Why it’s Good That Mortal Kombat 11 Wasn’t at E3

E3 2018 was quite generous. We got our first peek at Cyberpunk 2077, a few too many peeks at Kingdom Hearts 3, and plenty of peeks at the Final Fantasy 7 Remake not enough peeks at Death Stranding. But E3 2018 also kept some secrets. Mortal Kombat 11 was one of those secrets, joining the list of absentee games along with the rumored Splinter Cell title and whatever Rocksteady is working on. Out of all the rumored games leading up to the show, Mortal Kombat 11 seemed like the safest bet; a safe bet that never showed up. And while MK11’s presence was missed, ghosting the show was a good decision.

Mortal Kombat 11: Krushing the Cycle

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Part of why it felt why Mortal Kombat 11 had to be at E3 was developer NetherRealm Studios’ cycle. They usually announce their game just before E3 then release it in the next April or May. Mortal Kombat 9’s June 2010 announcement started this trend that both Injustice games and Mortal Kombat X rigidly adhered to. Even Twitter jokester and series co-creator Ed Boon acknowledged the trend during Giant Bomb’s E3 2018 show.

While reliable, it’s also quite predictable and that’s part of the problem. That predictability would undoubtedly start to creep into their games if they were just building on the same foundation every other year. Injustice 2 and Mortal Kombat X were huge steps up from their predecessors and those types of leaps forward would get harder and harder to do with each successive release. Standards change so, in order to keep improving, the games would have to be significantly different or better to garner the same amount of excitement and praise.

Mortal Kombat X was already positioned as a Mortal Kombat game for the next generation, as evidenced by its new fighters, the titular X, and the story’s themes about the new replacing the old. NetherRealm likes talk about breaking new ground and improving upon MKX‘s overhaul would undoubtedly be a tall task; one that might have pushed their schedules back a bit further. Hiding the game from the public eye allows it to look better when we see it further down the line and could mean that they needed the extra time to polish something more ambitious.

Mortal Kombat 11: Klosing the Gap

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But, even if Mortal Kombat 11 is still secretly sticking to that spring release pattern, it doesn’t mean their press cycle will also be repeating itself. Fighting games are almost uniquely positioned to spend a long time in the news. Revealing combatants on a monthly basis is an easy way to build hype and stay in the headlines.

Injustice 2 initially started replicating NetherRealm’s past strategy but a deafening silence quickly followed its June 2016 unveiling. From August to January, the game entered a total media blackout. No news. No character reveals. Nothing. It was a period of confusion that casted doubt on whether or not the game would even hit its assumed release date. Then, out of nowhere, Injustice 2 crawled out of the deepest corners of the Batcave in January with a May 2017 release date and a steady stream of character trailers until its launch.

Revealing the game this way was uneven and points out how NetherRealm can tighten up their schedule and stay in the news more consistently. If the studio’s next game does come out next spring, a late winter announcement at The Game Awards or PSX would fix Injustice 2‘s news drought problem. More and more triple-A games have been doing this as well. From Hitman 2 to Fallout 76, a good chunk of this holiday’s titles were announced within the past month. Silence before an announcement is meaningless but silence after an announcement will only raise questions and doubts.

Mortal Kombat 11: Technically Unkonfirmed

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Mortal Kombat 11 could have been absent because it might not actually be their next game. Aside from a few innocent tweets from Boon, neither publisher Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment or NetherRealm has made any mention of MK11. But if the studio is always bent on trying something new, their next title might not even be a traditional Mortal Kombat game or even a Mortal Kombat game at all.

Boon has been relatively open about the ill-fated sequel to Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks, the well-received, cooperative brawler from 2005. Midway Games Chicago (now NetherRealm) had laid the groundwork for the game but it was canned in 2008 when Midway Games LA (co-developers of Shaolin Monks) closed in 2008 during Midway’s hard times. Boon has not hidden his love for Shaolin Monks, calling it “FAR and away” the best MK spin-off. A new Shaolin Monks would allow them to stay within the MK universe, but give them the freedom to try something new.

NetherRealm also co-developed WWE Immortals, the mobile-exclusive brawler that was released in 2015. But instead of having normal, realistic depictions of the wrestlers, the studio creatively turned them into larger-than-life fantasy fighters that would fit right at home in any Injustice or Mortal Kombat game. It’s most likely not going to be spun into a full-fledged fighting game but the new start would allow them to take risks and expand without the shackles of an established franchise. It’s what they did with Injustice and what they could do with a triple-A WWE Immortals game.

Mortal Kombat 11 would please a ton of people, myself included. And that’s why it’s good that the studio chose to keep its current project locked in the Krypt for now. Fans either have a newer, bolder game to look forward to or a shorter wait time from announcement to release. Or both. Damaging combos and quick blocks are the quickest way to kill your opponent in Mortal Kombat. Impatience and sending death threats to the developers is the quickest way to kill Mortal Kombat as a whole. Taking more time and rethinking predictable habits is necessary for NetherRealm to grow and is good for everyone, even if that means that you have to wait a little longer to see MK11 or whatever else they have planned.