COVER FEATU RE: MOR­TAL KOMBAT 11

HOW NETHERREAL­M IS DRAW­ING FROM ITS BLOODY AND GRUE­SOME PAST FOR MOR­TAL KOMBAT 11

XBox: The Official Magazine - - CONTENTS - Adam Bryant

When it comes to fight­ing games, no­body does them quite like NetherReal­m. From its spiner­ip­ping fa­tal­i­ties that’ll leave even the most hard­core splat­ter film en­thu­si­asts winc­ing in their seats, to the ac­ces­si­ble but hard-to-mas­ter com­bat, Mor­tal Kombat has al­ways stood out from the crowd.

The se­ries has long been a pop­u­lar choice among fight­ing game fans, and it is one of the most well­known videogame fran­chises of all time. In its 26year his­tory it’s even man­aged to spin-off out­side of videogames, with vary­ing de­grees of suc­cess in film, tele­vi­sion and comics. Now Mor­tal Kombat is back once again, and it looks like Xbox users are go­ing to be treated to the most grue­some, most bru­tal and most vis­ually shock­ing com­bat they’ve ever seen. Given NetherReal­m’s re­cent track record of fan­tas­tic fight­ing games, in­clud­ing the In­jus­tice se­ries, we know we’re go­ing to be en­ter­tained. Each game in the Mor­tal Kombat se­ries some­how man­ages to out-do the last in terms of com­bat and pure shock value, but the big ques­tion is, just how will the eleventh game be dif­fer­ent to any of the pre­vi­ous en­tries in the fran­chise?

Al­though con­vo­luted, the story of Mor­tal Kombat has be­come more of a fo­cus as the se­ries has gone on, and we’ve seen NetherReal­m’s nar­ra­tive ca­pa­bil­i­ties im­prove ex­po­nen­tially to what now seems like a dra­matic leap in qual­ity over the

pre­vi­ous games. The stu­dio set a new stan­dard when it came to telling a story in fight­ing games with In­jus­tice 2, and it seems that those same nar­ra­tive sen­si­bil­i­ties have been brought across to MK11. This is ev­i­dent from the cutscenes we’ve seen so far, which are de­li­ciously cin­e­matic. This is thanks to a com­bi­na­tion of su­perb di­rec­tion and ex­cep­tional mo­tion cap­ture.

There are al­ready a few things we know about the story thanks to the steady stream of in­for­ma­tion com­ing from the Kombat Kast streams, trail­ers, be­hind-the-scenes videos and with our own hands-on time with the game. But there’s also a cer­tain amount of spec­u­la­tion that we can make, based on the events that un­folded in the pre­vi­ous games.

A mat­ter of time

The story takes place di­rectly after the events of Mor­tal Kombat X, which saw the de­feat of the evil Elder God, Shin­nok. After his de­feat, thun­der god Raiden claimed Shin­nok’s amulet for him­self but got cor­rupted in the process. Al­though still on the side of

‘good’, Raiden is now more ruth­less in his pro­tec­tion of Earthrealm. But this is not how things were meant to be. At the be­gin­ning of Mor­tal Kombat (2011) al­most ev­ery sin­gle char­ac­ter in the MK uni­verse was killed, leav­ing only Raiden and Shao Kahn to fight one fi­nal bat­tle. With Raiden on the brink of death, he sent a mes­sage through time to his for­mer self in an at­tempt to avoid this fate and ap­par­ently suc­ceeded. But in do­ing so Raiden up­set the bal­ance of good and evil and tipped it to­wards the for­mer. This causes the Keeper of Time, Kronika, to step in and put things right by rewind­ing time and restart­ing it. Still fol­low­ing us? Well, let’s just say that you can ex­pect lots of dif­fer­ent time­lines and plenty of time travel in Mor­talKom­bat11. Through­out the story you’ll en­counter many dif­fer­ent in­ter­ac­tions be­tween young and old ver­sions of cer­tain char­ac­ters.

Kronika has ap­par­ently been af­fect­ing events in the MK uni­verse from the be­gin­ning and is be­ing touted as the first fe­male boss within the uni­verse, but is she re­ally the bad per­son in all this? Could it be that she’s just clean­ing up Raiden’s mess? What we do know is that by mess­ing around with time, it gives NetherReal­m a per­fect op­por­tu­nity to set right any of the nar­ra­tive wrongs of the past and start a new con­ti­nu­ity that ev­ery­one can keep track of.

Im­mor­tal kombat

As in­ter­est­ing as the story may seem, the real star of the show is the com­bat, which feels sub­stan­tially dif­fer­ent from the pre­vi­ous games. The team at NetherReal­m is ca­pa­ble of rein­vent­ing its work time and time again, so it’s no sur­prise that for its lat­est en­try it has in­tro­duced a new com­bat sys­tem and ad­justed the moves of the char­ac­ters to change the way you play.

For starters, the en­ergy me­ter has been sep­a­rated. Ini­tially, it al­lowed you to per­form spe­cial moves, in­clud­ing

“The team at NetherReal­m is ca­pa­ble of rein­vent­ing its work time and time again”

the X-ray moves, but now NetherReal­m has sep­a­rated them into two bars, one hor­i­zon­tal and one ver­ti­cal that line the cor­ners of the screen. These are de­voted to your of­fen­sive and de­fen­sive abil­i­ties. The X-ray moves them­selves have been re­placed with Killing Blows and Krush­ing Blows. The for­mer is trig­gered once your health drops be­low 30% and al­lows you to per­form a dev­as­tat­ing at­tack that can turn the tide of a fight, while the lat­ter is at­tached to a player’s spe­cial moves and is ac­ti­vated after sat­is­fy­ing a spe­cific con­di­tion in bat­tle. These can only be used once per match, but when you use them is up to you and will lead to some ex­cit­ing come­backs.

Even the odds

This is a sig­nif­i­cant change, par­tic­u­larly for on­line matches. Pre­vi­ously, play­ers who re­ally knew what they were do­ing would save their abil­i­ties un­til to­wards the end of a bat­tle, and those that didn’t would spend them too early, caus­ing a huge dis­ad­van­tage to new play­ers. This made on­line bat­tles far too pre­dictable. Now me­ters are split, you can pick and choose more care­fully as to how you want to fight and when you want to per­form the right moves.

NetherReal­m has also slowed down the com­bat some­what. Mor­tal Kombat X was fast and ag­gres­sive, which caused bat­tles to be­come hec­tic and lead to a lot of but­ton-bash­ing. It would also lead peo­ple to just rush down their op­po­nent, find­ing an open­ing and dom­i­nat­ing with a se­ries of com­bos, box­ing peo­ple in a cor­ner, and leav­ing lit­tle room for ever mak­ing a come­back.

“The X-ray moves have been re­placed with Killing Blows and Krush­ing Blows”

Fights es­sen­tially boiled down to who blinked first. For MK11, the com­bat is much more tac­ti­cal with each move be­ing more con­sid­ered. One way the team has achieved this is by sim­ply re­mov­ing the sprint abil­ity.

Old and new playable char­ac­ters will be mak­ing an ap­pear­ance. The ini­tial an­nounce­ment re­vealed Scor­pion, Sub Zero, Raiden, Sonya, Baraka, Skar­let, and new­est char­ac­ter, Geras, who serves Kronika and favours sand­based at­tacks. Like Kronika, he can manipu­late time, which is shown off in all its gory de­tail dur­ing one of his fa­tal­i­ties. Since then D’vo­rah, Jade, Kabal, Johnny and Cassie Cage, Liu Kang, and Kano are con­firmed, with oth­ers to be re­vealed be­fore the game’s re­lease. All char­ac­ters have new de­signs and out­fits.

Cus­tomi­sa­tion has been im­proved upon. In the pre­vi­ous game, you were only given three vari­a­tions for each char­ac­ter, each of which came with a dif­fer­ent set of moves. It seems that NetherReal­m has taken a leaf out of In­jus­tice 2’ s book and dou­bled down on cus­tomi­sa­tion, this time go­ing deeper and giv­ing you much more flex­i­bil­ity to cre­ate a more unique char­ac­ter. Not only can you cus­tomise your char­ac­ter cos­met­i­cally, but you can also change how they play. There are dif­fer­ent

“The com­bat is much more tac­ti­cal with each move be­ing more con­sid­ered”

pieces of gear to choose from, each with their own aug­ment slots which al­low you to boost your fight­ers’ stats. You can change in­tro and vic­tory an­i­ma­tions, as well as which fa­tal­i­ties, bru­tal­i­ties and endof-round taunts you wish to use. There’s also the op­tion to choose which spe­cial abil­i­ties you want your char­ac­ter to have as part of their moveset. There’s even an op­tion to de­cide on how a fighter would per­form as an AI char­ac­ter.

The MK se­ries has, with in­creased fre­quency, of­fered more to do out­side of the story and on­line modes. In MK11 the Tow­ers Of Time is a mode which lets you un­der­take timed mis­sions – some will be sim­ple and last for an hour, whereas at the op­po­site end you’ll find more dif­fi­cult feats that can take up to a week to achieve. This will be one of the ar­eas in which you can un­lock gear for your char­ac­ters.

You won’t have to wait long at all to see if this en­try will blast all the pre­vi­ous ti­tles out of the wa­ter, as the game will be re­leased next month. With so many im­prove­ments, both in the way that it looks and how it plays, we reckon this will be the best Mor­tal Kombat game ever. MK 11 ar­rives on 23 April 2019.

What makes story so im­por­tant to the team, where it’s more of­ten an af­ter­thought for fight­ing games?

We feel it is im­por­tant for the game to have dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ences. On­line player vs player, sin­gle-player tow­ers and story, all of­fer a dif­fer­ent feel and ex­pe­ri­ence to play­ers. Ad­di­tion­ally, the lore of Mor­tal Kombat is so rich with sto­ries and strong char­ac­ters. We en­joy, and hope the play­ers en­joy, the sto­ry­telling the game can do through the

ro­bust story mode ex­pe­ri­ence.

The time­line gets kind of com­pli­cated after all these games, how did you ap­proach keep­ing the story fresh for

Mor­tal Kombat 11? The gen­eral ap­proach to story was to make sure that it ex­panded both the depth and breadth of our uni­verse by in­tro­duc­ing in­trigu­ing new char­ac­ters and places. Most no­table is new our new boss, Kronika, and her hour­glass. Through them we learn of the much larger bat­tle be­ing waged in the MK uni­verse. The depth of the MK uni­verse has been ex­panded by giv­ing our char­ac­ters’ his­to­ries and re­la­tion­ships new di­men­sion. The game’s story mode, in-game di­a­logue and the in­di­vid­ual tower end­ings all work to­gether to deepen our un­der­stand­ing of who our char­ac­ters are and why they fight.

How do you ap­proach try­ing to one-up your­selves on Fa­tal­i­ties with each game?

That is al­ways a fun chal­lenge. There has been such an awe­some his­tory of the char­ac­ters’ Fa­tal­i­ties. There are al­ways a few emails that go out to the en­tire team to, “Please, send in your Fa­tal­ity ideas!” With a large stu­dio, that gen­er­ates a lot of great ideas. Then a smaller group does some fil­ter­ing, or­gan­is­ing and more brain­storm­ing. They look for as many brand-new ideas as they can. They also look back at old Fa­tal­i­ties and see if there is any ho­mage that can be done with our newer tech­nol­ogy that can be awe­some fan-ser­vice.

How do you go about de­cid­ing which char­ac­ters make it in and which don’t?

That is a harder and longer process than I think peo­ple would imag­ine be­cause there are so many fac­tors to ac­count for. Who was in the last game? What does the story need? Who hasn’t been in a game for a while? Who have the fans been clam­our­ing for the most? Who are the must-haves for this game? Who does the de­sign team have game­play ideas for al­ready? Who do the artists have ideas for al­ready? Are we look­ing to bring any new char­ac­ters into the MK uni­verse? Do we have enough he­roes? Do we have enough ‘evil’ char­ac­ters? Just get­ting those lists to­gether is al­ways more char­ac­ters than could fit into a game, so we have to cut it down and make some hard choices be­cause there are so many char­ac­ters we all want to be in the game. I think fans would go crazy if they could see Ed Boon’s spread­sheet of that process.

On that note, how do you han­dle bring­ing new char­ac­ters into the fold? Are cer­tain things di­alled up to make them more ap­peal­ing?

The most im­por­tant part about bring­ing

new char­ac­ters into the MK uni­verse is mak­ing sure they feel like they have been a part of the uni­verse all along. We don’t want them to feel any dif­fer­ent than the rest of the es­tab­lished char­ac­ters. We do try and give new char­ac­ters me­chan­ics that haven’t ex­isted be­fore, but still have that MK feel. Take our new char­ac­ter Geras for ex­am­ple, he can ac­tu­ally take time off the match timer, add time to the match timer and even rewind time. This is some­thing we have never done be­fore, but all still fits in the MK uni­verse.

There are lots of changes to the core fight­ing for Mor­tal Kombat 11 – what’s been your goal this time around? What ‘feel’ is the team go­ing for?

The big changes we made to the core fight­ing me­chan­ics for MK11 were sep­a­rat­ing the play­ers’ me­ter and hav­ing Fa­tal Blows not re­quire me­ter. Be­fore, the player was forced to man­age one bar of me­ter for both of­fen­sive and de­fen­sive at­tacks. By sep­a­rat­ing the me­ters, play­ers can break out of a combo and still have me­ter to am­plify spe­cial at­tacks. The player also re­gains me­ter over time, it no longer re­quires the player to take or re­ceive dam­age to fill up their me­ter. Fa­tal Blows are sim­i­lar to X-ray moves that we had in Mor­tal Kombat X, how­ever they no longer re­quire the player to use me­ter. Be­fore, play­ers were re­quired to de­cide on whether to use their me­ter to per­form an X-ray, combo break­ers or to en­hance spe­cial moves. Fa­tal Blows can only hap­pen when the player’s health reaches be­low 30%, and it can only be used once per match, it’s re­ally a nice come­back fea­ture that can tilt the match in ei­ther di­rec­tion if you can land it.

How much do you, or are you able to, take on-board fan re­quests and in­clude things at the sug­ges­tion of the com­mu­nity?

MK I think the fans in­flu­ence the game more than they re­alise. How­ever, not when they think they are. For ex­am­ple, when MKX came out we paid a tonne of at­ten­tion to fan re­sponse and feed­back, same with In­jus­tice 2, and so many de­ci­sions the stu­dio made about MK11 were in­flu­enced by fan re­sponses to past games. We even had fo­cus tests done with our pre­vi­ous games to ask spe­cific ques­tions of the fans to help in­flu­ence de­ci­sions for the new­est game. Most things fans ask for and want can’t be ac­com­plished in a day, so there is just a bit more lead time on things. Like, if you tweet at Ed Boon (@noobde) to­day about a char­ac­ter you want in MK11, it’s too late for the on-disc ros­ter for sure, but maybe DLC.

Does this game fea­ture a Krypt? What can we ex­pect from it?

Yes, there will be a Krypt! You can ex­pect it to be fun. I don’t want to over­sell it, for sure, but I think it’ll be a nice sur­prise to the play­ers when they see the di­rec­tion the Krypt has taken in this game.

“We try and give new char­ac­ters me­chan­ics that haven’t ex­isted be­fore but still have that MK feel”

Are there any other game modes in­cluded within the game?

I some­times for­get every­thing we’ve al­ready an­nounced, but I know I can say this. Yes, be­cause we plan to keep adding to the game and sup­port­ing the game well after launch. The fea­tures planned to be added to the game even in the first cou­ple months are pretty awe­some. There is more com­ing.

Fi­nally, who is your favourite char­ac­ter to play with? And do you have a par­tic­u­lar set up for that char­ac­ter?

Favourite char­ac­ters are al­ways tough. I’ve been a Goro guy since Mor­tal Kombat: De­cep­tion, I was a Liu Kang guy be­fore that. In Mor­tal Kombat 11, I’m again lean­ing to­ward Liu Kang, but the fi­nal game­play pol­ish is not on the char­ac­ters yet and some oth­ers are also in con­tention, al­though I can­not say who, as some are not an­nounced yet!

be­low Stabby blood mage Skar­let de­buted in 2011’s Mor­tal Kombat re­boot.

Sub Zero and Scor­pion there, both show­boat­ing their iconic pow­ers. Above

Johnny’s daugh­ter, Cassie Cage also re­turns for Mor­tal Kombat 11.

Raiden’s a naughty boy in this time­line, which ex­plains the red thun­der. Top ABOVEThe mu­tant Baraka has blades in his arms, kind of like a more an­gry and toothy Wolver­ine.

be­lowCy­ber­netic Black Dragon mer­ce­nary, and all-round a-hole, Kano re­turns in MK11.

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