Master x Master is an upcoming Action MOBA being published by NCSOFT. By classifying itself as an “Action MOBA,” Master x Master combines the fast-paced PvP and diverse character selection of a MOBA with action RPG dungeon crawling elements. This makes it one of the first MOBAs where players can take their favorite characters outside of the arena and explore dangerous new territories by themselves or with friends. In addition to the action RPG elements, Master x Master is also introducing an interesting new tagging system, which allows players to take two unique characters into every match or mission. I was given the opportunity by NCSOFT to test out Master x Master at E3 2016, and here are my thoughts.
Heroes of NCSOFT
What NCSOFT is trying to do here will remind many players of Blizzard Entertainment’s take on the MOBA genre. With Heroes of the Storm, Blizzard has capitalized on its fantastic set of intellectual properties by combining everyone’s favorite characters into an arena brawler. With Master x Master, NCSOFT is pulling popular characters from its other franchises, but the majority of the cast will actually be original characters. During my quick demo I managed to get a peek at some familiar portraits, such as Rytlock from Guild Wars 2, WildStar’s Mondo Zax, and the infamous Blade & Soul villain Jinsoyun. I’m sure there were other tie-in characters, but I didn’t have a ton of selection time and there were nearly 30 choices on the screen.
Adding in a splash of already popular characters is a great marketing tool that works both ways. Obviously, players are going to want to test out their favorite character in Master x Master, but it could also get many users to try out games they previous haven’t experienced. Maybe someone will really enjoy using Mondo Zax and download WildStar to learn about his backstory. I proved this point first-hand as we made our way into the Fire Temple.
Hands-On with Master x Master
When Master x Master was first announced, and a few Korean videos of the 5v5 PvP action made their way to YouTube, I wasn’t exactly on board the hype train. It seemed to be another generic MOBA that was trying to cash in on cute anime girl skins and had some weird swapping mechanic. After actually getting to play the game, I was completely wrong.
My first playthrough was a new PvE zone called the Fire Temple. It was suggested by the developer that I grab at least one ranged character for this fight and I ended up picking the mid-ranged attacker Taejin. He’s one of the few character who has his complete skill set available on the official website; he wields an assault rifle and generally excels at area-of-effect damage. Another rather unique thing about Master x Master is that each character’s abilities can be customized before the mission. For Taejin I chose a frontal cone attack and proximity grenade to go along with his artillery strike ultimate ability.
With my second pick, I just had to go with my favorite Guild Wars 2 Charr: Rytlock Brimstone. For his abilities, I grabbed a spinning sword skill and a dash attack. His ultimate appeared to increase his power temporarily while also turning his sword into a projectile weapon. This ended up being a great team combination due to Rytlock’s innate toughness and Taejin’s ranged DPS.
Overall, the action combat in Master x Master feels very solid. The controls are tight merger of “WASD” movement and familiar “QER” MOBA skillshots. Being able to move and shoot simultaneously increases the flow of action while the active dodging ability increases the skillcap even further. A good player will know how and when to use their abilities, but a great player will learn to weave in and out with dodge and swap characters for maximum efficiency.
Teammates can be tagged in at any time, but there is a short cooldown so there’s no tag spamming. This also allows an injured character to heal or be swapped in for a big ultimate. Each character has their own set of cooldowns for basic abilities, but they share ultimate orb charges. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that both characters can’t unleash ultimate abilities back-to-back. Every ultimate in the game comes with an orb cost from one to four, which means that a player could use multiple two-orb attacks in a row but only one four-orb attack. This adds even more depth to the team building phase, and it will make players think twice about bringing in two characters with high-orb cost abilities.
As far as MOBA PvE goes, the Fire Temple definitely met my expectations and I’m not sure I could have asked for much more. There were all kinds of creatures from gargoyles to rock monsters that delivered a sufficient challenge. Instead of throwing endless waves of creatures at me, each fight felt like it had meaning; if I didn’t play well, I could die at any moment.
It’s a big plus that the PvE areas weren’t dumbed down or made inferior to the PvP portions because MOBA players traditionally like a challenge. Even so, the controls are very intuitive and the PvE elements of the game should help players who aren’t generally MOBA fans ease into the genre. Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper action game without a boss at the end of the dungeon. In this particular dungeon, players face off against a bow-wielding character who can actually be earned in-game after completing the Fire Temple a few times.
After making quick work of the boss, I tried my hand at some 3v3 PvP. Unlike the 5v5 mode, which resemble more of a typical MOBA, the 3v3 combat is simply an arena brawl. There are some obstacles, but it’s basically a standard deathmatch scenario. Of course we were against A.I. bots, so it wasn’t exactly a challenging match, but it was fun nonetheless. Personally I don’t know how much I’ll play 3v3 over 5v5 or PvE but additional modes are never a bad thing.
The plan for Master x Master is to follow the typical MOBA model, but it will have a few exceptions. Obviously, it will be free-to-play with microtransactions, and players will receive two starting Masters with a weekly rotation of other free characters. This will be a little unfortunate for those who prefer the Dota 2 method or simply don’t want to grind out additional heroes, but this is fairly typical for the majority of other games in the genre.
Thankfully, there won’t be any stat-based items that players can’t earn by playing the game. This is not just limited to Masters, as skins and consumable items can also be earned just by playing. As with any payment model, there are positives and negatives to this. It’s always fun to work towards a goal, whether it’s a new character or skin, and having 30+ heroes unlocked in your first match can be a little overwhelming. I can imagine a game like Dota 2 would be a little intimidating for a new MOBA player, with all the character choices, but unlocking new ones at a steady pace does a good job at easing players in. However, the amount of time this takes is also important and not all players can grind all day for that shiny new hero.
While earning currency to buy new Masters is one path to progression, others can be earned through completing achievements or challenges. As I mentioned earlier, players who complete the Fire Temple enough times will have the opportunity to unlock a specific character. At the end of the dungeon players are given a letter score and that determines how many choices they get on the “wall of loot.”
This isn’t like most other Eastern MMORPGs where the player gets a single choice and it’s always the worst possible item. At “B Rank” I was able to get four choices and one of the items I received would have helped me unlock the new character. I didn’t just get lucky either, as the character unlock items were about 25% of the wall, which means that it’s going to be less about luck and more about playing consistently.
There will also be less specific, achievement oriented ways to unlock new characters. It was mentioned that some will be PvP driven and other will be PvE. Hopefully, this will promote players to venture outside of their “safe zones” and try out game modes that they normally wouldn’t. However, if you absolutely despise PvP then you can still earn these achievements while playing against A.I. opponents.
Although this concludes my experience with Master x Master, it will be available for Alpha testing in the near future. The first Alpha test will take place from June 24 – 27 with an emphasis on 3v3 and 5v5 PvP. There will, however, also be a few select PvE stages available, and both NCSOFT West representatives and the Korean developers will be joining players with a livestream through the entire event.Related: Blade & Soul, E3, E3 2016, Guild Wars 2, Lineage, Lineage 2, Master X Master, MOBA, NCSoft, Preview