The test of your might continues. The Aftermath update for Mortal Kombat 11 is here, and NetherRealm Studios have put together a very exciting batch of DLC. The aftermath expansion was officially announced on May 6th, 2020, and only took 20 days before it was finally released and playable. It’s a pretty substantial update to the best selling game of 2019, bringing new characters, story content, and balance updates.
With so much going on, we reached out to Canadian fighting game tech guru, Rooflemonger, to help us parse through it. Here’s everything you need to know about Mortal Kombat 11: Aftermath.
The story continues
Without getting too spoilery, MK11’s excellent story mode ended with the universe on the cusp of a new beginning. Raiden and Liu Kang were able to somehow detach themselves from the chains of fate and begin putting things right, despite time twisting antagonist Kronika’s best efforts.
Aftermath picks up right after that with a villain-centric story as the famous MK sorcerer, Shang Tsung, steps out of the shadows. The story has some similar beats to Back To The Future 2 as this league of bad guys skips through time to make sure previous events happen in a particular way. The story is told with typical NetherRealm flair, and many who have completed it say that it’s a must-play.
“It's fantastic. I think it's the second best one NRS has done and, therefore, the second best story mode in fighting games overall because nobody is on their level. Like Tekken 7 or Soulcalibur 6 are alright and all, but there's a distinct difference in quality between an NRS story mode and everybody else. I like that there's a villain focus because most stories generally follow the heroes,” said Rooflemonger, whose number 1 fighting game story of all time was Mortal Kombat 9.
Fighting games don’t often focus on having good narratives. They’re usually about giving players access to cool looking characters with interesting moves to facilitate competition. Sometimes they’ll have a couple of details on ‘why’ these cool characters have come together to fight, but oftentimes it comes off as a little hokey. NRS has expanded the story without making us wait for another game, and put a light on some not often explored narrative elements.
“There’s a love story. Shao Kahn and Sindel love each other, and love being evil together,” said Rooflemonger. “Shao Kahn is a big deal and you never really get to see anything from his perspective.”
This isn’t to say that MK11: Aftermath will set the gold standard for writing in games by any means. NieR: Automata, this is not. It’s still just a vehicle to give characters a reason to fight, but NRS goes the extra mile to give everyone who buys the game something to do beyond labbing situational, unreliable corner combos.
New challengers approach
New characters are one of the most exciting parts of a fighting game update. Adding a long time series favourite, or introducing a wild guest character can do wonders for getting new people interested. If you purchase the Aftermath update, you’ll get access to legacy characters like Sheeva and Fujin, as well as the interesting guest choice of Robocop. Each of them make pretty interesting additions to the game, and we got Rooflemonger to break each of them down for anyone interested in playing as them:
- If you’re looking to bully your opponent, then Sheeva is the character for you. She’s difficult to block, regardless of which variation you choose. She’s got access to a lot of overheads and lows, and many of her strings have overheads built right into them. Once she’s able to get on top of you, she excels at staying there.
- She’s got ways to get in your face, like her teleport stomp where she jumps off screen and lands on top of you. It’s pretty easy to avoid if done raw with how telegraphed it is, but some people don’t like to play defense and probably deserve what they get.
- Sheeva also has access to a bleed mechanic. She’s able to put her opponent into a bleeding state where they take damage as they move, incentivizing them to stay put. Of course, if you choose to stand your ground to avoid bleeding, now you have to deal with trying to block her, which is exactly what she wants.
- Her three variations augment her base game plan pretty well. Variation 1 lets you focus on screen control as well as access an anti-air grab for jump happy opponents, Variation 2 gives her a very durable projectile to help beat zoners and and Variation 3 expands her ability to mixup with some low command throws and a command run that has different options out of it.
- More than just Raiden’s younger brother, Fujin is a powerful character with very strong mobility. He can just run on air if he wants to, and many of his combo routes give absurd corner carry. If you’re able to win neutral, capitalizing off a hit and carrying your opponent to the corner so you can force them to stay there will be very important to playing Fujin.
- He’s a lab monster’s delight. Early impressions had it looking like he didn’t have a lot of combos but, as players explore him, it’s becoming apparent that he does. They just happen to require some of the weirdest and hardest execution in the game.
- He can play mind games. He doesn’t have to hit the ground if he doesn’t want to thanks to a float he can pull off from his hop. Fighting against Fujin will have a lot of “burden of knowledge” situations, so it’s important to remember that he isn’t playing MK11, he’s playing his own game.
- Variation 1 focuses heavily on combos, letting him amplify his tornadoes for interesting sequences, Variation 2 is all about his air mobility with his air walk letting him cross the whole screen with ease, and Variation 3 is about shutting down the opponent's ground game while controlling space with wind-based pushes and pulls.
- Robocop’s inclusion had a fair amount of buzz around it. Anyone who missed out on Dark Horse Comics’ 1992 crossover chronicling their confrontation can now play the fight in real time thanks to MK11. People who were looking forward to that are in luck, because Robocop might be the strongest of the 3 new characters, if early impressions are anything to go by.
- Players with good fundamentals will have a blast with Robocop. He’s pretty easy to use and not very combo heavy. His sequences are simple to learn, but you’ll find yourself ending them, returning to neutral and trying to outplay your opponent a lot through risk/reward balancing.
- He’s got a consistent focus on zoning, no matter what variation he’s in. He’s also equipped to continue pressing his advantage. Depending on the variation, short combos can be ended with flamethrower, leaving you +19 on hit and able to keep enacting your game plan, or you can make use of traps and command grabs to roll over your opponent with setplay.
- Variation 1 turns Robocop into a pretty competent grappler (who can play at range!) with a true mid hitting command grab as well as command walk that can be cancelled into different options like a throw or a projectile. Variation 2 is for zoning, giving him access to 4 different projectiles, including one that ducks incoming fireballs, as well as a riot shield to block incoming damage. Variation 3 lets him close distance with a long distance charge (it’s only -7 on block, so a lot of characters will struggle with getting good punishes) and an electrical buff that does damage to opponents when they hit you.
“All three new characters are very worthy additions to the game. They all bring different gameplans and there's something there for everybody. Not every character is for everyone, but I think any person can find something they like in one of these three,” said Rooflemonger.
New mechanics introduced
Aftermath isn’t only about giving love to the DLC characters, existing characters have seen changes from the sweeping update too. Along with the usual adjustments to frame data and move properties, also comes changes to variations.
With three main variations per character, some were just plain better than others. This led to dead variations for some characters. With Aftermath giving MK11 a new coat of paint, (including the long asked for reintroduction of “friendship” finishers for all members of the cast!) of it's the perfect time to revisit characters and character variations you may not have given a fair shake.
It’s breathing life into characters nobody cared about.
This new lease on life comes from a combination of balance updates and the evolved meta of the game. As competitive play evolves, players have begun to value different things. With so much new stuff in the game, lapsed players have more reason than ever before to come back.
“You’ll slowly roll the mechanical changes into your game plan because they’re cool. But for me, personally, I'm looking at characters I didn't put too much time into before. I'm now actually very interested in Shang Tsung when I didn't really care before, both because of his changes and because of me advancing as a player. I’ve realized some of the stuff turns out to be really good when I didn't really care about it before.”
There’s a whole host of changes worth exploring but the star of the show has to be the new Armor Break mechanic. Since launch, MK11 has had a defensive mechanic where you can break out of a combo. As you play the game and gain matchup experience, you learn the optimal points to break out of attacks, since doing that allows you to get a full punish on your opponent for trying to go for max damage.
This leads to players often doing sub-optimal combos out of fear of their opponent breaking away and punishing them for doing the ‘right’ thing. Armor Breaks add a new layer to player interaction because, if an aggressor knows when the defender likes to break away, they can call it out with an armor break move to make them fear careless defense.
Armor Breaks will also break anything, including fatal blows, so every interaction has a new level for fighters to consider. Each character’s Armor Break is unique to them, so it’s important to have matchup knowledge and know when they can do it. Some characters even have variation specific armor breaks, adding to the thought that goes into choosing a main. Armor Breaks will have a huge effect on the meta and are easily the biggest change that differentiates Aftermath from previous versions of MK11.
Beyond the usual housekeeping and mechanical updates, MK11 continues to press forward in its evolution. The game isn’t done improving, and has even had hotfixes since the patch dropped to address certain issues like Fujin having access to an infinite combo.
If you’ve been on the fence about MK11, or if you played a little then stopped, right now is the best time to hop in. With new content in the game (and still on the way if data miners are to be believed) and a main spot as part of EVO Online 2020, MK11 is as healthy as it's ever been.
“It's a fun game. Some people write it off because it's Mortal Kombat without understanding,” said Rooflemonger. “You might have to learn some of the weird, interesting stuff. I know that's tough but I think it's truly a solid game that anyone who's just looking for a strong fundamental fighting game experience can enjoy.”