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Game of the Year Awards – 2019

2019 is coming to a close, which means it’s time for our annual Game of the Year awards! We have been blessed to play many high-quality games this year, and we’re honored to highlight the best of the best. So sit back, relax, and see the greatest games that 2019 had to offer!

 

This generation has been a mixed bag for Microsoft. After a rocky start, the Xbox division has undergone significant change in leadership and strategy as it has worked hard to support the Xbox One. With the next-gen Xbox Series X announced earlier this month and due out in holiday 2020, the Xbox One is coming to the end of its days in the spotlight. These following games are the highlights of the Xbox One’s last full year as a current-gen console.

After a long period of dormancy, the Crackdown franchise finally saw a new entry this year in the form of Crackdown 3. This new sandbox adventure might not have been able to deliver on its lofty aspirations of innovative cloud-based destruction, but it still provides plenty of explosive thrills, high-flying action, and addictive orb-hunting. Crackdown 3 is, quite simply, more of the good old-fashioned Crackdown fun that fans of the series love.

Gears 5, the latest installment in Microsoft’s long-running third-person shooter series, takes the franchise in a couple new directions; the wide-open hub areas give the game a nice chance to breathe between the trademark cover-based firefights, and the writers at the Coalition take bold steps in their storytelling. Combined with a robust multiplayer suite and a gorgeous presentation, Gears 5 proves itself to be the best Gears yet. While other Xbox One games will release throughout the coming year, this serves as a fine AAA first-party swan song to the Xbox One era.

 

 

Like with the Xbox One, 2019 is also the final full year for the PlayStation 4 before its successor the PS5 hits store shelves. Sony have fired on all cylinders this generation, and this year is no exception. Here are the best PS4 exclusives of 2019.

The team at Sega responsible for the Yakuza games have created a new spin-off title Judgment, centering around a former defense attorney seeking redemption. Combining detective tasks with the series’ traditional hand-to-hand combat, Judgment offers a compelling experience that satisfies longtime Yakuza fans while also serving as a good entry point for newbies, as knowledge of the mainline story is not necessary to understand the game.

Hideo Kojima is a juggernaut in the gaming industry, and his latest title Death Stranding shows that his prowess extends beyond the Metal Gear franchise he is best known for. Death Stranding’s gameplay mix of traversal, package delivery, and shooting combat is divisive, but its audio/visual presentation is best in class, and the story delivers the kind of compelling, complex insanity that only Kojima can come up with.

 

 

Nintendo’s hybrid console is in the prime of its life, selling like gangbusters and receiving plenty of exclusive titles from first- and third-party developers alike. The following games are the cream of the crop of the Switch’s robust 2019 offerings.

Luigi is up to his ghost-busting antics once again in Luigi’s Mansion 3. Following the footsteps of its predecessors, this game combines a light-hearted spooky aesthetic with a Mario flair, as Luigi goes on a quest to capture ghosts in a haunted hotel and save his friends. A new cooperative multiplayer component helps the game stand out from previous entries in the franchise.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses, the newest entry in Nintendo’s venerated strategy series, earns our pick as the top Switch exclusive this year. The refined combat mechanics are welcoming to franchise newbies, and game’s long list of compelling characters—in concert with an enhanced social interaction system—provides plenty of personalization and replay value.

 

 

Consoles may receive most of the marketing these days, but PC gaming plays a vital role in the present and future gaming ecosystem. Here are our picks for best 2019 PC games.

Baba is You makes some truly distinct innovations to the well-worn puzzle genre. Solving puzzles has you moving text around the screen, altering the parameters of the puzzle itself to work in your favor. “You” may begin a level as “Baba” and the “Flag” as “Win”, but by the end of it, everything may have changed. Explaining such mechanics in written word is a challenge, but once you play it for yourself, the madness reveals itself as genius.

Finnish developer Remedy Entertainment has made something special with their new title Control. A fusion of Alan Wake’s mind-bending storytelling and Quantum Break’s reality-shifting gameplay, Control sets you into an alluring world of the supernatural, where the strangest ideas take on a life of their own. The slick action, beautiful visuals, and crazy story work together to create one of the most memorable games of the year.

 

Page 2: Best Shooter, Best RPG, Best Action

Page 3: Best Fighting, Best Platformer, Best Narrative

Page 4: Best Soundtrack, Best Multiplayer, Best Remaster, Most Anticipated

Page 5: Game of the Year!

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Review: Power Rangers—Battle for the Grid

Developer: nWay, INC

Publisher: nWay, INC

Genre: Fighting

Platform: Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC, Google Stadia

Rating: T for Teen

Price: $19.99

PC players morph into action as Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid hits Steam. The port released just in time for the Season 2 Pass which includes three characters, one of them available to play immediately on download. I haven’t kept up with Power Rangers since I was a kid, so imagine my surprise when the first Season 2 character turned out to be an anthropomorphic dog. Clearly, I have some catching up to do…

Yeah, there’s a LOT of catch up that I need…

Content Guide

Mild Violence

There are a number of cutscene stills that depict blood, scratches, and wounds from battle. A character death takes place in a cutscene but it’s not portrayed violently.

Review

Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid is an interesting title as it was announced out of nowhere casting some waves of nostalgia and hype. However, since its initial launch in April of 2019, Battle for the Grid had an uphill struggle due to its shaky launch on console. The game has decent graphics, but not the same polish as one might have hoped for such a large franchise. The UI design and 3D models/objects have the look and feel of a free-to-play mobile game. The gameplay modes available are bare-bones at best. It also has substantial online bugs where the players would often get hit by attacks even when they were blocking.

However…

The game plays really well.

“Trust me! This’ll save so much time and electricity on travel!”

Despite all these shortcomings, Battle for the Grid is actually an incredibly competent fighting game, and it’s a 3-on-3 as well! Taking elements from titles like the Marvel vs. Capcom series and DragonBall FighterZ gives the game a leg up in the technical department. The universal moveset for all 15 characters (currently available including DLC) and an assist system that allows for instant swapping makes the action feel non-stop. 

Though I haven’t stayed current with Power Rangers, the roster for the game feels fresh and each character plays significantly different from each other. I had fun taking each and every character to the training room and learning how their moves work as well as trying different types of teams. I’ve settled on a team of Lord Zedd, Jason Lee Scott the Red Mighty Morphin’ Ranger, and Jen Scotts the Pink Time Force Ranger.

Yes, I have adopted the original Mighty Morphin’ leader and his archnemesis.

No, you cannot change my mind; Lord Zedd rules.

If only I could summon Putty Patrollers whenever I wanted to do my bidding…

Despite the lower quality in the models, I really like the presentation and the effects used to elevate the gameplay. The supers are appropriately flashy and the character models move smoothly and have strong, dynamic stances that can actually help with learning how fast your character recovers from certain moves.

Speaking of moves, Battle for the Grid adopts an interesting method to its controls. You have four main attack buttons: light, medium, heavy, and special, and two assist buttons where tapping once will call in a team member for an attack—tapping it twice will switch them at any point. Special moves are executed by pushing forward or back in conjunction with the special button, minimizing the control execution barrier found in most fighting games. This allows the player to focus mainly on space and timing as the animation recovery is displayed clearly to show which moves are safe on block or unsafe.

Each attack button, save the special button, has its own short auto-combo that can be interchanged with each other like in DragonBall FighterZ. This helps with learning which moves can be chained properly and what combo enders you want to finish with while setting up your next approach. If you’re paying attention, you’ll naturally learn the properties of each move available.

Lasers beat magic. Enough said.

Unfortunately, I cannot say much about online matches as I had trouble finding matches quickly and they were against repeat players. While fighting against the same player is helpful for learning, casual matches are less fun if there isn’t a lot of traffic. Actually, it’s still pretty bad for ranked as well since it’s taking a season approach to online ranking. A player has to fight 8 matches in order to qualify for a registered rank. This is somewhat mitigated by fighting the computer for the first three matches but makes that initial stretch boring.

I almost always win by rushing the CPU into the corner. It screws up my mindset for competitive play.

Also, I did still come across that online bug with blocking not registering once in a while. While fighting, I found myself in an unwinnable situation more than once because of a connection hiccup, and then my character helplessly eats a full combo. As far as I know, there isn’t any fix yet. Hopefully, a future update fixes this bug soon because it hampers the online experience. 

You can hold back with a brace if you wanted to. It doesn’t mean a thing with the online bug…

The story isn’t that much better. It’s competent enough, but the pacing is slow, and the climatic events don’t peak very well due to the subpar voice acting. It doesn’t take very long to finish the story, and it definitely feels short. Each chapter is a series of 3 fights or more…and that’s all you do.

This is an important plot point, but by the time I got here, I already checked out.

You hop from character to character with nearly no clue who you will be playing as next. You play as heroes and villains which help the player be familiarized with the whole roster. But it destroys the narrative of the story mode when you’re not given enough time to appreciate their motives.

Artwork is pretty nice in some places.

Battle of the Grid has a lot of problems, but its core elements of gameplay and presentation have held it up extraordinarily well. Unfortunately, it shows proof that fighting games have been neglected in other aspects that are simply not marketable for the modern gaming crowd. It is not a bad game, but if there is any hope for Battle of the Grid’s longevity, its approach needs to be reevaluated.

Review copy generously provided by nWay, Inc.
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Review: Fantasy Strike

Developer: Sirlin Games

Publisher: Sirlin Games

Genre: Fighting

Platform: PC, PS4, Switch

Rating: T for Teen

Price: $19.99

In October 2017, I (accidentally) reviewed Fantasy Strike while still in Early Access. Now, after four years in the works, it will finally be released as a full, completed product on July 25, 2019. In my previous look at this game, I gave a short background, stating that it previously originated from Yomi, a card game. Leading the development team is David Sirlin, founder of Sirlin Games. His goal was to create a game that had a perfect balance of simplicity, yet, having enough complexity for advanced fighting game veterans. While it is indeed entertaining, Fantasy Strike faces an entire wave of other games like it that seek to accomplish a similar goal. Does it stand out among the rest? 

The tutorial shows you what to do using a dummy character like this.

Content Guide

Violence: As with any game in the fighting genre, the main objective is to do enough damage to your opponent until they’re health bar is gone. Despite the violent nature, Fantasy Strike has no blood, gore, or any disturbingly graphic content.

Sexual Content: There is only one female character in the game with an unnecessarily large bosom. All other female characters are neutral in presentation. Only one male character has his shirt off. 

Spiritual Content: There is one character that uses a ghostly specter as an ally in his sparring.

Gambling: The panda fighter Lum is addicted to gambling and uses dice and a slot machine in his attacks. 

Review

It’s true—Fantasy Strike is indeed easy to pick up. But even though all characters have the same controls, the execution of moves is different for each fighter. For example, if I jump and press the button for Special, one character might do a double kick while another will toss a watermelon. With mechanics like these, it is easier for players to choose a main fighter, especially with how each character is so unique and has such personality in the way they fight. 

I had forgotten most of what Fantasy Strike was, having last played it almost two years ago. The introductory tutorial was annoying and useless, serving only as fluff until I was able to access the main menu. I realized that it was better to practice with the character myself, sparring with an AI player instead of going through the tutorial. Skip it, if you can. Try out characters for yourself. 

As you can see above, there is a general attack button, which is basically just a punch. There are iterations of this when moving and when blocking. But the real attacks are Special 1 and Special 2. These are typically kicks, strong punches that cannot be interrupted, or projectiles launched at your opponent. Each character is different, so it will take a good while figuring out every fighter’s style and finding one you enjoy, the concept of which I appreciate. 

A Yomi counter can be done when not pressing any buttons, but will only counter throws. This mechanic works well to stop any player from doing infinite throws. Throws can be extremely annoying, especially when certain enemies deal double damage to you when they grab you. 

Each character has two Super moves (one while standing idle and a different one accessed while jumping), which can only be activated once the Super bar is full. These typically deal two slots of damage to enemies, while some even do three. Some characters’ supers are useful for dealing damage, but others, like Geiger’s, are useful for escaping tight spots. 

Individuality in Fighting

When I went hands-on with Fantasy Strike in 2017, the gambling Panda Lum and the fishy water-controlling warrior Argagarg were not available yet. After playing with these two, I cannot help but feel that they are a bit overpowered. Argagarg can have a temporary shield and has long reach with most of his attacks. Lum can toss plenty of projectiles, like dice and watermelons. Even though his Super depends on luck (he plays a slot machine and power-ups pop out), it will still usually be overly beneficial. 

I enjoy fighting with a lot of the characters on the roster, but one of my favorites to play with is Geiger. He’s a clock-maker who uses gears as weapons. Some of his attacks are just plain silly and I wish the developers had made him a tad cooler. I enjoy using him because his projectile has lag time, slowly making its way across the screen, throwing opponents off in their timing to dodge the gear. 

Another fighter I highly recommend is DeGrey, who uses a ghost to put his enemies in a headlock, leaving them temporarily vulnerable to attack. His punches are devastating and he has several attacks that are counters, much like the Fire Emblem characters have in Super Smash Bros Ultimate. Honestly, all of the fighters have some sort of fun quirk about them. Be sure to try them all out!

More Things to do

Since I first played in 2017, new modes have been added to solo play. When playing through Arcade mode, you’ll be able to see a few clips that will drop some hints at the origin of characters and why they’re fighting in the first place. But some of the stories are unclear and feel incomplete; pieced together. I wish that more thought and effort had been put into this part of the game, especially since the fighters are so interesting already. Give the characters some quality lore!

The online mode is functional, an improvement to be sure! But it still took me a while to find an opponent, probably due to the small player base right now. Once the game is officially released, more may join, but otherwise, there was no lag time when connected to the web and fighting was flawless. 

Some other modes include a daily challenge mode, survival mode, boss rush mode, and single match mode. Daily challenge gives players online challenges to complete, like defeating an enemy within a time limit. Survival mode pins you against a constant barrage of enemies until you lose or defeat them all. Boss rush presents strong foes one after another, like survival mode. Single match is self-explanatory, which is a match against an AI. This mode is good for practice. 

Graphics could have been better. It can be seen especially here.

The graphics are seemingly cel-shaded, similar to how they were two years ago, when I first tried Fantasy Strike out. I was honestly hoping for better graphics, especially since the developers updated their title graphic. But they still look the same: grainy, chalky, and lacking in detail. This is indeed an area they could have improved on. 

Each character has a map especially themed for them. For example, Panda’s map is a casino, Geiger’s is a clock tower, and etc. The feel of this fighting game as a whole takes me back to the Naruto: Clash of Ninja games on the Nintendo GameCube. Those games were easy to play, but only if you tried to press the correct buttons. Like in those games, button-mashing in Fantasy Strike will get you no where. 

I have mixed feelings about Fantasy Strike. In its own rite, it’s a quality fighting game with unique characters and simple controls—two factors that, if executed well, can boost the quality. On the other hand, it’s improved little from when I first played it. Due to the fighting genre being so saturated already, whatever “new” material Fantasy Strike presents will fall by the wayside, doomed to be overlooked. Before, I gave this game a 9.3 out of 10 for its uniqueness. Due to little improvement, Fantasy Strike earns an 8. For the cheap price of $19.99, I would recommend this game to newcomers to the fighting genre. Veterans should pass this one up and play another fighting game that contains more complexity and testing of skill, like Tekken or Street Fighter

Review copy generously provided by Stride PR. 

 

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Review: Samurai Shodown (2019)

Developer: SNK
Publisher: SNK, Athlon Games
Genre: Fighting
Platform: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Nintendo Switch
Rating: M for Mature
Price: $59.99

 

 

Samurai Shodown is a fighting game series I remembered playing as a kid when we rented it from Blockbuster. I found it fascinating that these characters wielded weapons instead of doing martial arts and throwing fireballs. My thoughts on the feudal Japan setting in which these samurai battled was also the same. Every time I think about this franchise brings some nostalgia from the days I remember playing Samurai Shodown II. It has been just over ten years since we have seen a new entry to the series. When I heard that we would be getting a modern reboot, I was ready for it. I was disappointed with the results when I got my hands on it, but grew to enjoy it over time. This Samurai Shodown is a strong contender to sit at the top of the genre, but it needs something more to make the cut.

Content Guide

Spiritual Content: The plot of Samurai Shodown takes place as a mysterious cloud of darkness covers Japan. The final boss fight of the game is against a princess who is possessed by an evil supernatural being.

Violence: Every character in the game wields a bladed weapon, and must use it to fight against their opponent. Large amounts of blood are seen when a weapon makes contact with an opponent, and the characters will cry out in pain. Characters can stab/impale their opponent and also dismember them from their torso.

Drugs/Alcohol: One of the characters is a pirate who drinks out of a giant barrel when she wins a match. What she is drinking is never confirmed, but the odds are very likely that it is intended to be grog.

Sexual Content: The boss character changes into a form in which she is completely nude. Her hair covers her breasts and groin when she is in that phase of her transformation.

Hanzo Hattori, my original main.

Review

When playing Samurai Shodown, I instantly noticed how uninspired the presentation felt. Yes, it does carry the painterly Japanese art style to some degree; you’ll notice it in the menus, special effects, in story intros and endings, but that’s all. Where it falls short is in-game—I feel like I’m playing Street Fighter IV with Samurai Shodown mechanics. Considering the existence of games like Dragon Ball FighterZ and the upcoming Kill La Kill IF, the route SNK went here feels dated.

However, the fighting mechanics that we know and love from previous iterations are still there: a four-button fighting game in which you can be killed in only a few hits if you are not careful. The defensive gameplay method that this series has always asked from us feels welcome in the current state of the genre, which is very offense-driven (Editor’s Note: Not Tekken!). Players will find themselves punished for button mashing and will survive much longer when blocking attacks and waiting to land a few good hits instead of 20-input combos.

While this is a neat effect, its been done before.

Many of the familiar mechanics that have been a series staple have returned, such as sword clash, just guard, disarming, and the rage meter. There are also some new tactics as well, such as dodging and the “Lighting Blade” ability that can be used to make a comeback. One of my favorite matches I’ve played was when my opponent and I engaged in a sword clash. The results involved both of us losing our weapons; we ended up finishing the rest of the match in hand-to-hand combat. In my experience, some of the tensest fights I have experienced in the genre come from that series. That still seems to be the case in 2019.

I have to applaud the developers for the amount of accessibility they have included. The tutorial is simple and yet in-depth enough to for me to learn everything I needed to know. Though button shortcuts are more common in fighting games these days, I found them to be beneficial. The shoulder buttons are mapped to the most important mechanics, and this allows players to quickly learn them while pros can stick to the arcade format of the face buttons. I was also happy to find that the difficulty settings are well crafted. The brutal arcade ports destroyed me a few weeks ago as I prepared for this game’s release.

Lightning Blade, an attack to turn the tide of a match

Now, let us dive into the roster. All of the best characters from the early entries in the series are here, and will be boosted when the season pass drops with more returning characters. A few unique characters such as Yoshitora Tokugawa from Samurai Shodown V and Shiki from Samurai Shodown 64 (a 3D rendition on the Neo Geo 64) also make an appearance. As for new characters we have Yashamaru, Darli Dagger, and Wu-Ruixiang. I haven’t spent much time with Wu, but I have enjoyed my time with the other two—Darli is my new main. These new characters feel right at home as the rest of the roster includes the best in the series. The roster feels small, but I feel it creates more intimacy with learning your favorites and learning how to defend against everyone else.

Samurai Shodown offers only a handful of options to enjoy the action. There is an arcade-like story mode, but the huge drawback to that is the typical cheeseball SNK-style boss. Having to fight that boss every time drew me further away from wanting to see those endings and into the dojo mode. This mode includes “ghost battles” in which you can fight other players’ characters including an “Iron Man” mode in which you can fight multiple in a row. You can train your own by simply playing the game, and it mostly works well other than the fact that my Darli seems to be broken. Doing these ghost battles and training my own is where I have spent most of my time enjoying the game.

Clashes are the only time that button mashing is encouraged

Other than the dojo and story modes, we have time attack, survival, and another where players attempt to take on the entire roster. Now that I have had more time and experience with the game, I plan to see how far I can get and test my skills. Although the real test is playing online. I could see myself attempting to play online since I don’t have to worry about being decimated by 100-hit combos without even scratching my opponent. I can lose just as easily in Samurai Shodown, but at least I have the same chance of defeating my opponent just as quickly.

At its core, Samurai Shodown‘s best trait is its gameplay. its defensive focus brings some intense fights that kept me from rushing in like a normally would have done. I wish that the developers would have gone for a unique presentation style instead of leaning so hard into one that already exists. Though I usually gravitate towards a fighting game’s arcade more,  I have explored beyond that thanks to the terrible boss fight. Overall, Samurai Shodown makes a decent comeback, but I want to see how/if they decide to follow it up. Fans of the series may want to spend some time with it and see if they like it, but I can’t recommend it to everyone.

 

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Review: Mortal Kombat 11

Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Publisher: Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment
Genre: Fighting
Platform: PC, PS4, (reviewed) Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Rating: M for Mature
Price: $59.99

The Mortal Kombat franchise is notoriously known for influencing the creation of the ESRB; making mainstream news. More recently, one of the  Mortal Kombat 11 developers was diagnosed with PTSD due to the nature of its violence. As the graphics get better, the violence gets more gratuitous.

If you’re reading this review, you likely know what you’re getting into or haven’t played a Mortal Kombat game in years. Mortal Kombat 11 includes a wide range of new features and gameplay mechanics and that you want to know about and is a direct sequel to 2015’s Mortal Kombat X. Keep scrolling and let me tell you why Mortal Kombat 11 could have been a flawless victory, but walks the line of being a near fatality.

 

Kontent Guide

Spiritual Themes: In the world of Mortal Kombat, there are characters that have magical abilities such as sorcerers. Characters spent time traveling between alternate dimensions such as one called Outworld. One of them is known as the Nether Realm, which is very similar to Hell. There are deities that characters believe in called the elder gods and one of them is a playable character. 

Violence: I could write a few thousand words and go into detail on every single way that characters can be killed via the variety of fatalities and brutalities that can be used. Grotesque violence is present throughout in the form of bodies being ripped apart, crushed, sliced, and more. The entrails and organs of the characters are also spilled during some of these moments. When a “krushing blow” is performed, players will see the bones of their characters breaking. Some characters have blades and blunt weapons that they will also use to act out these acts of violence.

The fatality and brutality finishing moves that most of these occur in are optional. A player does not have to perform these actions if they don’t want to, though the game encourages it.

Language: Characters can be heard saying the words f**k, sh*t, and a**hole

Sexual Content: This section isn’t a warning, but praise.  The female characters are modestly dressed this time around, which has not been the case for past entries to the series.

 

Johnny Cage does a ventriloquist act with the dead body of his opponent.

 

Review

NetherRealm Studios has been doing fighting game stories right since Mortal Kombat v.s. DC, but it wasn’t until Mortal Kombat (2011) that they started this new trilogy. The story picks up right after Mortal Kombat X in which Raiden is face-to-face with Shinnok. Raiden gives in to the power of Shinnok’s amulet and upsets the balance of time. As a result, the keeper of time known as Kronika wages war against the warriors of Earth and Outworld. With her, she brings many warriors from the past, which makes for some fun story moments.

The story mode in Mortal Kombat 11 remains to be one of the strongest features of the series. It takes some notes from Injustice 2 and lets players choose between two fighters during a few chapters. The story focuses much less on the new generation of fighters and sees the return of fan favorites such as Noob Saibot and Frost. A few new characters are introduced, but I can’t see them returning in the future. Though this current trilogy reached a satisfying conclusion, it leaves the door open for more in such a way that has me curious about how they will continue with the franchise.

Many character comes face to face with their future and past.

Outside of the story mode, there is a lot of content here to keep people playing. Inspired again by Injustice 2 are the Towers of Time; these are arcade ladders with specific challenges that grant rewards upon completion. This is where I spent most of my time unlocking gear to customize some of my favorite characters. I appreciate the fact that NetherRealm continues to offer this kind of replayability for players like myself who don’t spend a ton of their time by fighting others online.

For players that are fans of the old school arcade ladders, the “Klassic” tower is available. Each character has an ending that tells the story of what happens when they defeat Kronika through hand-drawn still images. My personal favorite is a young Johnny Cage describing how he intended to go through the downward spiral of his career that he learned about from the time he spent in the future. Though I haven’t seen every ending, none have been nearly as interesting so far.

The Towers of Time hold unique conditions that make fights more interesting.

The Krypt is another area of the game that players will be spending a lot of time in to unlock gallery content, brutalities, fatalities, and more gear. However, this Krypt is not the same that fans have enjoyed. Instead of a fancy grid full of unlockable content, it’s more like a funhouse for loot boxes this time around. The fact that the game pings the server when I open a chest feels rather disgusting. It takes place on Shang Tsung’s island and acts as a tourist attraction, which despite the mode’s ugly innards, is fun to explore.

During the first week of launch, many had issues with the difficulty and grind of the Towers of Time and the Krypt. Since then, those issues have been resolved with more time to finish the towers and the Krypt being much more generous on the unlocks. The developers took around a week to make these changes after launch, and ultimately these modes have been more enjoyable because of their work. 

The bridge stage from the first game, you can even go see the pit under it.

As for actually playing the game, Mortal Kombat 11 gives a nice shot in the arm to the franchise. The core gameplay mechanics are still there, but with various additions such as the fatal and “Krushing” blows, the defensive perfect blocks and special get-up attacks create much-needed depth. For a deeper dive into these new mechanics, I’d recommend reading my preview. The fact that the special meter is now split into two requires players to think more strategically instead of burning on X-rays and combo breakers as we have done in the past.

For anyone looking for their favorite character, you’ll likely find them back in Mortal Kombat 11. MKX made a strong attempt to bring in a new generation, but the addition of many new characters rendered the game less appealing for me though there were a few I got attached to. Jacquie Briggs was a favorite of mine that makes a return, but I also now enjoy using Khotal Khan who I previously didn’t care for. The roster feels much more rounded out since I’ve found myself exploring the character selection screen instead of staying on one side as I’ve done with many other games in the genre.

My version of Baraka looks like an Uruk straight out of Lord of the Rings.

The ability to customize these characters to our personal liking also helps with making them more enjoyable to use. Not only do we get three pieces of gear and interchangeable skins, but we can also now customize move sets. Changing up a character’s special moves can help alter a character’s playstyle to your liking. Each piece of gear also has modifiers that can be equipped to raise specific stats that are unique to that fighter. While Injustice 2‘s customization was heavy on visual and stat changes, I love how I can customize a character I don’t like into one that I’m willing to spend more time with.

I burned through the story of Mortal Kombat 11 within the first two days as it is only around 4-5 hours long. I then moved onto the Towers of Time and began the grind. I killed many hours fighting all the way up the towers and unlocking gear, but the grind got stale very quickly. This was likely due to my feelings about the Krypt, but it is very possible that I already knew this pattern all too well thanks to my time with NetherRealm’s DC counterpart. I was ready to move onto other games in about a week after I got my hands on Mortal Kombat 11.

Jax has one of my favorite Fatal Blows

Competitive players will enjoy taking the game online. This is one of the few series of fighting games I’m personally decent at, so I did play a few matches against others. I did not experience any connection issues, and thanks to a small icon, I could tell whether my opponent was connected via ethernet or over wi-fi. The online modes could very well give me that thrill I didn’t find by grinding the towers.

Mortal Kombat 11 could stand as one of the greatest in the genre, but the service model that it is built upon keeps it from taking that title.  The fact that the game connects to the server for almost everything I do makes it feel dirty, especially with the Krypt being tied to everything that needs to be unlocked. The game is at its finest when I’m in a match and feels like the best that this franchise has ever been. Even with the glaring setbacks, Mortal Kombat 11 shouldn’t be overlooked by those who love the fighting genre.