Fighting games are, by their nature, competitive. They're built for player versus player combat. This, for millions of fighting game enthusiasts, is central to their appeal. Mastering combos, learning strategies and putting them into practice online is for many - me included - what the genre is all about.
But not everyone can compete. Not everyone can pull off a 10-hit combo on command. For many, versus mode is an intimidating, often brutal world one dare not step foot in. So what's left? Single-player? Everyone knows single-player in fighting games is an afterthought. Story? Mini-games? Adventure? When it comes to fighting games, forget it.
NetherRealm, maker of Mortal Kombat, has a different idea. In fact, it's had a different idea for a while. I'd say Mortal Kombat delivers story better than any other fighting game, even if it writes to a Saturday morning cartoon template - not that Mortal Kombat is appropriate for a Saturday morning, but, you know.
It's also done well, over the years, to keep single-player interesting beyond the story. It all started over 20 years ago with the button-bash fest Test Your Might. Since then, Mortal Kombat's single-player modes have evolved. Mortal Kombat 9's Challenge Tower, for example, was one of its most popular modes. And with Mortal Kombat X, single-player has evolved once again - perhaps to its natural, online-focused conclusion.
Living Towers is NetherRealm's big idea. At a base level, Living Towers offers the same player-versus-computer experience as the Challenge Tower from Mortal Kombat 9. You battle through a series of fights, each with a set challenge task (land seven flying kicks before defeating your opponent, for example), and game-changing modifiers thrown into the mix. You need to complete the task in order to move up the tower to the next fight. The better you do, the more points and Koins, Mortal Kombat's currency, you get.
There are key differences, however. Unlike Challenge Tower, Living Towers is online only, so the developer can change the challenge and modifiers on the fly. And, unlike Challenge Tower, you can play as any character in the roster.
I've played Living Towers for a few hours now, and seen a number of these modifications, including bombs falling from the sky, lightning, acid rain, demonic hands than would claw up from the ground to trap the characters, as well as shifting perspectives, changing gravity, the screen blacking out and slower character speed that increases only when you land combos.
Many are annoying distractions, but some are fun to mess about with, such as the movement modifier that, if you can land enough combos, gives your character super speed. NetherRealm said it has already created over 100 modifiers that will be combined to offer a huge variety of challenges. And it plans to tinker with the offering on a daily basis.
Living Towers is split into three tiers: Quick Tower, Daily Tower and Premier Tower. Quick Tower offers five challenges that revolve around a specific modifier. It's designed to offer a 10 minute Tower experience that, while increasingly more difficult the higher you climb, isn't too taxing. The Quick Tower I played, for example, offered the bombs falling from the sky modifier every other level. Add to this challenges that offer bonus experience points for fulfilling certain objectives, such as land seven flying kicks then defeat your opponent.
Where NetherRealm will update the Quick Tower every few hours, Daily Tower resets every 24 hours. With eight challenges, Daily Tower offers a longer and harder experience, as well as bonus rewards, such as an experience point boost gain.
And finally, there's the Premier Tower, which runs for a week before being reset. This 15 challenge tower is built around special events and offers the toughest Living Towers experience.
The whole point of Living Towers is to keep people interested in playing Mortal Kombat X day after day, week after week and month after month, even if they're not into the competitive multiplayer scene. Despite the fact there are far fewer challenges this time around compared to Mortal Kombat 9's 300-strong Challenge Tower, Living Towers should be a more varied experience in the long run.
Elsewhere, NetherRealm also revealed the Faction War, another online mode designed to flesh out the single-player experience. You choose from one of five factions, then contribute to its ranking by playing daily faction challenges, such as win a match without ducking, win a match under 40 seconds and connect three throws in a match.
Why bother? If your faction wins the week-long battle, the entire faction gains access to special benefits for the week they're champions. But built underneath this is your Faction Rank, which tracks your individual rank within the faction. This offers more persistent rewards you keep as a player, such as finishers.
The cool part about Faction War is it's platform agnostic and runs across all regions. This means all players of Mortal Kombat X, no matter where they are in the world or which platform they play on, can contribute to the overarching Faction War. Thousands, NetherRealm hopes, will play with and against each other, fuelled by special events that run for a limited time (the developer expects people will jump on the Mortal Kombat forum to issue a call to arms when some special event happens). And, in a nice touch, Faction War is a competitive - albeit more social - mode that isn't solely reliant on your skill at playing Mortal Kombat.
It's clear it's more and more important for developers to keep gamers playing their games. EA talks about games as a service in the same breath as it reveals it's made millions off of the likes of FIFA Ultimate Team. Bungie's Destiny works more like a massively multiplayer online game than a tradition first-person shooter, with its daily bounties and weekly missions. And now a similar approach has come to fighting games with Mortal Kombat X. By updating and changing Living Towers on a regular basis, NetherRealm hopes we won't tire of the single-player portion of Mortal Kombat X. It wants to keep the game fresh and thus keep people coming back for more.
Those who focus on Mortal Kombat's competitive multiplayer will, as before, take it or leave it. But you have to hand it to NetherRealm for doing more than most fighting game makers to move single-player forward.