There was a time when it seemed Mortal Kombat had enjoyed all its days in the sun, but as the recent entry/reboot proved, that time has ended. And just as one successful fighting game deserves another, NetherRealm Studios is back, bringing the classic series characters and plenty of new ones to next-gen platforms in Mortal Kombat X. After playing it at E3 2014, the series looks poised to keep its momentum moving forward for the foreseeable future.
A few things became clear when Mortal Kombat X was unveiled prior to E3 officially kicking off: first, that the game would indeed be more beautiful than ever, and that it would also be just as brutally violent and graphic as fans have come to expect. When lengthy gameplay revealed two brand new characters, fans knew that this was just the beginning.
When we got a chance to play the game, the developers on hand confirmed that this entry will boast more original fighters than any previous, and the ones already shown pack serious potential.
The one new character most likely to gain the attention of longtime fans (and helps establish the premise of the overall game) is none other than Cassie Cage – the daughter of series veterans Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade. With Mortal Kombat X set as far as twenty-five years after the previous installment, Cassie has returned to the tournament for reasons that are not yet clear. But when the fight starts, Cassie embodies elements of both of her parents.
Whether it’s Sonya’s acrobatic attacks or Johnny’s attitude, the developers haven’t just packed in nods to the fan base, but have used the recognizable fighting styles to show off another new feature added to the game: combat styles. The extra dimension isn’t totally unheard of for the series, but the presentation this time around is much clearer. Upon selecting a fighter, players will have the chance to choose between three variations for each.
In the case of Cassie, the choice of her ‘Hollywood,’ ‘Spec Ops’ and ‘Brawler’ variants lets players choose whether they want to embrace the swagger (and ‘Nutcracker’ attack) of Cassie’s father, or come equipped with dual pistols or takedowns. There won’t be enough time to measure them all before the game launches, but the depth implied by these extra tweaks is more than promising.
The youngest Cage was not the only new fighter detailed in our play session, with the physically-imposing Kotal Kahn proving just as intriguing. Presumably a descendant/relative of series icon Shao Kahn (although the NetherRealm representatives would not confirm), Kotal is designed with an Aztec style, with optional attacks to match.
Where Cassie’s swappable movesets changes her attacks or some animations, Kotal’s pack the potential to completely change the character’s strategy in combat. Whether entering the fight with weapon in hand as his ‘War God’ variant, or the ‘Sun God’ abilities allowing him to strip health from his opponent, Kotal Kahn is one character sure to be debated among fans for some time (not just for his devastating Fatality).
The same could be said for the insect-like D’Vorah, the subject of some of the most disturbing (and impressive) gameplay footage that has been shown thus far. With variants relying more or less on her human/insect abilities, D’Vorah could have been the new fighter most likely to be talked about if it wasn’t for the enigmatic Ferra/Torr. Technically a single fighter, it is actually a pair of partners: Torr, the musclebound monster throwing the punches, and Ferra, the young girl riding his back.
Claimed by NetherRealm to be the “most ambitious” fighter the studio has created to date, audiences got a chance to see Ferra/Torr’s unique fighting style in the first gameplay trailer. Two of the three variants have Forr using Ferra as a literal weapon, also allowing her to attack on her own before returning to Torr’s shoulders. There is also a variant allowing Torr to fight on his own, but the developers claim that mode will not be…”wise” for all players.
Yet across all fighters, variants and locations, the next-gen visuals of the game are hard to overlook. Whether it’s the swelling seas bringing the backgrounds to life (with massive ships reacting to forceful attacks), or elderly citizens strolling through a dusty market as combatants fight inches away, a few lessons learned with Injustice: Gods Among Us are visible.
That isn’t to say that the two franchise will begin to overlap in any meaningful way – since the developers urge that is not the case. Where interactive environments in Injustice could change the entire identity of a fight, the background elements of Mortal Kombat X are nowhere near as powerful. Either leaping off of background objects, or even throwing said elderly people as projectiles, the extra interactivity will be used primarily for traversal; escaping an attack, or launching one with some extra flair.
For those who take that as bad news, NetherRealm did experiment with moving the fight from one location to another – or adding over-the-top cinematics – but ultimately decided that what worked for superheroes is out of place for MK. It’s not the only sign that the developer has nailed down their priorities, with series mascot Scorpion now resembling an actual ninja, losing the “over-designed” costume of the previous game.
The overall impression left by our time with the game was that more time would be needed to master each fighter’s nuance and style (something which could be said of any fighting game this early). However, the game played far better, smoother, and more visually impressive than its 2015 release date might imply. If NetherRealms plans to use the remaining time to give each character such a detailed incarnation – or simply keep their fans in suspense – then the overall game will be better for it.
As it stands, Mortal Kombat X is shaping up to be the step forward upon the franchise’s new path that fans would both hope for, and expect.
Mortal Kombat X will release in 2015 on Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4, and PC.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.