It's safe to say that the MOBA genre is pretty crowded. You have League of Legends, DOTA 2, Heroes of the Storm, Heroes of Newerth, and the defunct Infinite Crisis playing the genre straight, while games like Smite, Battleborn, and Paragon play around with the concept. Trying to establish a new MOBA is like trying to make a "WoW killer" a few years ago.
Master x Master is NCSoft's shot at the crown, bringing together characters from across its properties, including Guild Wars 2, WildStar, Aion, Lineage, and Blade & Soul. While those characters may be draws for fans of those NCSoft games, they're not in the same league as Heroes of the Storm or DOTA 2's roster, so MxM has to stand on its gameplay. Let's see what it's bringing to the table.
For one, different controls. While many MOBA games are click-to-move based on their Warcraft III lineage, Master x Master hands you direct control like an overhead shooter. Movement is WASD, and the mouse is your targeting reticle. You have to manually aim all auto-attacks and skills. Each character comes with two standard attacks: left mouse activates an offensive auto-attack, while right mouse is their standard defensive ability. Prior to each single-player, cooperative, or competitive multiplayer map you can choose two of a character's four abilities (bound to Q and E) to carry into battle.
That might seem limiting, but Master x Master also allows players to choose two characters every time they launch a match. That means you can balance the weaknesses of one character with another, or double up on the your chosen role. If you want a glass cannon with a pocket tank, that's an option for you. The tag team character system is balanced by a short timer preventing you for changing in quick succession and the ultimate abilities, which use a resource shared between both characters.
I chose Taejin, a mid-range assault character with an auto-rifle primary attack. Like every characters, that basic attack can be augmented prior to a match, allowing for increased damage, range, or time before his auto-attack overheats. I picked Concussion Blast, Taejin's cone blast, and Explosive Barrage, which pulses forward in a straight line. My other character was Demenos, a floaty energy guy with no legs. He's mostly a support character, with a constant lightning blast as his main attack and a stunning cone blast and targeted silence as my chosen extra abilities.
The PVE part of Master x Master reminds me a lot of Marvel Heroes. When you're not fighting, you're wandering around a city hub populated with other players. Here you can talk, form parties, and prepare your characters. Then you can jump into dungeons based on NCSoft worlds: I choose a infested city for my PVE map, but Blade & Soul's Blackram Supply Chain was also available.
The PVE dungeon continues the Marvel Heroes feel, your with heroes facing off against the massed forces of evil in fairly linear dungeons, punctuated with bosses. If you've played other dungeon crawlers, you know what to expect here, with monsters dropping currency and loot. There's a basic progression over the course of the map, letting you upgrade your abilities with points like you would in a MOBA. PVE was rather fun for me, and its a great addition to Master x Master's MOBA gameplay.
Jumping into the MOBA side of Master x Master felt very familiar, with a three-lane map and assorted areas of interest, including various towers, gates, and the enemy base. It plays a bit differently given the direct control you have over your heroes, but if you've played a MOBA before, it's like riding a bike. Escort your creeps to enemy objectives and kill their creeps. While you're doing that, you can also attack camps to give you some unique creeps or finish off the opposing team for points.
The MOBA map in my demo was Titans Ruin, reminiscent of Heroes of the Storm's Garden of Terror, where completing objectives powers up a strong Titan that can then make a beeline for your opponent's base. The moment-to-moment play is the same as other MOBAs, but I admit, the action-centric controls mean you have to pay a little more attention and be fairly on top of things in a hero vs hero scrum.
Master x Master is a dungeon crawler and MOBA, both competently done, in a single game. I have no clue if that's enough to make the game stand out in a very competitive space, but I liked what I played. Now Master x Master just has to convince fans that what it has to offer is enough for them to drop whatever game they're currently playing. I wish it well and look forward to getting another crack at it eventually.