In the same way that I appreciate Apex Legends from afar, I appreciate Mortal Kombat 11. It, too, does a lot of smart things that make jumping in a smooth and pleasurable experience, especially online. The difference is, however, that I actually and actively play MK11.

The training mode is a god damn godsend. I’m no stranger to the tropes and staples of fighting games, and given that Mortal Kombat was my first fighting game, I also feel like some of that elder knowledge never leaves. But due to this chosen and tumultuous career I’ve chosen, I also rarely stick with a game for longer than a week at a time. It’s always onto the next release.

But being told directly and unequivocally how the game works and what it wants you to do is such a boon to that kind of lifestyle. It first gives you a foundational set of expectations and additionally reveals where the blindspots are to subvert them. What an incredible shortcut to make even the earliest experiences both educational and thrilling.

It feels almost necessary, too, as they added a few new mechanics. Between the bevy of move variations that inch toward Tekken-level complexity and the myriad meter utilizations, being taught how to make all of that viable and effective is crucial. Without the tutorial mode, I would have put the game down almost immediately and never looked back.

Which is a double shame because this feels like a peak of NetherRealm’s game design but it also delivers one of the greatest surprises of any recent year in which this game has a wildly good story. And more than that, it is just straight up a wild story.

It does the absolutely bonkers thing of taking all these reboot characters (as of 2011’s Mortal Kombat, that is) and smashing them up against their Mortal Kombat II counterparts. It has the weird and purposefully outlandish feel of being a kid and taking all your action figures and throwing them into a couch-spanning epic where fuck it maybe everyone dies.

Mortal Kombat 11

Giant Bomb’s Jeff Gerstmann put it best: imagine if you took the bombastic Furious 7 crew and pitted them against the relatively sedate 2 Fast 2 Furious cast. It’s nonsense and no one should do it and everyone should absolutely think about it forever because if NetherRealm can give every character of every era massively dramatic and legendarily all-in arcs, then who’s to say it can’t be possible for Dominic Toretto. (Sorry, I promise I’ll stop talking about Fast & Furious now.)

Granted, there’s no groundwork laid here and inspires confidence in the future of the franchise as they continue to rework what a Mortal Kombat game looks like, but that doesn’t stop the fact that MK11 has one of the best stories of the entire year, and yes that is completely crazy to say.