Master X Master Looks to Bring Competetive MOBAs to the Masses – PAX East 2016

Master X Master isn’t the first time I’ve been scheduled to check out a MOBA at PAX. In fact, it was just last year that I attended Blizzard’s swanky Heroes of the Storm event at PAX East, complete with a dance floor, bright lights, and an open bar featuring an array of Azeroth-, Sanctuary-, and Koprulu-themed cocktails. As memorable as this was, it didn’t exactly send this non-professional arena battler walking away feeling less intimidated by the genre. Especially after being handily walloped by the event’s other attendees.

Flash forward to this year, and NCSoft kept things classy as they always do; a private meeting room at the Westin Boston Waterfront, complete with well-kept demo stations and complimentary breakfast. I’m not one to overindulge at these events (though admittedly, the muffin I abducted was truly delicious), but I did spend a whole lot of time learning about the veteran developer’s goals and aspirations for Master X Master, its shiny new online battle arena with the audacity to focus on fun above all else. Add in a few shakes of creative innovation, and suddenly you’ve got something expressly and implicitly unique on your hands.

Master X Master’s primary differentiator is its Tag System. Like Randy Savage and Hulk Hogan before them, the Masters of MXM can swap in and out of the fray at will, a very reasonable cooldown time notwithstanding. As you might imagine, this unlocks a multitude of strategic possibilities for highly competitive folk, and within minutes of playing, my mind was spinning, considering combinations of Masters and general tactical possibilities. And yet, minutes later, I was mostly just thankful that switching out one hero granted me fresh health and stamina, allowing my worn-out Master of choice catch a quick break and heal. This kind of dichotomy peppered my experience with the game, which is something I’m 100% happy about.

My guided demo began with a single-player match, but truth be told, the term “match” strips away the care that appears to have gone into this mode’s creation. I decided to go with Taejin as my primary Master, a guns-blazin’ cool-guy with well rounded range and abilities. For my tag partner, I went with something a bit less friendly, but probably more potent in the long run: Demonos, the energy being shrouded in mystery. I asked about Demonos specifically, as it was stressed that nobody really knows what his motives are, and I was met with one of those “we can’t really say but maybe he has ulterior motives?” sort of looks. Fair enough, for now, but I sure hope to discover more about this nudist aristocrat’s past sometime in the future.

Anyway, back to single player, rather than condemn offline players to waves of endless bots and misery, NCSoft decided to put together an assembly of linear stages, complete with challenges, light puzzling, and even full-on bosses for players to politely accost and defeat. As I progressed I was taken by the level of detail in the environments; obviously, this isn’t CryEngine V we’re talking about, but the vivid color palette and small touches like vines winding up the side of a steep drop or individual books and trinkets on a background shelf did enhance my immersion, and pulled me into the game’s world. NCSoft junkies will notice plenty of nods to the likes of Blade and Soul, Lineage, and other NCSoft stablemates, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled if that interests you.

After felling a hulking, orc-like brute of a boss via general jumping and shooting—simple, yes, but it was presumably early in the game—it was time for a multiplayer match. The NCSoft representative and I joined forces so as to spare me humiliation (and an untimely demise in a hotel meeting room), and we were off to the races.

I wanted to change things up, so I stuck with Taejin but swapped nudy energy man (to be fair, his default skin provides a shawl) for a globular hero whose name I don’t believe I’m currently at liberty to reveal. Either way, just know that he’s got a snowman skin and is rendered invincible when using a move that allows him to liquidize, slop toward a foe, and pretty much siphon off his or her face. This is something I enjoyed quite a bit.

The standout feature of PvP involves automatons called Titans. Once secured for your team, they can alter the tide of battle, allowing you to focus on strategy more and minutia less. That being said, acquiring a Titan isn’t instant victory; in fact, I was informed that it’s very difficult for any one team to be truly defeated until a match officially ends. Given that bouts aren’t intended to be more than 25 minutes to begin with, this is an excellent balancing approach that I hope NCSoft is able to pull off not just at launch, but in the long term as well. You can color me both hopeful and approving.

There’s a fair amount still to be determined about Master X Master. The means by which lore will be disseminated have not been finalized, nor have the exact methods of obtaining new items and abilities in-game. Additionally, the single-player mode had my Master feverishly gathering purple orbs, and as it turns out, it’s not been determined what they actually do! Still, I do feel that MXM has latched onto something other MOBAs fail to directly see or even take aim at.

As something of a self-professed pessimist when it comes to competitive games, I’ve generally written off this genre as fantastic for eSports, but worthless for enjoyment because I will never actually be one of the best so what’s the point?! (sigh) And yet, here in MXM I felt a glimmer of something different and engaging, and it piqued my curiosity. I’ve gleaned all I can from my time with the game, and there are no officially-scheduled USA betas as of yet, but when there are you can bet I’ll be first in line to lead a scantily-clad energy-demon and bubbly, bouncing snowman to glory. NCSoft, please don’t gimp the snowman before release.