Back in 2011, Mortal Kombat was reinvented for home consoles with its ninth entry, which amounted to what many consider to be the definitive game in the series. Introducing a story mode unlike anything ever included in a fighting game before it, as well as remixing characters, locations, and plot events from its predecessors, this comeback felt like a celebration of everything that was great about the franchise up until that point, delivered in a fresh way. So you can imagine when Mortal Kombat X (aka MKX) was announced, our expectations were high…really high. Thankfully, Ed Boon and his crew at NetherRealm Studios have taken the series to the next level and created something that remains accessible but also complex enough to appeal to serious players. What we're getting at is, MKX is a bloody good time, one that deserves your attention.

The story mode in MKX kind of reminds us of Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, the second entry in the Mortal Kombat movies series. Now, you might think that since Annihilation is known for being a poor film, our opening statement is a negative one. But it's not. The reason we've made this connection is because, even though there's quite some time between the plot events of 2011's Mortal Kombat (often referred to as MK9) and this installment, MKX jumps right into the middle of a massive conflict and introduces a barrage of characters with haste, as it brazenly indulges in absurdities and cheesy humor. But unlike Annihilation, MKX is a stylish, self-aware spectacle, with all of its elements coming together to create something immensely entertaining.

That doesn't mean that it's flawless, though. Even though the presentation and visuals have made a massive leap in quality since the last installment, the narrative isn't quite as satisfying this time around. Jumping from fight to fight, from the past to present day, and from character to character faster than you can say "Toasty," there's not always the right amount of emphasis on the plot details that matter. But, more than anything, story mode exists to present over-the-top scenarios for the memorable cast of characters to interact with one another – aka shatter each other's bones into itty-bitty fragments. In that regard, MKX more than delivers.

The story campaign is shorter than it is MK9, but it would be unfair to call it short – concise is probably more appropriate. With 12 chapters, each comprised of four battles, we reached the conclusion in about five hours and, despite being a tad underwhelmed by the way things wrapped up, ended up very happy with everything overall. There are some QTE sequences that are silly and unneeded, but they hardly take anything away from the minute-to-minute thrills that keep the pace brisk. It should be known that the AI opponents can be very aggressive, so the less-experienced players will either need to rise to the occasion or skip challenging fights from the pause screen. For the most part it's a smooth, fair ride to the end, but beware of Kano and Mileena; they can be tricky to keep up with.

And have we mentioned that MKX plays like a dream? Because it does. Not only is this easily the best-playing Mortal Kombat yet, it's an exceptional fighting game by all accounts. The combat is incredibly fluid, with each character bending and breaking from the hits they are dealt. As is the case with the rest of the series, MKX is easy to get into but tough to master. There's a bit more depth to the fighting system than there was previously, and anyone wanting to participate online or survive tougher difficulties will have to spend time in practice mode working it all out. If you don't have an interest in mastering counters or memorizing combos, you can get by with special moves and the block button as long as you play on the friendlier difficulties and play intelligently.

As far as kombatants go, there are 24 options on the table, each with three distinct fighting-styles – called variations – to choose from. That means that a single character likely has close-ranged, zoning, and defensive styles available to them, and each one of them comes with its own special moves and attacks that are unique to it. As you can imagine, this makes the roster feel even larger than it is, and it's the reason we enjoyed every fighter to some extent, a feeling we've never experienced with another fighting game. There's also a nice mix of classic characters, their offspring and descendants, and newcomers. The lineup appears well thought out, and it lends to MKX having a tone that feels different from its predecessors, even if it does borrow some story bits from the series' history – most notably the events of Mortal Kombat 4.

Since we've shared that the story doesn't take all that long to wrap up, you might be wondering if MKX offers enough content to keep you playing well beyond the credits. The answer is: it certainly does. Not only are the expected options here – like the Traditional Towers, Single Fights, Two-Player mode – but there are now Living Towers that refresh hourly and daily, and these incorporate gameplay modifiers to add unpredictability and ensure no two sessions ever feel the same. You can even send a randomly-generated Tower to your friends and challenge them to beat your score. It's not the type of mode that you'd focus on exclusively, but it's nice to have one or two challenges waiting for you upon booting the game; it's just too bad there isn't more of a notification to let you know that pending challenges have arrived and to alert you of how your friends have performed.

If playing against other human beings is more to your liking, you'll be ecstatic to know that MKX has a robust amount of online modes and options to mess with. Whether it's ranked or unranked matches, Team Battles, King of the Hill or Tower Challenges, there should be more than enough to keep you engaged for months to come. Our time spent dabbling in these modes was surprisingly smooth for the first five days after the game's release, but recently there's been noticeable lag and numerous disconnects to deal with. We also had a complicated time finding Team Battles to participate in, and sometimes ended up waiting 10-15 minutes to find a match…if we found one at all. It's a shame, too, because banding up with a couple other fighters to take down an enemy team can be a lot of fun. These particular fights are just one-on-one, but your wins counts toward the score of your team and a champion is decided by which team has the most wins. Hopefully the servers get back to normal soon, because playing MKX online can be a treat.

Resting like an umbrella over all the modes is Faction Wars, which requires players to side with one of five factions when first booting the game. Even though this feature might not be wholly realized in its current form, it makes you feel as if you're making some sort of progress no matter which mode you're getting into. That's because you're constantly earning XP that counts to your faction's overall score, and at the end of the week, the faction with the most points is victorious and ends up with rewards. At first this merely seemed like a superficial addition, but it appears that there are a few modes slowly rolling out that allow you to partake in faction-specific battles, beefing up the overall amount of variety in the game. Hopefully we can see this idea explored further in the future, not just in Mortal Kombat games, but fighting games in general.

Speaking of exploration, the Krypt returns in MKX, and it's taken a different form than the aimless wandering involved in MK9. This time around, you travel on a grid through a maze of corridors and pathways, spending the coins you've earned in-game to unlock goodies – fatalities, concept art, alternate costumes, etc. – and collecting weapons hidden in the environment that allow access to new areas; the Krypt's layout is actually similar to a Metroidvania in this regard. Don't expect a deep, full-fledged game, though, even if it may sound like one; there isn't even any combat outside of single-button QTEs when randomly – and rarely – coming across a hostile creature. But regardless, the changes to the Krypt are welcome, and we've spent many hours poking around and looking for the tombs that hold the greatest rewards. If you're a completionist with a hankering for obtaining extras and collectibles, you'll be in heaven.

What does put a very mild damper on the impact of the presentation, are some occasional rough edges that show up during very specific moments. For one, even though the visuals look gorgeous most of the time, there are some graphical inconsistencies that show their face. This is evident when comparing the facial features of the human characters to the beastly, detailed creatures from Outworld. Additionally, the top-notch visuals don't always hold up during fatality sequences. Whether it's a see-through polygon, a fuzzy resolution, or unrealistic-looking gore, there's typically something minor that catches your eye during – what we think are – the most satisfying fatalities the series has ever seen. Thankfully, when engaged in a match, there's next to nothing to complain about. Outside of a brief pause when an x-ray attack is initiated or a match is won, it's the silkiest and smoothest tournament yet.

We could go on and on about the other things that MKX gets right – like the return of Brutalities, the interactive environments that made their way over from Injustice, and the way the characters greet one another before a match – but to be honest, we'd rather be mashing buttons on an Xbox One controller than combo-ing an excess of words together on this page. MK9 set a new standard for fighting games when it released in 2011, and MKX is a reminder to the industry that high-production story modes, lots of modes and unlockables, and fresh ideas are expected in the genre moving forward. Even with the imperfections we've detailed above, and a couple questionable DLC offerings that luckily don't affect the game, MKX is still one of the best entries in the Mortal Kombat series and one of the best fighters on the market.

Conclusion

Even though Mortal Kombat X has a few surface wounds that could use patching up, it's a superb fighting game that lives up to its hype and meets the lofty expectations set by its predecessor. This is the swiftest and most aggressive Mortal Kombat yet, and it's rounded out with fresh modes, gruesome finishers, and enough ingenuity to keep the series moving forward. If you're even a little interested in fighting games, this is one tournament worth signing up for.