You can’t trust anyone in Mortal Kombat 11: Aftermath. The expansion picks up right after the end of MK11, kicking off a few wonderful hours of brawling and treachery, and though it’s brief, it’s the most fun I’ve had with any fighting game campaign.
Sure, the bar is pretty low—who picks up a fighting game for its narrative chops? You’re lucky if you get a campaign at all, and if you do it’s probably not going to make a lasting impact. But NetherRealm’s oeuvre is the exception to this rule, to the point where the Injustice and Mortal Kombat campaigns are just as big a highlight as the brawls. And Aftermath now sits right at the top.
So here’s the deal: Liu Kang is now the god of fire and thunder, Kronika has been defeated and the universe has been saved. Except it hasn’t been. Kronika’s crown, which she was just about to use to create her ‘New Era,’ wiping the slate clean, has been destroyed, so Liu and the gang can’t fix all the damage. Thus begins a new adventure with Shang Tsung promising to save the day.
Yes, the evil sorcerer and former Mortal Kombat boss is now instrumental in cleaning up the mess created by Kronika, but don’t worry, he’s still a complete bastard. Aftermath makes it pretty obvious that Shang Tsung can’t be trusted. He’s arch throughout, and not a moment goes by without him smirking and throwing out mischievous glances. He might as well be screaming “I am going to screw you over so badly in a few scenes” to his temporary allies.
His plan is to steal the crown before Kronika can get her hands on it, necessitating yet another time travel romp that criss-crosses with the previous campaign. He’s also accompanied by characters introduced previously in DLC, like Sindel and Nightwolf, letting them get some time in the story spotlight, as well as new additions like the four-armed Sheeva and Fujin, Raiden’s windy brother. No RoboCop, sadly.
Even though Shang clearly isn’t on the level, the heroes go along with his plan. First to resurrect Sindel, who died and became a Revenant, and then to snatch the crown. Sindel, the evil empress, is also not to be trusted. What a shocking turn of events. Human once again and apparently free from the influence of her husband, Shao Kahn, she’s a goodie now, but of course she’s just waiting for her big reveal. More smirks ensue.
Once the betrayals begin, they just don’t stop. Sindel manages to rescue her husband, who it turns out she’s in love with because he’s a big bastard and not because she was enchanted, and then stages a coup of her own daughter’s empire, but not before killing her loyal friend, Sheeva. Double betrayal!
With Sindel and Shao Khan now leading a massive army to Kornika’s keep, they take a moment to screw over a few more people. The entire Cage family gets battered, captured and put in breeding camps. Then poor Liu Kang gets his legs smashed in courtesy of Shao Khan’s hammer, which in turn breaks the legs of his future self, a Revenant fighting on behalf of Kronika. It’s hard to keep track of them all, but there are three Liu Kangs by this point.
While that’s happening, Shang decides to finally stage his betrayal, tricking Fujin into giving him the pilfered crown, turning him into a god (and hot). But there’s still time for a few more betrayals! Surprising absolutely nobody, Shang’s not too keen to share power with his second set of allies, the evil ones, leading to a fight between the bad guys. That’s Sindel and Shao Kahn knocked out.
Honestly, after all that Shang really deserved to win, but nope! There’s still one big twist to come. The divine version of Liu Kang is still knocking about you see, and because he’s been in pretty much every Mortal Kombat, he’s wise to Shang’s ways. He was expecting the betrayal and let all of his friends die knowing that his enemy would eventually bring the crown to where it needed to be: the giant novelty hour glass that controls time. Finish him!
At several points, Aftermath lets you pick between two fighters, but it’s not until the end that this actually makes a difference. Normally both fighters are on the same side, so the result is the same, but for the climactic battle you get to pick who gets to build a new reality between the two last men standing.
It’s quite the rollerkoaster.
The first campaign managed to get a lot of laughs out of ’90s Johnny Cage meeting his grounded dad version and generally kept a more playful tone, even with the end of the world coming and buckets and buckets of blood. Aftermath is twice as ridiculous but plays it a bit more straight, but it works, carried as it is by the scenery chewing sorcerer.
It’s also a chance to give a bit more attention to characters who normally get sidelined for the infinitely boring Sub-Zero and his now equally boring bud, Scorpion. I can’t say I’m disappointed to see Ronda Rousey not returning as Sonya Blade, either, as she’s an atrocious voice actor and, more importantly, spews transphobic nonsense and promoted a Sandy Hook conspiracy theory. Most of the big characters get a nod and some scenes, but the majority of the attention is on DLC and expansion additions.
I love fighting games, but I just don’t have that competitive spirit. I don’t want to fight some toxic wanker who will inevitably spew vitriol on the off-chance that I win, and unfortunately multiplayer is full of them. And frankly, despite getting a lot better thanks to the best-in-class tutorials, I’m still a pretty crap kombatant. Even without the campaign, MK11 and Aftermath have lots of great singleplayer diversions, but the story is really what I’m here for, and this one is as brilliant as it is ludicrous.