Master X Master Alpha Playtest 3 Preview

It’s hard to really sum up Master X Master up in a single, brief description. It has some heroes from NCSoft titles and is a MOBA, so it’s like Heroes of the Storm. It has a 3v3 arena duel so it’s like any deathmatch shooter. It has dungeon-running PvE that can be played solo or with friends, so it’s like Marvel Heroes. As this Master X Master Alpha Playtest 3 preview will show, this game is all of those things bundled at once, and wrapped up in one very tidy package.

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The Basics

Master X Master takes place in a future where a rogue AI has overtaken the Earth, and it’s up to a collection of heroes from across the multiverse to fight back and clear the Synd threat. The lore behind MXM is window dressing that tries to enhance the whole experience of play but thankfully it doesn’t get in the way.

Characters, or Masters, are varied and unique, from giant hulking aliens to soldiers with guns to Rytlock Brimstone and Mondo Zax. Each Master controls with WASD for movement and moving a mouse reticle to direct where to look and aim. Each Master also has skills bound to Q and E, and an Ultimate bound to R. The entire arrangement brought to mind the perfect control layout of Blade and Soul or Overwatch; quick, responsive, and intuitive.

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Of course the biggest hook for MXM is the fact that you can bring two Masters along at once and can tag the other in with a scroll of the mouse wheel. This meager addition adds a whole level of strategy to both loadout and gameplay, letting you either double down on damage dealers or swap between offering attack or support as the situation calls, or tagging in your partner when the character you’re controlling is low on health to give you a fighting chance. It’s a little addition that makes a world of difference.

Playing Master X Master involves choosing any one of several different modes, all of which have their appeal. It would seem on paper that having a game that tries to serve three different game types would end up falling short across the board, but MXM has managed to make every portion come together and feel solid. During my preview, I went ahead and got my face in to as much as I could, from the major gameplay elements to the minor stat management and side-events.

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The MOBA Portion

I’m starting with the MOBA segment of Master X Master because it’s the segment that I’m least familiar with and not the most fond of. MOBAs have always eluded me both mentally and mechanically, but this game does have a MOBA element and it was only fair that I give it its due.

The MOBA game is called Titan Ruins, and it involves the standard sort of gameplay objectives one expects from the genre; be the first to take down an enemy core or earn more points by capturing areas and scoring kills and your team wins. There are a few more mechanics to it, but that was the majority of what was presented in the tutorial.

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While the tutorial that led me through an AI match got me in at the bare level, I still felt pretty lost. In the matches I played against both AI opponents and human ones, the opposing team was able to earn a points lead that was insurmountable. What’s worse is I’m not entirely clear if it was due to missing some major mechanic or because the game lacks any sort of real game-changing way to turn the tide.

While Titan Ruins isn’t my favorite part of MXM, it still ended up being fun regardless of how awful I was doing. The mode played well, the map was well laid out and combat was generally fun when I wasn’t being ganged up on or being locked down. Someone more skilled than me will likely find greater enjoyment out of Titan Ruins, but for the time I was there I felt like I could probably get better given practice. If I were ever to MOBA, this would probably be it.

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The Arena Shooter Portion

Of all the things Master X Master offers, the 3v3 Arena shooter side is easily the most shallow. You can queue in with humans or in a pure AI match, run in to one map and lay in to each other, with the higher score winning after time’s up.

If there’s one thing the 3v3 mode does is showcase how incredibly tight combat in MXM feels. Every character I played responded swiftly and did precisely what I wanted them to do, with the only issue being choosing a Master that didn’t sync with my playstyle. The purity of combat was fully on display, and whether it was against AI or against humans I had an absolute blast.

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The Dungeon Portion

If Master X Master excels nowhere else, it’s in the PvE offerings. The dungeons part of this game brings to mind some of the best twin-stick shooters I’ve had hands on like Assault Android Cactus or Livelock, or even more appropriately the overhead shooting segments of Super Contra on the SNES.

Dungeons come in several varieties, with Easy being a solo-only story mode, to Normal, Brutal, Extreme and Nightmare versions that can be played either solo or with a party. The ramped up difficulty of each map managed to provide some fundamental and enjoyable changes in each run, changing the path of the map or adding some more enemy types at once. It was good that MXM managed to avoid the trap of merely adding more enemies or increasing boss health pools and calling it a challenge.

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The Other Portions

If all of that wasn’t a lot to get my head around, the small extra stuff offered was icing on the cake. A calendar of events showed off when there would either be mini-games or special dungeons that people could play. There are daily, weekly and monthly quests to undertake that offer currency and item rewards. There’s an overall profile level that offers up a sense of progression as well as rewards. Masters can be improved using Nodes and Support Kits. MXM layers on lots of goals to shoot for and things to manage, and it all feels well designed instead of overwhelming.

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The in-game store offers the expected assortment of offerings, with buffs, Masters, skins and convenience items that can be purchased with C-Coins or by earning an achievement and using SOL currency in the case of most Masters. It’s a generally benign store and I was able to have free run of it with the amount of C-Coins I was being granted, though how freely that currency will flow at launch is an asterisk to consider.

About the only thing I have disagreements with is that additional PvE maps were only available through using a Special Ticket item available in the in-game store. The cost of this Ticket wasn’t much, but the concern of how many C-Coins I would earn by simply playing gives me reason to pause.

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The Complete Package

Despite small concerns, I was repeatedly drawn to Master X Master over and over again. What started off in my mind as a brief play session ended up being hours of trying a bit from each game mode. I am completely surprised by this title and I truly am looking forward to see what more will come to the game. It has so many different little segments that somehow manage to create a total experience.

If I were forced to briefly describe Master X Master, it’d be a game buffet. A collection of favorites, presented with confidence and put together with skill and style. MXM is definitely worth the time for lovers of MOBAs, isometric dungeon crawlers or PvP shooters to take a look and sample each dish.

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About Chris Hughes

Chris is a literal wolf who has managed to learn how to use a computer. He enjoys cooking, roleplaying, writing, and reading those who do the same. You can find him staring at Twitter or read more of his attempt at humor at his blog, or in-game primarily on WildStar, Blade and Soul or Final Fantasy XIV.