Feature Article

One Year Later, Mortal Kombat 11 Is Just Getting Started

NetherRealm Studios' MK11 is an evolving fighter that's gotten better with age.

NetherRealm Studios and WB Games have revealed Mortal Kombat 11: Aftermath, the first major expansion of its kind for the fighting game franchise. In addition to new characters, including the guest character RoboCop, Aftermath will expand the story of the main game with a new epilogue starring Shang Tsung. Check out our recent chat with Ed Boon about the game and its future, prior to the reveal of Aftermath.

Mortal Kombat 11 is at its best when it subverts nostalgia for the series, giving way to a more modern MK game that constantly leaves you guessing with each match. Throughout its nearly 30-year run, the Mortal Kombat franchise has always been about swift, gory action that culminates in some showstopping finishers--which helped put fighting games on the map in the '90s. It's quite the legacy for arguably the most infamous fighting game series around, and no other entry better shows off how thrilling and grotesque fights can be than 2019's Mortal Kombat 11.

Taking cues from its predecessors--Mortal Kombat X and the DC Comics fighting game Injustice 2--MK11 is an evolving game, and the game we have now isn't the game we had at launch. Celebrating its first year anniversary this month, MK11 shows that the series is firing on all cylinders with its competitive tournament scene and a suite of updates. These have improved current characters and introduced new ones, including the most recent guest appearance, '90s comics icon Spawn.

While MK has had a reputation for sticking close to its gimmick of cartoon violence, MK11 features the most refined combat and in-depth customization to date, proving there's much more going on under the hood than some people think. Furthermore, it doesn't get enough credit for also being a highly approachable fighting game, giving newcomers plenty of tools and training options to ease into the mechanics. Mortal Kombat 11 is the most content-rich MK game to date, and it's fun to log back in after some extended time away to see what's new in the Towers of Time or how the latest additions like The Terminator or Nightwolf fit in. Shortly after the Final Kombat tournament in March, which shifted focus into an online-only event following the continued spread of COVID-19, we had the chance to talk with Mortal Kombat co-creator Ed Boon, along with president of Image Comics and Spawn creator Todd McFarlane about MK11. In addition to taking a look back at the release of the game, Boon expressed enthusiasm for MK11's future, which NetherRealm Studios will still be supporting for some time.

"Since we had that big reveal event over a year ago, I was pretty clear in trying to communicate that we plan on supporting Mortal Kombat 11 as we did with our previous games," said Boon. "With MKX and Injustice 2, our previous sequels, we supported them further than just the first set of characters and updates. So there's nothing that we are ready to announce or anything like that, but we are not absolutely done with Mortal Kombat 11."

Mortal Kombat 11 is the third game of the reboot era of the series, which began with the 2011 game. As a sequel and reboot, MK (2011) leveraged much of the familiar iconography and characters from the original trilogy to set the stage for a new story. The follow-up Mortal Kombat X continued with the rebooted storyline, introducing unique characters like D'Vorah and Cassie Cage, and while also giving more time for returning MK4 big bad Shinnok to leave his mark. MK11 was a further continuation of that story. Still, with its focus on time-travel, it played more with the element of nostalgia--pitting past and present versions of classic characters like Johnny Cage, Sonya, Jax, Scorpion, and Kano against one another, which effectively canonized mirror matches.

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In that regard, it's the most self-aware MK game to date, which is no small feat considering the series' penchant for morbid, fourth-wall-breaking humor. MK11 even has some satisfying callbacks to the 1995 live-action film, with actor Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa reprising his role as the antagonist Shang Tsung. First appearing in the MK11's re-interpretation of the long-running bonus mode the Krypt, he would eventually be the first guest character in the Kombat Pack. The last character of the current Kombat Pack was Spawn, marking the demonic superhero's first appearance in a video game since 2003's Spawn: Armageddon. The creator of Spawn, Todd McFarlane, collaborated with NetherRealm, and he enjoyed seeing the union of "two '90s icons."

"I thought they did a hell of a job [with recreating Spawn]," said the head of Image Comics. "Really, my only early criticisms were, 'Come on, you got to get crazier. You've got to crank things up in your game. Get crazier, get crazier.' They finally went just hog wild on it at some point, and the more they did that, the bigger the smile on my face was. Because I have to see it all and approve everything, so they would show me a lot [the game]. At some point they were just in a groove, I wish I had put some of the stuff they came up with in my comic book."

With a current roster of 30 characters, MK11 has a healthy mix of fighters from the classic and modern eras of the series, along with the set of guest appearances. Though what makes MK 11 stand out from previous games is the level of customization with each fighter, allowing you to mold well-established fighters to match your playstyle. This freeform variation system is a rarity in fighting games, which often utilize a closed system of mechanics with each character's moves set in stone, and it results in some exciting ways to reshape some of your long-time favorites. Even now, it can be surprising to see how people can utilize well-known characters in inventive ways.

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However, this is an area that Boon still wishes to see improvement. While regular online matches allow you to use your custom loadouts, ranked matches require the use of the preset and competitive friendly variations, which lack certain moves that high-level players tend to favor. With the end of the current season of WB Games' MK11 tournament, which saw reigning champion SonicFox defeat NinjaKilla, Boon spent time reflecting on the current state of MK11's competitive scene.

"I can't promise anything, but what I would love to see in the future of Mortal Kombat 11 is allowing players to use created variations in tournament gameplay and stuff like that," said Boon. "That's something that so far we've kind of built a wall between the competitive stuff; it's like okay, you got to use the variations that we made, and we've launched with two, and then we followed up with the third one for every character. We're happy with how that is right now, but to me, the dream situation would be for us to allow players to create their own and mix things up. So that to me would be the next step if we're able to pull it off. I certainly can't promise anything, but it's something I would love for us to be able to do."

Mortal Kombat 11 continues to have an active community of players online and on message forums discussing the current meta of the roster--including the best ways to take down the time-bending golem Geras, who remains to be one of the most game-changing characters the franchise has seen in years. Much like Mortal Kombat X and Injustice 2, Mortal Kombat 11 will continue to grow even further with more new characters and changes to the current list with the upcoming season. However, Boon did stress that the developer's next project is already in the wings.

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"It's hard to tell the timing because we don't have a launch date that we've picked for our next game, and there are so many factors involved with the transition to the next consoles, et cetera," said Boon. "There's a lot of moving parts right now, so it's hard to say something like, 'Oh yeah, when the next game is out, we will be doing season four of Mortal Kombat 11.' But I can say that at this moment, we plan on continuing to support MK11 for some time, and we're looking forward to seeing it grow."

As GameSpot senior editor Edmond Tran stated in his MK11 review, "it's a gateway into the realm of fighting games for anyone who has a passing interest in watching ruthless warriors beat each other silly." This definitely rings true for MK11 one year later. Fighting games as a genre have routinely run into the issue of player retention, with many players not as interested in getting into the minutiae of roster meta trailing off sometime after. But with the ongoing events and more characters, I haven't felt more engaged in a fighting game than with MK11 in a long time, and I cannot wait to see where the game evolves throughout this year.

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