MXM Is a MOBA with a Hint of Destiny, and That’s a Great Thing

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E3 has come and gone, but the residual hangover remains. The excitement of everything shown at this year’s Expo is curbed by the realization that we will have to wait months before we can play them again. That is a sad, sinking feeling. However, there was one game I got to preview last week that actually made its debut today. MXM, or Master X Master if you’re feeling tongue-tied is the latest entry from NCSOFT. Featuring a variety of characters from other NCSOFT properties in addition to a whole cast of original characters, MXM is an action-oriented MOBA with an emphasis on the action. 

While their website is quick to label it a MOBA, during my brief playthrough last week I found that MXM has more in common with its action-RPG inspirations a la Diablo and Destiny. Using the WASD keys to move and the mouse to aim and attack, the game emphasizes quick reflexes over traditional MOBA’s slow, deliberate action. There’s even a jump button! During my play through, the game’s traditional 5 v 5 game mode wasn’t even touched. Instead, the people at NCSOFT guided us through some of the game’s PvE modes, which is where the Destiny and Diablo inspirations shined brightest.

The primary PvE component of MXM is composed of small, contained dungeon runs. Paired with a fellow reporter, I picked two characters who I thought looked “the coolest.” Arami, a little munchkin of a troublemaker who casts AoE spells, and Vorak, a dual-wielding gunslinger who would fit perfectly in the Trigun universe. The game features a Tag system, allowing players to swap instantaneously between their two chosen Masters. These pairings allow for some elaborate combos, something I was absolutely unable to demonstrate during my short time with the game. However, switching between Masters also allows the swapped Master to heal, something I was very good at considering how often I was taking damage.

There were no loot drops until the very end, whereupon defeating the dungeon’s boss I was granted four random loot items to choose from. Dungeon runs are scored and higher scores mean more loot drops to choose from. A lot of the items were crafting materials (because what’s a game in 2017 without crafting materials) that are used to upgrade skills and weapons. Some of the items dropped during a run are used to unlock additional Masters for play. Runs are meant to be played multiple times, much like how strikes work in Destiny or Rifts in Diablo III. 

Next up was deathmatch. Two teams of three (six, technically, if you count the two Masters per player) fight until time runs out. Just like the dungeon runs, playing this mode nets everyone XP and items that can be used to upgrade Masters. As my fellow reporter and I teamed up against some weak-minded A.I. opponents, one of the developers behind MXM explained how it was important for players to earn competent rewards no matter the game mode. That way, the game caters to their specific playstyle without compromising their experience. Again, my thoughts went back to Destiny with its variety of PvP and PvE modes. MXM aspires to be a similar experience, with its social hubs and variety of game modes accessible from the start.

Characters play the same, no matter the game mode. I opted for my not-Vash-The-Stampede Vorak for long range attacks, while occasionally swapping out with a melee-heavy character when surrounded. Not once during my play through did the letters “MOBA” come to mind at all. Sure, there are numbers everywhere, detailed descriptions of abilities and visual representations of an ability’s range and effect. But MXM felt more like a game you could pick up and play, as noted by my out of left field victory.

I remember the days of Napster, and the first time I heard the word “mashup.” Two songs mixed together, each bringing their unique sensibilities to make something new yet familiar. MXM feels like an NCSOFT mixtape, a collaboration of characters and genres making that same blend of new and recognizable. It is less of a MOBA, and more of a mashup, sampling heavily from today’s action RPGs. And so far, it’s sounding pretty good.