It’s pretty unusual when you consider the social nature of the beat-em-up genre – from two-player arcade machines to tournaments attended by thousands – that Mortal Kombat has always looked after the single player.
Of course, that means the upcoming Mortal Kombat 1 has to meet a certain expectation when it comes to the single player content, and developer NetherRealm are all too familiar with this. So of course, they’re stuffing the new game with a good chunk of single player content – including both the expected campaign story mode that will let players play as every single character on the roster in a continuous story, and in a brand new Invasion mode. We got a hands on with both during this year’s Gamescom – and as someone who too mainly plays the series on his lonesome – I’m very pleased with what’s on the table so far.
Let’s start with that story mode first off, largely as it is both what we expect but in the best way. As we now know, the Mortal Kombat 1 universe is something of a reset, giving us some unique twists on what us MK veterans might know and love. Liu Kang is now the timey-wimey all-powerful god, and Raiden is just a good honest farmhand and buddy of the hat-throwing Kung Lao. It’s the latter who we spend the game’s opening chapter with, and quickly this new status quo is established. Cutscenes – which the team have got to a fine art these days – tell the new story and seamlessly blend into the start of the fights just as they did in the previous two games, but it’s still impressive to see even now.
Each fight plays out as you’d expect, as more characters are thrown at you – namely Smoke, Scorpion and Sub Zero, who are all introduced representing the Lin Keui clan, who seem to be baddies from the outset, shaking down kindly old ladies for protection money. Each fight plays out largely as you’d want it – with some nice comedic touches (for example in one cutscene, as Kung Lao is dealing with Sub Zero’s ice powers, another patron of the restaurant uses the ice in his tea.) It’s all very slick, and though there’s a valid worry in this first chapter that the new universe may just see Raiden as the stand in for Lui Kang and everything else playing out the same, NetherRealm have earned enough trust that we presume there’s plenty more twists in the story.
While the story seems to be the traditional play once (or maybe twice for certain branching paths, as previous games had this – but there were no signs of this in the build we played) and be done with it affair though, Invasion mode is clearly where the meat of the singleplayer game will reside to keep you returning to MK1 long after the credits roll. Rather than the Living Towers of MK 11’s single player mode, Invasion takes the form of a board-game like layout, feeling initially like an expansion of the previous games’ Krypt modes.
The first tutorial board takes you to the mansion of one Johnny Cage, and introduces you to the mode’s concept. When presented with the map, you move along a series of encounters on the ground in a somewhat (but not completely) fixed path. Each of these nodes, however, is usually something significant – either a fight, a shop or minigame. These fights won’t always be the same – sometimes you’ll be fighting against versions of fighters with specific movesets. Sometimes, the fights themselves will have modifiers, like flying demons shooting fireballs into the play space, or controls being reversed, making them feel so much more fresh than necessarily a straight run of fight after fight after fight.
Crucially these fights will net you rewards – not only unlocking the next encounter, but netting you kurrency (yes with a K, this is Mortal Kombat after all) and unlocking items, including concept art, costumes and stuff you can use in other modes. On top of that, you’ll also on occasion unlock equipment which is where the game’s RPG elements come in. These items can give your fighters stat boosts, or abilities and other benefits when equipped to help you in subsequent encounters and encourage you to make your fighter best suited to your playstyle.
Perhaps most intriguingly, these boards (after the Johnny Cage introduction board), each of which themed around a different invading force, will be rotate in and out on a seasonal basis. That’s right – Mortal Kombat 1 will have a live service component. We’ll hasten to add that, similarly, so did the Living Towers – as these would be updated and refreshed on a regular basis. However, this time seasons have been mentioned specifically, with each new season bringing in new boards with new challenges, and new rewards to earn. At the time of writing, it’s not clear if this means there’ll be some kind of season pass to access these, though one hasn’t been mentioned yet outside of the ‘Kombat Pack’ DLC for the new characters. Of course, MK’s no stranger to having in-game purchases for real world coin (Easy Fatality Tokens, anyone?) either, but again – we weren’t able to ascertain this in our preview build, so we’ll have to wait and see if you can boost your coffers in-game by opening your real world wallet.
Overall though, Mortal Kombat 1’s single player modes are looking very promising indeed. Providing the variety keeps up as much as it did in our preview build, Invasion mode looks like it’ll be one that will keep us single-player MK fans coming back for more even after the game’s initial release. The story too is leaving plenty of intrigue and promises those who are into MK lore plenty to talk about. Overall, the single player package looks once more to satisfy those fans, and despite some stiff competition this time around from Street Fighter 6’s own dedicated single player modes, MK1 looks set to put up one hell of a fight to retain its crown.
We’ll find out for sure when the Mortal Kombat 1 release date arrives on September 14, 2023.
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