With Mortal Kombat 11 launching earlier this week, the franchise has reached a new zenith. The last few instalments have made great strides in terms of mechanics, as the series has come to transcend its reputation as "the fighting game with all the gore" to become a damn good game in its own right.
While sister franchise Injustice has no doubt allowed Ed Boon and the team at NetherRealm Studios to flex their combat design free of the expected glut of dismemberment and decapitation, that series has rubbed off on the now 27-year-old Mortal Kombat series. Injustice 2 added a loot system which allowed customisation of the DC roster of superheroes and supervillains, making each unique to the player. While there were some concerns that this system was too overpowered in multiplayer battles, the stat bonuses present in Injustice 2 would not be a part of Mortal Kombat 11 outside of the Challenge Towers (more on those later).
In an interview with Game Informer in April of 2019, less than a month before the game's release, Ed Boon stated explicitly that there are no loot boxes. As it turns out, semantics are very important in this statement.
Mortal Kombat 11 has not launched with any loot boxes that can be purchased with real money, but the game is absolutely stuffed with dozens of them that must be opened with in-game currency. On paper, unlocking things with currency earned from simply playing the game is no issue at all. Unfortunately, in this case, these boxes are randomised, designed to keep players returning again and again to spend their Koins (or one of the other convoluted currencies) in order to open boxes in the hope that something inside is worth working towards.
These storage boxes (which are definitely not loot boxes) are found in the Krypt, a surprisingly large area which can be explored in third-person. A lot of work has clearly gone into the area, as it's filled with hundreds of nods to the franchise's storied history. Unfortunately, it also offers a glimpse into games in 2019.
Of the hundreds of chests to open, many have arbitrary currency requirements. One box may cost twice the amount of another, but for seemingly no reason. While Koins are easy to come by, some other methods of opening the boxes seem haphazardly doled out at random. Once you've opened every chest in an area, you can use a Time Crystal (a microtransaction) to essentially restore all open chests with more randomly stuffed loot. (A brief note: during our review process, as we noted, there were no micro-transactions available in the PlayStation store.)
If every chest opened was allowing for a new skin or fatality, things would be different, but the loot pool is diluted to the point of being comical. It's easy to spend all of your Koins in the Krypt and come away with reams of concept art and a handful of consumables.
These consumables are designed to help you navigate the game's Challenge Towers, gauntlets against overwhelming odds. Some fights are impossible without using a consumable to boost your damage, for example, but those without that item will be forced to grind away in another game mode to earn enough currency to open a crate that may have said consumable inside. Thankfully, consumables only apply to these Towers, but their inclusion feels disappointing to say the least.
While consumables may be endemic of a problem with the game's balancing, all other items are cosmetic and range from the pointless (name cards for online battles) to the fan-pleasing costume choices for series favourites and new fatalities.
Player mileage will always vary with cosmetics, but for a fan of the franchise such as myself, I feel disheartened to grind constantly so that I can pit retro renditions of Sub Zero and Scorpion together. With the game's story feeling like fan-service, the Krypt feels like anything but, turning a celebration of the franchise into a slog by holding nostalgia hostage behind a paywall.
Thankfully, it seems NetherRealm is listening. Ed Boon tweeted that fixes are incoming. If Mortal Kombat 11 truly is to be supported by the developer long into the future, then this is a huge step in the right direction.
My argument would be to distill the number of currencies, and boost the drop rate of items such as skins and fatalities. There's no harm in keeping items like concept art in there as a bonus, but items that actually feature in gameplay terms should be there first and foremost.
Arguably, this is the biggest shame of Mortal Kombat 11. The story mode is a blast, the fighting has never felt better (or more unique), and despite some disappointing roster omissions, it seems to be stacked with content. Here's hoping that with some tweaks, Mortal Kombat 11 can save itself from an embarrassingly self-inflicted fatality.
Are you playing Mortal Kombat 11 yet? What changes would you like to see made to the game's economy? Get over here and have your say in the comments below.