Three Things MMOs Can Learn From Master X Master

As an MMO player who is generally uninterested in PvP in any of its various forms, I’ve never really found MOBAs all that appealing. When NCSoft started talking about this new Master X Master thing, I pretty much ignored it. Just another MOBA for me to skip, right? Plus I don’t really like the name. I think “Master X Master” is supposed to be like “Master Vs. Master,” and I can’t decide if I feel like it’s a stylistic choice that is ok or a minor translation oddity that’s going to bother me (I think the title of “Tree of Savior” is a large part of why I didn’t stick around that game for long). Then I started seeing some chatter surrounding MXM’s PvE game, and I was intrigued. I tried the beta, and I ended up liking it a lot more than I thought I would. The game reminds me of a lot of the things I loved about WildStar’s dungeons; lots of frantically running around dodging red circles with combat that requires you to actually aim at the target rather than just stay in range and mash buttons. You can probably see that, from there, it wasn’t far to go to start thinking about what MXM does and doesn’t do as well as its more massive cousins.

Group Content Doesn’t Have To Be Huge To Be Fun
For far too long, massive raids have been king of the PvE endgame. Some games have at least started scaling back such content to raids requiring a much more reasonable ten or twelve people and putting more focus on dungeons requiring five or so people. This is a step in the right direction, but what about all of the times when I have one or two friends online and we want to do something together? Three is usually not quite enough to get through a dungeon without a lot of difficulty (i.e. dying every other pull), but most open world stuff is designed to be soloed, and having too many people in one spot can actually cause a bottleneck. Master X Master solves this with a difficulty slider for instances. It is by no means the first game to do so–Bree and Justin were just talking about City of Heroes’ solution to this problem last week on the Massively OP Podcast, and LotRO’s skirmishes are always fun, and I wish there were more of them–but it’s something that I feel should be standard for all MMOs. I’d also like to point out MXM’s minigames, which I ignored at first, but they’re actually pretty fun. From what I’ve seen, are all variations on non-combat bullet and AoE dodging. Not much of a game by itself, but a nice way to break up monotony and practice not standing in fire.

Hotbars: Less Is More
Almost two years ago, I wrote about how, while hotbar limitations can be frustrating (see: Marvel Heroes post-BUE), unlimited hotbar space often ends up introducing unnecessary complexity (see: Marvel Heroes’ Doctor Strange pre-BUE) that makes the game more about watching cooldowns instead of what’s going on around your character. MXM takes this to an even further extreme, giving each hero three regular attacks (left mouse button and two keys), one cooldown-type “ultimate” ability, and one dodge/block. If you only had one character, this would get really boring really fast, but MXM also includes a character swapping mechanic, similar to those seen in a number of arcade fighting games, which means that you have access to twice the abilities, as long as you’re willing to wait for a cooldown before you swap again. This makes the game feel a lot less overwhelming than it could otherwise. In fact, I’ve actually gotten a couple of friends to play with me, and they’ve both commented on that very fact.

Class Variety Is The Spice of Life
As someone who loves playing an army of alts rather than a single character, I really like the idea of a game with a whole bunch of characters that I can switch between as I feel like it. It’s one of the reasons why I love Marvel Heroes so much, despite the fact that the gameplay revolves around doing the same content over and over. And the reason why playing a bunch of different characters/classes is fun in a game like Marvel Heroes or Master X Master is that they each have a unique gimmick. Instead of two or three types of DPS, support, and tank, they’ve got a variety of archetypes for each, and some degree of customization within each character. Does this create a balance nightmare? Probably. But I think you’ll find that the majority of your players care more about having fun than being at the peak of the performance curve.

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Looking Back At April, Ahead To May

April turned out to be a busy and stressful month for me, with a lot of short gaming sessions and not much worth writing about. Still, I covered a lot of ground, so I thought I’d check in with what I’ve been doing.

Master X Master
So this one was a surprise. I’m not really into MOBAs at all, and when I saw this title announced, I pretty much ignored it. It’s just NCsoft jumping on the bandwagon, right? Yawn. But, to prove the old adage that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, in the midst of the announcement of Statesman as a playable character, and the (predictable and wholly understandable) outrage that followed, I heard some people talking about how great its PvE game is. Bite-sized PvE dungeon runs with a wide variety of characters/classes? That I can get excited about. I felt a little bad for supporting a game that stomped all over what little hope there was for a City of Heroes revival (not that there was much hope to stomp on at this point), but I’m really glad I tried it. My favorite moment was running the Ascalonian Catacombs Dimensional Rift, which is surprisingly accurate to the Guild Wars 2 dungeon. I’ve never played any of NCsoft’s other games, so I can’t speak to the accuracy of the dungeons from their games, but this one really impressed me. I’m considering buying a founder’s pack, but we’ll see.

The Elder Scrolls Online
Apparently controversy has been following me around the MMOverse this month, because I managed to get back into ESO right as a big kerfuffle erupted involving a bunch of nerfs coming with the expansion, which many players believe are simply to prop up the new Warden class. I’m a super casual ESO player, so maybe I’d be more bothered by this if it was one of my main games, but it seems to me that this is mostly just MMO players complaining about MMO class balance. Nothing new to see here. Honestly, I’m not too worried about it; MMO class balance is always in flux. What’s good this month won’t be next month and vice versa. That’s the great thing about MMOs; there’s always a chance for studios to fix their mistakes (and make new ones). What is different about it is that, back in my day, players would go to the forums and throw a temper tantrum until they hit the post size limit, and the average person didn’t really notice unless they went to the forums looking for it. Nowadays, with the popularity and accessibility of streaming and YouTube videos, certain players have been given much higher visibility than they used to have (some of them were even promoted by Zenimax, according to someone in zone chat), and when those players ragequit, people notice.
Ironically, the classes getting hit hardest with the nerfbat are the healer templar and the stamina DPS nightblade, which are my two main characters, but I’m not worried because the Warden looks super fun and I would probably be dropping my current characters in favor of the Warden even if it was garbage. At the rate I progress through ESO content, there will probably be two or three balance patches before I get half way through the expansion anyway.

Lord of the Rings Online
I started out strong with LotRO in April, but ended up tapering off in favor of Elder Scrolls later in the month. Man, I forgot how clunky the Legendary Item system is. It’s a cool idea, but it doesn’t seem very well designed. I did make it back for some of the anniversary festivities. I’m too low level for most of the 10th year scavenger hunt stuff, but I did the usual firework launching and pub brawling activities. I’m excited that this year’s mount selection included a fast goat. I’m all set for Moria now!

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
I’ve been playing Zelda a lot lately, more than I expected. I “beat” the game (that is, finished the final boss), more because I didn’t want to go into it super overpowered than for the actual feeling of completion. I’ve continued to put a decent amount of time into it, and I’m still discovering new things. I know I’ve said it before, but I’m pretty sure this is my new favorite single player game from Nintendo. Yes, I think I even prefer it to Metroid Prime, which is saying something (though Metroid can feel free to take that title back any time now…).

Mass Effect Andromeda
I became a big Mass Effect fan fairly recently, and binged through the trilogy. I was pretty excited when Andromeda was announced, with its return to its RPG roots and more open, explorable maps, but it really hasn’t drawn me in. I like the game, but it just doesn’t grab me the way I thought it would. I don’t know if it’s the writing, or the design, or even just the awkward interface and longish load screens, but something about it just feels less engaging than the other games in the series. Granted, it took me a while to warm up to the beginning of some of the other games as well, so maybe I just need to push through, but so far I’ve put way less time in this game than I expected.

Plans for May
So that’s what I did in April. In May, I’d like to get more time in Elder Scrolls Online, hopefully getting a character to cap by the time Morrowind comes out. I’d also like to get some more time in LotRO, hopefully digging a little deeper into Moria (pun intended). Guild Wars 2 will certainly get some time as well, with the new Living World episode and accompanying zone to explore. Star Wars the Old Republic has been calling to me, as it often does when I play another BioWare game, but I’m more interested in playing through the story and then leaving than actually doing anything MMOish. I also just recently found out that OldSchool RuneScape is available to free players (it probably has been for a while, but when it launched it was originally going to be for subscribers only and didn’t realize that had changed), so I’ve been toying with the idea of giving that a try. Trying to go back to the live game is, for whatever reason, completely uninteresting to me, but going back to the game I knew and loved more than ten (!) years ago sounds appealing. I don’t know if I’ll ever sub up, but it would be fun to roam the world and noob it up for a while.

Why Do MMOs Hate Summoners?

Ultrons EverywhereMaybe it’s because I cut my teeth on RTSes before I even had an always-on Internet connection, but I’ve always liked the idea of summoner classes in RPGs. Hunter style pets are all well and good, but how much better would it be to have four or five or fifteen little minions following you around? In games like Marvel Heroes, I gravitate toward characters like Squirrel Girl, Iceman, and Ultron who involve a lot of pet management. In Torchlight II I played the Engineer because of his various bots, and one of the first mods I got into was a necromancer class. Yet in the MMO realm, I almost never play summoner types because they’re almost universally lame. For instance, in Guild Wars 2, the Necromancer has the potential to summon a horde of pets, but they don’t heal out of combat, and there’s a longish cooldown to resummon them, which is just annoying, and also they’re not really as good as just focusing on DoTs or direct damage. And, as far as I know, they’ve only gotten worse since I’ve been playing. The same can be said for the much smaller number of summonables that the guardian, elementalist, and engineer get. It’s the same story in just about every MMO I play; summoning playstyles either aren’t available or focusing on them severely reduces your damage output.

Supposedly, a lot of this is due to technical limitations; if everyone had an army of pets running around it would put too much load on the server and clients. First of all, I’ve used the “technical limitations” excuse myself, and nine times out of ten it’s simply programmerspeak for “I didn’t optimize my code well enough, and now it’s too hard to go back and fix it.” Second, aren’t they basically just NPCs that fight for players instead of against them? I know this is a gross oversimplification of something I don’t fully understand, but still, if the problem is purely one of technical limitations, shouldn’t summoners be getting more and more common as technology progresses, not less?

More plausible is that it’s more an issue of balance. In the tenuous and ever changing ecosystem that is MMO balance, I can imagine why tuning one-versus-one fights would be easier than tuning one-versus-five-little-things fights, and I can imagine it gets steadily more complicated the more players and enemies you throw into the mix; pets are part player, part DoT, and part AoE, and aren’t always predictable, especially in group settings. Still, it seems like, of all the various MMOs we have out there today–especially with so many that don’t seem to put much thought into balance–someone should have done it.

Thinking about this makes me all the more sad that I never got to play City of Heroes/Villains, as the Mastermind looks like it would be exactly what I’m looking for. Sadly I will never know, and, because NCsoft decided to rub salt in the wound by adding one of their least popular characters to their new MOBA, whatever small chance there was of an indie studio ever reviving it is pretty much dead. Hopefully one of these fan-made City of Heroes clones will pan out to be decent, but I’m not holding my breath.