Mortal Kombat 11 did a lot of things right thanks to its intriguing story and strong fighting mechanics but its progression and gear system were extremely grindy, turning off many players, including myself. I had cautious expectations when heading into Mortal Kombat 1, but after spending substantial time with the game, I am pleased to report that this is the best, most balanced Mortal Kombat game to date.
As a longtime fan of the series, I immediately jumped into Mortal Kombat 1’s story mode. The slate was wiped clean at the end of the Mortal Kombat 11, which raised many questions as to how NetherRealm will tackle the lore this time around, including its complex relationships between the series’ many characters, and how it will intertwine all of that to deliver a satisfying story. Mortal Kombat 1 once again puts its focus on Earthrealmers and Outworlders with the usual suspects returning. The likes of Liu Kang, Johhny Cage, General Shao (who is not a Kahn yet), Sindel, and her daughters Kitana and Mileena, and the evil sorcerer, Shang Tsung, return.
“This is the best, most balanced Mortal Kombat game to date.”
It’s the usual crazy, over the top plot that one expects from a Mortal Kombat game, but there is a twist in tale here. Despite the focus on main characters, the story also focuses about some individuals who had side roles in the past, namely Reptile and Baraka. You see, both of them didn’t have much in the name of character development for the vast majority of the series. Despite having interesting designs and origin stories, NetherRealm really didn’t do much with them other than give rather bland roles in most of the entries in the series.
Mortal Kombat 1 changes all of that and focuses a lot on their desperation, struggles, and backstories. Baraka, for instance, is not someone you will hate this time around and is largely a sympathetic character who has a sense of honour and fights for his clan as they suffer from a disease called Tarkat. Reptile, on the other hand, is portrayed as someone who is caught in a situation where he’s being taken advantage of.
Once again, the story is divided into multiple chapters, and it should take you around five to eight hours to complete it, depending on difficulty you have selected. Mortal Kombat 1’s story perhaps features one of the biggest twists in the series’ history, but I won’t spoil it for you. It’s extremely well done and it stays true to the series’ theme of betrayal and lies. Despite doing a ton of things right, however, the story falters in its ending. The ending itself isn’t a bust, but it has no build up to it and it occurs all of a sudden and out of nowhere. I believe that the story mode would have benefitted from a couple of extra chapters to build up to the finale. But for whatever reason, the developers chose not to do that, and what we have is an undercooked set up to the finale.
Fortunately, the Tower endings of each character, instead of focusing on the usual what if situations, are likely canon endings. They take a look at each characters’ motivations and what happens to them after the story mode ends. Some of those will likely even set up the story for future content, if the developers have such plans. Overall, the story mode largely delivers, and I can’t wait to see what the next piece of narrative content will bring to the table.
“Invasions is the highlight of the Mortal Kombat 1 experience.”
Longtime Mortal Kombat fans may remember the Krypt. Well, that has been pushed aside for Invasions, a new mode with RPG elements like levelling up and upgrading or refilling protective items like the Talisman and Konsumables. I was extremely cautious heading into Invasion mode, as it had all the recipes perfectly set up for the grinding elements from Mortal Kombat 11 to return, but much to my surprise, it turned out to be a well-balanced experience, and a complete blast to play.
You can pick up any character of your liking (and you can change it to someone else anytime you want) and keep on fighting one character after another, along with intermediate surprises like Ambush, Secret Battles, and Tower fights. All of this takes place across beautifully crafted locations, like Johnny Cage’s Mansion, Shang Tsung’s laboratory, and others. Unfortunately, players can only move in a linear direction from one point to another. Although I would have appreciated a free roam mechanic in these locations, I can understand the developer’s insistence of having a more focused experience. Invasions is also marked by minimal but intriguing gameplay changes, like Survive, wherein you need to survive against elements like fire or laser rays, and Test Your Might, which acts like a fun little diversion.
In Mortal Kombat 1, there are three types of progression systems: the overall level of the player, and specific levels for each playable character and Kameo. You will automatically unlock stuff like new fatalities, brutalities, taunts, and more once your characters and Kameos level up. Furthermore, the game consistently gives you Koins and other unlockables as you win matches. In my experience, Invasions mode was the preferred starting point to level up my characters and get as many unlockables as I could.
The mode lasts anywhere from five to seven hours with a ton of one-on-one encounters and excellent unlockables (the one right at the end is the best) making it an excellent way to unlock all those cool collectibles. Yes, things will get harder once you progress through the mode, but its challenge doesn’t come at the cost of compromising the fun factor. Overall, Invasions is the highlight of the Mortal Kombat 1 experience, and given that most of it is not very grindy, it comes as pleasant surprise for me. What is cool is that this was just the first season of Invasions, with more new seasons promised in the future. Hopefully, NetherRealm will maintain this sweet balance that they have achieved with the mode at launch.
On the customization front, gone is the dreadful gear system from Mortal Kombat 11’s launch. Instead, what we have is a simpler and more streamlined way to customize your character and Kameo. As mentioned previously, as characters level up, they will unlock new gear, and all you need to do is just select it from the customize screen for each character. That’s it. There is no augmentation system and no microtransactions involved to modify slot type or unequip augmentation types. Some players may not like this simplistic approach, but I appreciate this system since sometimes less is more. If I unlock a particular gear, I shouldn’t be going through a tedious loop just to equip or unequip it.
However, there is one annoying issue with character customization. You cannot customize your character or Kameo from the roster selection screen. You have to always go back to the Kustomize screen and select gear there. I don’t understand why NetherRealm opted for such a weird menu design when they could have gone with something simpler. I can see this being an annoying issue for someone who will unlock a lot of stuff for their characters.
“Mortal Kombat 1 takes the series’ fighting mechanics to the next level.”
On the multiplayer front, it’s the same story as Mortal Kombat 11. Modes like Versus, Online, and Tournaments return, which is more or less the same as what we got in Mortal Kombat 11. You can participate in Ranked matches and King of the Hill, or simply go one-on-one against a random player. I found progression to move much faster in online modes compared to Invasions, although this is just an observation in my playthrough. The experience was mostly lag free, but there was some slowdown here and there- but nothing game breaking by any means. Overall, I have not much to complain about with the game’s online offerings. It’s following the “if ain’t broke, don’t fix it” methodology, which is fine, in my book.
The Mortal Kombat games since 2011 have all played brilliantly, and Mortal Kombat 1 seems to take the fighting mechanics to the next level. Making their debut in the series, Kameos are a bunch of characters that you can ally with during a fight. Borrowed from the assist system from other fighting games, you can call in these fighters to help you during the course of an encounter. But there is more to it. As mentioned earlier, as you play more with a specific Kameo character, they will level up too. This will result in Kameo fatalities and brutalities getting unlocked, which makes the system a bit more interesting than just being a plain assist system.
There are 15 Kameo characters, all with unique moves, so there are quite of bit options here to use in conjunction with the playable roster. The playable roster, meanwhile, consists of 23 characters, and as you can expect with a Mortal Kombat game, they all work really well. The combat is paced much faster than Mortal Kombat 11 and each character has a long list of moves that will take some time to master, especially if this is your first Mortal Kombat game. Combat is brutal and the sound design accompanying it further adds to that brutality. Fatalities and Brutalities are extremely grotesque, and thanks to modern hardware’s capabilities, the developers have been able to add even more detail, making the affair that much more gruesome.
The stage design is excellent as well, to the point where I ca say I haven’t seen any past Mortal Kombat stage designed with such intricacy and attention to detail. Maybe Mortal Kombat X comes close, but Mortal Kombat 1 is at an altogether different level. Unfortunately, in my playthrough I found out there was no way to interact with any elements of the stage. It didn’t curb my experience, but it was disappointing to see this feature not making the cut. Perhaps, the addition of Kameos would have been a reason behind this exclusion, but it would have been nice to see it implemented.
“Thanks to the power of current-gen consoles, character models look extremely detailed, with special emphasis on facial animations and armour design.”
On the visuals front, Mortal Kombat 11 was a graphically stunning game for its time, and I am glad to see NetherRealm taking the series to all new visual heights in its latest iteration. Thanks to the power of current-gen consoles, character models look extremely detailed, with special emphasis on facial animations and armour design. As previously mentioned, special props also go to the sound design team for ensuring each punch actually feels like a punch, or, for instance, how impactful the dreadful scream Sub-Zero makes when Scorpion’s spear pierces him sounds. When you couple that with solid music for levels and the excellent fighting mechanics, the stage is lit for an addictive, fun-filled, one-on-one fighting experience.
In conclusion, Mortal Kombat 1 is easily the franchise’s best offering to date. It combines the series’ best-known elements and packages them together with an excellent Invasions mode and a robust online offering. The story mode along with Tower endings have me intrigued about the future of the series, although the events leading to the ending could have been handled better. Of course, there are also Kombat Packs to look forward, which to will bring in new characters, Kameos, and collectibles, but for now I have this to say: Let Mortal Kombat Begin.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 5.
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