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Vicarious Existence

To blog about what is going on in the MMO genre from a casual MMO player's viewpoint.

Author: UnSub

The Twelve Trials of UnSub: The Matrix Online

Posted by UnSub Wednesday April 30 2008 at 9:21AM
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For some reason this Twelve Trials thing has started with me trying out the greatest hits out of the MMO genre's recent flops. It wasn't intentional; it just happened.

Anyway, The Matrix Online (MxO). Go back a couple of years and you'd think a MMO based on a hugely popular property set in a virtual world and full of gun wielding kung fu superheroes would have been a sure thing, right? It seemed obvious and a lot of money was poured into MxO to make it something different - heck, it even had (has) an ongoing storyline and regular in-game events, something allegedly wanted by MMO players everywhere. But it flopped, Warner Bros. palmed it off to SOE where 1) third party MMOs go to die, and 2) it was rumoured that it meant SOE got the DC Online license in trade.

But why did MxO flop? In my 14 day trial of it (which you can get by downloading the Station Launcher and signing up) it became abundantly clear: combat was boring.

MxO has probably the best auto-attack sequences I've seen with the interlock system (where you and an opponent go hand-to-hand and exchange martial arts combos). It is a great system and looks good ... the first 50 times or so. After that point, you pretty much have seen everything that your character can do at the basic level and just wait for your powers to recharge to get the fight over and done with quicker, so you can go and fight the next guy. It might be better up the skill tree, but if the fun doesn't start early on, you don't bother persisting.

My character took the Operative path, which is the physical martial-arts-and-guns 'class' within MxO. Unfortunately this led to combat after combat after combat where you watch your guy dance around fighting opponents you know you're going to defeat but still have to wade through. This combat made me appreciate CoH/V's combat system all the more - at least you can switch between melee and range and can drop an even con enemy in 2 or 3 attacks in CoH/V. Within MxO, you rarely get that opportunity and it's a matter of waiting through another interlock sequence.

Yeah, perhaps if I'd gone the Hacker or Coder route I'd have had more fun. But arguably the Operative is what we see in the films - at no time do I remember someone summoning a daemon (read: pet) or healing someone within the Matrix in those movies. The Operative path should have been fun, but it ended up slow and tedious.

Which is a real pity, because MxO has some of the best 'other' systems I've seen in a MMO. The skill system was excellent - you buy skills and classes from particular merchants and, if you have the prerequisite skills and enough 'memory' space to slot them in the skill trees, you can use them. Upgrading skills just requires enough Information (in-game currency) which is pretty easy to earn. Switching skills and abilities is just a matter of a few clicks and drops - arguably even a max level Operative could (assuming they'd bought all the skills) fully re-skill themselves as Hacker or Coder in just a minute or two. While not a 'classless' MMO, it was a MMO with no penalty to respec your character as little or as much as you like. More MMOs should take note of this system.

Another good system was in place for exploration - the MxO world rewarded you with experience for finding new Hardlines (telephone booths where you can access your skills, teleport to other Hardlines and a host of other systems) and was full of other little features to find, like contacts who gave you missions or dance clubs where ... well, nothing much happened, but it was still fun to find them. The world was big and pretty seamless, with instancing for missions, but you definitely had the feeling of being in a mega-city (or at least that is what Richland, the newb area, felt like).

The story line of MxO has evolved the lore of the Matrix past the films, which I really liked. Had I ever been able to find an archivist, I would have played the critical mission for each story 'episode'. But then I probably would have been bored by the combat again, so perhaps it was just more fun watching the MxO cinematics on YouTube (even if at times they made no sense out of context and when they moved to storyboards they just looked awful compared to the in-game scenes from back when the MxO was having resources pumped into it).

There weren't a lot of other low-level characters around (on Vector) - most other characters I saw were lvl 50s PvPing each other, which looked pretty enough but ultimately left the game feeling empty.

I could go on, but I'll sum up by saying that MxO almost caught me. It was almost fun enough to sign up for, to see what the critical missions were. But then I thought of the next hundred battles of interlock and that was enough to put me off. If interlock battles were sped up by a factor of 4 times so that the low end minions fell like nine pins, that might have been enough to keep me engaged, but that isn't the case. If combat is all your action MMO has to offer the trial player, the last thing you want is for that combat to be dull.