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I spent the majority of today playing MXO (and a few hours last night, after installation finished). I wanted to bring my impressions of the game here so that other prospective buyers might have some more opinions to chew on if they are deciding whether or not to buy this game.
Before I get into my impressions, I want to get a few things perfectly clear:
a) This is an impression only, and only after a day of play! No need to tell me I didn't see the "endgame"...it's rather obvious that I haven't.
b) This is not an authoritative review...I am not going to formulate any lasting judgements until I've been able to play at least a couple of weeks.
So with that out of the way, here we go!
Installation was relatively smooth, though it wanted to install Flash and I consider flash to be the medium of advertisements and malware. I later learned that Flash is necessary to read the documentation of the game online...and thus I guess I won't be reading it.
No real surprises for account setup, with the only exception being I really wonder how much Warner Brothers has to do with this. Monolith is the developer, Sega is the distributor...where does WB come in? Royalties and bankroll? The account you create for the game is a Warner Brothers account...so I wonder how much they'll be doing in the future with online gaming or gaming in general. Account signup was browser-based and very smooth, and I was quite pleased by that.
Once my account was set up I had to wait for a 119MB patch to download. It came down in a relatively short amount of time...installed properly, and included decent patch notes. I'm glad to see they realize inline patch notes are a good thing. Once the patch was completed it was time to jack in!
There are two things going on when you are playing MXO: you are playing a MMOG and you are participating in the fiction of the movies. My comments are going to touch both, and I hope I can keep them a bit clear.
After patching up you are presented with a pretty standard MMOG question: which server to play on. There are approximately 7 that are available, and about 10 more that are listed but not available. After selecting your server you are ushered past the obligitory splash screens: Warner Brothers, then SEGA, then Monolith. After the last splash you get the Matrix musical theme, a cascade of Matrix language that we're all familiar with, and finally Link's voice (Harold Perrineau). Link is trying to find you in the Matrix, and ostensibly you are trying to help him find you by providing information about yourself...this is the character creation process.
Your selection begins with a choice of 10 archtypes, each of which represent various configurations of your 5 core attributes of Perception, Focus, Reason, Belief, and Vitality. Whatever selection you make, such as Lunatic Fringe or True Believer, is a combination of 8 in all characteristics with +3 to one and -3 to another. Thus, Inquisitive Genius has +3 Reason and -5 Belief. Suspicious Cynic has +3 Perception and -3 Belief. What do these attributes do? They give a rough sketch, but MXO has a slightly different slant on all things we might consider familiar in MMOGs and it's not at all easy to know what you're really doing. I found this to be a very bewildering choice to make, and just chose one that seemed cool...my first choice was Fanatic Self Improver with +3 Vitality and -3 Belief. There are no hints embedded in the UI as to which might be a good choice for which kind of playstyle you might have...so I highly recommend doing a little bit of research on this in advance.
After this choice, you modify your appearance. Personally, I think MXO has a rather weak selection of character modification options. Mind you, I only make that comment having been spoiled on so many very recent games that allow for a huge variety of options. You get to choose hairstyles, color, skin tone, a few pants and shirts, etc...but in the end you will see many people who look either very close to you or at least vaguely familiar.
Lastly you choose your "handle", first and last name (entitled "Blue Pill First Name" etc...) and a description. All along the way you hear familiar statements from Link about how Neo was extracted from the Pod farm...the immersion factor exists, bit it's strained. I'll comment more on this as I go along.
You begin in a defacto tutorial, one which you cannot opt out of if you decide to create a second character. At this point you are in a room with a NPC, all the while you hear Niobe giving you the speech that Morpheus gave Neo in the first movie about the choice of the Blue and Red pills. You must choose: red or blue.
I pause here, because while I understand the idea of immersion into the story I cannot help but feel the huge contrivance of this moment in this game. Why would I take the blue pill? Isn't the whole point of my playing this game because I took the red pill? I tried the blue pill while writing this up, just to see what happened...the game crashed and I got a debugger notice allowing me to send it to...someone. Clearly you must take the red pill. This seemed entirely a forced contrivance...I would much rather have had this entire opening sequence be a scripted cinematic, ending with awakening from taking the red pill. But I digress.
You will then spend about 15 minutes learning the interface, movement, normal combat, Interlock combat, and using a Hardline...pretty standard MMOG tutorial fare, doing things as they are presented to you. On a plus note they do two things I think are pretty good here: they have 4 embedded movies (which were released to the public ahead of time) which show how combat works...they are well done; they also allow me to practice Interlock combat as much as I like in a dojo. By the time I was done with the practice, I at least had an idea what was going on. But Interlock combat is its own affair, so I'll talk about that later.
Once I jacked into the Matrix and recovered from the huge framerate slowdown of all the textures overwashed with that Matrix language cascade, I suddenly wondered if I was playing in Paragon City from City of Heroes. I see that this comparison has been made more than a few times, but the comparison is completely valid. They feel almost identical, in terms of character placement, mission generation and execution, and character movement and interaction. It was almost spooky how roughly familiar they are. But I don't want to get hung up on this, and for that matter I don't want to spend too much time on every detail. From this point on out, I'm going to focus a bit more on the relevant features.
Before I talk about features, here is the system I am playing on:
P4 3.2 GhZ
ATI X800 XT 256MB PCIE
Playing 1280x960 windowed, Full Detail mode (highest option)
Framerate is pretty darn decent, but I get quite a bit of sudden jags when moving from area to area. Camera controls are annoying, but tolerable...you cannot use first-person at all and the Camera tends to be places I don't want it to be more often than I like. Even though the city feels a lot like Paragon city, it is darker than Paragon...darker and dirtier. These are slums you start in, but they feel like slums in a permanently overcast world.
Sound is fairly decent in the game. The Matrix music theme comes and goes at various times, and you're presented with a marginal set of tunes here and there. It's nothing to be happy about, and nothing to be upset about...it feels, more or less, natural. Sound effects seem pretty good...you get a good sense of gunfire, fists thumping into chests, and you have a great boom when someone does one of those "superman" jumps and lands near you.
As for NPCs, they are also very much like Paragon City. You have your assortment of people walking, cars driving, and "important" NPCs standing around at key points. There are fewer NPCs overall...fewer cars and fewer bystanders, but there seem to be more points of interest and some of them give you things to do (mini-quests, if you will). Like Paragon City, you can go around and thump gangsters, the perennial "mob" of either game...or you can stick to the "story" and play through the missions you are given there.
I stuck with the story, with an occasional thump here and there when a mob was "too close for comfort". You dial up your Contact, download a mission, and are given a waypoint to run to. At the waypoint you perform various tasks...all very run of the mill stuff: deliver this item, kill this mob, escort this NPC. Everything is thematic to the Matrix of course...you start as a member of Zion, but along the way you will be presented with the choice to do missions for the Machines or the Merovingian. These are the three primary factions, and they all have it out for one another. Ostensibly, you have Zion for Good, Merovingian for Neutral, and Machines for Evil. It's not that cut and dry, but that's a way of looking at it that I think fits.
This option came at about the 5th or 6th mission, when I finally met Niobe. This option came at the same time, like all the preceeding missions, for all three characters I played today. There seems to be a theme of repetition that starts this early that bothers me, and this isn't the only way I've noticed it. For example, if I fail a mission for some reason I will get it again from my contact. I haven't tried to abuse this, but I did fail one mission a couple of times and it always recycled to me each time in the same form at the same location with the same goal and the same setup. Sometimes the NPC names changed, but it was almost entirely identical. It's hard to know what this foretells for the future of my characters, but I don't like it already. I refer you back to my earlier warning...don't bother telling me "you need to play more to see". Yes, I know that...but even without knowing what the future foretells for this, I already don't like having to do the same couple of hours of work to even get the choice to choose my faction. Since you only get one character per server I've already decided to make 3 to enjoy each faction...and that means three times doing the same damned missions (plus tutorial). Ugh.
So let's talk a bit about Interlock combat, because almost everything else (minus the skill system and hardlines...which are intertwined) is pretty standard MMOG fare and not worth blabbering about.
If there is a saving grace to MXO that extends beyond the Matrix theme itself it is the Interlock combat system. That is not to say that I love it...I am reserving judgement on it until I've played with it for at least a couple of weeks. But the key here is that it is definitely not a common mechanic. No doubt people will try it and proclaim "it's been done"...but I don't know of any other popular MMOG that plays combat quite like Interlock does.
It's hard to explain, and I'm not going to try...go find a fansite that extolls its virtues if you want to know. What I will say is that there is a ton of information there to help you apply a strategy that is unique to each encounter...and it's all way to freakin' fast when you first play. The system is frustrating, cumbersome, complex, and very enticing. It's frustrating because so much is happening that makes very little sense at first. It's cumbersome because you are tracking a whole lot of stuff in order to maximize your ability...and not enjoying the decent visuals that are being performed. It's complex in that there are a lot of combinations you can consider, and it doesn't look like there's "just one way" to accomplish a victory. It's enticing because the idea of swapping out your skills to try various combinations of your abilities adds a whole lot of flavor.
In many ways it is a much more complex rocks/paper/scissors scheme, in that there are attacks and defenses that are right for any given moment...but I don't know of a game today that offers you so many opportunities to visually interact with those choices so many times in so small a timeframe. I have no idea if it will hold up to scrutiny as time goes by...so, again, I'm not going to judge it until I can get a better idea of it and carry it more than a few days. But it is something worth witnessing.
The last feature I will mention is the skill system. MXO offers a pretty standard skill tree setup, with two major twists:
a) you can swipe any skill or an entire tree out at any time for other skills, with no penalty
b) you improve the level of your skill nodes with cash (or $information, as they call it)
For those of you who hate the idea of virtual item resale, you're going to absolutely hate what this means in this game...because cash equals diversity, and cash is gotten by farming in MXO. Basically, you purchase a skill from a vendor in the game...then spend cash to improve the skill. It's not really feasible for a normal character to buy all the skills...typically you'll only have about enough money to buy the skills along a certain tree and improve them to an acceptable level. If you are following the storyline with a little bit of extracurricular activity on the side then you'll be a very good character but you won't have many skills in a secondary line. But those that have lots of cash can have as many skills as the like and carry them as high as they like.
Skills are tied to level to a degree, and MXO does have traditional levels with a pretty traditional grinding curve that scales up fast. You cannot raise a skill past your level, and thus you cannot master Jujitsu at level 5 just because you have cash. But you can master every level 20 skill at level 20 if you have enough cash.
If you take away the Sugar Daddy complex and simply look at it as it is meant to be played it's a pretty decent system. It better be, anyway, because you get only one character per server. It only takes a few seconds to swap out the skills, which must be done at a "hardline", where you can also teleport around the city and access your "bank".
I could comment about the crafting system, but I didn't try it...most because I didnt have enough time. It looks somewhat interesting, so maybe I'll comment on it in a few days.
I hope this was helpful to some of you. Comment however you please.