Review: Shang Tsung steals souls and the show in Mortal Kombat 11: Aftermath

Mortal Kombat 11 was released little more than a year ago, and although it wasn’t my favorite entry in the series for a variety of reasons, its reverence for its canon and how it was willing to take it into some crazy new directions once again proved that Netherrealm Studios are really good at making people care about their ultimately silly fighting game’s story like none other. Weeks ago, they made a surprising announcement that not only would there be new characters added into the roster via DLC, that the story would also see an expansion, something that’s unheard of in fighting games in the form of Mortal Kombat 11: Aftermath, which was finally unleashed last week.

Mortal Kombat 11: Aftermath’s story mode takes place immediately after the ending of the main game, with a ow merely human Raiden and newly appointed Elder God Liu Kang just about to mess with big baddie Kronika’s hourglass and rebuild time and save everything that was destroyed during the chaotic events of Mortal Kombat 11. At the nick of time, though, a portal opens up and out of it steps series’ mainstay villain Shang Tsung, accompanied by wind god Fujin and the face painted Nightwolf — who were previously believed to have been banished to the Void by Kronika, a sort of “Phantom Zone” prison dimension — who immediately warns the befuddled duo not to do anything without first reacquiring Kronika’s crown, which was lost during the final battle, and is paramount to their success. And of course, Tsung is the only one capable of doing so, with Liu Kang’s help in opening a portal back to the past thanks to his new powers.

Shang Tsung was already part of Mortal Kombat 11 as he was the host to the game’s Krypt Mode, which took place in his island, and as a fighter that was added in as part of the first Kombat Pack back last June, but Aftermath marks his official debut in the story. Fans of the 1994 Mortal Kombat: The Movie will be pleased to know that Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa reprises his role in the game, also lending his likeness to the model, which following the noticeable upgrade in animation and modeling quality first seen in Injustice 2, looks and moves absolutely brilliantly. Tagawa’s performance is by far the highlight of the 3-hour long story mode, where he plays MK’s iconic shape-shifting villain to perfection, with plenty of winks and nods and scenery chewing that are befitting to the role.

If only Game of Thrones’ fire and ice ended up being this deadly!

In terms of actual storytelling, Aftermath’s story mode is just as fun as the one from the main game, even though it takes some hamfisted shortcuts nearing its end in order to fit in some of the changes it makes to Mortal Kombat’s admittedly convoluted mythos. That’s totally okay, though, since the journey is so enjoyable and surprisingly well made that I can excuse Boon and his team for attempting to do what they did here, going for a very Back to the Future Part 2-influenced series of events that play off with what took place in the main story. All in all, it’s a blast to get more out of what was already great to begin with, even if it still leaves just as much of an opening that the original story did by the end.

Progress is expectedly done through a series of fights where you get to control the three protagonists intermittently, as well as a few others, sometimes getting the choice to pick who to control, resulting in different bouts throughout the story, just like the main game’s story mode. There is a slight deviation from the formula towards the final section that serves its purpose well and is better gone unspoiled, working to tailor the conclusion somewhat to your liking, albeit in severely limited fashion. If there’s ever a story DLC #2, it’ll be amusing to see what Netherrealm Studios will do to follow this up.

Aside from the new story, Mortal Kombat 11: Aftermath adds three new fighters to the already crowded selection by introducing Fujin, a returning character from Mortal Kombat 4 and Armageddon, as well as long rumored Sheeva, who was already part of the Mortal Kombat 11 story, along with RocoCop, yet another guest character in the list of the wild internet rumor mill. Sorry, no Ash Williams yet, the Deadites will have to wait a while longer. 

This guy is not messing around…

Officer Murphy’s cybernetic self plays as stiffly as expected and I’ve yet to find my groove fighting as him, but I can definitely appreciate the loving way he’s put in the game by the devs, making use of all his trademark moves and quips from the classic movie, made even more authentic by Peter Weller’s voice performance, the original actor that wore the bulky suit in both the first RoboCop and its quirky sequel. It includes everything you’d expect to see RoboCop doing in full blown R-rated (well, in this case, M-rated) situations, including a particularly gruesome homage to his own killing in the form of a Brutality. For as weird as it might seem to picture the 1990s tongue in cheek version of what law enforcement would look like in an unhinged capitalistic vision of the future be included in the already ridiculous world of Mortal Kombat, let’s not forget about the series’ own underground roots.

Wind god Fujin first saw the ring in 1997’s Mortal Kombat 4 and since then he’s gotten quite a makeover. He’ll feel pretty good to play if you like a more close to mid-range character thanks to his gust-based moves that propel projectiles and even himself around, but don’t worry if your opponent tries to open a wider gap: Fujin’s trusty crossbow can take care of that too. Overall, I’m willing to give him the benefit of doubt and put some time in to learn his moveset before writing him off, and as it stands, as someone with limited to no high level MK knowledge like me, who’s previously put some heavy time into enjoying playing as Rain in Mortal Kombat 9, a pure zoning-based fighter, Fujin is at this point somewhat of a challenge that I’m willing to take in learning.

Now let’s talk about Sheeva. She’s always been a really strong contender ever since her introduction in Mortal Kombat 3, and it’s exciting to see how well she turned out in the current game. There’s a lot of options in her suite of abilities that make her a very versatile brawler and not merely a gender swap of Goro. She was already a really good part of the NPC cast in the main story, and in Aftermath she finally brings in the pain as a playable character. Out of the three new additions, she’s the one that has me most interested in getting good at playing with, and I can see her potential to shine in the upcoming (now online due to COVID-19) tournaments such as EVO in the coming months.

Talk to the hand, buddy.

There are also a host of new things that were added into Mortal Kombat 11 that are not part of the paid portion of the Aftermath DLC, but of the content patch that every owner of the game is getting regardless of putting down the forty bucks or not. Included among these are some new stages like the acid pit that’s similar to the one Mortal Kombat 2 that also includes its own new stage fatality, and an arcade with an elaborate projection background that pays homage to a lot of backgrounds from previous 16 and 32-bit Mortal Kombat games.

The return of friendship moves is also noteworthy since those tend to be far more enjoyable to see in repeated runs than any of the fatalities, and have been my personal favorite part of Mortal Kombat, but if you prefer a more violent approach that’s more akin to the overall bloody nature of the series, you’ll find new brutalities to pull off as well, so don’t fret, the silliness plays both ways here. There’s a laundry list of other improvements to the overall gameplay of Mortal Kombat 11 which given that it’s entering its second year of existence in the usually short lifespan of a Netherrealm fighter, it’s quite fresh to see and a nice excuse to jump back into the game for sure.

Although the most significant changes to Mortal Kombat 11 come from an update that doesn’t require you to put down more money for an expansion, Aftermath still manages to be a worthwhile addition for its story mode and Shang Tsung’s exceedingly fun performance alone. The new characters are good additions for sure, and if you’re just getting into the game now, there’s no reason not to go for the complete package that includes all of the DLC released so far plus the new expansion content that’s also being made available. If for some reason you don’t care about the story and are doing just fine with whoever in the cast you cared about maining and are merely curious about the additions to the cast, you might want to hold off on this for a price drop or just cherry pick whoever out of the new characters you’re willing to learn by getting them piecemeal.       

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