Master X Master
On the surface, it’s easy to dismiss NCSOFT’s newly released Master X Master as just another MOBA doomed to fail against the big three in the genre, but take a closer look and you’ll find it’s closer to a top-down shooter with some very clever mechanics worth diving into.
Master X Master is a hero-based team shooter which draws inspiration from an array of genres, notably hack and slash for its perspective and PVE sections, and MOBAs for the PVP-centred battlegrounds.
You’ll be jumping between exploring worlds and purging them from enemy threats, and arenas to face off against other players; with the ability to unlock and upgrade your characters being linked to participation in both, you’re encouraged to dip your toes into every aspect of the game.
Tag and Bag
Let’s dive right into one of the smartest and most unusual aspects of Master X Master: You’ll control two characters, or “masters”, not just one. This works on a tag system where a simple flick of the mousewheel will instantly swap out your current character for their partner on the fly, which leads to a surprising amount of depth when it comes to both team composition, and outsmarting foes.
If you’re usually the kind’ve player who likes to hang back and nuke from afar, cursing the occasional assassin who comes to wreck your fun, MXM‘s tagging system may be a breath of fresh air. Once you see that assassin running in for the kill, you can just tag out to that bulky warrior you’ve been saving, hooking and smashing their face before they can say “I’ve made a huge mistake”.
Of course, this goes both ways — the guys on the enemy team each have two masters at their disposal, too. This makes for an interesting game of cat and mouse when you’re facing off a lane opponent, as you try to bait out a character switch in order to see the other masters you’ll be up against and plan your tactics accordingly. The last thing you want to do is be the aforementioned assassin rushing to their own demise.
The main brunt of your time will be the standard PVP modes, of which there are two; a three lane MOBA style map complete with minions to farm and towers to take down, and a simpler deathmatch arena which focuses simply on killing them more than they kill you.
The arena is a great place to get a feel for your masters and figuring out strong synergies between a pair of characters, whether it’s going for a team of one melee and one long-range or perhaps having the option of swapping between a nuker and a support. Having a more casual alternative to the highly competitive maps is also very welcome, and if you’re more of a slayer than an objective person then the 3v3 arenas will be ideal.
The 5v5 MOBA-esque Titan Ruins map however is where you’ll spend most time if you’re a competitive player. If you come from the likes of League of Legends, you’ll quickly feel at home here, with its three lanes, bushes, towers and bases. Neutral creatures within the jungle offer bonuses and perks that can significantly swing a battle in your favor, summoning powerful allies who can heal your team as well as attack. The largest part that differentiates Master X Master from other MOBAs here though is through the titan summoning mechanism.
After accruing enough points team-wide, such as from minion farming or taking down enemy players, you’re able to spawn a titan: a lumbering machine who’ll march down a lane and happily pummel towers into dust. Being able to spawn super powerful minions like titans is an integral part of the gameplay here, so being able to predict when the enemy team is approaching being able to summon one — and ideally, being first to get a titan on the field — is critical.
Knowing which masters to pair up, and how to use them together effectively is vital to success. Choosing whether to compensate for one’s weaknesses with the other or utilising a particular character’s farming abilities to fill the shared ultimate gauge so that your other master can quickly fire off a devastating ability is one of the most interesting and complex aspects of Master X Master, and the more you play with the system the more you can appreciate the nuances.
Unlocking new masters to play as is the main draw of PvE area of the game, where you’ll need to run through and clear a vast array of maps and scenarios in the hope of some solid loot. Each time a map is completed you’ll receive some random loot, much of which being components or upgrades that can be slotted onto characters for incremental stat increases such as improved defense or damage. You’ll find that a lot of the more interesting masters are gated behind grinds that require a large amount of rare drops or tied to tough achievements, though you’re able to bypass requirements if you’re willing to drop some cash.
NCSOFT fans will appreciate the franchise tie-ins with MXM too, as characters from their other titles — from City of Heroes and Lineage II, to Blade & Soul and Guild Wars 2 — make appearances as playable masters. Want to see how Mondo Zax and Rytlock fare on the same team? Go for it.
Thankfully, while MXM offers instant character unlocking via cash, it manages to avoid falling into the common traps of pay-to-win; dropping money on the game simply saves time, rather than offering ultimate power. Free rotations and realistic grinds help keep the game competitive and interesting while avoiding the disastrous potential of whales having all of the options.
Ultimately, Master X Master stands out more than a cursory glance would expect. Combat is primarily skill shots and accurate aim, and adapting to situations by switching characters takes solid game sense and anticipating enemy movements. If you’re looking for a MOBA experience that strips out unnecessary complexities such as items and shopping, instead focusing on in-the-moment decisions and raw skill, give MXM a shot.