Mortal Kombat is entering a new era. Following the events of Mortal Kombat 11’s campaign, the timeline has reset, summoning unique interpretations of classic characters, altered power dynamics, and dangerous new threats. To complement this universal reboot, NetherRealm Studios has brought new modes and systems to Mortal Kombat 1, like Kameo fighters that can support you in combat and a brand-new single-player offering in the form of Invasions mode.
Invasions blends RPG-esque progression systems with bite-size chunks of Mortal Kombat’s trademark gory goodness, and it will likely appeal to new players who want to get a foothold on the fighting experience before diving into multiplayer.
Players each choose their combatant and a Kameo to support them (though the player can swap both at any time) and appear on a top-down game board where every node tosses you into a bloody, amorphous brawl. Flying bats can turn the upper half of the arena into a hazard, and homing ice balls can frustrate your hard-fought combos. Invasions is also propped up by a lighthearted narrative spine, evoking natural comparisons to other fighting game single-player modes like The Subspace Emissary in Super Smash Bros. Brawl or, more recently, World Tour in Street Fighter 6.
As part of a hands-on demo at Gamescom, I was let loose on the gaudy Hollywood Hills mansion of MK stalwart Johnny Cage; the place is in total disarray upon my arrival. There’s a portal to another realm in the master bedroom, but I had to grab the key to the front door first, which (true to form) had been stolen by a Tarkatan warrior.
Lurching into battle as Liu Kang, I was struck by how visually nimble Mortal Kombat 1 felt compared to its predecessor. It’s quick but satisfying, a pick-up-and-play fighting game with deliberate animations that lean hard into the murderous spectacle, and it leverages the faster memory access and fidelity of current-gen consoles to deliver eye-popping backdrops and effects. I could see the crimping on a plastic flamingo as it floated lazily around Cage’s pool. I also noticed blood drizzling and compounding naturally across the marble flooring as we tussled back and forth.
Kameo fighters are attached to the left shoulder button, which you press to pull them into the fray for an attack. Depending on your D-pad orientation and Kameo choice, this can be a punch, a throw, or a projectile. They’re broadly unintrusive to the cadence of combat — I hit a classic MK uppercut and extended a juggle on Baraka with Jax’s Energy Wave, which felt terrific in practice. Your bloody buddy can also join the grimacing fun of a fatal blow. On one squirm-worthy occasion, Kano’s laser pierced a victim’s skull before Johnny Cage dropped a film camera on their ribs. If it was ever in doubt, by no means has the gratuitous violence been toned down for this entry. Johnny Cage’s playful fatality sees him slam dunk his opponent into a concrete Walk of Fame star, only to tear their face from the floor and take a selfie with what remains.
Pushing through the mini brawls, I gained XP toward my Invasions level, which increased the stats tied to all of the combatants in my roster. (You can choose to adjust the allocation per each fighter manually.) Equippable talismans with limited charges can be activated in battle with a flick of the right stick, too. Talismans can buff your attacks, heal you, or simply damage opponents, and you can recharge and upgrade them in special forges dotted around the game boards.
A Pokémon-esque elemental strengths-and-weaknesses system also runs in the background of Invasions mode, adding further depth to the modified fights. Certain fighters and Kameos boast elemental types such as fire or ice, and you can buy consumable capsules that grant resistance, or equip a specific talisman to exploit their fatal flaws. I didn’t get hands-on time with this system, but I also saw a quick flash during an introductory trailer of some Test Your Might-style minigames that may weave into Invasions mode; I expect this would add even more variety to the pockets of gameplay it offers.
Overall, Invasions doesn’t feel like a skinner box for quick-fire brawls. There’s enough here to get you into a decent feedback loop, honing your skills while climbing through a moreish RPG progression system. Long term, NetherRealm said during the session that Invasions will follow a seasonal calendar, with a new “Invading Force” bringing fresh battles and modifiers throughout Mortal Kombat 1’s life cycle. Sure, it’s still a few steps removed from the ambitious, beloved-by-me Konquest RPG mode seen in 2004’s Mortal Kombat: Deception. But as an addition to the cinematic campaign, Invasions feels like a compelling option for players who don’t want to be funnelled into the meritocratic mayhem of online multiplayer as soon as they roll credits.
Mortal Kombat 1 will be released on Sept. 14 on PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox Series X, and Nintendo Switch.