E3 2016: Master X Master might be the most MMO-like MOBA around

    
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Despite Eliot’s positive experience with Master X Master at PAX East back in April, I went into my demo at this year’s E3 expecting very little. While I’m far from a MOBA master, I’ve sunk some time into several non-mainstream titles hoping to spice up the genre and rarely stick with them for long. Happily, though MXM may suffer the same fate for me personally, I’m already feeling confident that I can recommend the title to Massively OP readers.

Don’t call it a mascot fighter

One thing I think that might be best for the game from a sales perspective is this emphasis on calling it a mascot fighter. Think of it like Who Framed Roger Rabbit?: There are cameos from famous people, but most of the movie revolves around original characters. MXM is much the same, so when you read character introductions outside of the game and don’t have a clue which NCsoft title they’re from, just assume they’re an original. There’s nothing intentionally misleading about this, as apparently my guide didn’t realize the out-of-game press made no emphasis to highlight this distinction (even the Asian websites lack this information on the character pages).

That being said, there are a few big names, like Mondo from WildStar and Rytlock from Guild Wars 2, plus some levels are based on other IPs: For example, Aion‘s Fire Temple is featured as a PvE dungeon crawler with rewards that can help you to unlock Kromede as a playable character.

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The PvE path

PvE isn’t something just tacked on to MXM. In fact, I’m told it started as a top-down adventure game that only later took on the MOBA aspects.

Like Eliot, I nabbed hands-on time with both PvP and PvE and was similarly impressed. I skipped Aion and B&S, but at least that ensures that my impressions weren’t based on cross-over appeal. I’m also not new to doing PvE in a MOBA; Prime World, which I reviewed several times on Old Massively, has already played around with that idea. The difference, however, is that Prime World played with PvE from a MOBA perspective, but thanks to the WASD controls and emphasis on replicating action combat from a top-down perspective, MXM feels more Diablo-esque, asking you to crawl through a dungeon in pursuit of bosses and treasure. On the one hand, that’s a bit less innovative, but on the other, it’s more familiar and helps make the MOBA genre more accessible, as PvE rewards carry over into PvP.

That might be a worrisome revelation to some readers, as PvE and PvP don’t always play together nicely. World of Warcraft players in particular have consistently seen how big an issue it can cause, and I suspect it’s one of the reasons Guild Wars 2‘s structured PvP has its own separate, balanced gear for PvP only. Currently, as MXM is being tested in Asia, NCsoft’s balance of time vs. reward vs. difficulty (for PvE maps) hasn’t seen such a fundamental flaw that the western team is worried about one playstyle having greater/easier access to gear. We’ll see whether that changes down the line.

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Basic play notes

Trying to avoid repeating Eliot, I’ll simply first note that the the game uses WASD movement and spacebar for jump, and you get to pick two abilities assigned to your Q and E key (buttons that always feel more naturally placed than the hotbar for me). There’s no gold generation or in-match store as in so many MOBAs. The issue Eliot had with character swapping being limited to scrolling down on the mouse wheel remains, but I’m told it’s because there’s still a chance something not yet discussed will be bound to the up direction; if that doesn’t make it in, NCsoft says, remapping there will be possible.

The ability to shift between characters should not be understated. As someone who usually has to pick heals or tank due to the nature of PUGs and more casual players preferring DPS, I can say that having both options makes things easier for everyone playing. I could pick a more support-oriented character like Mondo, but if I were under attack or if there’s a good opportunity to strike, I’d choose the more armored Rytlock. The character sitting on your bench slowly regains health, though you share ultimate ability resources to ensure you don’t constantly blast someone’s health done in mere moments. There’s also a timer on switching, but relatively short (I think 12 seconds), so you’re not able to effectively play two characters at once.

In PvE, as in any MMO, you’ll have pulls, mini-bosses, stuns, interrupts, and so on. You’ll need to avoid telegraphed abilities, learn your “battle dance,” and watch for moments when the boss becomes weak. It’s all fairly natural, even on normal mode, with a fair difficulty. I can say that with confidence because, contrary to most other demos at E3, my character was not overtuned for demo purposes, though it did have some differences (we demoed with two players, but normally you play with three). There are currently 20 PvE dungeons, and you can choose to play them on easy, medium, or hard, and yeah, there are achievements and rankings when you finish your mission and collect your loot.

For arena PvP, though, the more action-based combat really shined. Arenas have randomly generated moving parts. For example, you may have three pillars near the enemy’s entrance, and they may rise or fall throughout the match. Sometimes you can jump on them; sometimes you can’t. It makes jumping matter and gives you something else to consider beyond enemy placement and timers. The switching method and benched characters gaining health ensured I lasted nearly the whole fight with a partner who also used support, plus with some help of in-match healing items. In a sense (and I hate to use an actual mascot fighter as an example), it feels like the Smash Bros of MOBAs, being accessible to new players, but deep enough to ask players to try to master it.

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Growing up in the world

The characters, dungeons, and PvP are just the beginning of what MXM is trying to do. Guilds are something NCsoft has vaguely mentioned in the past but has yet to really outline: So far, I just know they exist, and that at the end of a mission, you have a guild score for running with guildies.

There’s been an attempt to do cross-over events similar to what we’ve seen in Blizzard titles (like doing something in Hearthstone to unlock something in WoW), but nothing’s been finalized, as there’s some concern that the tactic simply pulls from the company’s games rather than supplements them.

At the end of a match, there’s a simple reputation system with happy and sad faces (which is also how staff rate their cafeteria food, it seems!), but currently the system has no use players can see. It’s being tracked by the developers, but they’re not ready to talk about what, if anything, they’ll do with it.

While the title is free-to-play with in-game currency and RMT, you can also unlock things through events. We’ll see how “buy-to-play” the game feels soon enough, as alpha playtesting here in the west begins June 24.

Massively Overpowered was on the ground in Los Angeles, California, for E3 2016, bringing you expert MMO coverage on The Elder Scrolls Online, Black Desert, and everything else on display at this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo!