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My original intention in sitting down to write my own review of this game was to give it a few weeks of play and formulate my judgements then. I feel comfortable, however, bringing my thoughts to bear on the subject now. Some of you may have read my A Day in the Matrix post, and if you have not I suggest giving it a once-through. I'm not going to reiterate those thoughts very much.
From a stability factor MXO hit the ground with a pretty solid showing. The game is reliably available, there are no massive storehouses of nasty bugs, and the play is solid. I think Monolith should feel pretty proud of their entrance into the scene with a solid game.
The skill trees are intricate and interesting. There are ample choices to make about how to use your skills, and while you can't be as free-wheeling as you can in a game like UO, you can make some very potent combinations of skills. When you invest your time and cash into your skill levels you can see a noticeable change in your play.
The Interlock combat system is very good when taken in a one-on-one fight. Once you get a handle on how Interlock works (how to use it and how to avoid it, wherever necessary) you suddenly realize all the potential embedded in the intricate skill system. The feedback from the Interlock system is pretty good, and while it is still a series of random dice rolls to determine outcome, you can clearly stack those rolls in your favor by being a smart player...paying attention pays dividends in executing specific attacks against specific weaknesses, and setting up states in your enemy to exploit. It can be a lot of fun when it works...
Most of all, the game has a lot of style. Mind you, the style of course is The Matrix...and it lives and breathes that setting pretty well. If you really like the setting of The Matrix then you'll likely feel fairly well immersed in the game. They go out of their way to have all the NPCs you interact with really work inside the setting.
The promise, of course, is the story which everyone is supposed to be a part of. Supposedly this will start showing up on April 4...so I will revisit this sometime a week after that.
From the very first time I logged in to the last login I had yesterday I could not shake the feeling that I was playing City of Heroes...not once. Some of you may feel this is quibbling...and I don't deny it is a bit nit-picky. Everything is familiar to CoH: the mission system, the in-street vendors, the city layouts, the street gangs, the subway system, and the street traffic (both pedestrian and vehicular).
This game seriously disappointed me be not having a greater sense of self-identity than that, and especially so since the vast majority of the game is played in these streets and inside these buildings...with almost no variance to character model. What's the difference between your choice of fighting for The Machines, Zion, or the Merovingian? Practically nothing in terms of the content you'll face.
And that's what's so especially poor in this game, I'm afraid: variety of content. What's the difference between the content you face at level 1 and the content you face at level 20? Nothing. You are still fighting a few dudes and a few chicks in a few offices in a few buildings. Sure, the mobs have more powers and so do you...but it's still the same mob who's face you're trying to bash in. *yawn*
It leaves me asking the question: "why am I bothering to play this game?" For those of you who want to play along with the story, you will immediately answer that question...and to all of you I say "excellent!" I hope the promises that people feel Monolith is making live up to your expectations! There certainly is a lot of teasing going on in the game...the missions certainly take you along a path, and I do hope it pans out.
My experience, however, in all MMOGs to date (and I've played most of them) is that 98% of the people who play the game won't ever experience the events firsthand. Sure, they may experience the consequences of an event...let's say a city section that is suddenly infested with a new problem...but they won't actually be participating in events as they transpire. As I said in my section above: I'll revisit this after April 4 (and a few days extra) to see if Monolith manages to do something different. But until then, it's nothing more than the hollow assurances of an overly-ambitious developer...and some overly-eager people who want desperately to believe in it.
The Interlock combat system has some very serious problems when you have an encounter with more than one mob. If you are engaged in Interlock you are essentially in a turn-based combat system...but other mobs that engage you that are not Interlocked with you are running their own combat timers. That's all well and good, but you cannot interact with anything but your interlocked mob. There are all kinds of modifiers in play to try to make it "fair" but in truth it's completely disruptive.
For example, let's say you get into combat with 3 mobs and start interlock with one of them. As you punch the guy, he falls down. You wait for him to get up, meanwhile both of the other 2 mobs have unloaded 3 rounds each into you. There is a specific move you can perform to try to leave interlock, but that takes a round of turn-based combat and may fail. Even if you succeed, if the mob you are fighting or any other mob successfully engages you in interlock on the next round you're right back where you started. All the while, the other mobs are still unloading rounds into you. End result? You're peppered with gunfire with mobs you cannot engage.
This becomes grossly out of balance if you happen to get interlocked into a group of 4 or more mobs. Even if you try to escape, you'll be passed around interlocked combat with each of the rest of them like a drunk sorority girl at a frat party. Each one of them will get a significantly better chance to hit you since you are trying to disengage, and all the rest of them are busy pumping lead into your essentially immobile butt.
Proponents of this system have a lot of justifications for why this system works. I don't care what they say, it's plain silly and flat out broken. There is absolutely no sense of continuity, immersion, or for that matter fun when you are standing over a guy on the ground doing taunt emotes that you cannot control and 2 other mobs are shaving valuable health points off of you 2 feet away. Not only does this fly flush in the face with the combat scenes in the movie series, where redpilled heroes were bashing in the faces of many multiples of foes...but it's just flat out ridiculous to watch on screen.
In one-on-one combat, Interlock is superb. In multi-opponent combat it becomes a ridiculous liability. I expect this is going to be MXO's primary problem for months to come until they can find a way to balance it out.
The other ugly problem in MXO is diversity of character class. Since you can be anything in MXO as long as you can afford it, the endgame will be riddled with 100% self-sufficient characters with all the skills at the highest level. There is no reason for you to consider your character to be a specialist, because there are no specialists...there are only specialist loadouts, which can be swapped in less than 15 seconds at a hardwire point.
This means very little when it comes to loading up a crew (group) and heading out to do a few missions or beating on gangs. You're going to choose one loadout at a high level...and so you'll want someone who will be a tank, someone doing damage, someone healing, etc... One person per skill, and they will specialize in that skill for that adventure.
But this is a very serious problem for people who want to specialize in crafting. Basically, there are no crafting specialists. I may be an operative that has mastered all the skills in the martial arts line...but with a quick switch at the hardwire I can instantly become a master programmer who can craft every item in the game. Why would I need to seek out a high-level crafter? I am one. I am anything I want to be, provided I can afford to buy and level the skills...and face it, money is simply not that hard to get if you're determined.
EDIT: One more "ugly" facet is that there is no in-game support at all. Have a serious problem? Fill in a form and wait for an email reply. This is, to my way of thing, an unforgivable support policy for any serious game.
I believe MXO is a solid game with some interesting qualities that will appeal to Matrix fans and few else. The Interlock system is not compelling enough to make the setting of the game only a backdrop. I believe the only reason anyone will continue to play this game for a long period of time is because they want to be engaged in the storyline of The Matrix as it unfolds in the game. For those of you to whom this comment applies, I sincerely hope Monolith can deliver for you.