Why Mortal Kombat 1 will have the best roster of fighters in the series to date

Scorpion greets Smoke
(Image credit: Warner Bros.)
Mortal Kombat 1: Fast facts

Liu Kang

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Release date: September 19, 2023
Play it on: PS5, Xbox Series X, PC, Nintendo Switch
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros. Games

Mortal Kombat 1’s full roster has yet to be revealed but it could be the best roster in a Mortal Kombat game so far. Why? Because the upcoming fighter is bringing back the big names from not only the classic trilogy of titles but also from the 3D era as well. 

It would have been easy for Mortal Kombat 1 to take the same approach as the Mortal Kombat (2011) reboot did over a decade ago. Instead of re-telling old events from the series' past, this game is doing something new. The story had become so convoluted by the ending hours of Mortal Kombat 11: Aftermath, which saw the timeline once again restarted. Liu Kang defeated the big bad of the title, Kronika, and ascended to godhood as the new ruler of time. However, the roster reveals have showcased some of the curve balls thrown into the established canon which means we’re not just retreading old ground.

Even the poster boys for the Mortal Kombat franchise, Scorpion and Sub-Zero, have been changed in meaningful ways. For a start, they are now brothers by blood, with Scorpion now a member of the Lin Kuei and a mantle taken up by Kuai Liang (originally Tundra and then the second Sub-Zero). This means that there’s no Hanzo Hasashi in this timeline, the Japanese Shirai Ryu master swordsman and reborn specter from the NetherRealm (the series’ version of Hell). 

Other continuity changes impact the likes of Kitana, Mileena, and Baraka, too. That’s because we have been given an entirely new reason for the Tarkatans' plight. The Tarkata were originally a race of nomadic humanoid people with blades on their arms and extended razor-sharp teeth. However, their origin has changed in the new game. The Tarkat plague infects Outworld, the origin of both Baraka and Mileena’s mutations, which plunge Outworld into chaos. We also finally get to see Edenia prosper, the original home realm of Kitana, Mileena, Sindel, and Jerrod, so the upcoming game is finally deep diving into the lore instead of bolting new aspects on with each iteration. 

Fresh blood 

Li Mei returns in Mortal Kombat 1

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Having a fresh timeline with some remixed origins has opened the door to new ways of incorporating lesser-seen characters. Most recently, this has happened with the confirmed return of Li Mei, who hasn’t been playable in the series for over 15 years, as well as Darrius (who debuted in Mortal Kombat: Deception 19 years ago) as a Kameo fighter. Now, they'll get to be included in what's sure to be considered one of the best fighting games in recent memory played even better with one of the best fight sticks

The Mortal Kombat series in other media has experimented with returning kombatants from the 3D era. Most notably, we saw Nitara (who first appeared in Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance) in the Mortal Kombat (2021) live-action movie who fought alongside Shang Tsung to defeat Earthrealm’s champions.

The 3D era of Mortal Kombat spanned from Mortal Kombat 4 in 1997 until Mortal Kombat: Armageddon in 2006, with this decade-long period bringing in now-fan favorites such as Frost, Kenshi, Tanya, and Quan-Chi. However, many of these characters were left on the cutting room floor when Midway collapsed in the late 2000s and NetherRealm rose from the ashes. There’s an excellent opportunity to revitalize interesting characters such as Havik, Hotaru, Mavado, Onaga, and Kira back with vigor. 

We can take Havik as an example. Hailing from Chaosrealm, a lesser-known part of the established series canon. Neither good nor evil, he is skeletal in design and purely out for himself and features an unconventional fighting style. Namely, the fact he can dislocate his limbs and use them in combat, as well as wielding magic. He represents pure anarchy and stands out from the clear good versus evil that most of the series roster is made up of. Onaga was the big bad of Mortal Kombat: Armageddon who was too powerful for even Shao Kahn to defeat and hasn’t been seen since.

It’s been done sparingly in the NetherRealm-era of Mortal Kombat games. The only real character to receive this treatment was Fujin, the brother of Raiden, who made his triumphant return to the series in Mortal Kombat 11 as part of the Aftermath expansion. He is now considered a fan favorite and an S-tier character in the competitive scene, praised for his inventive special moves and mobility options. With the same love and care, many lesser-remembered characters from this time period could have a real chance to shine and find a new audience in the process. 

Vigilante justice 

Mortal Kombat 1's Kombat Pack 1

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

The last two Mortal Kombat games have had a general theme for their Kombat Pack DLC characters. In Mortal Kombat X it was horror movie icons, with the likes of Jason, Alien, Leatherface, and The Predator all playable. In Mortal Kombat 11, time was turned back to the 1980s as you could face off against The Terminator, Rambo, and Robocop. The seeds were sewn for the super-powered roster to come, though, as The Joker and Spawn brought in the R-rated comic book staples to a far bloodier fighter than InJustice would have allowed. 

Recently confirmed to be in Kombat Pack 1, Mortal Kombat 1 will welcome The Boys’ villainous Homelander, The Suicide Squad’s Peacemaker, and Invincible’s Omni-Man to the roster, the latter of which is voiced by J.K. Simmons himself. While there’s still the inevitable Kombat Pack 2 to come next year, and the possibility of an expansion adding more characters on top of that, the theme of this game is brutal justice. Ermac, Takeda, and Quan-Chi are returning as DLC, with the door wide open for some Mortal Kombat characters which haven’t been seen in a while to grace this new beginning for the series. 

NetherRealm could have played it safe with Mortal Kombat 1, but by deviating from established canon and bringing in old faces, it’s safe to say that the roster will be the most diverse and varied since the 3D era came to a close decades ago. I can’t wait to see who else is revealed in the next two months as the game’s September 19 release draws nearer.  

Mortal Kombat 1 should play well with one of the best Xbox controllers or one of the best PS5 controllers if you want a gamepad for the competitive edge. 

Aleksha McLoughlin
Hardware Editor

Aleksha McLoughlin is the Hardware Editor for TechRadar Gaming and oversees all hardware coverage for the site. She looks after buying guides, writes hardware reviews, news, and features as well as manages the hardware team. Before joining TRG she was the Hardware Editor for sister publication GamesRadar+ and she has also been PC Guide's Hardware Specialist. She has also contributed hardware content to the likes of Trusted Reviews, The Metro, Expert Reviews, and Android Central. When she isn't working, you'll often find her in mosh pits at metal gigs and festivals or listening to whatever new black and death metal has debuted that week.