Feature Article

Mortal Kombat X Review in Progress

All in the family.

I've been playing Mortal Kombat X for the better part of a week, fighting through the game's story mode, exploring the Krypt that houses the many unlockable treasures, and withstanding brutal displays of violence. In many ways, Mortal Kombat X is a direct evolution of 2011's Mortal Kombat, which brought the series back into the spotlight. The gruesome fatalities and X-Ray attacks that the series is known for are more gut-wrenching and creative than ever, made more convincing thanks to significantly improved visuals. No body part is safe, with everything from tongues to intestines getting pulverized and mangled. It would be easy to get caught up in the violence on display and forget that there's a deep and competent fighting game underneath, but it wouldn't be your fault. Nearly everything you do in Mortal Kombat X is a means to witness or unlock new forms of bodily torture. It doesn't get in the way of the matter at hand--combat--but you're never far off from seeing yet another brutal act in the name of victory.

Mortal Kombat X's online features haven't gone live yet, so it's too early for a full review, but there's so much more worth talking about. Like the last Mortal Kombat, NetherRealm Studios delivers a story mode that is robust by fighting game standards, offering over two hours of cutscenes amidst battles between the game's varied cast. The fight for the throne of the Outworld realm has stirred up great turmoil, causing fallen elder gods and demons alike to vie for the seat by any means necessary. Elsewhere, in the peaceful Earthrealm, heroes fight to maintain order and stave off an invasion from Outworld's worst. It's a tale as old as Mortal Kombat, albeit with a few new faces and relationships mixing things up. A new generation has risen to defend Earthrealm, including the offspring of classic Mortal Kombat characters.

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The influx of new faces could inspire a renewed interest for some fans, but when characters like Cassie Cage and Jacqui Briggs so closely mimic their parents' fighting styles and personalities, you wouldn't be alone if you saw the generation gap as a bit blurry. Story mode primarily focuses on Cassie Cage's tale, emphasizing the sometimes turbulent relationship between her parents, the confident Johnny Cage, and Sonya Blade, a special forces officer with a by-the-book attitude. Cassie doesn't get a lot of screen time compared to her parents, but if there's anything positive to say about Mortal Kombat X's story, it's that the evolving relationship between Johnny and Sonya retroactively tells Cassie's story, providing glimpses into the best and worst qualities that her parents may have passed on. Johnny, a character who jokes constantly, even at the most inappropriate of times, wears his heart on his sleeve on occasion. He begs Sonya to ditch her military attitude in the name of giving Cassie what she needs most: a mother. These moments come like a marshmallow in the hot chocolate of Mortal Kombat's dark tale. There are other parent-child relationships to look in on, but none feel as relatable, on a human level, as the Cages'. It's good to see some redeeming qualities in Mortal Kombat's story mode that go beyond fandom and fan service, but for the most part, you will need to have a deep interest in the series' lore if you hope to enjoy the rest.

The influx of new faces could inspire a renewed interest for some fans, but when characters like Cassie Cage and Jacqui Briggs so closely mimic their parents' fighting styles and personalities, you wouldn't be alone if you saw the generation gap as a bit blurry.

Story mode is a good way to familiarize yourself with Mortal Kombat X's cast, but as you're passed to one character after the next, you never feel like you have the chance to settle in and learn any one fighting style. Mortal Kombat is a fighting game, first and foremost, not a story driven experience. Once you start digging into the real meat of it, Mortal Kombat X is fresh in its delivery and deep enough to keep serious fighting game enthusiasts engrossed. The roster is comprised of 25 characters, including two that are locked away, one of which--the four-armed favorite, Goro--must be purchased as DLC. It's a healthy stable of fighters, but with three variations for each, it's even bigger than it seems. The core move sets for a single character are similar across each variation, but unique special moves give them an identity all of its own. The blind, ninja-like Kenshi, can fight by summoning samurai-apparitions, or with Jedi-like force powers, for example, and these variations feel significantly different enough that you will likely form an allegiance with one variation over another. Even if you don't fall in love with every variation of your favorite fighter, you at least have a chance to find something interesting about a character you might have otherwise overlooked. The introduction of character variations is welcome, indeed, and something that other fighting games could benefit from when battling roster fatigue.

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Beyond the character variety, Mortal Kombat X has great mechanics that will please casual players and hardcore fighters alike. More than the previous game, Mortal Kombat X is a far smoother experience, forgoing some of its stiffness in favor of greater flow during combat. That's not to say it's as fluid as a game like Street Fighter, because Mortal Kombat still has a modicum of rigidity that will frustrate fans of other fighting games at first blush, but it's definitely taken a step in the right direction.

In addition to the usual selection of normal attacks, throws, and special attacks, Mortal Kombat X brings the last game's meter back, allowing players to power up a special move, break an opponent's combo, or dish out a comeback move in the form of a hard-hitting X-Ray attack. Your meter is charged by either taking damage or performing special attacks, and managing this resource is critical. The EX version of special attacks are what you'd expect, adding some damage to a standard special for a third of your meter. Breakers, which cost two thirds of your meter, have more of an impact, allowing you to disrupt an opponent's combo for a chance to deliver your own. There are devastating combos waiting for skilled players who learn how to perform them, and in a battle of fighting-game-giants, a well placed breaker can make the difference between a beatdown and a victory. For the cost of your entire meter, you can perform an X-Ray attack, which is a devastating move that lops off 30 to 40% of your opponent's health, accompanied by a prolonged sequence of bones breaking and flesh tearing. They're punishing for the recipient, and painful to watch. X-Rays can immediately turn the tide of battle, but fail to connect, and you may have thrown your chance at victory overboard.

Goro doing what Goro does best.
Goro doing what Goro does best.

Mortal Kombat X has a large number of fighters to choose from, and a deep fighting system that will keep hardened players busy for years to come, but this can be said of a few fighting games, and even with those core elements, a great fighting game can grow stale. Mortal Kombat X fights against an expiration date in a few ways, including the aforementioned variation system. Otherwise, the return of the Test Your Luck mode, where combat modifiers alter everything from physics, environmental effects, and your ability to use certains moves, adds a great amount of variety to standard combat. This system is also applied to the new living towers, which are a series of challenges that Netherrealm Studios refreshes hourly and daily, giving you a chance to fight in unusual conditions, and earn currency that you can spend in the Krypt.

The Krypt, for those who missed it in the series' past, is a mode where you roam through a map in first person, unlocking new content by spending "koins" that you've earned in other areas of the game, living towers included. There are hundreds of items to unlock, including art, character skins, and finishing moves, and you're going to have to play a lot of Mortal Kombat X in order to purchase everything. As you crawl around the krypt, monsters jump out at you, and a quick time event is your chance to defend yourself and to earn some koins. If you miss the button prompt, your only punishment is that you missed the chance to earn a bit of money. The act of digging through the Krypt is in itself somewhat enjoyable, as you hunt for items to unlock new areas and balk in surprise as a spider lunges for your face, but quite often the things you unlock are underwhelming. You have to spend money blindly, hoping to unlock a new character skin of fatality rather than a piece of fan art, and considering it can take a while to earn enough money, a regretful purchase is all it takes to feel like the entire process is a waste of time.

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Mortal Kombat X has kept me quite busy thus far, but the game's servers will have to go live before I can say I've seen the bulk of what it has to offer. Online play is the crux of a good fighting game these days, and while it's been said that the game's netcode is an improvement over the last Mortal Kombat, that remains to be seen firsthand. We also have to wait for the servers to go live in order to take a proper look at the game's faction war aspect. The first thing you do when you boot up Mortal Kombat X is pick one of a handful of factions or teams to join. Practically everything you do contributes to your team's score, and once a week, a winner is crowned. There are spoils at stake, presumably koins, but we can't say for sure until the first round is finished. At this point, it doesn't seem like the Faction War will be compelling or exciting, but it may at least prove to be an interesting motivator during those rare moments when you've exhausted your interest in other modes and goals.

I'll be spending the next few days putting Mortal Kombat X's online functionality and associated features to the test, but at this point, it's easy to say that I feel very positive about the game. There is so much to do, and a well of fighting styles to explore, that you'll have to try pretty hard to grow bored of it. This is the most visually stunning Mortal Kombat to date, too, mixing over-the-top, Injustice-like moves with an eye-catching visual style. The violence within isn't going to sit well with everybody, and while it sometimes feels like the promise of a brutal finishing move overshadows the core fighting game within, when you see through it, you'll appreciate that Mortal Kombat X is a serious fighting game that's merely dressed with a bit of dark humor, rather than one that's defined by that and that alone.

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doc-brown

Peter Brown

Peter is Managing Editor at GameSpot, and when he's not covering the latest games, he's desperately trying to recapture his youth by playing the classics that made him happy as a kid.
Mortal Kombat X

Mortal Kombat X

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