MOBAs are the hottest new genre that it seems like every company needs to develop a game for, and NCsoft is no different. The key thing here is that Master X Master, which was announced some years ago and is expected to arrive in the latter half of 2016, isn't just another MOBA. As part of my trip to Korea to check out NCsoft's headquarters in Pangyo, South Korea, we also attended the annual Korean video game trade show G Star in Busan which is just like PAX in Seattle but with way more booth babes. Amid the hustle and bustle of the show floor, I was given roughly a half hour of hands on time with Master X Master, including a preview of its PvE and PvP elements.
Going into the demo, I have to say I was pretty apathetic toward the game. When we found out we would be seeing it earlier in the week, it was hard not to roll my eyes at the thought of another MOBA coming in and trying to steal the crowns worn by Dota 2 and League of Legends. But after that half hour, I walked away infinitely more optimistic for Master X Master. Structurally the game shares a lot in common with other MOBAs, but the execution is different enough that I'm willing to bet that MXM will find its own audience of players.
The biggest difference is that where most purebred MOBAs are unapologetically competitive, Master X Master borrows heavily from action RPGs like Marvel Heroes 2015 and Diablo 3. While the competitive modes that the genre is known for still reside at the heart of the game, Master X Master will likely appeal to an audience who wants to play that style of game but is pushed away by how unflinchingly obtuse and brutal they can be.
This accessibility is partially aided by the fact that MXM isn't strictly a competitive multiplayer experience. The first demo we were shown was a cooperative mode that pitted myself and two others with clearing out a dungeon that was an accurate recreation of the dungeon I previewed from Blade and Soul earlier in the week, even down to the final boss. This is intentional because one big aesthetic feature of MXM is that, along with all of the original heroes which will be included in the game, players can also choose to play as several familiar faces from other NCsoft games. Though the version we were playing wasn't localized in English, I quickly recognized a Chua from Wildstar alongside characters I from Blade and Soul and Lineage. NCsoft even confirmed they were looking to partner with other companies to bring their characters to the game, but had no more specifics to share.
The cooperative mode we played was the first big sign that MXM wasn't going to be your typical MOBA experience. For one, you control your characters directly with the keyboard while the mouse is used to aim your attacks—MXM is essentially a twin stick shooter as you can move and shoot in different directions simultaneously. This meant the action already felt far more immediate than the more disconnected "click to move" controls of most other MOBAs.
The other big tweak to the formula is that every mode has you choose two characters who you can switch between at any time after a small cool down. The ability to quickly swap characters on the fly immediately cracks character strategy wide open, though the short demo and lack of English localization meant I hardly was able to explore the depth of this system. Either way, I can already anticipate how deeply it will change your approach to building team compositions in competitive matches.
The cooperative modes that we played largely felt like something from Diablo 3 or Marvel Heroes 2015. We moved through hallways killing hordes of monsters while dodging their attacks. Dodging was a huge aspect of survival, as most monsters we encountered had abilities that they would use generously that could severely damage an unwary player.