When the credits roll at the end of Mortal Kombat 11's excellent story mode, the slate has been wiped clean. After a variety of entertaining time-travelling hijinks, everyone's second-favourite Shaolin monk, Liu Kang, has ascended into godhood and is ready to begin writing an all-new chapter in Mortal Kombat history. It's as close to a perfect ending as you can get to the almost 30 years of convoluted lore this series has. But now, there's Aftermath, Mortal Kombat 11's optional expansion that tacks on a handful of new chapters to that narrative. And while the idea of a story-focussed add-on to this fighting game is an exciting prospect--and it certainly has its high moments--when the credits roll for the second time there isn't that same sense of gratification.
At the beginning of Aftermath, which immediately follows the end of Mortal Kombat 11, Liu Kang is interrupted by the nefarious sorcerer Shang Tsung. Along with the righteous wind god Fujin and badass indigenous shaman Nightwolf, the trio stops Liu Kang from proceeding with his rebuilding plans with the warning that they need to go back in time, again, to retrieve a MacGuffin in order to stop the process from going to shit. Over five chapters and a cinema-appropriate two-and-a-half-hour running time, the five Mortal Kombat characters that have now been introduced to MK11 as post-release content get to make their mark in the story. The chapters cover the hijinks of Shang Tsung, Nightwolf, and the banshee queen Sindel from the Fighters Pack 1 DLC, as well as two characters newly introduced in Aftermath: Fujin and the four-armed Sheeva.
The relatively brief running time of the whole thing allows it to be mostly filled with great moments. The blockbuster flair present in the original story mode is again in full force, as is the excellent fight choreography that makes you want to leap out of your chair. There's still that weird disconnect when an extravagant fight cinematic transitions into the more rigid nature of the game's actual one-on-one fights, but there are some good moments that lie in the gameplay portions too, like the handful of battles where you have an assist character to call on.
The absolute highlight of the story--and probably the whole Aftermath package--is undoubtedly Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa's performance as he reprises Shang Tsung. He is deliciously evil, and the fact that he knows every other character is incredibly wary of his inevitable betrayal only feeds his playfully arrogant ego. Great facial animations and expressions, along with the amusingly unscrupulous timbre of his voice, help to really nail key moments here--his sly, smirking grin definitely left a big impression on me.
Shang Tsung is an absolute treasure, and the overall story is mostly entertaining all the way through--the exception is Sheeva's chapter, in which the plot barely moves forward. But I couldn't help but feel a bit ambivalent when it all was said and done since the story essentially leaves the series lore in the same place. That's a big relief, in a way, and I'm glad the five new characters managed to get some time in the spotlight--this is a great roster. But that comes at the cost of taking away some of the grand prospects of endless possibility that we were left with last time--a new ending teaser definitely seems to narrow the scope somewhat.
Superfluous story aside, the other content included in the Aftermath expansion are three new characters--the aforementioned Sheeva and Fujin as well as special guest character Robocop from the classic 1987 Paul Verhoven film (which is the only Robocop movie that exists, as far as I know). Sheeva is a heavy-hitting grappler with some great advancing options, best characterised by her flying stomp where she disappears off the top of the screen before crashing down on her opponent. Fujin is an incredibly flashy and unique character who is excellent at controlling space with ricocheting crossbow bolts, capable of pushing and pulling his opponents all over the place with the power of wind, and also has the delightful ability to run through the air and strike from above. I love both of these new characters, though your enjoyment may vary depending on your preferred playstyle.
Robocop, on the other hand, I didn't quite gel with. He's a keep-away character who mainly focuses on keeping opponents at bay with a number of projectile and knockback options, a style that feels in line with the character. It can be a killer strategy if you have patience and the ability to read your opponent's movements well, but it's unfortunately not something I excel at, and as a result, I didn't find Robocop to be as interesting of a character, movie homages aside.
The release of Aftermath also sees Mortal Kombat 11 get a major update that adds new brutality finishers for every character and new stages as well as the introduction of stage fatalities--the Retrocade stage, in which an in-universe projector beams out classic Mortal Kombat stages accompanied by a period-appropriate soundtrack, is one of my personal favourites. But Friendships are the significant new addition--instead of finishing your opponent by mutilating them, each character now has the option to show off their playful side with bizarre performances of unabashed joy, though some are certainly a lot more inspired than others (Jax's saxophone solo is a clear frontrunner, and Shang Tsung's rainbow garden is on the other end of the scale). It's a little terrifying to see the Mortal Kombat characters smile so hard, but they're definitely a worthwhile inclusion.
But the Friendships, new stages, and new finishers are freely available for owners of Mortal Kombat 11, and the only content exclusive to Aftermath are the additional story chapters and three new characters. Though that's a very welcome decision--free is good--it makes Aftermath less compelling when considered specifically on its own terms. Mortal Kombat 11 remains one of the best fighting games of this console generation, and the recent free update makes it better. Aftermath introduces a couple of great characters, and the expanded story definitely has its highs, but it's not essential to your enjoyment of an already superb game.