For those of you who haven’t heard, NCSoft is currently working on a new MOBA called Master x Master, which incorporates characters from its popular franchises along with original heroes. It’s likely that you’ll recognize at least a couple of the in-game Masters if you’ve played Lineage, Aion, Blade & Soul, WildStar or Guild Wars 2. Although it’s still considered to be in an Alpha state, the game is very well polished and is coming along rather nicely.
Master x Master Overview
In addition to the standard 5v5 format, there will be a 3v3 Arena and PvE mode that includes various stages. The ability to take your favorite characters out into dungeon-like environments definitely separates Master x Master from the typical MOBA and allows it to cater to a much wider audience. Furthermore, players will also be able to run around the bridge of the Dredgion between matches, which can create a deeper connection with the characters than most lobby MOBAs have up to this point.
However, the main aspect of the game still looks to be the 5v5 Titan Ruins battleground, which will have standard, ranked, and AI modes available on launch. If Master x Master fails at delivering a top-notch MOBA experience then it likely won’t succeed as a title. The most recent test, Alpha 4, focused entirely on the Titan Ruins ranked mode and the addition of two new masters: Tulam and Nedien.
Although Titan Ruins might look like your standard ‘Summoners Rift’ design, it feels like a completely different beast. There are still three lanes, base turrets, jungles creatures, and a core, but the various objectives on the map are more important than sticking to a lane and pushing it.
Each match will last until 30 minutes have passed, one team has reached 1000 points or the Titan Core is destroyed. Generally, most matches will end due to core destruction or the timer running out. I still haven’t seen any team come close to 1000 points, but I assume it must be feasible in an extreme one-sided match.
Although it can be a little demoralizing to mount a comeback just for the timer to end the game, keeping matches to 30 minutes is friendlier to the average gamer. I’ve had matches of Dota 2 or League of Legends last for more than an hour; by that point most players are exhausted and ready for it to be over with. A time limit could also help when meeting time requirements during eSports broadcasts.
In order to gain points, players need to either kill Masters or complete the objectives around the map. These include things like defeating Guardians, destroying the enemy Titan, and slaying the fallen heroes Adaman or Ruak. Capturing the Hero Altars for Adaman and Ruak will also summon them to fight for you and act like mini-titans.
For every 100 points accumulated, a team will summon one of three different Titans (Helix Damizhra, Ardent Tsaphon and Kinetic Marahv) with varying elements and team-wide buffs. Titans are incredibly powerful and one of the best ways to destroy the enemy’s core. Furthermore, Titans will drop shards when slain that need to be delivered back to base. Once enough are gathered, a player can choose to temporarily transform into a Titan Incarnate, which acts as a player-controlled raid boss.
Deciding when to spawn a Titan, and what to do when it’s on the battlefield, gives your team a wide range of strategic options. You could simply push with the Titan to maximize its effectiveness or spread out across the battlefield and capture as many objectives as possible. Making the right use of a Titan can make or break a game.
MOBA with a Twist
All of this might sound a little overwhelming, even for veteran MOBA players, but once you get a few games down it’s not that complicated. The most difficult part is knowing where to be at what time and getting the rest of your team to act accordingly. Being even a single person down during a key team fight is even more costly than in most typical MOBAs.
This is because in Master x Master each player commands two separate heroes that can be swapped in and out of combat. This means that every player counts as two characters and a 4v5 can actually be an 8v10.
Managing two different Masters brings its own unique strategies and further complicates player decisions. While I’m sure the meta will constantly be shifting once the game goes live, there are advantages and disadvantages to taking Masters that fill the same role or complement each other.
For example, picking two tanks can provide a lot of utility during team fights but you’re left without a way to harass enemies. However, it wouldn’t be ideal to switch to a squishy ranged character while in the middle of the enemy team. So far, it seems like at least a few players on each team need to specialize roles for the greatest advantage.
Instead of acquiring items in Master x Master, players can level up their individual skills and then assign stat points to things like health, damage, or cooldown reduction. This gives players a lot of utility during battle but it doesn’t require the time-consuming process of memorizing specific items builds. Skills also acquire different perks when being leveled up that don’t just increase their damage. This can be a larger range, bigger area-of-effect, or cooldown reduction, but it basically fills the role that items normally would.
Nedien and Tulam
Having a large variety of characters to play is incredibly important to the success of any MOBA. Master x Master already has quite a few options and Nedien and Tulam are the newest Masters to arrive.
Nedien is a close-quarters bruiser that specializes in applying poison to her enemies. The longer the fight the more stacks of poison she can apply, which cause damage, debuffs and heals her. Nedien’s ultimate also makes her an excellent duelist by increasing her damage and move speed while lowering the damage of enemies.
Tulam, on the other hand, is a tanky initiator. He doesn’t output a lot of damage or do well with enemy harassment. Both his passive ability and survival skill do make him more difficult to kill but he doesn’t have any strong active defensive abilities or shields.
He does, however, have an incredible amount of crowd control through knockups that put enemy players out of position. This makes him excellent at ganking, initiating team fights or chasing through the jungle. In order to maximize his value, he should probably be paired with a sturdy tank or hard-hitting melee bruiser.
So is Master x Master going to be the next League of Legends or Dota 2? Probably not, but it could definitely carve out its own niche in the market.
There are plenty of players who are burnt out on the typical, mainstream MOBAs and are looking for something fresh. NCSoft is a major publisher in both Korea and North American; its games have a lot of online presence, which would make it more likely for players to crossover. And there will definitely be a few people hopping over just try to heroes from their favorite games.
The PvE modes will also attract fans of action RPGs and casual MOBA players. There are still many MOBA players who mainly play AI matches and the various PvE stages could appeal to fans of dungeon crawlers, like Diablo or Torchlight.
However, the biggest factor will be if Titan Ruins can separate itself from the pack, and I believe that it can. There have been dozens of Dota copycats out there and most have already failed, but as far as map layout and gameplay mechanics go, Master x Master is actually closer to Heroes of the Storm.
Titan Ruins is incredibly focused on objectives and lanes are only important for gaining experience or contesting hero shrines. Unlike other MOBA battlegrounds, there aren’t forward towers, which leaves a lot of room for early skirmishes outside of the main bases. The major objectives are obviously the Titans, but there are way more decisions to make than what lane to push.
In-game progression is also similar to Heroes of the Storm as characters gain talent points instead of buying items. There are quite a few differences, however, as Masters still need to level up specific skills and talents are raw stat upgrades instead of providing new abilities.
There is one other major difference with Master x Master that makes it unique in the genre. Instead of clicking to attack, the game plays like an action RPG where all attacks need to be aimed and most abilities are skill shots. This adds another layer of skill to the game and allows competitors to truly outplay one another.
Whether Master x Master becomes successful will be up the community and NCSoft. It has all of the elements to be a great game but it will need a healthy population to support it and constant upkeep from NCSoft to make sure everything is in working order. MOBAs require a lot of attention to stay relevant in the form of new characters and balance updates. By the time Open Beta comes around, we should be able to tell if Master x Master can stand up to the competition.Related: Article, Master X Master, MOBA, NCSoft