The MOBA genre has seen many new entrants that try different things. The day of a basic three lane MOBA has largely been replaced by hybrid games that merge a variety of different gameplay mechanics into one and Master X Master does this marvelously. MXM comes from NCSOFT, whose extensive experience with online games serves them well as they have taken the lessons learned from past games and put them to use here with something that blends MOBAs with third-person shooters and a bit of overhead shooters for good measure. There are a lot of broad strokes taken from other genres while also giving MXM its own flavor thanks to its universe of heroes and also characters from prior NCSOFT games.
MXM evokes the hero shooter sub-genre with its many playable characters, while also adding in a clear good versus evil narrative as the driving force behind everything you do. That just adds fuel to the in-game fire, though — what makes the game worth your time is how enjoyable the end result is. MXM is an outstanding gateway MOBA and as someone who has largely only played a couple of console-based variants on the genre, the adjustment to a PC setup for this game as jarring, but doable. There’s a definite learning curve when it comes to the controls, but MXM doesn’t rely on mapping everything to every possible key on the keyboard.
Key tasks are bound to certain things — like transforming into large titans being mapped to Z while F allows you to pass through gates and interact. It’s an easy system to memorize and anyone used to regularly touch typing should be able to get their muscle memory back on track after an hour or so of play. As someone playing with a bit of a dexterity issue in the left hand, this game’s WASD movement controls were a bit tricky, but doable. Fortunately, playing offline results in a fairly forgiving experience — and I would suggest sticking to offline-only play for at least a few hours and maybe relying on that most of the time even after that if you have issues getting your fingers exactly where you want them to go.
The WASD key setup is convenient in theory, but it can get tricky to get where you want to go when you’re surrounded by either a lot of enemies or battling a boss. There, it’s easy to lose track of things and in a real-time game like this, it can hurt you more than you would like. Fortunately, as long as you have a finger on any of the movement keys, you can at least avoid some damage by getting out of the way. Ideally, you want to move diagonally so you can still aim towards an enemy swiftly.
Aiming with the mouse is a breeze and using both a regular mouse and a gaming mouse resulted in fine playback. Those seeking to just play offline will probably be fine with a well-crafted basic mouse, but it is a bit easier to play if you have a gaming mouse. Using a HyperX Puslefire FPS mouse allowed for smoother play during intense play sessions. The rubberized grips make it much easier to handle fast-paced sessions while the large surface area makes it comfortable to use for longer sessions. If you’re playing for an hour or more, you will generally be able to rattle off a few different matches within that time frame — if not more if you wind up simply demolishing your enemies.
Having primary and secondary attacks comes in handy — but the game’s greatest diversity lies in being able to tag in and out between two of your masters at a time. By having two completely different characters to play as within one match, you can try out far more characters than you may otherwise would due to getting into a comfort zone. Going with a long-range gunner-style character and then a faster character made for a fun contrast and allowed us to enjoy different gameplay styles without having to wait until the end of the match. In a sense, it seems similar to Overwatch’s ability to let you spawn a new character after a death — but this feels far more natural.
Being able to swap characters out with only a time delay holding you back makes things far more exciting — and trial and error leads you to finding the best combination of characters for you. Some may prefer going with all speed, while others may want to mix a character with rapid-fire shots and then go with one who does far more damage, but whose attacks are slower. Attacking with the left mouse button and doging with the right works well for everyone, but novices should definitely try out faster characters as they won’t have to worry about missing a shot and thus fighting inefficiently. If you want to make every shot count, then you will need to improve and make sure to take your time to learn.
Every character has slightly different timing, while the core game feels similar enough to make switching between characters from match to match a fairly seamless experience. As a free to play game, it’s important to make each character fun and balanced and MXM succeeds nicely there. Every master excels at something, but no weakness is so glaring that you’re out of luck completely on the battlefield. Being able to train with AI bots is a huge help and allows you to learn the mechanics at your own pace before diving online and no doubt struggling a bit at first — but it is rewarding to see yourself go from a liability in a highly-skilled party to someone who is a valuable asset.
Visually, MXM manages to look good while also not being a taxing game at all. Running it on either a four year-old desktop or a newer Alienware resulted in smooth performance across the board. It’s a shooter that blends dungeon-crawling into it, and looks about on-par with a Diablo game when it comes to the environment and characters. Everything looks sharp and as realistic as its should while also not blowing anyone away when it comes to animation. It’s certainly a bit stilted, but like with some fighting games that benefit from animations not being too smooth — this does make it easier to plan and time everything out since you can get into a rhythm much easier.
MXM’s audio design manages to deliver both a stirring experience musically while also underwhelming a bit with the overall sound design. Character quips are repeated far too often, but the heroic soundtrack does get your blood pumping and the ever-present narration makes the game as a whole easy to follow and accessible for both newcomers and those who may become lapses fans down the line. The sound effects themselves are also good and things like machine gun fire sounds correct to the ear, while larger, more concussive blasts audibly do more damage while they also obliterate enemies.
Master X Master is an outstanding MOBA for both veterans of the genre and newcomers alike. PC gamers who prefer controller-based play may have a bit of a learning curve when it comes to using a keyboard and mouse setup, but the game feels natural after a fairly short period of time and never throws you into a battle unfairly. It looks outstanding and plays well on both low-end and high-end hardware, allowing it to be accessible to many people who may generally avoid newer releases out of fear that they won’t run well. Its music and sound effects are exceptional, even if the repeated character voice clips do grate on the nerves after a while.