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AxE: Alliance vs Empire Mobile MMO Review

By Matthew Keith on February 26, 2019 | Columns | Comments

AxE: Alliance vs Empire Mobile MMO Review

In my many years as a gamer, I’ve been fortunate to experience many different genres across many different platforms and outlets. From my early days with platformer titles such as Commander Keen and Duke Nukem on my old Packard Bell 486 (yes I am that old), FPS titles on N64 like GoldenEye and Perfect Dark, ARPG’s done well like Diablo on my PlayStation 3 and finally MMORPG’s on my PlayStation 4. The point is that over the years I've had the opportunity to see companies over the years smash through the boundaries of what we thought was feasible on certain platforms and devices to offer a new way of gaming for gamers.

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A few weeks back had the opportunity to preview a new title that is just breaking into the North American Market. Nexon, the developer of this new title, has been working exceptionally hard to redefine how we view MMORPG’s on the mobile platform. Their latest title, Alliance vs Empire (AxE), is their response to the question, “How does one bring a full-fledged MMO to the mobile world?”.

At the time of the event, I was able to spend some time with an early build of the game with a select group of press and influencers and really put the game through its paces. This combined with just about a week's worth of play post-launch has left me with an interesting impression with where the mobile culture is headed. So without further ado, grab that coffee, kick back and enjoy our review of Alliance vs Empire. 

AxE, which was originally released in South Korea in September of 2017, the team at Nexon has been working hard to bring their successful mobile MMO over to the global market. Last week this vision finally became reality for the company with AxE releasing on the Play store and App store here in North America and globally.

The title’s setting is that of a traditional high fantasy world where two factions face off in a push for control. Each factions motivations are fueled by the belief that their own political and religious beliefs are correct. Interestingly, Nexon has really tried to stay away from good vs evil in its approach to the faction story arc. Instead of creating factions that players will both find have sympathetic motivations and reasons worth supporting. Even as a player who tends to lean more towards focusing on gameplay, I appreciated their desire to give some depth and character to both the setting and factions.

The world itself along with its character design is absolutely gorgeous. The settings are diverse in design and aesthetics with each area having a unique look and feel. The playable classes themselves feel unique in style and design. Each Faction has three unique classes. The Empire introduces you to the Warrior a meat shield that offers front line DPS and tanking prowess, the Valkyrie who devastates enemies with a board and sword while supporting her allies and the mage who offers some pretty incredible spells and abilities to destroy enemies from afar.

On the flip side, the Alliance offers some unique but equal character options for players. The Titan with his dual wielding hulk smashing abilities offers that front line defense and DPS, the blademaster once again offers aid to her allies while slicing and dicing her way through foes and finally the Archer who rains down devastation with her bow. I’ve had some time to invest in characters on both sides and was impressed with how they all brought a unique set of abilities to the fight without out anyone feeling over or underpowered.

For the bulk of my playthrough, I spent my time with the Alliances Titan, an aforementioned dual wielding powerhouse. His style of gameplay fits quite nicely with mine and I found myself gleefully smashing my way through enemies for hours. Combat in AxE is an interesting affair. Movement is controlled with a left “thumbstick” while your abilities are all controlled on the right side via a hot bar mechanic.

If you’ve spent any time in a modern ARPG on mobile this is pretty standard fare but feels pretty solid and responsive. My one gripe here is in relation to the active dodge button. I’ve noticed on multiple occasions that it seems to be delayed or unresponsive. This could have been a bug in the build I was playing but it did lead to a few moments of frustration during boss encounters.

All of your abilities are swappable allowing you to customize the bar to your desire with many abilities and slots unlocking as you progress through the game. Overall the controls feel pretty tight, minus the dodge, and work well for the platform.

On area that I want to touch on briefly is the issue of auto battling. You may have noted in the screenshot above the auto-battle button. This is a feature I see in many mobile titles and one that is prevalent in AxE. Functionally it works exceptionally well. It really only stops when you complete a quest and if you are attacked while in auto-battle mode your character is smart enough to engage and remove the threat. It allows me to grind while at work or even while writing this review.

Where I’m torn has more to do with what it brings to the table in regards to engaging me with the game. I’ve played about 20 hours over the last week across multiple characters and I can honestly say that some of that has been in auto-battle mode. If your someone who enjoys the narrative and world emersion, it's very easy to lose these things with the system. The flip side is that the game does get pretty grind heavy after about level 20 so having the auto-battle system can be a blessing for those times when you're just trying to progress to the next things. 

The auto-battle system isn’t terrible by any means. In our fast-paced world where 20 minutes is our play time allotment it kinds of makes sense. Games like Galaxy of Heroes of Marvel Strike Force are great examples of this. My concern for a full-fledged MMO is how it will impact the landscape of the title for a North American audience. We tend to lean more into the experience of getting to max level vs a South Korean audience, which Nexon themselves has stated focuses more on that end game final form gameplay. I will be writing more on this acculturalization vs localization issue in an upcoming article but did want to at least mentioned it here. That being said the combat is actually a lot of fun and the experience of leveling can be quite engaging.

In regards to progression, AxE is all about progression. In fact, the game offers some of the most diverse progression options I have seen in a title in quite some time. From leveling weapons and armor to modifying abilities to enhancing said weapons and armor, you’ll never be without something to do.

In the same vein, the title also offers a lot of great ways to play. On the PVE front, there is the main story arc that will take, according to the developer, will take you to about three-quarters of the way to max level. Throw in side quests, dungeons, Raids and the Eternal Sanctum ( a progressively difficult wave-based arena) and you really could play for countless hours.

On the PVP front players have access to the conflict ( open world PVP zones), the Arena (4v4 PVP) and the Field of Honor ( 75v75 PVP open world areas). Each of these offers a unique take on PVP and from my playtesting of the conflict area, I can say that there are some great systems at play. One system I thoroughly enjoyed was the map tracking system which essentially lets me track allies and foes on the map allowing for some seriously well-coordinated attacks. I’m not traditionally a PVP player but I can appreciate the work the team has put into creating an engaging space for PVP players.

When it comes to the PVP vs PVE experience in AxE I have to say that based on my time with the title it feels like Nexon has tried hard to make sure that each is given the same level of effort and detail. Neither feels like a tagged on afterthought but rather a well thought out experience.  

The final area to note is in regards to the item shop. It definitely has some items that I would consider pay to win and that could sully the experience for North American players. We tend to get our backs up against the wall when we see items in shops that can essentially shortcut the progression experience.

When Nexon was asked about this at the event I did appreciate that they were very candid in their response. Essentially they acknowledge that some players may view these items as negative but are quick to point out that anything you see in the shop that would help level or progress your character can be gained through gameplay. In regards to how that will sit with a North American audience, time will tell.

Alliance vs Empire is an interesting take on the MMO experience on mobile. I can definitely see the influence and inspiration from other titles but also see where Nexon is trying to progress the genre forward on the platform. AxE does offer a deep and rewarding experience for players who are willing to put the time in but for NA players some choices, namely the auto-battle and cash shop pay-to-win items may have a negative impact on the overall experience. Honestly though, as a free to play title, AxE offers some great combat, story, and progression for people on the go.


Final Score 7/10  


Pros

  • Beautiful world and character design
  • Quick, responsive combat
  • Fun, unique characters on each Faction

Cons

  • That cash shop though
  • Auto-Battle system can take away from the experience