I once had a colleague who suggested that he wanted to play a PvE MOBA. As both a prescriptivist and a MOBA purist, I scoffed at the idea. I mean, how could you have a true “player versus environment multiplayer online battle arena”? In its very nature, the only way for there to be PvE inside of a battle arena would be to implement bots, which were already in most MOBAs and didn’t happen to perform very well.
He further went on to describe that it wasn’t about the battle-arena setting but instead the MOBA combat system. I countered by saying that action RPGs and real-time strategy games already fill that genre niche. He countered that ARPGs didn’t have the same hero or build selection and were more about grinding gear than skill-based combat. We eventually decided to agree to disagree and that was the end of it.
The PvE MOBA
Well…it turns out I was wrong. Furthermore, this is one of the few times that I’m glad I was wrong because Master X Master has an excellent PvE mode. Yes, of course there are still a PvP modes, but its PvE dungeons are what separates this MOBA from all the others.
Master X Master didn’t simply take standard MOBA gameplay and drop players into PvE scenarios. This likely would have turned out poorly due to the point-and-click mechanics of most MOBAs. The locked on auto-attacks would be incredibly difficult to balance and would either leave players feeling too weak or too strong. This would make the game feel more like a top-down, tab-targeting MMORPG as opposed to an ARPG.
However, Master X Master combines MOBA and ARPG combat systems by requiring players to aim every auto-attack and most special abilities; there’s even a defensive ability and jump option for each character. This allowed NCSoft to treat dungeons more like bullet-hell simulators than battle arenas. There are, of course, many different scenarios to undertake with varying environments. Ascalonian Catacombs, for example, looks like it was taken straight out of Guild Wars 2 and will play quite differently from Aion’s Fire Temple dungeon.
There’s also the option to bring two unique Master’s into every dungeon, or PvP match, which allows players to cover multiple roles or specialize. This can also create some really cool combo opportunities, especially with characters who have pull abilities like Jinsoyun and Cagnazzo. Additionally, each character has an attunement: Kinetic (blue), Helix (green) and Ardent (red), which are strong or weak against certain other attunements. This means it’s usually not a great idea to bring two characters with the same attunement unless they’re strong against all of the enemies on a specific stage.
As players become stronger, through unlocking additionally abilities and more powerful nodes, they can re-challenge completed dungeons on multiple higher difficulties. While characters do grow in power through linear progression, it truly feels like the player’s skill matters much more than finding a new rare power-up. This means Master X Master will cater to players who like repeating the same content over and over to become perfect at it.
The biggest qualm I have with the PvE system in Master X Master is the dungeon rotation. Hopefully, this was only setup for the Closed Beta in order to make sure specific stages received testing, but only certain dungeons were accessible each day. This makes sense for the “special” dungeons where players can gather equipment to unlock new Masters, but even the standard scenarios were gated off.
Instead, players either had to use the ‘Random Stage’ finder or purchase a dispatch ticket with premium currency. Obviously, ‘Random Stage’ is going to be hit and miss while having to pay to visit your favorite levels is never fun. Hopefully, this will change on launch to unlock all of the standard scenarios with only event dungeons being time gated.
One of the more controversial aspects of Master X Master is the Statesman. NCSoft is treating this MOBA similarly to Heroes of the Storm by adding in characters from its previous games. We’ve already got Rytlock, Kat the Cat, Poharan, and a few others. It does seem that many City of Heroes fans feel a bit slighted and would preferred to have stayed forgotten instead of having CoH characters added to the MOBA.
I personally didn’t know anything about CoH until it had already shutdown, and more than anything I was just excited to try out a new hero. There were also some concerns about Statesman being dead for five years, but the Master is technically Tyrant, Statesman’s doppelganger from Praetorian Earth.
In-game Statesman doesn’t fail to deliver (at least from a neutral party). He makes an excellent brawler by being able to dive into the backline with Flying Haymaker and then knockback enemies with Foot Stomp. His passive ability reduces crowd control effects and his Ultimate (Heroism) resets his base skill cooldowns, enhances his standard abilities, improves his movement speed and defense, and gives him ranged attacks. His other two abilities are Olympian Bolts (AoE lightning) and Dull Pain (heal and debuff removal).
So far, he’s one of my favorite bruiser characters in Master X Master (followed by Death Knight and Rytlock) and plays quite similar to Alistar from League of Legends.
Closed Beta Thoughts
The first Closed Beta for Master X Master recently ended on April 27, 2017. The overall game hasn’t changed much from the Alpha, which was already quite polished. There were definitely some quality of life changes, such as a streamlined tutorial and improved user interface. There were also a ton of balance changes to many of the masters and the Titan Ruins game mode had a few reworks, which you can read about here.
Everything from fog of war to the titans themselves have been adjusted in the main PvP mode. I feel like they’ve helped the game mode play a little smoother, but it’s still one of the more complicated MOBAs that I’ve tried. It combines the rotation/jungle complexity of League of Legends with team-based objectives from Heroes of the Storm. This makes it difficult to know exactly when it’s time to group up or complete side objectives. Newcomers to the genre might have a hard time getting acclimated, but MOBA veterans should be able to grasp the core concepts quickly.
It hasn’t been announced whether there will be another Closed Beta or not, but it looks like Master X Master might be launching soon. NCSoft put up an announcement and giveaway celebrating the upcoming summer release. The giveaway ends on June 1, which means the game might be released shortly after.Related: Blade & Soul, City of Heroes, Closed Beta, Guild Wars 2, Master X Master, MOBA, NCSoft