It is no secret that I am not a skilled MOBA player. I love the concept, enjoy the strategy, and feel the community can be amazing, yet I could never get the hang of it. Much like many major eSports, the MOBA genre always seemed beyond me. Yet, when I got an invite to see Master X Master it at Pax East 2016 I was intrigued. It brings a more action focused feel to the genre while injecting dungeon crawler elements and a unique quick swap dual character system that brings new ideas to a tried and tested formula.
On the surface, MXM looks very similar to what you would imagine a MOBA to resemble. You have your character within your control directly from a top-down perspective, with all the major attacks on the mouse. The real thing that makes MXM unique is the tag-team hero feature known as the "Duel Master System" that works far better than you would expect. Similar to what you would experience in Marvel Vs. Capcom, you must make a choice of two heroes from all the ones on offer. These can range from tanks, direct damage, quick attack, etc. Although since you get to select two different heroes you can jump to either at any time (with the a short cooldown.)
This dual master system makes for a new level of strategy for any match. There is a synergy that needs to be balanced to ensure you are not relying on one character over another. Jumping in this Tag-Team system can feel daunting. It took a good 10 minutes of playing the game to get the hang of it. That being said, once you do and you string a combo from one character and transition right into the next, it is very satisfying. With so many heroes on offer, it will take some time to sort out the optimal set for your playstyle, but that is half the fun.
The Master X Master hero roster features a range of characters unique to MXM, but it also manages to throw in a series of characters that are from other NCSoft properties, including Rytlock from Guild Wars 2, Mondo Zax from Wildstar, and Jinsoyun from Blade and Soul. NCSoft even managed to throw in characters from Linage 2, Aion and other properties in their slate of games.
Now MXM is a bit different from other MOBAs on offer. It mixes up gameplay beyond just the addition of tag-team heroes; it also adds in an instanced co-op dungeon crawler mode. This PvE aspect feels similar to what you would get from Diablo 3, and in practice played very well. You must go through levels of a section, killing what stands in your way, all in the service of getting to the final boss at the end.
The PvE dungeon crawler mode includes all of the features you would expect from a similar system game, from loot drops, gear progression, and other ways to ensure your Master can take on all that stands in their way. Sadly, due to balancing issues, these upgrades will not transfer over to the PvP mode, as it would give some players an unfair advantage.
When finally jumping into the MOBA segment of MXM it felt familiar, yet oddly different. The controls after having played twenty or so minutes of the PvE mode where fresh in my mind, so I took the field aided by my team (a member of the dev team, and a fellow journalist) and we set out to go against the bots they had set up for us.
The action element gives a false sense of ease early on. The feeling of power as you take down the creep was invigorating, but once I tried the same, sloppy approach to the other masters on the opposing side, I quickly learned how fragile these masters can be. It only takes a few hits, or attacks to take you down. You need to be on point to ensure you have the right master for the job, and if you mess up, you will find yourself dying a lot!
Entering the MOBA space has never been more of a challenge. There are some heavy hitters in the scene that no one can seem to dethrone, yet MXM does offer something that is fresh, and if done well in the final product, it could be an exciting new entry into the genre. From the short demo, it was a blast to play, but time will tell if NCSoft can ensure that feeling can be carried out in longer game-play sessions.