Mortal Kombat X: what does a modern fighting game look like?

By Sherif Saed, Thursday, 16 April 2015 08:36 GMT

Mortal Kombat continues to evolve as NetherRealm adds RPG systems and daily challenges to a solid fighting game, says Sherif Saed.

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“Mortal Kombat X takes many cues from games like Destiny, Call of Duty, and GTA Online with hourly, daily and weekly events.”

For as many of its familiar facets, Mortal Kombat X has enough innovation that it’s hard not to call it a next-gen fighting game.

But what does that even mean? I struggled for a while with the term “next-gen game”. I never thought it told me anything about any game, until I played Mortal Kombat X.

I’ve been playing a lot of games that are pretty much rooted in the same genre: shooters. There are some permutations here and there or a change of perspective, but it always ends being about shooting people in the face, with however many different trappings each developer chooses to include. I only realised what the term really meant when I played a fighting game, something that couldn’t be more different from a shooter.

Mortal Kombat X goes big on stats, reputation meters, bars filing up with XP, boosts, and even microtransactions with in-game benefits – however minor. All of which may sound off-putting when you first hear of them in a fighting game. But playing it made me realise how inescapable – and necessary – these RPG mechanics have become.

Mortal Kombat X takes many cues from games like Destiny, Call of Duty, and GTA Online. You have hourly, daily and weekly events. They do not all host similar content either. Sure, it’s all just fighting at its core, but the ridiculous number of modifier and modifier combinations you end up with will make sure you never run into similar matches.

These events are worked into the classic Tower system, but because they’re always changing, they’ve aptly named them ‘Living Towers’. Each tower will have different types of events too, some involve just fighting, others mix in Test your Might or Test your Luck. There’s also the Premier Towers, which will have a predetermined character and will let you play as that character even if you don’t own it. Right now it’s Goro, which not everyone has because it was locked as a pre-order bonus. But later, it could be Jason, for instance.

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“The faction system is new to the game but sadly never becomes more than a novelty.”

Whatever mode you play, you’re going to be earning account XP and faction XP. The faction system is new to the game but sadly never becomes more than a novelty. You can align yourself with one of five factions once a week and some of your XP will go towards that faction. Faction kills, which are a new type of Fatality, will also contribute. I never cared who wins and I am not sure losing a lot of online games helps my faction.

The same thinking carries over to your user card, which in the previous game was just for show. It will now net you certain boosts depending on what icons you choose to slap on it. Experience boosts, faction reputation boosts, and plenty more can be attached to it, though you many end up with an ugly looking one as a result.

Even core Mortal Kombat concepts like Fatalities have been changed. There’s the now infamous easy Fatalities and the fact that some of them have been locked behind opening the right chest or breaking the right tombstone in the Krypt. If you play the game daily, you’ll end up with enough Koins to unlock around 7-10 tombstones.

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Mortal Kombat X borrows more than just persistence from modern games though. It’s a faster game than its predecessor, but more accessible at the same time. The game now features a run button. The ‘Zoning’ style of play has been greatly reduced, because you now have much better aid to help you escape a zone.

Because of that, a stamina meter has been added, separated into two chunks, and recharges over time when depleted. If you run or break a combo, you’ll start to deplete it. Breakers are more of a commitment now as a result, because they will cost you half the meter as well as two sections from the Super meter.

“Fights flow much faster than Mortal Kombat 9, or any other Mortal Kombat game for that matter.”

Mix all of that together, and you end up with fights that flow much faster than Mortal Kombat 9, or any other Mortal Kombat game for that matter. Part of that is due to how smooth and well-coupled together animations are, which appear much more natural in motion than they did in the older games.

I found myself almost always using the run button when I feel my opponent is about to spam a ranged attack, or if I want to set up my follow up faster when they wake up. I could fuck it up though – they could wake up and quickly land a hit and I would have less of a fighting chance because my stamina meter is low. Wake up invincibility appears to have either been removed, or greatly reduced. It almost feels like the character waking up gains some armour for a few milliseconds to prevent infinite stun locks.

Anyone who played Injustice: Gods Among Us and thought the stage interactables were a bit much will be happy to know that they’ve been greatly reduced. What’s more, using any of them depletes a portion of your stamina meter, meaning you can’t spam them. If all of that wasn’t enough, you can turn them off any time.

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All of this will “click” as soon as you get a couple of games in. Having three different style variations for each character helps expand this even further. You no longer have to abandon a character because their fighting style relied on attacks you couldn’t pull off or maintain. The new system won’t magically turn a keep-away character into a rush-down one, but it will diversify each character’s movesets enough that it effectively increases the roster count.

Whether you play fighting games occasionally or bet money at EVO, all of the changes in Mortal Kombat X will affect you. In a sense, Mortal Kombat X is the most accessible fighting game to date. But that doesn’t mean much when you consider that the series has always been of the pickup-and-play style. Only time will tell if it has that competitive appeal other games, or even older iterations, have.

These impressions are based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game.

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