When I heard NCsoft was joining the already-crowded free-to-play MOBA crowd, my heart sank.  MOBA is the go-to choice for a lot of gamers, but my love runs more along the lines of action and traditional RPG market, with the occasional jog in the MMO space for other NCsoft games like Guild Wars and Guild Wars 2.  Trying to keep an open mind, I sat down at E3 2017  to check out their latest offering, MXM.

MXM is a little hard to quantify as it crosses several boundaries, and from the little bit of time I had, it manages to do all of it pretty well.  At the highest level, it’s a 5v5 lane-based MOBA, and a 3v3 battle arena MOBA, but it’s also filled with minigames and a PvE dungeon crawler game to boot.

It’s time for minigames!

The NCsoft team set out to solve one big problem with the MOBA space regarding their approach to the social aspects.  When everyone is a name on a list, a certain amount of rudeness emerges.  I encountered this very thing playing games like DOTA 2 and League of Legends.  Here, players interact in a social lobby where they can talk to other characters, show off their cosmetic items, and even crank out music at the nearby jukebox.

The big lure here is that the game has a completely new “TAG” mechanic. With this system you can pick two characters to take into battle instead of one, switching between them with only a short cooldown.  With this system, you can create combination types for the scenario, packing in a tank and an assassin, a pair of snipers, a solid mid-range and a long-range, or any other combination in between.  When either character is downed, it counts against the team as a death, making swapping at just the right time a critical skill.  There are a total of 37 characters from NCsoft’s 20 years of making worlds, you have access to three of them right out of the gate, and the rest earnable with either in-game currency or as a convenience purchase with real-world cash.

Rather than using a weapon-based upgrade system, MXM features a plethora of skills instead.  Each character has up to four skills that you’ll pick before launch, with consumable support kits for the PvE mode to be used when things get tough.

Unleashing your Ultimate

To demonstrate the ARPG PvE mode, I sat down with a NCsoft employee to try one of the many themed stages that would unlock one of my favorite characters from Guild Wars 2—Rytlock Brimstone.  Entering the Ascalonian Catacombs (one of the larger raids in GW2), I selected a ranged sniper and a tank character, but augmented them with healing powers and buffing skills.  MXM is all about “play your way,” and I like to mix and match.

Playing like many ARPGs on PC, the left mouse button is an attack, the right mouse brings up defenses, and Q, E, and R unleash your character’s selected skills and ultimate power.  Whipping through the familiar dungeon, my partner and I crushed foes, mini bosses, and eventually a rather challenging named boss character.  Unlike other ARPGs, the way in which you are rewarded with in-game currency and other rewards is largely dependant on your overall ranking.  These rankings are determined by the amount of damage you did, how much defense you used, and overall time.   These scores are calculated individually, but are also tracked for a guild score, allowing you to compare with your friends.  It’s also handy to back up your assertions when you are applying to a competitive guild.  After nabbing some achievements for taking down the boss, the team tells me that you can pick up other achievements for clearing a level without getting hit, not getting hit by specific mobs, time spent, and more.  Getting a solid rating (up to rank S) can earn you loot, as well as “X Coins” which can be used to unlock in-game cosmetics and characters.

Flipping the script to PvE, we tackled a 3v3 versus some bots (as the connectivity in the Los Angeles Convention Center is a smouldering dumpster fire) we unleashed our powers on the bots, crushing them easily and picking up a few more in-game goodies.  This mode is great for trying out new characters, custom builds, combinations of powers, or how you might combine your powers with those of your friends before you march into battle.

Cutscenes are the level of gorgeous you expect from NCsoft.

The PvP system is straightforward, earning points for holding checkpoints as the match progresses, but in 5v5, there’s a little twist.  You can still win a 5 on 5 round the traditional way, but if you can get up to 100 points, your base will summon a massive titan for the other team to deal with.  Your enemies can summon one at the same point threshold as well, so these can be real game changers.

Unlike any MOBA I’ve played, MXM wants to respect the player’s time by putting a time limit on each play mode.  5v5 is 25 minutes, 3v3 is just five minutes, and the minigames are just a few minutes long each.  Combined with the titan system, the nature of the game changes as you go, so you aren’t always pushing to take down the enemy base.  When the clock hits zero, the team with the most points wins.

The best thing about MXM is that you don’t have to take my word for it—it launches today, meaning you can download it and try it for yourself.   With multiple modes and 20 years of content to tinker with, there seems to be something here for everyone.