There has always been something prohibitive about online fighting games. Fighting games, by their very nature, favor perfection and mastery over casual play. Playing online with one versus one player being the norm is a different experience compared to shooters, which typically lean casual and at least give you teammates to depend on. For fighting games, everything falls on you. And when you're facing other players who take the game very seriously, playing online can be a tedious experience.
That carries over in Mortal Kombat 11's new online closed beta. I'm faced with the Scorpions who spam teleporting; the Barakas who repeat the same two strong moves over and over again. I've faced the Kabals who, honestly, always kick my ass with finesse; spinning me round and round over and over. With no tutorial in the beta, and as someone who's skated past recent Mortal Kombat entries, I'm flopping like a Magikarp using splash. How the heck do I even stand a chance?
Thus, I've sent myself on a journey to, say, git gud, even if I've accepted it as a hopeless cause. I will never be as good as those Kabals I meet regularly, but for now, I'm doing my best.
I've decided that Skarlet would be my "main" in my path to at least get one win on my embarrassing win and lose ratio. Skarlet originally made her debut back in 2011's Mortal Kombat as a DLC character. She wields the power of blood, and even wears a mask that's called "Blood God" sometimes. (On that note, shout out to our RPG podcast, Axe of the Blood God.) One of her finishers is summoning blood daggers and stabbing her opponent repeatedly, before punching one last blood-dagger through their head, popping out their eyeball. In true Mortal Kombat fashion, it's both disgusting and hilarious at the same time.
The Skarlet I've built up in the online beta is a unique one, at least in my eyes. I've shed her usual red-everything with a white suit. I've taken off the mask that shields half her face. Her two weapons both shine a bright red, to go with the white outfit. You see, in the Mortal Kombat 11 closed beta, NetherRealm gives players a whole bunch of options in customizing the five characters available. There's three outfits, many different color palettes, five options for all three slots of gear.
Back from Mortal Kombat X's variant system, Mortal Kombat 11 introduces abilities. With abilities, you can customize each character's moves with three available slots. You can also build up and save multiple variants of the same character, with different abilities, outfits, and anything else equipped. In the beta, each character has about 10 abilities to choose from, with some even taking up two slots, like Baraka's "Blood Lunge," where he dives toward his target and sinks his blades into them as they fall to the ground. Others require a specific ability equipped to even work.
It's a lot of variety and flexibility to play around with. For some, it might be a welcome change. For casual players like me, it's a lot to reckon with. It's hard enough learning the ins and outs and perfect combos for one character, but now I have new abilities to test out too? It's too much customization than I usually favor from fighting games. But at least on the cosmetic side, the customization is just as in-depth, if not more so, offering mixing and matching different outfit styles and colors.
The plot even leans into the hyper-customization focus of Mortal Kombat 11. New Big Bad Kronika is the Keeper of Time, so as bad guys do, she's "rewriting" the timeline of Mortal Kombat. This will bring old Scorpion and new Scorpion toe to toe, as well as every other friend and foe from Mortal Kombat's twisty, turny history. It's perhaps the easiest excuse to explain away the over the top customization that you'll find dripping in Mortal Kombat 11's menus. It's all from different timelines, man.
The breadth of customization, from abilities to five characters in total, means the online beta isn't starved for content. There are three maps to select in online one versus one, and five characters in total to select: Skarlet, Kabal, Jade, Baraka, and Scorpion.
So, while there isn't a tutorial, there is the Klassic Tower where you can battle AI-controlled enemies for practice. The five characters you face are all the playable characters in the beta, with varied difficulties for tackling the tower. Even though I was having a downer of a time in constantly losing in online play, I could count on Klassic Tower to give me an ego boost. (Trust me, I was kicking butt with Skarlet there!)
Testing online is the main purpose of this beta though, and so far, I haven't had any problems. In a nice addition, when you're matchmade with another player (it usually took about a minute, tops), you can see what type of connection they have (LAN or wi-fi) and their ping strength. Even when I battled players with a mid-tier yellow-colored ping, the match went smooth. Still, it gives you the option to reject another player too. So if their win and lose ratio is intimidating, you can reject the match and search for another player. Or if their ping is maybe a bit unstable, you can decline it in pursuit of someone with a stronger internet connection. Rather than just throwing you into a match with another player, Mortal Kombat 11 gives you a much-needed brief window into their strength, both on the internet and in, uh, actual strength.
Fans have already spotted potential spoilers for the story after one character's mask names and an intro implied a new romantic relationship. Others are already dissecting a poster on one of the maps as either a sign of a new character, or just a red herring. Regardless, we don't have to wait long to get all the answers for Mortal Kombat 11, as it's releasing on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC on April 23. The online closed beta runs from now until Sunday, March 31 at 11:59 p.m. PT.