to see the enemies they're about to face off against, allowing you to strategically tailor your squad for the fight. Your squad, as well as foes, fall into four classes: warriors, the front line offensive class; defenders, who function as tanks; snipers for ranged attacks; and assassins, who have special abilities like teleporting behind enemies. All the fights I was shown were 4v4, but I was told there will be 5v5 as well.

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Fights happen in real-time with your squad acting independently and using their standard attack automatically. However, while the battle ensues, you can activate special powers with each character and aim their execution. Raiden, for example, has an area-of-effect blast you can drag over a group of enemies. Jade, an assassin, can be ordered to teleport behind specific enemies, and shift the attention on her. Enacting it all in real-time leaves a lot of room for strategically linking up characters' moves that can lead to a visually rewarding payoff.

Johnny Cage can be sent flying across the screen to execute a nut punch, while Jax's iconic ground pound can stun several enemies at once, opening a window for Tanya to cast an AoE on staggered foes. Meanwhile, Quon Chi can act as a support character to heal team members from afar. Stringing it all together leads to a satisfying display of powers and harmony that really allows these iconic characters to shine. It's not often you get to see Scorpion, Sub-Zero, and Smoke (just to name a few) showing off their quintessential moves all at the exact same time.

Mike Lee described the combat as having gone through a lot of iteration, which was initially prototyped as turn-based. "It didn't feel right. It didn't look like Mortal Kombat. It didn't capture the scale of the cutscenes. But once we landed on the [real-time, squad-based] playstyle, it just clicked together."

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Choosing the right squad is only a single facet of the game's strategy. After every fight, players collect gear that increases character stats, with each individual item featuring its own leveling system. There are also relics--the core item that the story revolves around. Shinnok, the fallen Elder God, is ripping through realms to collect these relics to regain his powers. Collecting a relic and applying it to a character will unlock powerful special abilities, but applying specific relics with specific characters can unlock their fatalities at the end of a match. The fatalities, like in the main games, appear to only be for show, and have no real effect on the battlefield.

While there is an emphasis on Onslaught's story mode, the game also features several modes to play around in, including its PvP Arena mode; Boss Towers that test your wit against the game's hardest foes; Chasm mode, which Mike Lee described as the "fun mode," where players can engage in off-the-wall style battles like fighting against six Johnny Cages at once; and Khronicle, the game's event mode that'll have standalone stories that introduce characters like the MK1 version of Scorpion into the game. New Khronicle content is expected to roll out every few weeks.

While the roadmap for Mortal Kombat: Onslaught's content plan is unclear, players will have a large roster of characters to experiment with from the get go. In the meantime, one of the most compelling prospects is an all-new story from the series' mainline story director Dominic Cianciolo. Mortal Kombat: Onslaught is available now for free on App Store and Google Play.

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