As a pretty big fan of the series, I was obviously excited about the announcement of Mortal Kombat 11 back in December of last year. Surprisingly, time has felt like it has flown by, as we are now less than a month out from the title’s arrival. With the game set to arrive in just a few weeks, developer NetherRealm Studios is working hard to iron out any last-minute kinks. One of the ways the studio is doing so is through the use of this pre-order bonus beta. While it’s far from the full picture, what little the beta featured has me more excited than ever for the return of the franchise.
Like the online stress test that occurred previously, the full beta for Mortal Kombat 11 is mostly focused on testing the online servers. What time I had to spend online was actually surprisingly competent, which I wasn’t expecting. I had little trouble with lag, and the gameplay never felt too difficult to deal with. Coming off of Dead or Alive 6, which was rocky online, this was definitely a surprise. Hopefully, it holds up when the full title goes live at the end of the month.
Ed Boon and company were nice enough to give players access to five different kombatants, and all of them are returning favorites. Series icon Scorpion is here, along with later additions Baraka, Jade, Kabal, and Skarlet. Certainly an interesting bunch of faces, and while I would have liked a new face to be available, this is a good selection regardless.
Of the five inclusions, Scorpion and Kabal definitely feel like the most novice-friendly fighters. The two have simple but effective combos that can be easily strung together. Kabal’s quick speed allows him to get in and dish out damage with his hook swords, while Scorpion’s spear and sword can be effortlessly chained together for some fun attacks. The combo engine, in general, seems more simplified, at least in the beta, than it did in Mortal Kombat X. This could be NetherRealm hiding the lengthier attacks from prying eyes, but I think simpler combos would be a better change all around.
As for the other three included in the Mortal Kombat 11 beta, well, they are slightly more challenging, but still fun to use. Maybe it was the variation I was using, but Baraka felt more lumbering and heavy than I expected. He’s a beast — I mean, just look at him — but I pictured him as being a little quicker than he was. Jade is known for her staff, so it makes sense that she is proficient at using range effectively. An effective style for sure, but not necessarily my favorite. Skarlet is more projectile heavy than any of the other beta fighters, which helps her stand out from the pack. What she lacks in effective combos, she makes up for in disgusting blood-based attacks.
Mortal Kombat 11 doesn’t change things up too much mechanically from the last entry, but it does feel different. It feels a little snappier and easier to use then what was in Mortal Kombat X, which was already pretty user-friendly. There are two meters at the bottom of the screen for each fighter — one for defense and one for offense. The offense meter can be burned to amplify attacks, while the defense meter can be used to execute dodges and rolls. It’s a neat and welcome variation on the tired single super meter set-up.
Mortal Kombat 11 also ditches some of the more un-welcome mechanics from the last game. X-Ray attacks have been modified to only occur once your health bar has dropped below a certain threshold. The newly christened Fatal Blows are just as gory as they were before, but now make sense to use in battle. Brutal X-Ray blows also show up as Krushing Blows, which can be triggered at will during matches. Sometimes it happens when you land a combo, other times when you use a stage weapon. Running has been excised entirely, which thank goodness for that.
For as grotesque as the series has been in the past, Mortal Kombat 11 might just be the most disgusting so far. It finally seems like Ed Boon has the tech to match his hell-scape of a mind, and he’s making sure we all can see. Fatal Blows are blood-soaked little vignettes, while the series’ trademark fatalities are on another level this time out. From Baraka slicing off someone’s face and eating their brain to Jade disemboweling an opponent and spinning them around for sure, the visuals can sometimes be hard to take in. And thanks to the power of the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X, they’ll look as barbaric as ever.
With solid enough online play and significant improvements to the combat engine, Mortal Kombat 11 is shaping up to be a must-play for fighting game fans. The series has been on a consistent rise since the 2011 reboot, and that upward trek doesn’t appear to be stopping here. If NetherRealm can once again pull off an excellent story mode and include killer bonus content (sorry, Kontent), then their latest endeavor might just become the fighting game to beat on current-gen consoles.
This preview is based on hands-on time with the game’s beta on PlayStation 4. A code was provided by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment.