NCSoft’s Latest is a Pleasant Surprise
I didn’t really know what to expect when I logged into Master X Master (MXM) this weekend for the first ever Alpha weekend test. Fact is, I kind of just assumed it would be “yet another MOBA” with tacked on PVE missions. After spending some time in the game this weekend, it turns out it’s a lot more and quite fun to play.
MXM is a MOBA, with tons of heroes to earn and master, each with their own unique skills and strengths and weaknesses. Players of DOTA, League, HotS, and so forth will immediately be familiar with that part of the game. The controls are more like a twin-stuck shooter, as Steven Messner put it in his E3 hands on, and that really makes all the difference for someone like me who’s sick to death of click to move top down games. I even prefer to play Marvel Heroes and Diablo 3 with controllers when possible because it feels less repetitive and more engaging.
WASD moves your chosen Master, and left click holding uses your standard auto-attack with the mouse pointer being where you aim. R activates your ultimate skill, while Q and E activate your Master’s skills. It’s simple, straightforward but works really well. Oh, and you can jump! There’s not a whole lot of verticality in the gameplay, but getting higher than your opponents on a map can mean the difference between victory and death.
Heroes range from the original to many from the NCSOFT IP, including a WildStar fan favorite, Mondo Zax. I worry that NCSOFT’s IP is far too niche here in the West to matter much, and wonder if they’d be served well to license some other heroes into the universe too. If you can believe it, there’s a whole story behind the game’s PVE campaign, while the PVP is all about just competitive eSports. It seems your home world is overrun by bad aliens, and you’re taking it back. But even heroes need to let off steam and that’s what the 3v3 MOBA-like arenas are for.
While you don’t create your own character, the game’s hub city is akin to games like Vindictus – you and other players can gather, trade, chat, and horse around between PVE or PVP matches. You can pick any one of your purchased or unlocked heroes to represent your avatar in the game world. In this way, I’d say MXM is a lot more of an MMO than any other MOBA we’ve covered. It’s a hybrid ARPG, MMO, MOBA and proud of it.
MXM also feels like it would be right at home on consoles, even mobile devices. The interstitial screens between tutorial missions that tell stories are like JRPG conversations, with drawn avatars talking in text and the player pressing next to continue on. It looks like something you’d tap the screen to skip, you know what I mean? And the controls would easily translate to a mobile device too. I’d wager it’s possibly in the making for MXM – a mobile release. But if there’s one place I really think NCSOFT should consider releasing the game, it’s PS4 and XB1. The game would do killer there.
One final interesting twist to MXM is that it uses a “tag” system like in Pro Wrestling where instead of picking one character and sticking with them for a full mission or match, you can pick two and swap between them by scrolling the mousewheel. There's a slight cool down, but the two heroes’ HP are not shared so when one is close to death it makes total sense to swap to the other and live to fight another day. My own strategy so far has been to have a good ranged attacker as well as a tough melee tank. With a good support friend, I can be nigh unkillable unless the other team focus fires.
The first alpha is over today, but I’ll admit. It’s got me hooked. For how long remains to be seen, as I’m not a serial MOBA player, despite enjoying them. Still MXM’s quick 5 minute matches, PVE campaign and dungeon-running with friends are enough to give me the right amount of fun when my time is too short to dive into a deeper more traditional MMO. I’ve got a lot still to figure out about MXM’s systems and to see how its monetized beyond buying new Masters, but so far it’s been a really pleasant surprise. I know we’re all really waiting for Lineage Eternal, and we wonder just what the heck MXM is and why we should we care. But NCSOFT’s latest game does enough different in the MOBA genre to stand out, and its action is both palatable and fun. I’ll certainly be playing in future alphas, and can’t wait to see how it evolves in full release.