Introducing AxE: Alliance vs Empire, Nexon’s next mobile MMO coming west

    
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It used to be that the idea of playing an MMO on a phone was a pretty farfetched idea. Not so much anymore: Mobile games have certainly come a long way, and mobile MMOs are rapidly evolving too. And AxE: Alliance vs Empire, a Korean faction-based title that Nexon is introducing to the west, is really pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. I had the opportunity this past week to delve into playing AxE as well as speak with Nexon Red’s CEO Daehwon Kimand and Lead Game Designer Hun Im about the game. Here is everything I learned along with my impressions.

What it is

In a nutshell, AxE is a two-faction game where players work with others to experience the story and PvE aspects and against others in PvP to control the strategic points within the world. It focuses on three area: action, conflict and competition, and the world (expounded on below). Kimand explained that the game was initially an action combat RPG, but Nexon switched gears to a more expansive MMO because mobile tech advanced so much while the game was in development. Thanks to the technology today, large-scale synchronous battles are possible on mobile.
AxE has three different builds now: Korean, Japanese, and Global (which is coming to the west). Nexon explained that to appeal to the global audience, it’s done much more than just translate. Instead, the studio focused on what it’s calling culturalization. This included adapting character models, voice acting, and changes in UI and gear enhancements. The Global build has two separate assets that are slightly different, Asian and non-Asian. One place this can be seen is in the Mage class; while still she’s very young looking, this little girl appears older in the global edition than she does in the Korean version. And even though there are only the four builds, Nexon noted that there are localized servers in all major time zones.
While it moved to a MMO, AxE retained its action combat. And as you might have come to expect in a Korean game, that combat is flashy. Skills have big effects, though the movement itself is smooth. The devs wanted to emphasize each character’s unique class abilities even in basic movement outside of combat.

Currently there are three classes for each faction, though more are expected as the MMO continues to expand. These classes are not identical between the sides, but they are the same types: Both sides have a beefy tank, a melee damage dealer, and a ranged class. (Sadly for me, the closest thing to a healer was the child-like Mage on blue/order side.) As you might also have come to expect in Korean games, classes are gender locked. Devs explained that culturally, gender-locking is a non-issue in Korea. However, since it could be more of an issue in the west, they will watch and judge demand; if it is something really desired, they could offer a gender option before new classes are introduced. A gender option will not be available at launch (which is happening pretty quickly!).

Nexon is taking a different approach to factions in AxE; instead of making it race versus race as is pretty popular, the Alliance and Empire are split along ideological lines. Both groups are humans; they just have divergent goals, contrasting faiths, and opposing beliefs. Basically, the game is about the human differences we see and relate to in our world.

The Gallanos Alliance’s motto is “With Freedom, anything can be achieved!” Diversity, individual values, and freedom to choose one’s own destiny are the bedrock pillars of its philosophy. The Holy Darkhaan Empire holds a different view of the world, believing instead in its motto, “Darkhaan prospers through divine order.” Faith, upholding order, and living by a single set of laws are what keeps this society together.

The competition of the game comes into play as each faction works to secure strategic points in their side of the map — or even on the enemy’s side. The conflict is when one faction runs into the other, be it at a strategic points or in the 75v75 center battleground. There are also 1v1 and 4v4 arenas to engage in PvP. The 4v4 has totem objectives, where different types of totems can buff allies or debuff foes. Here, the best two out of three rounds is the winner of the match.

The world itself is currently composed of seven maps of open play fields, each one corresponding to different levels of play. Each of these maps equates to between one and two miles of play area, with each faction starting on opposite ends and working with one another and against other players to control the strategic points on the way to that center conflict zone. There, the two factions will collide in 75v75 battles — with the added obstacle of a giant golden dragon. Whichever side does the most damage and has the most control of that situation more of control in game/situation so all chance to win is not in the gear.
Those who like side quests and world bosses will find those scattered around the map. The story moves players through the different maps, but more story can be gleaned from those side missions. Devs stated it would take about one month of playing two to three hours a day to work through all the story missions. Raids in AxE are what you might think of as group dungeons as they are for four to six players. However, these are definitely more like raids as the bosses within are quite formidable and cannot be easily defeated.
A quick note on communication: Although players had asked for the chance of having cross-faction chatter, Nexon feels that communication should fit the concept. Therefore, players can only talk to enemies when on the same map through map chat no whispers and no server chat, which is restricted to faction. There is also voice chat for ease of communication.

What it’s like – our hands-on

I got to play AxE for a good chunk of time during this press event, so while I couldn’t experience everything, I was able to touch on a good bit and gleaned some impressions. I personally played on an iPad, but others present were on Android devices and iPhones. I also picked the Archer, as I was on an alliance device and wasn’t interested in melee.

First off, I was struck by how gorgeous the game was. And the clarity and extent of the draw distance was better than I have ever seen in any desktop MMO! I could clearly see the world boss from such a distance it was incredible. Now, if only I could take screenshots without the UI! (The devs did tell me that they have a function like that already present for the developers to use, and if enough players want it, they will tweak it to work for players as well!) This alone will get me into the game just so I can wander around and enjoy the beauty.

Although I like to explore and look, the actual play part is pretty darn important. And yes, I did plenty of that too, from the story to world bosses to a raid to small-scale PvP skirmishes. Sorry, there weren’t 150 of us there for the big battle!

As much as conflict and competition are a big factor in the game, emphasis has also clearly been put on making cooperation easier. As I’m someone who likes cooperation, this makes me happy. At world bosses, nearby players are automatically grouped up, making taking them on a quicker and much more cooperative affair; there’s no need to spend time building a group, and there is no locking mobs down or kill stealing. Tapping the minimap also brings up a tracking feature that allows players to tap on and easily move to any player on the map. (By the way, yes this works for enemies, too!) The minimap will also list all bosses and world bosses that are up on the map and allows easy travel right to them as well with just a tap. In fact, all travel can be done this way: The main map allows players to just tap on a spot and automatically run to it, making travel a passive affair if desired.

As for passive gaming, AxE definitely offers that, which may or may not be to MMO players’ tastes. There are three modes of attack you can use, from fully automatic where you can just sit there and watch your character going from mob to mob grinding to manual where you make every movement and execute every skill. There is also an in-between mode where you move and pick targets but the game automatically runs through the attack skills for you.  Devs emphasized to me that the highest level of players would likely only ever use manual mode in combat for better control, but more casual or players just learning could appreciate the boost with the degrees of automation.
Continuing along the story and quests is also fairly automatic if you just tap the mission on the left side of your screen. You’ll automatically move to it, complete the objective, and then return to the quest giver. Personally, I found the fully automatic version unnerved me. I’d much rather have say on what my character does and when, but I cannot deny a degree of satisfaction to having my character earn some experience while I munch away on lunch too.
Although I didn’t get to experience it much, there is a level of customization in the game, a pretty important factor for me. There is a bit at character creation and them more in game with character builds. Even though classes are minimal right now, that doesn’t mean characters will all be the same, nor do devs think that there will be one “build to rule them all.” They explained that spiritstones and runes will allow players to mix and match stat options to customize their characters to the their playstyle and add a level of uniqueness to the classes.

Measures against griefing and pay-to-win

Of course, with any PvP and free-to-play game there are two big questions: How will devs  protect against griefing and pay-to-win? Before anyone even asked, Nexon was addressing the issues by explaining certain features and philosophies to combat both.

As for griefing and ganking, Kimand and Im emphasized that the strength of the character would be reflected in the time and effort players have put in rather than any purchased benefits. Kimand explained that while some purchased convenience items can make things go faster (such as on-the-spot resurrection, which can also be purchased through in-game currency), none of it can can rocket a player to the top just through purchase because power is not defined by level. Instead, many aspects of the character growth can only be increased organically through actual play, and they only increase incrementally at that. So even if a player buys gear, that has only a small affect on overall power. As he put it, “Players who have that ‘pay-to-win’ advantage can’t thrive on the blood of the non-paying users.”

This idea of power-matching is also present in the arenas. For instance, Kimand stated that the 1v1 Field of Honor matched folks by their points earned in battles and not by level, thereby erasing gear discrepancy.

How will AxE address griefing and toxic players? First, the maps are designed to organically put players of the same power levels together. Also, the first two maps have no conflict areas, giving players time to get used to the system and get involved in the game before being faced with player enemies. Next, Nexon is making sure there is no incentive for the higher-level players to go to lower-level maps and start butchering newer players; there is absolutely no reward. Of course, admittedly this won’t really detour those who come to grief and troll for pure sadistic delight, but those looking for game rewards for PvP will be out of luck.

There is also an anti-griefing mechanic already implemented in game: If any player gets harassed by another and dies to that player three times in 10 minutes, he or she will get an anti-PvP shield that will be active for 30 minutes. This shield then prevents any PvP damage from anyone until it either expires or the player attacks someone else. Imagine how you can couple this with the tracking feature to discourage griefing — follow the offender with your shield on while your faction amasses a retribution force and can auto run right to you.

If AxE sounds interesting, you might want to jump on a special free deal: Players who preregister for the game will receive special exclusive rewards, including 100 white diamonds, 50,000 gold, and a rare armor box. Even more rewards can be earned by pre-registering with Google Play.

Disclosure: In accordance with Massively OP’s ethics policy, we must disclose that Nexon paid for our writer’s travel to and accommodation at this press event. Nexon has neither requested nor been granted any control or influence over our coverage.
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Mendoras

I play Darkness Rises from Nexon and it is a fun game and looks really good. Just by playing I am sitting on premium currency worth >500€.. when you want to play at the top you have to invest, but just for fun it is quite good. The PvP modes are fun and fair.

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Venomlicious

Great we have one more phone clone cash shop with auto run. I tried to play one of these things one time and i just can’t see what people see in these things. I can’t even call it a game because you have to be able to play it to call it one.

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Eliandal

While much of this sounds interesting, PvP, again? Gank me 3 times in 10 minutes, and I won’t need a shield, it’ll already be uninstalled!

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Greaterdivinity

As for passive gaming, AxE definitely offers that, which may or may not be to MMO players’ tastes.

It may not be to others’ taste, but it is to mine! I rarely last longer than a week or two in these mobile games (that Aion game made it for about 10 days on my phone before I got bored), but if they’ve got autoplay and I can mindlessly grind and manage shit then I’ll give it a spin.

Give me something to do during loading screens or travel time while playing other MMO’s : 3

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rafael12104

But… we all don’t have phones!!

xpsync
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xpsync

lmao

That was actually kinda telling of what they really think (corporations) of the gaming community, well everyone really.

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Robert Mann

Sadly, the vast majority of society has phones… that they are completely glued to even when they should not be looking at a screen whatsoever.

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Akagi

Ugh, mobile, fuck off with that, Nexon.

xpsync
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xpsync

It’s the easy money trend atm, unfortunately we’ll have to suffer through until the market is overly saturated to death again, like the industry has done time and time again, and once the easy flow of cash stops then we’ll see what comes next. As far as PC gaming dying it’s been dead for the last 2 decades apparently, but don’t find many streamers using their phones, if at all.

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kvlt_vonnegut

Any revenue they got from the Global version is pure gravy to them. It’s hard to appreciate here in the West but these mobile titles cater to an audience whose phones are the only ‘gaming’ device they can get hands on; I can’t begrudge them having something to play. Unfortunately it’s also a big part of why gachacon and abusive monetization are so hard to tame in the mobile space – a lot of their playerbase doesn’t have anywhere else to go, and a fair chunk have never experienced what you or I would call “good” purchase schemes. And there’s no incentive for anyone to go in and do a mobile title with fair monetization when your market has shown they they’re willing to accept being gouged.

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Robert Mann

Let me know when they make a PC version, or once my $30 phone can play it without data… because the single hardest limitation upon mobile is currently the cost. Oh, and it needs to have controls that are worth bothering, so… I guess once my $30 phone has accessories that make playing an experience that isn’t a pain of touching .5 mm to one side of something.