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First Impressions of MXM: Active Community, Fast Matchmaking

Back in 2010, NCSoft announced Metal Black Alternative, a run and gun MOBA with hybrid gameplay that was unfortunately cancelled midway through its development. Four years later they unveiled MXM: Master X Master, a game that many call a revamped version of Metal Black Alternative. The first thing that will catch the interest of most is the fact that the title includes characters from well-known NCSoft licenses such as Blade & Soul, Lineage, Aion, Guild Wars, Wildstar. After nearly two years of beta testing, the game was finally released this month, giving me the opportunity to try and test it.
 
Master X Master, while on first thought it might sound like an uninspired name, it soon makes sense when you enter the game. Indeed, MxM is based on the principle of Tag Teams: you control two characters in both PvE and PvP. Before each match or instance, you have the opportunity to pick two among your unlocked Masters. Once in game, simply press the tab key to alternate between the heroes in full action (although this switch does come with a cooldown of around 12 seconds).

The possible combinations between the capacities of the two characters opens the way to interesting personal strategies. For example, one CC focused Master will take care of stunning your opponent, giving you the possibility of switching to a DPS focused Master to deal massive damage. Likewise, you can have a Master that will heal and support teammates, and another that will focus on chasing and killing opponents. Better yet, their two life bars are independent. Unlike other MOBAs, where a low health means that you will have to teleport back to the base, here you can simply switch to your other Master at the most critical moment, allowing the Master on standby to recover health. Do not mistake this for invincibility, however, as it takes some time for the standby master to regen health. I would also recommend that you avoid switch to a different master right before an encounter as the 12 seconds cooldown can prove to be fatal.
 
MXM also differs from the traditional model of the MOBA on the side of its movements. No click to move option here since the mouse is used to direct your Master’s aim and the trajectory of their skills. No automatic targeting is available in the game either, and it will be necessary to learn to aim and especially to anticipate the enemy’s movements to hope to shine in a match. Fluid, dynamic and especially easy to learn, the movement system of MXM adds a certain verticality to their equation thanks to the introduction of jumps, allowing the heroes to climb up certain reliefs of the maps to reach objectives, enemies or even avoid attacks. Finally, there is a dodge option that also comes with a cooldown and allows players to get out of some tense situations like the harmful AOEs launched by opponents.

The first grip of MXM takes players in a small PvE instance, consisting of trash mobs and bosses to eliminate. Fairly linear in their construction, we feel that NCSoft relies heavily on this PvE component (as well as the tag team system) to have the game stand out from its tough competition. If the first levels of difficulty are extremely easy to clean, it is quite different when it comes to aiming for the S rank, necessary to unlock the higher versions of each instance. In addition to the higher difficulty, they also provide much more experience and valuable objects.

The bosses of the instances demand a certain rigor to be defeated: AOEs to avoid, perfect positioning at key moments, the PvE is refreshing in many ways. A feature that almost had me regret the absence of such an element in other MOBAs as it opens up opportunities for hours of group play. The PvE is not to be regarded as a shady timesink that is here just to spend time as you wait between matches, but rather as an important part of MXM for which the studio will bring additional content at regular intervals.
 
In its multifaceted MOBA approach, the PvP of MXM is, for now, divided into two main game modes: a 3v3 arena and a more classic mode, known as Titan Ruins, composed of lanes and opposing bases. The arena mode is undoubtedly the one that will hold the most attention because of the condensed and decisive nature of its encounters limited to 5 minutes. Three players with controls of two characters, a closed map with some reliefs and elements of decoration to hide in, and you have a nice recipe for a casual, yet hardcore, Team Deatchmatch. Simple, effective, this mode seems to be the most popular PvP one. The other side of the PvP, the Titan Ruins mode, seems to be inspired by a certain Heroes of the Storm. The player finds himself in a team of 5 players on a mirror map consisting of lanes, a jungle and bases to capture. At each objective met, which ranges from capturing points, killing enemy masters along with other secondary goals, your team's point gauge increases. Once you have reached 100 (and with every additional 100 points from then on), you are able to summon a huge Titan that will go straight to the enemy base to wreck havoc. By its principle, this mode is very similar to that of the map of the Haunted Mines of HotS and the studio at the origin of MXM does not hide its desire to propose approaches of different objectives on each of the future maps of the title .

The Titan mode map does not have the classic turrets placed along the lanes, they are all located inside the two bases (which still take a huge portion of the map). The heart of the fighting in mid-map resides in this sense in the confrontation against rather weak creepers, punctuated by bloody encounters between heroes who will be fighting for the various objectives. Moreover, now and then objectives that allows players to summon Fallen Hero will be available on each side of the map. This involves killing two guardians, and channeling an altar to summon the Fallen Hero. A common strategy will be having the bulk of your team focus on one side of the map, while one or two players will be on the other side to hinder opponents trying to summon the other Fallen Hero. Once one is claimed, everyone should head to the other is it is still unclaimed. Who gets the most of these can be as decisive to the result of the match as summoning Titans. Once the right conditions are met, the players themselves can turn into a Titan for a short time, which can be more than enough give the enemy’s base a final push, or save your team from a desperate situation. Mixing influences, MxM does not invent much, but offers a nice degree of finishing combined with a very good grip .
 
On the evolution of the character, it will take place through the central HUB, a sort of space base stuffed with merchants of all kinds to spend your acquired currency in the various improvements of weapons, skills and skins for the characters. The number of alternate appearances of heroes is already quite impressive, proof that the costumes bring big to the publishers. Each PvP and PvE session rewards us with random loot such as runes or craft materials. Weapons can be upgraded and characters equipped with Nodes of different qualities used to improve their statistics (defense, standby healing, defense penetration, weapon damage, etc).

Finally, the community itself seemed quite active. Most of the time, the matchmaking didn’t take more than 5 seconds to find players for Titan Ruins matches. The same could most likely be said for PvE instances and the Arena mode, although I didn’t play they enough to have an accurate idea.

Conclusion

MXM represents NCSoft's attempt to enter the hyper-competitive MOBA sector, and so far the odds seem to be in their favor. The audience is already quite large, and I have no doubt that they will have no trouble with retaining players. With the focus on the PvE component, and the Tag Team feature, the studio has all the arguments to appeal and convince.
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