Thanks to the temporal manipulations of a powerful new foe, past and present versions of iconic heroes and villains collide in Mortal Kombat 11’s story mode. It’s easily the most entertaining tale the series has ever told, and it leaves the future of the franchise open to exciting possibilities.
When we last left our heroes (or as close as people who viciously tear other people apart during fighting tournaments can be to heroes), they had the forces of evil on the run. Mortal Kombat X ended after Cassie Cage, daughter of actor Johnny Cage and special forces general Sonya Blade, had soundly defeated the villainous Shinnok. Thunder god Raiden, in a vicious turn, severed Shinnok’s head and delivered it to his minions, revenant (undead and evil) Liu Kang and Kitana, as a warning of their fate should they ever threaten Earthrealm again. And everyone lived happily ever after.
Only, of course, they didn’t. Mild spoilers ahead.
As Mortal Kombat 11 opens, newly-promoted commanding officer Cassie Cage leads Earthrealm’s special forces on a raid of Shinnok’s Bone Temple, aiming to put an end to the revenant threat once and for all. The mission is a success and the temple is destroyed, but Cassie’s mother, Sonya, winds up sacrificing herself so her squad can escape.
As revenant Liu Kang and Kitana ponder their fate in front of the ruins of their evil lair, a new challenger appears.
She is the goddess Kronika, the Keeper of Time. With a wave of her hand, she rebuilds Shinnok’s temple, demonstrating the vast power at her disposal. Kronika has beef with Raiden, whose constant interference has ruined the balance she seeks to maintain in the universe. Also, Kronika is Shinnok’s mom, and Raiden reducing her son to a powerless yet everliving severed head rubbed her the wrong way. She plans to roll back history and reboot the universe, with a few major changes. The most significant change? No more Raiden.
Kronika’s plot begins with a timequake. Harnessing the power of the sands of time, she merges portions of the past with the present. A sandstorm erupts at special forces HQ, where Cassie, Johnny Cage and Jacqui Briggs are recovering from their tragic mission. From swirling dust emerge younger versions of Johnny, Sonya Blade and Jacqui’s father, Jax. Modern-day Raiden, also present, dissolves into nothingness.
Meanwhile, in Outworld, leader Kotal Kahn is holding an execution, only to have it rudely interrupted by the arrival of a vast number of young Mortal Kombatants. Former Outworld leader Shao Kahn arrives, and he’s not happy about no longer being in power.
Then comes a younger, less brutal version of Raiden, along with living versions of Liu Kang, Kitana, Jade and Kung Lao. According to the Thunder God, the group were in the middle of the tournament from 2011’s Mortal Kombat, with Kung Lao having just defeated the sorcerers Shang Tsung and Quan Chi.
And so the stage is set for one of the most exciting and entertaining Mortal Kombat stories ever. Through 12 chapters, each featuring four or five actual fights, characters from throughout the series’ history are given a chance to shine. Characters that never quite got their due, like Shao Kahn’s “adopted” daughter, Kitana, come into their own in spectacular fashion. The series’ original hero, Liu Kang, gets another shot at heroism.
The voice acting is almost uniformly outstanding. The facial animations are just as good as they were in Netherrealm’s previous game, Injustice 2. Best of all, the writing adds depth and character to individuals who previously came across as nothing more than vessels for attitude and fighting moves.
By far the greatest example of this is the contrast between young Johnny Cage and his older, wiser version. In Mortal Kombat X it was hard to see just how much the young, brash and self-centered Cage had grown. In Mortal Kombat 11 we get to see the two side by side, and it is night and day. Older Cage knows love and loss. He’s a father and a husband.
Younger Johnny is none of that. So when, during a sweet moment during the story, old Johnny looks a young Sonya wistfully, remembering his recently-departed wife, his counterpart comments, “As younger you, I solemnly swear to tap that at my earliest convenience.”
Of course, that leads to a fight, and never before has one guy kicking his own ass felt so satisfying.
Younger Johnny: “Dad always said, ‘hungry people eat lunch, humble people serve it.’”
Older Johnny: “Dad was an asshole, and Hollywood made us an even bigger one.”
Mortal Kombat 11’s story mode is filled with wonderful little moments like that. Sonya Blade facing off against not one but two Kanos. Young, living Liu Jang and Kung Lao teaming up like some sort of Shaolin Monk buddy cop show. Kotal Kahn’s brutal, unforgiving leadership of Outworld softened by the return of his beloved Jade. There are “aws.” There are gasps. There are cheers and even, on a few occasions, sniffles. It’s a lot more emotional engagement than I ever expected from a Mortal Kombat story.
I won’t spoil the official ending of Mortal Kombat 11’s story mode, but I will say that it leaves the franchise in a place where absolutely anything could happen in Mortal Kombat 12. As the final chapter finished and the credits rolled, I was more excited for the future of the franchise than I’ve been in ages. From 2011’s Mortal Kombat and its two sequels and the Injustice games, Netherrealm Studios has become the best storytellers in the fighting game scene. I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.