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AAA development is an institution more than a means to an end these days. Image macros of hamburgers missing meat, labeled “cut out for DLC” are often overblown, but sometimes you can’t help but feel wary about a game’s development schedule and how long it takes them to get their DLC out. Mortal Kombat X’s DLC concerns overshadow what should be one of this year’s finest titles. It seeps into the game’s every pore, making MKX feel incomplete, even though it already has plenty of quality content.
Mortal Kombat X is MK for a new generation. I haven’t personally played the ninth installment, but X feels like Neatherrealm Studios realized that banking purely on nostalgia wasn’t going to cut it for their next release. To mix up the Kombat, each character has three variations, changing up their movesets and making them nearly entire new characters. For example, Johnny Cage’s variations include one with stronger fist attacks called Fisticuffs, one that allows him to unleash his attacks as a projectile called Stunt Double, and A-List, which lets Johnny charge his specials for extra damage. The roster feels three times as large with this inclusion, and if you’re not 100% gelling with a character, it’s easy to switch variations and find one that fits your playstyle to a T.
The best part of MKX is its story mode. Most of the main characters this time around are the children (or cousins) of past MK icons. For example, Cassie Cage, Sonya and Johnny’s cocky-cool daughter, and Kung Jin, Kung Lao’s archer cousin. Even outside the good-guy roster, new characters such as the bug queen D’Vorah and the Aztec emperor Kotal Kahn round out a solid cast of battlers. Old characters get interesting updates, such as a non-demon Scorpion, Empress Mileena, and a revived-through-necromancy Liu Kang.
Story mode is only one aspect of MKX. There is a multitude of online functions built into the game. Everything feels alive, with rotating challenge towers that swap out every day, week, etc. Towers are often themed, such as “if you duck, you lose health” or “fight with one health bar!”. Standard, consistent towers are built in to the game, and Arcade mode is played through the 9-fighter basic tower that you’d expect from a Mortal Kombat game. Online play works just fine on PS4, I never noticed any lag in my matches and the game matches you with fellow Kombatants smoothly.
The other big online function is factions. When you start the game for the first time, you’re tasked with joining a faction, such as Sub Zero’s Lin Kuei or Sonya Blade’s Special Forces. Completing any task in-game nets you points towards your faction’s strength, and whichever faction has the most points at the end of each week gets a koin currency bonus. Performing specific tasks gives you extra points, and running through faction towers or fighting an ultra-strong faction boss also throws more points into the pot. Initially, the mode was a bore as most players flocked to a single team and won multiple weeks in a row, but a few weeks out, teams have evened out and the functionality is passive yet rewarding. Every battle feels more important, even if you’re just playing a single match against a CPU offline.
Mortal Kombat X plays like a dream. I said previously that I had never played an MK game, but I did mess with Injustice a while back, and MKX improves on the foundation the DC fighter laid. Stage interactables return from Injustice, and MK9‘s three-pronged meter makes a come back, which allows for a devastating x-ray move when full. I took to MKX quickly, even with its dreaded block button. Even moving from Injustice to this made me a bit worried, but once blocking becomes a twitch-action, you’ll be uppercutting fools in no time. MKX as a fighter plays perfectly fine, but as a package, it feels gutted.
The Krypt returns in MKX, and is a bit more interactive than Mortal Kombat 9’s version. Walking around a graveyard, you come across kombatant’s signature items, solve puzzles, and spend koins you receive from winning battles or clearing challenges during tower runs. One piece of DLC is the ability to purchase everything in the Krypt for twenty dollars. This is a pricy option, especially considering that you can grind out every item in the Krypt by playing the game and customizing your player icon and banner to give koin bonuses. Other fighting games charge money to unlock costumes and the like, but most ask for challenges to be cleared to unlock the items without real money, not in-game currency that takes a long time to grind out. It feels like a free to play game’s strategy and it’s off-putting, but not game-breaking.
Other than the Krypt, the rest of MKX’s DLC is questionable at best. You can purchase Easy Fatalities, which lets you skip inputting a short code to perform a fatality at the end of a match. The Krypt spits these out at times, but you can pause and look at your move list to check what the fatality input is anyway, so these items are nearly worthless to begin with. DLC characters like Goro and Friday the 13th’s Jason Voorhees are fun additions, but feel sketchily removed from the base game. Goro was a pre-order bonus, and Jason was added just weeks after the game’s launch. Many future DLC characters are included in the main game’s story, such as Tanya, who is already confirmed for release in the coming weeks. The base game doesn’t include their variations, but it feels wrong seeing these character’s models in game and being told “you’ve gotta pay to play as them in a few months, see ya later!” Plus, paying for the season pass nets you characters a week early, which is somehow even grimier.
Speaking of grime, everything about MKX is suitably nasty. The classic Mortal Kombat gore-charm is here in full force, and if you can stomach it, the blood and guts explosions are just crazy enough to be inoffensive. Mortal Kombat prides itself in presenting a world that takes itself seriously and showing just how silly it can get. It’s an 80’s action movie and a grindhouse torture-porn flick, and MKX wants you to laugh along instead of shriek in fear. Comparisons to the Fast and Furious franchise and other self-aware movie series of late aren’t far off from the truth.
Mortal Kombat X is a hard game to recommend right now. If you’re going to get serious at the meta and attempt to dive into online play, I’d say go for it. If you’re interested in fighting games in general, I also recommend MKX there. There’s enough in the game to satiate diehard fans easily, but if you’re just itching to play through the story and mess with the characters, waiting for the eventual Game of the Year/all DLC included version would be your best bet. Most of this game’s problems can be lobbied at the publisher instead of the developer, which is a damn shame, since MKX could’ve easily been this year’s best fighting game otherwise.