A Season of Kombat.

Fighting games! It's a genre I've long enjoyed, but usually in the context of just playing through the single player content, whether that be a story, challenge modes, or what have you, and then if I'm lucky, playing a decent amount with friends, locally. At least that was the case when I was young. I had a small circle of friends, but we all loved playing stuff like SoulCalibur II, Smash Bros. Melee, and, well, it was really just those two. Because these things change, and at some point the friends who I played these sorts of games with drifted away, and my interest in fighting games kinda waned along with it.

SoulClibur IV didn't hold my interest for long, I enjoyed playing Brawl more than I did Melee, but I didn't have the friends to give it the longevity, and Marvel vs. Capcom 3 was a game I enjoyed, but in the end probably didn't play nearly enough of to justify buying it for full price. That's why I ended up waiting for a heavy discount on Dragonball FighterZ last year, because I knew I was buying it for the novelty of the licensed characters I love, and less because I expected a long term game play experience.

But then there's Mortal Kombat. For whatever reason, whether it's the kombat itself, or the appeal of the gruesome fatalities, this ended up being one franchise I could count on to give me a lot of fun with people I'm still friends with outside the scope of the internet. Now granted, it's not just this, we did also have a lot of fun with Smash Bros. for Wii U, at least until one person (not me) got so good at it, and refused to play any other character than the one he was best with, that the rest of us stopped having fun, and we stopped playing altogether. But Mortal Kombat, again, it just clicked with us, and continued to do so over the last few games.

Three games, specifically, as the 2011 reboot was where I jumped on. I did play, and enjoy Injustice 1, but never got around to playing the sequel. But now, as one might guess, I've been playing Mortal Kombat 11. Like the last two, it still has the best in fighting game story modes, and plenty of challenge towers (though I have some gripes with those). It even has an incredibly detailed series of tutorials, but unlike the last two, I took a step into almost unknown territory for me...

I played online.

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A lot.

But first, let me describe the events that led to this, when I hadn't played a fighting game online (outside of free public betas for a couple games, or slight dabbling in Smash Bros. for Wii U) since MvC 3 in 2011. And that was a case where I only did it a couple times, and still managed to get someone upset enough to send me a mildly racist message after the match (no slurs in it, but it was still racist). I remember it distinctly because of how absurd and unwarranted it was, especially considering there's nothing at all in my username to indicate race in any manner, and neither of us were on voice chat. That person had to go find me after the match, and type up a message using a PS3 controller. That's dedication to your heated gamer moment.

Back to the present. I bought MK 11 just before my birthday, alongside Control, and a new controller (one of the transparent plastic ones). MK 11 was sort of on a whim, I'd really only intended to get Control and the controller (which I badly needed), but I like these games a lot, and I figured I could probably get some playing in with friends on my birthday. So I started playing it, jumping back and forth between the story and the tutorials. Some of those tutorials get pretty difficult (unless you're like, Sonic Fox levels of good with inputs, which I'm not), but it's definitely the most in depth fighting game tutorial I've ever seen. Very good at explaining concepts, even if I don't remember all of them.

And the story, aside from the blemish of one particular casting mistake both from a moral and quality of acting position, is as good as it ever is. It doesn't really do anything new, but it's fun, the story takes the Mortal Kombat lore in some interesting places, and it leaves truly endless possibilities for whatever is next in the series. Given the last eight years, I'm going to guess that's MK 12 in 2023, after Injustice 3 in 2021. I hope that's not the case because I'd like if that studio could get off the every other year cycle, stop crunching, and treat all its employees (freelance, or otherwise) well, but I digress. Sorry, I couldn't help but at least mention the cost that comes from getting these games, as much as I do love the games.

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So, I finished the story, and started poking around in the towers, while also trying some of the character specific tutorials. All working under the thought of trying to figure out who my 'main' would be, to use the fighting game lingo. I'm not usually the sort of person to pick a fighter and only play them, but in the last two MKs, I did find myself gravitating to a character, at least in terms of who I was best with. In MK (2011) it was Smoke, in MKX it was Kenshi, and in MK 11 it's Frost. I didn't think it'd be her at first. First I was trying to learn Cassie Cage, as she's both good, and the first character in the story mode.

But then, to use the words I have used before, I was drawn to Frost because she, "looks like a cyborg lesbian." And while the game has really nothing other than her hair to indicate any sort of lesbian-ness (and also the game seems very hetero in what little relationships or pre-fight banter/flirting there is, aside from a 'pride' jacket for Jacqui that has a slight rainbow on it), she is at least a lot of fun to play. And in playing against friends, I quickly realized that Frost was the one I was doing best with, not Cassie. Cassie's still fun, and good, don't get me wrong, but Frost is my main.

And Frost? Pardon the pun, but she's cool as heck! Good mix of ranged and close up, and some moves that are just plain silly in a way I truly love. She's a cyborg, and in her default intro, her head and cyber-spine are inserted onto her body, just making the robotic nature of her physical being clear (even if that's not consistent with the Fatalities in the game, which I think is a disappointing oversight, especially when they didn't overlook that with The Terminator, but I digress, again). And some of her moves involve her physically removing her head! She'll shoot it up in the air to knock jumping opponents down, pull it off and use it as a bludgeon, or even let it flop on the ground as an icy explosive (but that's an equippable move I didn't lean into).

She just clicked with my style, and had moves I was able to do consistently, which is always a plus. So I had my main, my character that I wanted to play a lot more with, and master as best I could. My first thought was the towers, but those I think can get frustrating. Like in MKX, MK 11 leans more toward towers that cycle in and out, rather that one really big tower with a bespoke series of several hundred challenges. On one hand it's good for just popping in and out, but on the other, some of these are downright infuriating at times.

This is the closest I have to a decent mid-fight screenshot. It looks better in motion.
This is the closest I have to a decent mid-fight screenshot. It looks better in motion.

The reason being the new consumables, and the Towers of Time are built with them in mind...but not really in a good way. The way they sometimes (but not always) feel is that some weird thing is put into play that just makes the fights aggravating when playing normally. I'm over here just trying to play Mortal Kombat, but the game is healing the AI with every punch they land on me while missiles and some other garbage are flying in.

The intended counter to this is spending consumables, but even then, the ideal route seems to be just countering the game's garbage with your own, so instead of fighting a match of Mortal Kombat, I'm just flicking the right stick in different directions to summon meteors and heal myself. If these had been a bit more curated, and were more puzzling in nature than just feeling like a consumable resource sink, I think it still could've been fun. I like when MK gets wacky, I used to have a lot of fun with the Test your Luck mode in MK (2011), and that was entirely just random garbage. But it was quick, fun random garbage, and often funny just to see what bizarre combos of garbage would appear next.

This just feels like a system designed with spending money for consumables...but with the ability to spend that money removed. Which I guess is still probably better than spending money for consumables, and I certainly have plenty of them, but the whole system just feels like it could have been so much better.

Yet I still have found myself doing the Towers of Time, because some are fun, and there's decent rewards. Skins, other stuff. I got a Johnny Cage announcer voice that I like a lot, because he quips about characters and stages. And it was definitely more fun to work to unlock him, than to download the bad mobile app and connect it to this game for Kronika's announcer voice (which I also did). (Side note, I didn't do ALL of this before touching online modes, I only unlocked the Cage announcer the other day.)

So, still having fun with the core kombat, but the towers weren't quite doing it for me. And now, is the funny part. I had an inkling of trying to play online, thinking that it would probably be a better way to hone my skills, but didn't actually go in there until I saw a daily challenge for doing something like playing multiple king of the hill matches. So, I went into the menu, tried king of the hill, but didn't stick with it, because if you don't win, you just end up having to wait and watch other people play. Watching others play can be fun if it's a tournament or something, or maybe if it was all friends in voice chat, but I'm not really interested in watching randos fight each other.

So, I poke around in the menus, and see a ranked season was going on, that was about a month away from ending. I dunno how long the seasons are, if that was close to a full one, if it was like half over, or what. I do know that a new one didn't start immediately when it ended, but that was still this week (as of writing this). I look in even closer, and see the rewards for ranking up, which included a cool skin...for Frost.

This...is not that skin, but it is a nice intro.
This...is not that skin, but it is a nice intro.

I just had to get to Champion Rank, the fourth of nine ranks. So, I dip my toe in. And lose, but it wasn't the floor mopping I expected to receive. So I kept playing, and playing, slowly getting better, winning some matches, losing some (sometimes very badly), but I kept at it. Because no matter what, aside from a few particular cases (people just spamming the same move), I was having fun! Sure, it was the allure of kosmetics that got me in there in the first place, but it was the kombat itself, and that gradual feeling of honing my skills, learning the best strategies for what to do when, and the thrill of victory after a hard fought match that kept me coming back for more.

And then, after days of hard work, I did it. I got to Champion Rank...Only to see a message about losing ranking points if I didn't play once every few days! That, and the knowledge that I could rank down from that, or from losing enough got me frightened, but after looking into it, I learned that even if you do rank down, you get whatever rewards from the highest rank achieved. Which is smart, that's the right thing to do.

So I could have stopped. But I didn't. I wanted to see how high I could get. And that height...was Master Rank. Which sounds much more impressive than it really is, because that's only one rank above Champion. Though, I feel like if I kept at it even more than I did, I might have gotten to Grandmaster. Maybe not the ranks above that, but I had other games to play. MK 11 is definitely one of the most fun games I've played in a good while, but there's been other great games to play too!

Which is another thing I like so much about MK 11. It's a great game to just hop in and play an hour or so of, before switching off and playing the more deep-dive-y stuff I've also been working on (see my recent blogs on Control and Outer Wilds!). It's fun enough that I'd keep playing it just for the act of play itself, but it's also got the usual slew of near countless things to unlock.

Namely, in the Krypt, which to my recollection, is bigger and more involved than ever. Now it features a physical space to run around in, using some generic nameless character. I wish I could pick a character to run around with, whether that would be one of the fighters from the game, or just some more variety in nameless video game people, either way. It's just a bit odd to me to have generic video game man be the person you run around with in the Krypt when the game has so many memorable and more appealing characters already in it.

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But the Krypt, as much as I enjoy its bigger scale, and its incorporation of some light puzzle-solving elements, isn't perfect. While I have a bounty of Koins that I'll never run out of, the other two kurrencies needed to open things, Soul Fragments and Hearts, and just low enough in how they're handed out after matches that it feels like I'm just scraping by with them. That, and some of the things in the Krypt are...grindy.

Maybe this is a spoiler for unlocking stuff in the Krypt, but I had to look this up online to figure it out, so I don't feel bad saying it. There's this row of engravings of the heads of all the (non-DLC) characters in the game, and each just gives a number out of 25 when you walk up to them. According to the internet, that means the number of Fatalities/Brutalities done against each character in the Towers. Apparently online ones don't count, which is a bummer because if they did, I'd have gotten some of them by now. As it is, I don't have a single one yet, and apparently all of them are needed to get a medallion needed on the way to the final section of the Krypt.

So I gotta keep playing the Towers if I want to see everything in the Krypt. And I do! This game's so much fun, it's kinda become my de facto 'podcast game.' Which does mean I've played almost none of the Shadowkeep Destiny 2 expansion. Okay, that's a lie, I played through all the story missions, and did a bit of the Vex Incursion with friends. But that's it, and I'm sure the stars will align such that I'll stop playing MK so much, and gravitate back to Destiny 2, but for now...

Also, I've never done this before, but I bought the DLC characters. Like, all of them. The Kombat Pack was on sale, so I bought it. And Shao Kahn, because for whatever reason (greed/capitalism), he's not included with that. At first I was just going to buy Shang Tsung, because I love the ninja morphing, and think that's a really creative way to incorporate his shapeshifting without being able to stream in every character fast enough (though I bet that will return in MK 12 on next gen). But then I thought Nightwolf was cool too, and I might as well buy The Terminator because, I mean, he's The Terminator, even if the voice is just a bad Arnold impression. And...

I just bought the Kombat Pack because that was on sale, and individual characters weren't. On the plus side, I also got a bunch of skins, so I can play as Ninja Mime Johnny Cage, and Harley Quinn Cassie. Yes, there's something a bit ironic about playing this with that skin instead of the actual fighting game with Harley in it, I know.

I forgot to take any screenshots of the DLC characters. Okay, that's stretching the truth, what happened was I was too lazy to.
I forgot to take any screenshots of the DLC characters. Okay, that's stretching the truth, what happened was I was too lazy to.

Anyway, the DLC characters are all neat. Terminator really feels like more neat gimmick than an actually fun character to play, but it is what it is. On the flip side, after buying all this stuff, I had a moment where I realized I just spent money for Spawn in the year 2019 (though I guess he won't be out until next year). Now, I'm not too high and mighty to lie and say I was never a fan of Spawn. I'm not too good to say I didn't like that 90s movie and play a Spawn game on Gamecube that was mediocre. But also I was thirteen. At least I played the version of SoulCalibur II with Link, and never read the actual comics.

Whatever, he's voiced by Keith David, and I bet Netherrealm have found ways to make him interesting and fun to play. I sure hope so with how overworked they are.

Okay, if I'm circling back around to labor practices, I've probably run out of meaningful things to say about the game. But I do really love playing it, and I'm going to keep at it for the time being. Even if I fall off, I'll definitely check back in with each of the DLC characters. I already bought them, after all. Just hope they find ways to make Sindel and Joker fun to play. And maybe have some better alternate skins for Joker.

Anyway, thanks for reading! I've been writing a lot in the last few weeks, and while I refuse to commit to continuing at this rate, I do always appreciate when people read my words! I might write something about Outer Worlds once I finish that (I'm enjoying it!), and if I play Death Stranding, you know I'll have thoughts.

Until then, see ya next time!

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