NCSOFT’s Master X Master (MXM) is a MOBA/ARPG hybrid that I’ve been looking forward to for more than a year. On the outside, it might look like an attempt to copy Blizzard Entertainment’s Heroes of the Storm, however, it’s so much more than that. In addition to having a typical ‘Summoner’s Rift’ style map, MXM also has 3v3 arenas, mini-games and a full-fledged PvE mode with more than 20 stages.
While offering a wide spectrum of content, MXM might have also launched at the perfect time. During the MOBA golden age (2010-2015), we saw dozens of developers attempt to jump on the League of Legends bandwagon only to fail. Now that the smoke has cleared, there are only a handful of titles still widely known and MXM is being given a chance to shine.
Double the Fun
So then what makes MXM different enough from League of Legends, SMITE, Dota 2, or Heroes of the Storm? The most obvious gimmick is the ability to choose two Masters that can be periodically swapped out during each stage. When a game has dozen, or even hundreds, of characters to choose from it can be difficult to only pick one for a 30-minute match. In MXM, you can pick two characters that fill different roles or complement each other’s abilities. This means that no one is ever forced to be the dedicated support player.
Not only is it more fun to play as multiple characters but constantly switching can provide a lot of benefits. When a Master is swapped out, they gain enhanced healing and mana regeneration. This can reduce the number of trips back to base and maximize experience gain. Additionally, swapping can break crowd control effects such as stuns or slows; timing perfect swaps can mean the difference between life and death.
Streamlined and Simplified
The competitive mode in MXM, Titan Ruins, is more closely related to a Heroes of the Storm map than any other MOBA. It’s primarily based on completing objectives instead of farming gold for items. Last hitting creeps and completing objectives earns your team experience and points towards summoning a Titan. Once 100 points are obtained, one of three titans will march down the middle lane towards your opponent’s core.
There are a lot of different objectives around the map that can change the pace of the game. These range from small buffs to powerful Fallen Heroes that help push your side lanes. Although the first few matches of Titan Ruins can feel overwhelmingly complicated, it’s not so bad once you get the basics down. By watching the mini-map, players can tell when certain objectives will spawn and by midgame those timers essentially dictate the pace of the game. Furthermore, key spawns like the Fallen Heroes are used as conflict areas that force team fights and keep matches interesting.
Match progression in MXM is also very basic. Instead of worrying about complicated items or talent builds, each master can improve one of four stats as they level up. Players can choose to level up the stats they need the most instead of trying to calculate what items they might need to build for the endgame. Additionally, these stats can be reset at any point. So if you actually need more defense instead of damage, all you have to do is go back to base to swap out stat points.
Some longtime League or Dota players might not enjoy the more simplified upgrade system, but it definitely allows easier entry into the genre while keeping choices impactful. It’s also easier to support your team while not requiring dedicated roles. Anyone can clear jungle camps, place sight wards, or heal while also having the option to dish out damage.
MOBA Story Time
Master X Master might be the first MOBA to successfully implement a story into its game design. Albeit it’s not a very good one: aliens have invaded Earth and it’s up to the Reclamation Fleet to take it back. Each Master has their own little bit of lore that you can read about in their bio, and players can actually move their avatars around the bridge of the Dredgion.
More importantly, however, is that this means there’s a dedicated PvE mode. There are currently 20 stages with levels ranging from Easy (story mode) to Nightmare (insanely difficult). There are also rotating Time Distortion stages where special Masters can be unlocked, and a defense mode is expected to arrive soon.
So far, the Time Distortion maps have been excellently designed and feature characters from previous NCSOFT games. These have included the Fire Temple from Aion, Ascalonian Catacombs from Guild Wars 2, and Independence Port from City of Heroes. Not only did the MXM team do a great job modeling the stages after their counterparts but there are little pieces of dialogue from some characters that really bring them to life.
Each stage is unique with its own story, enemies, bosses and specific strategies. The first few difficulty levels are quite easy but things quickly ramp up in Extreme and Nightmare modes. The biggest downfall of the PvE system is that players are either required to play random stages or use Dispatch Tickets to select the stage they want. Dispatch tickets aren’t easy to come by and can only be acquired through certain achievements or paying X-Coins (premium currency). Conversely, queue times are likely shortened by promoting players to use the random stage finder.
Master X Master is a refreshing take on the MOBA that offers a little something for everyone. Even the 5v5 matches have been shortened to 25-minutes maximum and there are plenty of other game modes for more casual players. The Titan Ruins game mode might have difficulty developing a competitive community because of its simplified nature when compared with other MOBAs, but that doesn’t make it any less fun.
The PvE stages add a layer of depth that isn’t really seen in the genre. Despite a few shortcomings, there’s enough variety in the number of stages and difficulty selections to keep non-PvPers entertained for a while.
The game also offers enough incentives to keep both modes relevant and hopefully push players to try modes they wouldn’t normally. Daily, weekly, and monthly missions provide extra gold, experience, X-Coins, and Battlefield Medals. It’s still possible to progress at a decent pace while only doing PvP or PvE but those who mix the two will see the greatest rewards.
In a genre that was once over-saturated, MXM fills a niche that gamers might not even know they wanted. There’s simply nothing else like it on the market and only time will tell if there’s truly a demand for a MOBA/ARPG hybrid. That being said, the game is highly innovative and hasn’t just added a few new game modes to a traditional MOBA style.
Things like WASD movement and character swapping adds an entirely new dimension to the gameplay. The concept of ‘auto-attacks’ has basically been removed as each shot needs to be accurately aimed. Swapping breaks crowd control and provides temporary invulnerability, which can completely nullify a gank attempt or powerful ultimate ability.
There are all kinds of little nuances that don’t necessarily make MXM better than the competition but they do make it unique.
My experience with the MXM community as a whole has been relatively positive but it is still a competitive game and that can bring some toxicity. People can get angry when losing a PvP match or when someone brings a terrible setup to a particularly difficult stage.
That being said, there is a guild system in MXM that promotes cooperation and teamwork. Players earn guild experience and tokens that can be used to purchase gold, experience and stage reward boosters. This is something a lot of other MOBAs lack and has been highly popular in MXM with hundreds of guilds already established.
The visuals in MXM are rather hit and miss. Some Masters look amazing while others are very dull. Rytlock, for example, looks just like his Guild Wars 2 counterpart and his weapon Sohothin has an awesome fiery effect. On the other hand, Koom just looks like a humanoid shaped blue rock. Even though character models leave something to be desired, the stages and boss encounters are visually pleasing.
The music in MXM is the most varied of any MOBA to date ranging from synth-pop to hard rock. Of course, you’ll most likely be listening to Vita’s Upside Down 24/7. It’s a nice addition that many Masters have their own theme songs, but the downside is that jukebox Coins need to be purchased with premium currency.
MXM is a free-to-play MOBA and that means there are some time sinks in order to progress. Initially the game throws enough currency at players where they should easily be able to unlock 10 Masters in their first month of play. After hitting level 99, however, the grind ramps up considerably and the time to obtain Sol required to unlock Masters drastically increases.
The cost of Masters ranges from 3 to 11 Sol, but most lean towards the higher side. Every level gained awards one Sol and there are other ways to obtain the currency including login rewards and weekly/monthly missions. Sol can also be obtained by farming Nightmare stages with dispatch tickets. Once players hit level 99, they can still gain Sol by filling their experience bar but the requirement is much higher. With all things considered, it is slightly faster to unlock characters via free currency in MXM than in other MOBAs.
Currently, the biggest problem that many players have is the real-money cost of Masters. It’s about $15 in X-Coin to unlock the most expensive Masters, which is quite a bit higher than other MOBAs that range between $7-10. That is slightly balanced by the fact that a lot of X-Coin can be earned by simply playing the game (nearly 4000 per month).
Besides Masters, there are a lot of other things to spend X-Coin on including: premium membership, skins, XP/gold boosters, jukebox coins, dispatch tickets, auto-collectors, life chargers, and heal kits. Some of these things are simply convenience while others do provide an advantage in PvE, such as the Noah Burst Heal Kit (heal when hp drops) and Life Charger (extra life).
Regardless, no one is able to buy power or anything that would give an advantage in PvP besides a larger selection of Masters. Anything that does provide a statistical advantage, such as legendary nodes, must be obtained by playing the game.
MXM is one of the most varied MOBAs on the market and provides a type of gameplay for nearly everyone. It can be a lot of fun, whether you’re jumping into a 5-minute PvE stage or 25-minute Titan Ruins match. Masters feel diverse and balanced for the most part, and there are all kinds of interesting character combinations. The 5v5 game mode also has a lower barrier to entry than other MOBAs, but putting a limit on the skill ceiling could have a negative effect on potential competitive play.
There have been some issues with server stability on launch, which is causing players to disconnect or have extreme lag. This definitely needs to be cleared up before ranked mode is implemented or the community develops a competitive scene. Additionally, Master prices are typically higher than characters in competing games and that could limit spending or turn players off altogether.
Despite the few minor issues with the game, MXM has a lot of unique features that make it worth trying. There’s not much to lose, even if you don’t decide to stick around, and it could end up being your new favorite MOBA.
+ Diverse PvE game modes
+ Interesting selection of Masters
+ Unique MOBA gameplay mechanics
– Expensive premium currency cost for Masters
– Issues with server stability
– Dispatch tickets
Related: ARPG, F2P, Master X Master, MOBA, NCSoft, Review