For franchises with lots of recognizable characters like Marvel, Star Wars, or The Lord of the Rings, character-collecting RPGs seem like a no-brainer. These are mobile games where players obtain various versions of iconic characters (usually through a mix of in-game currency and real money) and fight as them. NetherRealm Studios and WB Games’ Mortal Kombat is the next series to make this jump, with Mortal Kombat: Onslaught launching today on iOS and Android.
Ahead of Mortal Kombat: Onslaught’s release, Digital Trends got a hands-off look at the game and a chance to speak with Mike Lee, NetherRealm Studios lead designer. We learned more about how the game stands out from other character-collecting RPGs, its place in Mortal Kombat’s complex multiverse of timelines, and its approach to microtransactions.
Most character-collecting games are turn-based RPGs with little in the way of compelling narratives. Mortal Kombat: Onslaught takes an inverse approach to the genre. While the core of collecting new characters is still there, the game prominently features a story mode with cutscenes written by the same team that worked on the story modes for games like Mortal Kombat 1. At launch, four chapters of this story will be available, and NetherRealm plans to complete it sometime next year.
In the meantime, NetherRealm will also release Khronicles, stories with slightly lower production values starring new characters. The first of these features Scorpion from Mortal Kombat 1, which does raise some timeline questions. Hardcore Mortal Kombat fans know how messy the series’ timeline is, with Mortal Kombat 1 confirming that there’s essentially a multiverse out there. Onslaught’s aesthetics hew closer to that of Mortal Kombat 11 than 1, so Digital Trends asked Lee how exactly Onslaught slots into the franchise’s lore
“Mortal Kombat: Onslaught is its own universe,” Lee tells Digital Trends. “It was created to stand on its own and have its own narratives, so it is not parallel to Mortal Kombat 1. The character styles do look like they’re more from that Mortal Kombat 11 era, but we are going to have characters in our Khronicles crossing over. Mortal Kombat 1’s Scorpion is not normally part of the Mortal Kombat: Onslaught universe, but because we want to have as much synergy as possible between the two games, the Khronicles story will talk about how and why Mortal Kombat 1’s Scorpion has crossed over. But they are separate universes.”
The developers are planning very active support for Onslaught over the next year, even when it comes to the narrative. In addition to finishing up the story, there are plans to add new modes, Khronicles, and fighters, including “licensed guest characters.” Hopefully, that means characters like Peacemaker or Omni-Man will guest star in this game like in Mortal Kombat 1.
Like NetherRealm’s console fighters, each Khronicle or chapter of Mortal Kombat: Onslaught focuses on a specific fighter, while also containing a multitude of battles where teams of four characters face off and try to deplete the health bars of the opposing team first. These fights play out in real time and rely on players properly positioning their team and using targeted special attacks at the right time. Each character is assigned a class, three of which are in the game at release: Warrior, Defender, and Assassin.
Warriors are frontline units that can deal out and take a decent amount of damage, Defenders are the tanks of the group and meant to distract and soak up damage, and Assassins are frail characters that can sneak to the back of an enemy team’s formation and deal massive damage. Characters’ stats can be improved with gears and relics, and equipping the right combination of these is how players can pull off Mortal Kombat’s iconic fatalities in Onslaught.
These battles will make up most of playtime across story mode, Khronicles, and PvP Arena tournaments. Boss Tower and Chasm modes, on the other hand, are more focused on testing player skill and team-building capabilities. Outside of fights, playing will summon new characters with currency, upgrade those characters with gear and relics, and complete various missions and achievements to keep players engaged daily. NetherRealm Studios’ fighters have flirted with gear systems and RPG elements for years, but Onslaught is the first game to embrace that genre fully.
While character-collecting RPGs can be fun, they also tend to feature some of the worst mobile gaming microtransactions, as they’re set up to encourage players to pay and skip the grind. NetherRealm’s promises on this front are a bit more mixed. Lee initially claimed that Mortal Kombat: Onslaught’s leveling process is “fairly quick” regardless of microtransactions, and he also confirmed that story content won’t ever be locked behind a paywall. In fact, story mode and Khronicles will provide ways to use characters that players don’t even own.
Lee also says that the developers plan to give Onslaught balance passes in the future so the game won’t encourage spending money because older characters don’t feel outdated. However, when Digital Trends pressed Lee on what exactly Onslaught’s monetization model is, he did admit that the microtransactions’ primary purpose was to accelerate the progression.
“Microtransactions are mainly there for a player if they want to accelerate their experience,” Lee tells Digital Trends. “Players who are playing regularly will have quests and missions and all sorts of achievements where they’ll be able to get every type of currency there is in the game. Nothing is blocked off; the free-to-play experience is the normal experience.”
Now that the game is out in the wild, we’ll need to see how aggressive the microtransactions are and if they feel more optional than Onslaught’s mobile game peers. It’s certainly shaping up to be a distinct game within the Mortal Kombat series and the character-collecting RPG subgenre. Hopefully, the grind feels fun, like learning a character in Mortal Kombat, and not frustrating, as it is when I’m trying to get enough orbs to obtain a new character in Marvel Strike Force.
Mortal Kombat: Onslaught is available now for iOS and Android.
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