MASTER X MASTER (MXM) is NCSoft's newest addition to their expansive MMORPG library and the first to be a multiplayer online battle arena. The MOBA market has some real heavy hitters already, notably League of Legends, DOTA 2, and Heroes of the Storm, but NCSoft hopes to find footing with MXM's twin-stick shooter styled controls and "Tag" system that allows players to utilize multiple heroes during a round.
NCSoft just wrapped early beta testing for MXM's flagship game mode, "Titan Ruins," and here's the lowdown from our hands-on gameplay!
The story in the beta consisted of the opening cinematics, which was nice enough. Aliens attack earth, and the populace of our fair planet flees into space, both chased by enemies and in search of a safe haven. Your starship acts as your hub between matches and modes, and nicely ties together the many different races and characters that interact within the game.
My favorite aspect of MXM–indeed, it's primary draw and claim to fame–is that it forgoes the usual click-to-move and attack control scheme, opting instead for a WASD movement system, with independent mouse-aim. Sound like a run-and-gun overhead shooter? Darn straight, and with melee weapons, to boot. I was completely in love with the feel, and it scratches an itch most of us didn't know we had.
While there's no controller support, NCSoft did say the controls will be fully map-able. While the option to do so was present in our beta, it wasn't fully compatible with an XBOX 360 or ONE controller; I hope this is changed, as it's absolutely doable on a gamepad. Even if not, however, the controls are simple enough that a binding software such as XPadder or Joy2Key should work fine, if you're into playing on the big screen.
Loot and Stats
You purchase loot in the hub using various tokens and credits that you are awarded during matches. There is a massive amount of content to unlock, including 30 heroes, weapons and gear, music tracks, and cosmetic items such as clothing and color swaps. Each character's moves were fully unlocked in the beta, but it's unclear whether they'll require game time to unlock in the full release. You'll also gain experience as you play, with typical RPG leveling mechanics that are, except for skill points, upped manually. For skill points, you get to allocate them to your character's skills on the fly, right from the in-game UI — no switching to an inventory screen necessary!
NCSoft yanked something from Blizzard's Heroes of the Storm, and that's the ridiculously varied character choices. Overweight humanoid cats, grim reaper-type monsters, and gun-toting anime ladies are just some of the 30 characters slated for the game's release. I messed with at least a dozen of them, and they're surprisingly varied in play style. They all have backstories as well, which read nicely in a League of Legends kind of way (minus the player-base so toxic it'll melt your face off).
The characters show off another of MXM's key features, the tag-team swap that you'll use during matches. Instead of choosing just one hero to play, you choose two, and can switch between them in-game, on the fly! There's a cooldown between swaps, but that encourages strategic planning, rather than panicked button mashing (though I did that, as well).
What's more, each character has a unique set of skills, and you can choose two to equip for each of your selected characters. This gives you a massive amount of tweaking options, and a truckload of combinations to try. There's also a master skill you can choose, such as healing; I recommend it in the early levels, as it'll save you from a respawn more than once.
MXM also has a plethora of game modes, one of which is a co-op story mode for 1-4 players. That, in and of itself, is a something rare in the MOBA realm, and very welcomed. The mode I became hooked on is the game's flagship mode entitled "Titan Ruins." Part MOBA and part tower defense, this mode pits two teams against each other on a long and narrow game map. Each side of the map consists of a team's respawn base and houses their "core," which is protected by several pairs of weaponized towers. In order to win the map, a team must either attain the necessary amount of points (gained through brutalizing the enemy team) or destroy the opposing team's core.
Of the hours I put in, only once was the point cap met before a core was destroyed. That's not a bad thing because sieging or defending a core is a heckuva lot of fun. Cores spit out NPC battle pawns every so often, and they're great for experience farming and making the battle a big mess; making the battle hectic can allow you to either escape when you're low on health or whack a befuddled opponent while they struggle amongst the brainless cannon fodder.
This is all in addition to the mode's namesake: the Titans. These are big rock golems that are summoned when a certain criteria is met, and they have a powerful range of melee and ground pound attacks. If they're computer controlled, they'll spawn from your core, and head right for your enemy's core. However, defeated Titans drop titan shards, which, when a few are hefted up and carried back to your core, allow a member of your team to take on a Titan form (and you all get to vote in-game whether to allow or not allow a member to take the form). Those shards can be tough to heft back to base, however, as picking them up puts a target on your back, and slows you to a crawl. Power through it, though, because it's worth it.
Think the map layout itself sounds kind of dull? Think again, because there are three pathways along the map, and they are crisscrossed with through-ways where you can escape or ambush enemies. In addition, the two outer pathways have various shrines, and activating them either gives perks or summons a champion sort of character to fight for your side until destroyed. These things are nasty, and I got decimated by them regularly. Shrines have a cool down period, which is set for just long enough that you'll forget about them after a use, at least until an enemy unit summons a champion that used to be yours.
All of this kept me more than busy, and I'm sad the beta run is over; waiting truly is the hardest part.
Like all games with PVP, there are some balancing issues that need to be addressed. During a week long beta, where servers were only open for eight hours a day, there were still several players who'd figured out which characters could rack up damage fastest, and how to exploit the level gap between themselves and new players.
Example: I'm a level 3, and deal a few hundred damage; my opponent is level eight, and dealing around a thousand damage, meaning I don't stand a chance unless they're already heavily wounded. That sounds very cut and dry, but I confess it's only cut, not dry because a lot of the damage difference depends on what kind of character you're using. A sword bearer will deal more damage, but have less range, while a gunner will have great range, but deal far less damage. It's all about learning a character's strengths and weaknesses, and there are enough characters to ensure you'll be learning for a while.
graphics and sound
Do you like the look of Torchlight? Me too, so imagine that with some sci-fi elements, improved lighting effects, and tons of extreme variations between characters (even their bullets are different!)
The sound effects and general backing tracks are unobtrusive and decent, but the k-pop in the hub's jukebox will have your chosen avatar dancing like nobody's business.
I'm very excited about the impending launch of Master X Master. The MOBA variations combined with roughly a bazillion characters to choose from (and swap between,) is already enough to drool over, but the action-oriented gameplay is the real star of the show.
Keep your eye on this little gem, because if you're not careful, it's gonna steal all your nights and weekends (and maybe a few "sick" days too, if you catch my drift).