STAFF REVIEW of Mortal Kombat 1 (Xbox Series X)

Thursday, October 5, 2023.
by Brent Roberts

Mortal Kombat 1 Box art In today's world it seems like everything is getting some type of "multiverse" treatment. In true Oprah-like fashion, the same can now be said officially for Mortal Kombat 1. We dear gamers were together as we climbed the various numbers leading up to 10 (X) and even 11, but now? Now we start back at 1 due to a completely redesigned timeline. It's this blank canvas that developer NetherRealm tries to paint the next future for the Mortal Kombat series. In their design for the future, however, it seems like they focused on the phrase "less is more". In today's gaming arena though, is it wise to uproot literally everything and start from a small seed again? Let's find out.

As we begin our warrior's path, let's talk about the story of Mortal Kombat 1. In Mortal Kombat 11 you had a choice of whether or not you let Shang Tsung or Liu Kang be victorious. Now it goes without saying that the endings varied greatly depending on who you chose to be your champion, however Mortal Kombat 1 focuses on your choices on the Liu Kang side of the koin. The story is very well designed and speaks to the reboot very well. While some of the reality poses more questions than it answers, the cinematics make every moment of the game one enjoyable moment after another. It should be mentioned though that Liu Kang isn't the only one that can manipulate time. Shang Tsung can also wield the power of time and corrupt it beyond imagination.

This is thanks, in part, to Mortal Kombat 1's perception of time. Rather than a flowing stream carrying with it the very existence of everything, now we face numerous, almost countless time streams. At points in time, it almost makes me feel like Loki with all the different timelines. While the story is very well written and explained in a method that makes some of the most sense out of any multiverse expansion, as you begin the game you will start to feel like Mortal Kombat 1 is missing something and that would be found in the fighter count and their new kameo system.

In an effort to spice up the kombat of the game, NetherRealm studios has a pseudo tag team kombat aspect called Kameo. This Kameo element allows for momentary combat by another character. For example, you can play as Liu Kang and perform his dragon kick, and when the opponent goes flying back you can trigger Scorpion to appear and do some upward fire breath attack to help initiate a stagger, which will lead to a juggle opportunity and kombo extensions which deal more damage. Mortal Kombat 1 though does offer an in-game balancing system, so if you're caught in the middle of a juggle and can't get out, it's going to be OK because while you may be spammed in a 60 hit kombo, the game starts to negate a percentage of the damage every time till it's virtually nothing. This was a great way to keep things as balanced as possible and allowed for the concept of long, strung together kombos, but also giving hope to the opponent and a chance for redemption.

Each one of these Kameo fighters though have with them their own brutality and fatality, and this is in part to the new character progression system. Rather than go into the Krypt (which is now gone) and spend your koins, you have to play matches with your fighter to level them up, and in doing so, unlock new fatalities and brutalities. One thing I was missing though were the friendships and other unique things that Mortal Kombat would provide. Also, in the past there were tons of different fatalities, though now in Mortal Kombat 1 there are only a couple along with the brutalities. Other changes to the combat to offset the sparse fighter lineup and the upgrade system payouts would be the newly included air kombo system that we haven't seen in almost 20 years.

Each of the 23 characters can go up in levels as high as 35 and rank 15 for the 15 Kameo fighters and you have to almost ask yourself why? Throughout the level-up process, you unlock a lot more kosmetic items than anything, but why the 20-level difference between regular and Kameo fighters? When you take into account the sheer number of XP you will need to get to level 35 (315,000 total) you are in for an incredible grind for kosmetic items (all characters have the same path to level up and same number of fatalities and brutalities to unlock along the way).

Here's what the kombat grind looks like: In the invasion mode (more on this down below), there is a battle where you have to fight 3 opponents one after another. Should you get a triple flawless victory and end with a brutality, you will walk away with 1130 XP for your main fighter and 315 for your Kameo. How much is it to get to level 15 with your kameo fighter? Why it's 60,000 XP, and if you can earn max XP at 315 for your kameo fighter and repeating this triple endurance battle 279 times to max out your main character.

The grind has just become real. To compensate for that, Mortal Kombat 1 has instituted a new game mode called Invasion. This game follows up on the main story and should be played afterward to understand what is going on. Will playing Invasion mode first spoil the story? Absolutely not. To condense Invasion without giving too much away, imagine a map with a predetermined path laid out with numerous turns, and all of which navigated in a point-by-point manner. Each point along the path equates to some type of kombat. From test your might, to survival, towers and just a single kombat, the types of fighting options at your disposal are vastly limited. While the premise is cool, by the time you go through four massive levels which consist of over 30 fights (not to mention the ambush fights that surprise you along the way or the secret fights that can happen after you complete your first fight), the novelty of this becomes more of a chore than anything.

That's not to say that Invasion doesn't offer its own internal system and story. Each Invasion season is supposed to be one part of a random timeline and there's a story that coincides with it. In this current story, Scorpion is searching for a timeline where his beloved wife is still alive. After endless searches that came up empty, he found one where she was alive, but Hanzo was not. Therefore, she has taken up the mantle of the Scorpion and together they are on a quest for vengeance. After the time has expired on the Invasion season, another one will start, but the game became tremendously monotonous and highly repetitive due to the character upgrade aspect of Invasion.

Not only will leveling up your character unlock kostumes and a couple other ways to kill your opponent, but you can earn character points where you can invest them into various aspects. Here's a tip; I sank every single point I had earned into attack which made my regular attacks (uppercuts included) vastly more powerful. While your other stats will naturally level up with you, if you pour your main point amounts (10 per level) into your regular attacks, you literally become an unstoppable force where the only challenges you may face are the end boss of Invasion. This also helps when you realize you have to fight over 275 times to max out your character, you want those battles to be quick, very quick.

Going through Invasion though, with such a limited roster really makes it feel light on the kombat. When you take into account that a majority of the time you won't be hearing any type of character interaction at all, you start to wonder why? Why not have Babalities and Friendships again? Why would you lessen the number of fatalities and brutalities that characters can have? Why would you not have more innovative style matches in Invasion mode? Why would you remove all this past content without giving it a restart as well? This I feel was Mortal Kombat 1's biggest fault. They have what could arguably be the most in-depth fighting system, and while some may argue "same ninja, different color, different moves", and while they would be right, the dynamic of the different moves created a new fighting experience never seen before.

Some of the other changes I’m not too fond of either. These would be the removal of the Krypt, and instead now you get this gold melting dragon that you apparently put 1,000 koins into it, and it melts it down into some item for you. Whether it be some koncept artwork, another kostume, or some other item, you basically have to earn enough koins to continuously feed them into the dragon to get the item you hope to get. This can and will become very tedious, especially when you note the incredible delay in between each round. This means spend your koins frequently because if you stockpile them like I did, you will find yourself just sitting there endlessly pressing the button to melt your gold into some pointless item.

Speaking of pointless, why would you not include cross konsole fighting at launch? With today's hot word of the moment being interconnectivity, it should be priority one with any developer to make sure that your audience can connect with each other and enjoy your product (insert sarcasm here). Nothing brings gamers together like dividing them, and that is exactly what we have here unfortunately. Thankfully they said it would come post launch, but when? It was never mentioned.

I have to touch on one massive plus that Mortal Kombat 1 has going for it, and that is the sound and graphics. As the previous Mortal Kombat games have pushed graphic fidelity into new heights, Mortal Kombat 1 continues that tradition. The character modeling is absolutely stunning, and when you start talking about the fatal blow animations, they still will make you wince and go "oooooooooo" and cheer wildly when you connect for a game winning blow to setup an incredibly gory fatality. NetherRealm studios has gone above and beyond all graphic expectations to ensure smooth frame rates which permeates deep into the game's cinematic experience that truly makes for a wonderful journey.

Ultimately, Mortal Kombat 1 delivers a quality story that is rarely found in fighting games and one that naturally allows for many years of stories to be told. It can't be overlooked though the number of shortcomings that unfortunately plague this game, which is disappointing. If less is more than please NetherRealm, give us more. More kontent, more kreativity. This should be the one that starts it all over again, but unfortunately Mortal Kombat 1 feels like a step backwards rather than forwards. Despite all that though, despite the lack of content and all the shortcomings, Mortal Kombat 1 is an incredibly fun, gory, and fluid fighting game that should be enjoyed by all the fans of the fighting game genre. It may not have a lot of kontent, but what it does have is exceptional.

**Mortal Kombat 1 was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

More of everything. You have the kontent. Use it.

Overall: 8.5 / 10
Gameplay: 8.5 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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