Preview

Mortal Kombat 11

A Deep Dive On How Cassie Cage Has Changed
by Suriel Vazquez on Mar 06, 2019 at 08:00 AM
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Release:
Rating: Mature
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, Stadia, PC

A while ago, I made the case that fighting games rely a little too much on nostalgia. In that piece, I pointed out how a major part of big fighting-game series’ marketing is unveiling which fighters from the last entry are going to make it into the new one, even when it’s characters most people never doubt. Did anyone really think Sub-Zero or Johnny Cage wouldn’t make it the roster of Mortal Kombat 11? And yet, when I got to finally saw Cassie Cage, one of my favorite characters in the series, return in Mortal Kombat 11, I can’t deny I was excited to see her again.

Reveals like the ones NetherRealm has been doling out this year are about more than reassuring fans of something they already know. It’s about seeing how characters have changed for the latest entry. Maybe they’re sporting a new look that makes them even cooler. Maybe old moves have been buffed, or maybe they have new ones to play around with. Maybe their gameplan is different in a way that makes them even more fun to play. It’s like getting to see an old friend again after a few years and being excited by the new hobbies they might have gotten into, or the their new place. But, you know, on a video game level.

When I got to play through the first chapter of the story mode at recent preview event, one of the first things I noticed is Cassie's voice actor had changed. I loved Ashly Burch’s take on the character in Mortal Kombat X; the way she exuded a confident nonchalance about fighting, shouting things like “these are $500 shoes!” after kicking her opponent into the ground. She was a big part of what made that character who she was.

Erica Lindbeck is donning the role this time around, and while her acting and delivery in these scenes is up to snuff, I couldn’t help but be bothered by the difference. She sounds younger, oddly enough. Less nonchalant and more juvenile, perhaps. It seemed to hamper that cool demeanor I’d come to love about her. I wasn't feeling it.


Then, as I sat down to play Cassie to take on a tower of time (the game’s other single-player mode), my initial impression was mixed. The three default variations had her in a mix of outfits; one, called “Come At Me,” featured the military getup she wore in one of the first trailers, another, “Get Dabbed On,” had her in a thick, white futuristic battle armor, and the third, “Kombat Kid,” sported a hot-pink visor and track jacket. She also had a little drone with her, which was weird. I went with the second choice because I believe in our heart of hearts, we all appreciate a good dab.

As I start fighting, I test out a few of her moves and find many of her attack strings, things I’d committed to muscle memory, are either gone or significantly altered, making her feel like a house with the furniture rearranged. It’s hard not to obsess over tiny details; the glowing kick that ended her “Fancy Footwork” string can now be done by itself by pressing back and X (on PS4) and can combo into special moves, which makes it useful against jumping opponents.

Her “Kick Abuse” string (the one that starts off with a low gunshot) isn’t as useful of an opener, since it doesn’t have the lightning-quick mixup it used to. But now, as “Hot Take,” it juggles opponents and leaves them open to combos. Her baton is completely gone, as are all of her attacks utilizing it.


Thankfully, I have “Active Duty” to rely on, which, besides having its first input altered to back and square, functions much the same as it did in Mortal Kombat X.


Then I try to do her Getaway Flip special move, which acted as her main tool for extending combos in Mortal Kombat X. It’s gone. I wasn’t able to find a suitable replacement, either. In general, it seems most of her enhanced moves, which use up the aggression meter, simply increase the damage of her special moves, instead of opening opponents up for longer combos. This is in line with Mortal Kombat 11’s overall philosophy of keeping combos short and spending more time on the ground, vying for that all-important first hit. It's a smart change, but one that makes Cassie feel even more unfamiliar.

I quickly find she has a number of new tools at her disposal, however. Among them are a brand-new divekick move that knocks the opponent down, and can be done fairly low to the ground, making it a decent mix-up tool.


She also has a new attack string that uses the drone to infuse her with lightning that reverberates into her opponent, and causing severe damage as a Krushing Blow when it lands as a counterattack.

The drone, named BLB-118, isn’t just for show, either; in the version of her I’m playing, it’s a key part of her gameplan. With a fireball motion and square, Cassie pulls out her phone, after which I begin to control BLB instead of Cassie. When in control of the drone, I can drop bombs with triangle, deploy a damaging field with X, fire off a “fun phaser” with circle, or recall the drone with square. 

It takes a little while for the drone to do its thing, however, and I didn’t have much luck pulling off more than one of these moves per use. It also leaves Cassie vulnerable, which means I need to wait for the right time to use it - and in most matches, that moment doesn’t come. I imagine other, better players may have better luck with it, but this isn’t how I want to play Cassie, as a keepaway character. I’m a much bigger fan of her in-your-face aggression, and with some of the changes to her options, along with Mortal Kombat 11’s game-wide changes, some of that’s been lost.

More than that, I’m seeing her personality start to peek through in matches, and it’s not a direction I’m sold on at first. As one of the new generation of “Kombat Kids” in Mortal Kombat X, Cassie Cage was part of new era of character designs, one not bound by having to stay true to overall vision of a one-note character design from the mid-90s. She had an abrasive air about her that made it clear she wasn't too invested in her fights; she was too busy having a life outside of these fights, wearing headphones and getting selfies of her victories. She wasn’t part of the Old Guard, and it didn’t matter to her.


That’s still true in Mortal Kombat 11, but it seems intensified to a breaking point here. Her character leans more heavily into her being a stereotypical millennial and, at least in the time I played as her, didn’t come off too well; between rounds, she’d check her phone, saying things like “can’t get enough cat videos!” or asking her opponent if she could tag them in a photo (go ahead and call me an old man). That, along with Lindbeck’s higher-pitched delivery and the assortment of default outfits in the builds I was playing as (the battle armor looks downright lame), made her feel like a very different person. Between that and the build I was using, I wasn’t feeling her.

But in Mortal Kombat 11, you don’t have to stick with any one vision of a particular character. The custom variations system lets you tweak not only the look of each character, but their moveset as well, and I wasn’t giving up on Cassie that easily. So I went into the editor to change out her wardrobe to make her fit more in line with what I’ve come to associate with her. I then realize the “Kombat Kid” variation is actually pretty close to what I wanted; I change the color from hot pink to yellow and green (making it look a little easier on the eyes), and swap the visor for aviators. And now I'm into this look.

I then start looking into her moveset, which has several more options than I expected. Along with a shoulder charge and an airborne kick, she also has some flashy gun maneuvers, which let her fire them in the air, low to the ground, ricochet them off poor BLB, or fire them off an admittedly sick forward flip.

More importantly, BLB factors into many of her moves, but most of them aren’t as intensive as commanding it directly. Along with the energy burst, BLB can also deploy a bubble field, which stays on screen for a while and slowly chips away at an opponent’s health. It sounds interesting, so I add it to one of my three available custom move slots for the character.


I also see an interesting little maneuver, which has Cassie hold onto BLB to perform a quick, diagonal jump. A plan starts forming in my head; get in my opponent’s face with my new jump, hit them with the bubble, then do everything I can to keep them there by jumping around said bubble with my new drone friend. If they exit the bubble, shoulder charge them back into it. It sounds good on paper, so I choose this move as well.


Going back into a couple of towers with my new loadout, I slowly start coming around to this new Cassie. I’m able to roll with the millennial quips, since they’re backed up by an outfit I’m more into. The aviators, especially, are a good touch; they harken back to that nonchalant confidence I mentioned earlier. It makes her seem more distant and aloof, which, to fit another outdated stereotype, makes her cooler. I'm coming around to Lindbeck, too; I'm still not a fan of the cat videos, but her version of the character is starting to seep through, and I don't hate it.

My strategy, meanwhile, seems to work out; the bubble is worth playing around, as it can deal a large chunk of damage to still opponents, even as they’re dealing damage to me. The assisted jump does what I need it to, forcing opponents to switch sides if they’re moving away from the bubble and evading their attacks along the way. Overall, this build feels more in line with Mortal Kombat 11’s strengths; I may not have the moves I need to extend combos, but I can close the distance between my opponent easily and keep them guessing, all while pressuring them to react with the threat of constant bubble damage. I’m not sure how these tricks would fair against more learned opponents, but it sounds like a coherent enough plan, and decidedly different from the other builds of her I played. 


The fact that I can test out a build, even one that might not work, compare it to other versions of Cassie Cage, and see which version of her most speaks to me is a pretty novel concept in fighting games. I’m pretty into the version of her I made, but maybe there’s an even better version of her. Maybe that gun-toting flip is really useful, and the ricochet shots are worth the extra effort. Maybe the drone's energy burst will prove more potent than the damage-over-time bubble. It's sort of like building a team in Dragon Ball FighterZ, except condensed into one character.

Either way, I want to test out a ton of different builds, just to see all the ways I can mold her into a character who fits my playstyle. So while yes, it may be obvious in hindsight that Cassie Cage would return to Mortal Kombat and there's some nostalgia involved, I'm still excited by the all the ways she's changed, the cool tricks they've kept intact, and all the options she might have in store when the game releases. And while I'm not completely into her more intense personality, I should be able to live with it.

Oh, and for what it’s worth, she does have a decent dab.

For more on Mortal Kombat 11, check out the rest of confirmed roster so far, our episode of New Gameplay Today, and our interview with Ed Boon on the many gameplay changes the game makes, how NetherRealm plans to integrate into the competitive community, and more.

And finally, here's one of her fatalities, done against her own mother which seems messed up, but hey, that's how it is sometimes.

Warning: It's a Fatality.