No man can serve two masters... until now.
Master X Master, otherwise known as MXM, fits neatly into NCSoft's strategy for the West, which the developer explained in more detail behind closed-door presentations and interviews at NCSoft's headquarters in South Korea. NCSoft makes about 18% of its revenue from North America and Europe, a number which the developer wishes to push to 40% over the course of the next few years. And NCSoft hopes that MXM, a MOBA with a tag-team twist, will help expand its catalog and its reach on the international stage.
Two qualities separate Master X Master from the run-of-the-mill MOBA: a tag-team switch-out mechanic and a robust PvE universe. With several hours of hands-on time with MXM at NCSOFT's booth at G-Star, which is like E3 in South Korea, I had firsthand experience with how having a two-man team changes the typical MOBA gameplay for the better.
First off, MXM has a thorough roster comprised by numerous original characters but more than seeral that's from NCSOFT's other titles like Blade & Soul, WildStar, and Aion. By selecting a team of two characters that you can switch between, you can take advantage of each member's strengths and mitigate their weaknesses. So it's to your benefit not to choose two characters that are from the same class whether's that's ranged, DPS, or tank. Having a pair that can take care of both single targets and crowds with a simple switch is recommended.
By that measure, MXM works much like Marvel vs. Capcom's or Tekken Tag Tournament's own two-man system. In my run-throughs, I tried a host of characters, including the baseball player Sonid (who is like Shoma Sawamura from Rival Schools) and the bestial Rytlock, a wolfman with spiked armor and a flaming sword. But I ultimately settled on the pumpkin-head Death Knight from Lineage lore who dishes out ridiculous damage up close with his sword, and R&B, a robotically-enhanced character who can create purple ranged blasts that rise from the ground.
Once one character began suffering too much damage, I immediately switched out to the other, allowing the character in reserve to recover some HP slowly. For each character, you can choose one of three boosts and two of four special abilities, with their third strongest super ability being fixed, before heading into a match or dungeon. With these three abilities on cooldowns as well as a normal attack that shouldn't be overused (or else it will overheat), the action-based combat is dynamic and engaging.
Most of my play was focused on the PvE, which is mainly comprised of a series of set dungeon-based missions with linear paths, mini-bosses, and the major boss usually at the end. These dungeons required a three-man group and could be set to one of five separate difficulties, with higher settings having more difficult enemies but better drops at the end. (You get to choose 3 out of 25 random items and can spend a bit of currency to earn more drops if you want.) These levels could add more challenges or some extra layer to make them more complex, but they operate smoothly for now.
In many ways, these PvE missions play similar to Marvel Ultimate Alliance. Your group moves through a level defeating mobs, obtaining currency and temporary power-ups, and evading attacks highlighted by red danger zones. For the sake of familiarity, the interfaces for health and cooldowns look similar to League of Legends and other MOBAs so it's extremely easy to sit down at MXM and understand how it works.
This is true for both PvE and PvP, the latter of which I played a few rounds of 3v3 arena. Once I had a handle on the tag mechanic, which itself has a cooldown so that you can't just switch back and forth at any time, I took advantage of my tag team's difference in speed and damage output more effectively. By the third match, our group began racking up kills and working together to earn even more. In the game's pre-alpha state, though it was extremely stable and fluid, I was limited to just the 3v3 match variant, but the developers plan on having 4v4 and 5v5 battles as well.
Master X Master will start with four characters for free with additional characters being available over the course of the game or being unlocked through a straight-up purchase if you don't want to wait. The developers will offer a free rotation of characters, though, and NCSoft West may have a different microtransaction model altogether, considering that we abhor pay-to-win models and unnecessarily locked content..
We're still not sure what the release date for Master X Master will be, given that its still in alpha tests and beta tests in Eastern territories. But it's expected to have a global open beta sometime in 2016.