Last weekend, a lucky few received an invitation to participate in an online stress test for the Mortal Kombat 11 servers. This is in anticipation of when the full beta goes live for March 28 – 31. During this time players could compete in non-ranked online matches and customize costumes and move sets of the three available characters: Scorpion, Baraka, and Skarlet.
First off, it has to be stated how absolutely gorgeous this game looks. NetherRealm always outdoes itself in the visuals department, but MK11 looks amazing in motion. Character models are highly detailed and expressive, the stages look great and exude atmosphere, and the facial animation work is top notch. It is amazing how far NetherRealm has come in their facial animations, especially with their female characters, as anyone who played Injustice 2 can tell you. Yikes.
Each character has three pieces available for customization, as will be the same in the main game. For example, Scorpion’s mask, katana, and kunai could be changed. Similar to in Mortal Kombat X, each character also has three different move set variations that each support a different kind of play style. Your available moves will change depending on your variation, but you are able to add moves on top of this using ability points.
Each character has a certain number of ability points and slots available. Some moves only cost 1 ability point, while more powerful ones cost 2 and take up 2 slots. This can drastically change how a character plays, and the perfect example was given in the stress test.
Almost all of Scorpion’s strings are unsafe on block, making it very dangerous for Scorpion to throw out moves willy nilly. But by adding a move that lets Scorpion cancel his normals by drawing his sword and allowing you to use follow-up moves, block, etc., he immediately becomes a far better character. This will not affect online ranked matches or tournaments though, as similarly to with Injustice 2, these customizable variations have the option to be turned off. It will be interesting to see the moves available to each character through customization, and hopefully MK11 will avoid Injustice 2’s problem of having extremely broken move sets available through customization.
Smooth online play
The reason for a stress test existing, however, is to test the stability of online play. If my experience with this stress test is any indication of how well the online play will perform once the game launches, we are in for a treat. Throughout my almost 100 matches over the course of three days, I encountered virtually zero lag or stuttering. Every match I played was almost flawless.
It appears that there may be a few frames of lag built into the game’s online play, and this combined with the already slower speed of the game overall makes for a very pleasurable online experience. I never once felt cheated out of a combo, or that I dropped something I should have landed, or any of the typical pitfalls associated with playing fighting games online. If nothing changes in this regard, I believe we may have a contender for the best online experience of any fighter out there right now, right alongside the greats like Killer Instinct and Street Fighter III: Third Strike Online Edition.
Slower, more thoughtful kombat
In terms of actual gameplay, Mortal Kombat 11 feels much more slowed down than Mortal Kombat X was, and characters feel much heavier than they did in that game. I say all this though as a complete positive. Deep into MKX’s lifecycle, the game became far too fast and far too dependent on extended juggle combos and resets into compromising positions in neutral. MK11 feels closer to Street Fighter in that much more focus is put into spacing and footsies. In turn, more emphasis goes into how players approach instead of going ham on the run button and closing in. MK11 feels like a cross between Mortal Kombat II and Street Fighter II with its slower, more purposeful characters and focus on zoning and spacing.
This doesn’t mean that there are no combos in MK11 though — far from it in fact. You can still perform extended juggle combos by meter burning special moves and keeping the opponent in the air. The difference, however, is that these combos do not last forever and do not end the match after two solid hits. While combos may not be long, more importantly, they feel satisfying. Each meter burn special and follow-up string feels crunchy and satisfying to land. Combos in general are also easier to perform, but not by having simplified move lists like in Smash Bros. or Rising Thunder. Rather, simplicity comes by making cancels and strings far more fluid to perform, as opposed to the stiff animations in MKX.
Some little problems remain
There are a few signs of trouble in the gameplay for Mortal Kombat 11 though. The biggest is that air escapes, performed by pressing down + R2 on PS4, are replacements for the more traditional breakers in MK9 and MKX, and air escapes are exceptionally good. Costing both bars of your defensive meter, air escapes let you drop out of a combo mid-juggle, letting you recover and escape receiving extra damage. But with MK11 being a slower game overall, it is possible to air escape and recover fast enough so that you can punish your opponent while they are still in the recovery frames of their own combo. This means that you can actively punish your opponent for landing a combo on you, and that doesn’t seem quite fair. For example, if you air escape while Scorpion is comboing you and he uses his spear attack mid-combo to extend, you can easily punish him while he is in the recovery of his spear attack.
The other problem that faces MK11 is its perfect guard system. Similar to in games like BlazBlue: Central Fiction, perfect guard rewards players for successfully blocking an attack with perfect timing by giving them extra frames of advantage. Normally this is a high-execution skill that requires a quick opponent with even quicker reflexes. In MK11 though, the timing for perfect guards is far easier than in other games with a similar function, and what this means is that players can make safe strings unsafe with a much easier push of a button than they normally should. The fear is that this, combined with the aforementioned air escapes, will make high-level MK11 matches extremely boring and safe, as players will be too afraid to press a button and initiate their offense.
While this is troubling, the reason I am not too worried is that NetherRealm is great at listening to their fans and taking feedback. Since these issues are largely agreed upon by the player base, it stands to reason that NRS can fix these problems before the game’s beta at the end of the month. Plus, it should be a simple fix; make the air escapes a touch slower, and decrease the timing window in which perfect guards can be used. Fixing these two issues will improve MK11’s overall gameplay dramatically and help extend the game’s competitive lifecycle.
All in all, the Mortal Kombat 11 stress test was a blast. With a few minor tweaks made to smooth out some bumps in the gameplay, we may be on our way to seeing the best iteration of Mortal Kombat to date.