I find myself in an interesting position. At the end of my beta impressions, I said that I probably wouldn’t play the final version of MxO. But courtesy of Game Over, here I am in front of my keyboard, mashing away at a review.
Unfortunately, I think I can only modify my conclusions slightly. Some elements are fun and warrant attention. It’s hampered however by a slew of bugs that range from the immersion-breaking to the sort that halt progress, and social interaction that borders on pointless.
A recap on the basics of MxO: following The Matrix Revolutions, the Matrix is a chaotic place where events could (theoretically) go in any direction. Right off the bat the player is confronted with the choice of normal or “hostile” (organization-versus-organization) servers, and from there, whether or not to take the red pill Zion offers. I took it to hurry things on; I assume that blue pills are approached by the Machines, and/or the Merovingians, since I’ve yet to see non-Awakened players in the game. But you’re not limited to the organization you start with. You can ignore organizations entirely, or start performing missions for one or more of the others.
Doing so has a couple of drawbacks. You need a certain Reputation score with an organization to form a crew, which is a prerequisite for creating a faction (i.e. clan/guild). Harming your reputation with that organization isn’t wise if you intend to be a leader.
Players are also promised that if they’re exceptional enough, they’ll have a chance to participate in missions which alter the story arch of the game and involve some of the more famous characters from the movies. The fact that there is a global story, with tangible effects, helps to separate MxO from other MMORPG’s. Even if you can’t participate in a critical mission, you’ll encounter changes in the gameworld related to them. One early development was the sudden arrival of “N30 Ag3nts” with heads similar to Keanu Reeves’. Somewhat silly, but speculation about them was rampant. Where did they come from? What did they mean? Did their name refer to apartment 303, seen in The Matrix? It was a genuine mystery.
Two more features might make the game attractive. The first, the sheer amount of customization, has practical and superficial aspects. For some reason MxO (like the films) is a parade of every kind of leather fashion imaginable as well as hats, sunglasses, and footwear. There’s even the occasional piece of designer wear slipped into your inventory as advertising - promptly sold. Still, in combination with the usual skin/hair/body mods, this allows a very personal aesthetic for your character.
Practically-speaking, character advancement encourages players to specialize as much as possible. The three major Disciplines are roughly equivalent to classes in other MMORPG’s: Coders are crafters, Hackers are magic users, and Operatives are thieves or warriors. But you don’t select these during character creation. You become a Coder or an Operative by purchasing the right Abilities, which have stat modifiers and prerequisites (i.e. level, Combat Toughness, etc.), and are themselves prerequisites for later Abilities. A simple example is that unlike Neo, you can’t learn kung fu immediately. Once you’re an Operative you have to level up and accumulate several more Abilities for Soldier to become available, and you repeat the process in turn for Martial Arts Initiate. Only then does kung fu become an option, and there are two categories of improvement in the style. By this point you’ve got so little memory left for your character that can you afford to buy into Gunman Abilities, you probably won’t be able to load them. A Kung Fu Grandmaster should feel proud; as a crewmate he’s irreplaceable. The same goes for the likes of Patchers and Virologists.
The third major feature of MxO is close combat that finally, finally extends beyond the double-click-wait formula that refuses to die.
Armed or unarmed, opponents enter a semi-realtime “interlock” and switch between four tactics: Speed, Power, Block, or Grab/Counter-Attack. The initiator of a tactic has his numerical rating for it pitted against a corresponding rating for the receiver; the highest number wins. Of course, it’s not quite so simple. Stats give characters tactical strengths and weaknesses. Use the same tactic more than once, and its rating can drop dramatically. Some special combat Abilities need to be primed with tactics that leave enemies in a particular state (dazed, etc.).
This fixes one of the biggest objections I’ve had with MMORPG’s until now. Simple combat was fine when Ultima Online was as much about “world simulation” as looting and raising stats. But (controversial statement warning) even World of Warcraft feels hollow, nothing more than running from one spot to another to do what every player is capable of doing. In MxO at least, you can prove your worth by being a clever tactician, stomping down enemies at higher levels.
That though is where my praise for the game ends. Frankly, it’s broken and lonely.
I would devote more space to this if I thought people enjoyed reading bug lists. Circa mid-April, the game works just well enough to keep people coming back. Things like graphics glitches, non-functioning hardlines, and missions dropping halfway through were tolerable in the beta. Here they’re devaluing what customers are paying for, a serious offense when you’re asking people to keep paying after their first $50. It’s worse yet given the mainstream audience a Matrix game is bound to have. It just a mercy that patches are released almost daily by the MxO team.
The game is lonely not because it lacks players, but because there’s little reason to talk to them. Peak social areas are hardlines, churches, and nightclubs, in that order. People are generally too busy upgrading Abilities or completing missions to chat. Missions do become easier with help, if you team up with players no more than a level or two away from your character; but good luck finding them past the launch date of a MMORPG. Crews and factions are about the only guarantee of socializing to be found, and they’re typically unconcerned with the whole role-playing part. They also tend to limit themselves to gamers who were acquaintances beforehand. So much for the “massively multiplayer” bit, then.
I honestly wonder why Warner Brothers decided that a MMORPG would be the best way to go. The expectations for a Matrix title are too high and the competition is too fierce. Personally, I see more potential in MxO’s system for a single-player game than a multiplayer one. The time spent on a beast of a project like this could’ve produced a brilliant multiplatform RPG. Come to think of it, it would’ve been a less elitist means of storytelling as well. I like the idea of affecting a story experienced by thousands. Problem is, not all of us can afford six hours a day to earn that right.