We’ve been playing the Mortal Kombat 11 closed beta for the past couple of days now (and don’t worry, there’ll be a full impressions article coming by the time it’s over), but one particular feature that might prove to be the star attraction for MK 11 is its Custom Character Variation System. It’s a mouthful of a name, but in practice, it could be key to Mortal Kombat 11’s longevity.
Variations aren’t new to the MK series. Introduced in Mortal Kombat X, the variations system split each character into three distinctive loadouts while retaining a core set of combos and special moves. Depending on the character in question, your variations could give you more offensive, defensive and mobility options, tripling the amount of potential match-ups.
Mortal Kombat 11 takes this system to its natural evolution by allowing you to create your own custom variation. The three standard variations still exist for those who would rather just get to the gory bits of the game (and it’s Mortal Kombat, so you can’t really blame them), but for the more experimental, the customisation here gives Mortal Kombat 11 a much bigger edge over the competition.
When creating a new variation, you’re given up to 3 slots to assign new moves and abilities. Depending upon how powerful the move is, or how many tools it gives you during a fight, the ability can take up 1 or 2 slots. There doesn’t seem to be a 3-slotter just yet, but this isn’t the full game after all.
Interestingly, with only three slots on three default variations, creating a new variation guarantees that’ll have access to a new move that’s currently going unused. Using Scorpion as an example, because I’ve been maining him so far in the beta, one of his unused specials is Misery Blade, a special stance that allows Scorpion to attack high or low, allowing for a decent 50/50 mix up.
The move gets even better when amplified, as Scorpion’s animation changes to look like he’s attacking from both high and low, making the move impossible to react to. It’s a devastating offensive tool in the right hands that’s only available to those who do their due diligence with the customisation.
That’s just one of his abilities, but there are decisions to be made when it comes to combining abilities. Again, using Scorpion as an example, he has an ability called Death Spin that gives him access to a new multi-hitting special move involving his spear, which takes up two slots out of three.
Now, you could use the third slot to equip Death Spear Kombo that requires that prerequisite Death Spin ability, or you could equip Burning Spear which, once activated, increases the damage of spear attacks. It’s about creating a loadout that’s right for you, whether that be the ability to do more damage or become more versatile in your options. Both are equally viable.
For another example, one of Baraka’s gimmicks is his War Banner that offers him a significant damage buff once placed, and there are three one slot moves that allow him to place that flag, but there’s a fourth move that gives Baraka the ability to charge headlong at the opponent with the banner after it’s been placed, which again creates more decisions to make.
Do you go for all three banner placing attacks, giving you more options to get that important damage buff, or do you find the two moves that are right for you and combine that with the War Banner Charge, which would grant you more tools once your game plan gets past “put banner in ground”? Alternatively, you could take one banner placing attack, the charge and stick Leg Kabob in the third slot, which does damage to your opponent over time.
With the ability to customise cosmetics as well as abilities, the custom variations feel like the next step in Netherrealm’s evolution after the Gear system in Injustice 2, but more refined and better for the player. While cosmetics will no doubt be earnable like Injustice, it seems like all the additional moves are available to you from the get-go, which wasn’t the case for Injustice. Clearly, NetherRealm have taken feedback to heart.
This is just what I’ve found from playing a couple of hours of a beta with 5 playable characters, and I’ll definitely be playing more over the next few days, but what I’ve seen so far makes me very optimistic about the full release of Mortal Kombat 11. With 25 characters (if the beta character select screen is to be believed), and DLC on the way, MK 11 has the potential to engross players for a long time.