NCSoft's multiplayer online battle arena Master X Master is an interesting take on the usual MOBA. For one, it has something of a single-player storyline. That doesn't quite make it unique, but that is a bit different from your usual MOBA formula.
MXM also allows you to use two characters at once, called "masters"; these characters are mostly just crossovers from NCSoft's other games like Guild Wars, City of Heroes, and Blade and Soul. This basically makes it NCSoft's answer to Heroes of the Storm, but unlike Heroes, NCSoft doesn't quite have the same pull as Blizzard does. They were hoping that MXM would change the MOBA market by bringing players something new and different, but new and different just isn't enough when you've got an oversaturated market.
Still, it's a fun, functional MOBA. If you want something a little bit more entertaining than SMITE, MXM requires a bit more strategy and skill, so it should provide a decent challenge.
The game is built for PC with keyboard and mouse controls, though you can shift the movement controls from WASD to right-click controls if that's what works best. There's no gamepad support, so if you aren't the smoothest with keyboard and mouse, I definitely recommend switching to right-click movement.
The game opens with a rather lengthy walkthrough that includes a bit of "story" to get you settled into the game world, and it walks you through both PVE and PVP stages using AI to control the other "players". However, that tutorial takes a decent amount of time. And these days, a lengthy walkthrough at the start of a game isn't the kind of thing players enjoy. I know I, at least, was looking for a "skip" button after the second PVE stage, and was about ready to quit by the fourth.
That said, as someone who is absolutely terrible at keyboard and mouse controls, stepping things up slowly was absolutely necessary. The game's ordinary AI practically wiped the floor with me — I managed to have the highest Kill/Death ratio of my team, but the lowest number of kills. Not exactly something to brag about. But I know I'm far from being adequate at keyboard and mouse, so I take it as more of a reflection of my lack of skill than the game's difficulty.
That said, the variety of PVP and PVE stages available in MXM are pretty varied, which is nice. Nothing is more boring than playing the same stages over, and over, and over. Players unlock new characters, weapon upgrades, and runes by playing through PVE missions together. Competitive PVP game modes include traditional three-lane maps and a quicker deathmatch option.
The game looks alright; nothing too gorgeous, but nothing that looks like utter crap on a 4K resolution screen, either. While the visuals sort of blend into generic game level designs after a while, at least the character art styles are somewhat varied and interesting.
There's a bit too much appeal to the male gaze with almost all of the female "masters," none of them have walked out in a battle bikini yet, so I'm not about to judge too harshly. Sizuka, sadly, seems to be a bit of a victim of Liefeldian anatomy. And not just in the art below — that broken spine translates straight into the gameplay.
If that's what you're into, well, I won't pretend I'm not judging you.
I suppose my biggest problem with Master X Master is that, despite giving me two characters to control and PVE stages as well as PVP stages, its still just another FTP MOBA that doesn't really stand out in any major way. I just could not make myself play through more than a few matches after escaping the tutorial, and not just because I'm absolutely shit at keyboard and mouse controls and kept getting my butt kicked.
If you've sat through a few of my reviews before, you should I know I take something of a perverse joy in getting beaten by games. But there wasn't a challenge or reason to keep coming back. I didn't care if I won or lost the next match. I just kept waiting for it to be over. And that's not what you want to feel when playing a new game for the first time.
Master X Master is definitely different for a MOBA, but it doesn't have enough to really make players leave the already bloated market. Even considering only FTP games which are completely free to download — the utterly free ones — players are spoiled for choice. There's nothing here that would make a dedicated player leave League of Legends, DOTA 2, SMITE, Battleborn, or Heroes of the Storm.
Its playable, and it brings back some familiar characters for those of us who were upset when City of Heroes was brought down. There aren't really any bugs to speak of. MXM had a solid launch, and it'll continue to be a pretty solid game.
Master X Master was an attempt to completely change the MOBA landscape, but I don't see that happening any time soon. There just isn't enough that makes it new.
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