Updated on September 20th, 2023: Having tested the online play on Steam Deck over the last week and also having bought the game on Xbox Series X and Switch to compare, I have now added a score and edited parts of this Mortal Kombat 1 Steam Deck review to reflect the changes and additions. When it is updated in the future with anything major, I will revisit this.
When I was looking at the various games releasing in the second half of the year, I was very curious about the next-gen (or well now current-gen) games on Steam Deck. There have been many PC ports like Wild Hearts and more-recently Starfield that have had issues not only on Steam Deck, but also more powerful systems. Mortal Kombat 1, the newest mainline Mortal Kombat game, has been one of the games I’ve been looking forward to trying out on Steam Deck ever since it was announced for a variety of reasons. I’ve enjoyed almost every Mortal Kombat game I’ve played, and liked Mortal Kombat 11 enough to buy it on every platform including Nintendo Switch. I even included it in our feature on the best fighting games to play on Steam Deck. So where does that leave Mortal Kombat 1? Having spent the last day playing it on Steam Deck, I have a lot to discuss about the game itself, and how it plays on Steam Deck. The screenshots in this review are either from the Steam Deck itself, or from it connected to my 1440p monitor through the Steam Deck Docking Station unless otherwise specified.
Before getting to the game itself, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Mortal Kombat 1 on Steam Deck. While Mortal Kombat 11 ran pretty great on it, Mortal Kombat 1 is a new game pushing better visuals, and it has been designed for the PS5 and Xbox Series X|S with no PS4 and Xbox One versions like the prior entry. Mortal Kombat 1 is also on Switch, but I don’t think that affected the PC version based on what I’ve played. Mortal Kombat 1 is very demanding on Steam Deck. On booting it up for the first time with no change to any Proton version or settings, it compiled shaders for a minute or two before bringing me to the menu where the controls worked fine. So far so good.
Before looking at the settings, I got into a practice round and noticed the frame rate target was set to 30fps. I decided to try getting it to 60fps, but had no success. Even at the lowest preset at 720p with FSR 2 at Ultra Performance, Mortal Kombat 1 on Steam Deck cannot maintain a locked 60fps in a fight. It usually hovers in the high 50s and drops to the 40s. Despite being a fighting game that is Steam Deck Verified as of today by Valve, you cannot get Mortal Kombat 1 to a consistent 60fps on Steam Deck. While the game is fully functional including online (which I will get to in a bit), I don’t think a fighting game that can’t hit a locked 60fps even at its absolute lowest settings should be Steam Deck Verified. I ended up settling for 30fps or 40fps with 40hz to play Mortal Kombat 1 on Steam Deck. Turning up the settings for 30fps gameplay will make it look quite nice on the Deck’s screen, and I’d recommend running the in-game benchmark once you test out some settings to see how your settings will work in action.
On PC, the cinematic cut-scenes and menus are unfortunately capped at 30fps just like the console versions. Since Mortal Kombat 11 fixed this post-launch, I assumed Mortal Kombat 1 would ship with those at 60fps from the get go, but maybe it will be patched in later. I only played on Steam Deck on the handheld itself and through the official dock, and load times were a bit long for bringing up the character select or when it does a server check after tutorials for awarding in-game currency.
From day one, Mortal Kombat 1 has three main single player modes. These are Story (traditional Mortal Kombat story, but this one is probably the best they’ve done so far), Invasions (a party board game style experience that blends in the Krypt-style elements and other modifiers), and Towers (traditional arcade-style towers with difficulty options). It has a Versus mode (local, online, tournament), a Kustomize mode for cosmetics on fighters and Kameos, a Learn mode (practice, tutorial, fatalities), and an Extras mode for the Shrine and Kollection. The Shrine lets you spend in-game currency to unlock random rewards and cosmetics. As of launch day, there is also added optional paid DLC available like in-game premium currency and a Kameo unlock pack that instantly unlocks the Kameo fighters that are unlocked through in-game progression.
The main Mortal Kombat 1 cinematic story mode is excellent. I think the team finally understood how to balance the narrative between over-the-top moments, some serious ones, character development, and humor when needed. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I will say that this feels like NetherRealm did a lot more than they usually do with these stories, and I hope we see more in potential DLC like we did in Mortal Kombat 11. This one has great production values across the board.
The highlight feature of Mortal Kombat 1 barring its single player content, is the Kameo system for gameplay. I thought this would just be a gimmick when someone mentioned it to me in passing, but having experienced it across different fighters, it has a lot of effort put into it, and it almost makes me hope the Kameo fighters end up being playable fighters by the end of the game’s life through DLC or updates. They are that well-implemented with the different attack options, and in how good they look and sound.
Mortal Kombat 1 launches with 23 fighters including the pre-order bonus (Shang Tsung is available for $7.99 if you didn’t pre-order) and the story mode unlock fighter. The roster itself is fine, but I was really hoping to see Ermac in the base game. Ermac is in the Kombat Pack, and I hope he looks better in his secondary costume. Right now, the roster is varied enough, and I’ve found myself enjoying many of the older fighters with the addition of the Kameo system for versatility and also the many changes NetherRealm has made to classic fighters.
Mortal Kombat 1 has quite a few unlockables. These range from the character you can unlock by completing story mode to various bits and bobs like environmental art, cosmetic gear, music, and more for the gallery. You can also unlock certain Kameo fighters through in-game progression. While the game hasn’t annoyed me like Mortal Kombat 11 did with progression unlocks and the Krypt which I hate, it needs some balancing with how it handles seasonal content.
Hopefully future patches can optimize Mortal Kombat 1 on Steam Deck further so it can hit 60fps at least on its lowest settings with FSR 2 Ultra Performance. If you’re ok with 30fps gameplay, Mortal Kombat 1 is an excellent fighting game on Steam Deck, but I’d recommend holding off for a bit.
Mortal Kombat 1 does feel great to control on Steam Deck though. The use of rumble is nice, and I continue to enjoy fighting games on the handheld more and more with each new game. I’m hoping this release gets to a state where I can recommend it without many caveats on Steam Deck to be the best portable Mortal Kombat 1 experience.
Speaking of the portable Mortal Kombat 1 experience, I bought the Xbox and Switch versions to not only play, but also to cover in this review since I wanted to make sure I am as thorough as possible in this review. On Switch, Mortal Kombat 1 isn’t ready. I’m surprised at how buggy it is, and how it looks. The load times are horrendous, and the frame rate during gameplay almost gave me motion sickness with how much it fluctuates. This is all after a forced 30GB update for the physical cartridge I bought. The Switch version also doesn’t seem to have all Invasion content in right now making it literally incomplete compared to other platforms. The only upside to the Switch version is the core gameplay has been brought over with online working fine. The load times to get into an online match are awful though. This version also lacks cross progression right now. The screenshot below has the Xbox Series X version on the left and the Nintendo Switch version (docked) on the right and scaled for the comparison.
Speaking of cross progression, I was surprised to see my character progress carry over to Xbox Series X from the Steam version through my WB account. It automatically granted me some achievements as well when I first launched the Xbox version days ago. This tells me that cross platform play might be a possibility for PC and Xbox (and likely PS5 as well) in the future. Cross progression in a fighting game is something I wish Capcom added in for Street Fighter 6.
Mortal Kombat 1 online didn’t work for me for the first two days with every match getting desynced. After that, everything works great with only one out of 20 matches disconnecting. The performance holds up online, but it really doesn’t feel great playing against someone who likely has a locked 60fps on their PC with you struggling to maintain anything above 40 locked. One weird thing I noticed and verified with someone else who owns the game is the ping we both had while facing each other and someone else in Mortal Kombat 1 was about 100ms more than in Street Fighter 6. I’m not sure if this was a regional thing, but it was worth pointing out.
As I always do in any game with a local multiplayer mode in any game on Steam, I tested Mortal Kombat 1 on Steam Deck with Steam Remote Play Together. This was with a colleague in another country. It worked ok, but the game itself is a bit too taxing right now on Steam Deck to the point where I’d only recommend this if you have a friend living very close to you with both on wired. I was wired on Steam Deck through the Steam Deck Docking Station.
While I wasn’t able to test the PS5 version’s full game, I did play the beta on PS5. Having sampled that, and played the full game through my Steam review code and game purchases on Xbox Series X and Nintendo Switch, it has been interesting and disappointing to see how the game varies by platform. Let’s start at the top then. On Xbox Series X, Mortal Kombat 1 is phenomenal. I only had a few minor issues with some flickering shadows in parts, but the rest is gorgeous with quick loading. Onto Steam Deck, the game can look really nice if you play at 30fps. Aiming for anything higher is a problem, and the load times aren’t great if you install to an SD card. Both have cross progression that works perfectly in the time I’ve put into the games so far. At the bottom is Nintendo Switch. It has massive visual cutbacks, massively long load times, menus that sometimes don’t respond, glitches, and more issues right now. I wouldn’t even recommend the Switch version rigth now if you only own a Switch. Wait for patches.
Barring the Steam Deck-specific issues, I have a few other concerns about the PC version. We still don’t know if cross platform multiplayer will support PC and whether this version will get patches alongside the PS5 and Xbox Series X|S versions. The PC port itself has a ton of features I didn’t expect to see in a Mortal Kombat release, but there are still a few questions that need answering. Hopefully NetherRealm Studios can confirm all of this before the game’s standard release next week.
Mortal Kombat 1 is an excellent fighting game that managed to surpass Mortal Kombat 11 in almost every way, but I’d avoid getting it on Steam Deck unless you’re ok with 30fps gameplay. The game itself has smart improvements over the prior entry, and the story mode might be NetherRealm’s best one yet, but the online feels dated right now. Having now played it on Steam Deck, Xbox Series X, and Nintendo Switch, I’d recommend getting it on Xbox Series X for sure, but avoiding it on Switch. The Steam Deck version is Verified by Valve, but I don’t think it is worthy of that badge right now. I’ll be revisiting it after a few updates, but my recommendation for the game on Steam Deck has a big 30fps caveat right now.