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
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.
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.
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.