Matrix Online (MO) by Warner Bros., Sega, and developer Monolith Productions is based on the Wachowski brothers' three Matrix movies. The game went live on March 22, 2005 following an easy-to-enter pre-order beta test. The problem with reviewing any MMORPG is that you have to play them a while - like 40 to 60 hours - before you are sure how much you like it. Luckily, I was able to play MO before, during, and after the launch thanks to the pre-order beta program.
The game takes place after the movie, Matrix Revolutions, in which peace was forged by Neo between Zion and The Machines. The game pushes forward the concept of factions vying for survival and control within the Matrix. There are 3 main factions; the first two - The machines and Zion - you already know enough about if you've seen the movies. The Merovingian faction represents the self-aware programs, the Exiles¯ from the movies. The machines use the Matrix to control the unawakened, as always, and Zion is working to waken many from the bondage of being a copper top¯ (human battery) to becoming a Red Pill." So we have three factions, and within those factions we have many gangs, including gangs made up of players. The player gangs correspond to the guilds of other MMORPGs. These are numerous and their benefits are the same as in other online games.
The playscape, Mega City, is split into four large sections divided, in turn, into several neighborhoods. Getting around an MMORPG is one of my major irritations in other online games, but not in MO. This game has two excellent transportation systems; the subway and the phone booth hard-line network. The subway is accessed in-game and will take you virtually anywhere in the city. The hard-line network consists of the phone booths you have visited. Let's just say that it's pretty easy to get around, but there are no transfer stations in the subway. Why not? There are several different subway lines, like a real subway, but you have to exit a station and run to the next in order to use another line. I suppose this adds an element of danger.
Mega City's architecture is pretty cool, hip, and beautiful. After a while the landscape gets pretty redundant with many buildings looking the same, but that's sort of like a real city, isn't it? The city features night clubs and other establishments that are wonderful for in-game gatherings. I attended a few cool raves that were fun even in a virtual environment.
Some zones are restricted by level. You have to get an access key from an NPC, or be with someone who has one, to gain entry. Hostile NPC passkey holders are pretty tough to kill. Apparently they are also certain death¯ areas for those inclined towards that sort of thing. I went into one and was quickly killed by very high-level NPCs. In another, agents appeared and well, I am not, The One." Result? Dead again.
Game installation for Matrix Online is tedious and long, over 4 hours including patching. I have a 1.5 to 3 meg DSL, so 4 hours is very slow. Game installation and patching could benefit from something like a P2P updating system. Aside from taking a long time, the game installation was straight forward and easy, even though patching can also be a long process sometimes taking 20 minutes or longer.
Character creation in MO is pretty easy, too. You can have up to 5 characters, but only one per server. I found this to be no problem at all. The ability to customize a character is moderate, so many characters look alike; however fashion style sets characters apart. Fashion is a key texture to MO and makes the game feel very current to our times, just like the movies. You can buy or make many items and most have designer descriptions.
I very much like the way that characters level up, and are configured. In leveling up, I first selected permanent biological attributes (strength, intelligence, etc.). Then I chose ability items to enable my character to do all the cool things I wanted to do in the Matrix. I could raise the level on main abilities up to my character level by paying with information credits, the currency of the game. Abilities are derived from code. As such, they can be reassembled and configured over and over to suit my taste, game style, or expected situation. No more, Crap we need a healer for this quest.¯ I just reconfigured my character with the needed abilities, code bits, and equipment to do what I wanted to do. In my opinion, this is the GENIUS of the game! If Warner Brothers ever gets the technical service execution right, creates more interesting missions and the ability to use vehicles, ala BF1942, MO could become VERY compelling.
Gameplay is pretty standard; I could do missions, hunt bad guys, fight other players, and participate in live events. The game interface is easy to learn and straightforward, and is a strength of MO that made gameplay more enjoyable.
Missions are fun at first and then turn into drudgery. They generally consist of, go here and do this and that,¯ or, kill so and so." I got a character up to the 10th level and was contacted by all three factions to work for them. That was interesting, but even that got pretty humdrum after a while.
The fighting system is clever and suited me, at first. I like the controlled turn-based system. However, the fights started dragging out, and the cool fighting sequences ceased to thrill me. Scripted fighting moves only take you so far. If you are an arcade gamer, the fighting system may be too slow for you even from the beginning.
The storyline is woven through the gameplay. There is a search going on for Neo that all factions are embroiled in. Several other events that will affect the story - live - are scheduled. Yes, by design, players' actions will determine what happens in the storyline. This will conceivably lead to many different twists depending on what players do on a particular server. Each server could be a different world over time. I think this has interesting possibilities.
Controlling my character got easy very fast, even though entering into combat was sometimes tricky, especially when I was trying to be tactical. Those that rush in, no matter the odds, will not be bothered by such small details.
When you die, you'll be sent to the Loading Area. The Loading Area can also be accessed through any hard-line, and it is where you start the game. In the Loading Area you can re-configure your abilities, buy through the auction system, stow gear, and generally get ready to play.
Game graphics are good to excellent; the cityscape is detailed and gives you a feeling of being in a semi-deserted city, much bleaker than in the movies. Conspicuously missing are the throngs of people and traffic that play key roles in the films.
The audio effects in Matrix Online are excellent, as well. The sound effects, while not awe inspiring, enhance your experience. There is also an in-game radio which can make the music reflect your unique taste, but I could never get it to work properly. Just think; intense fighting to Miles Davis tunes, or Slipknot¦
When I first saw the concept of Matrix Online, I flipped. I imagined the potential of actually jacking into the Matrix and being fully immersed in its world. I really wanted to play TMO. I eagerly awaited the beta for well over a year, but after playing it I was unsure if I wanted to subscribe. In the past 3 weeks, I have played the release version about 20 more hours, and unfortunately - even after launch - TMO doesn't quite deliver on the immersive experience I had hoped for.
Is MO an interesting game? Yes.
Is MO well thought out and executed in a novel and interesting way? Yes.
Is MO fun to play? Yes. Initially it's kick-ass fun, but later loses some of its appeal.
In the pre-order beta, I became somewhat disappointed in the execution of certain game elements. I hoped for great improvement after launch. Good MMORPGs combine their elements into a compelling and addictive experience. MO never quite gets to that synergistic level. It has great game and plot concepts, and the user community is second to none; however, MO lacks two key ingredients that keep the experience from being compelling in the way that EQ II or WoW are compelling. The first is simply a lack of mission (quest) creativity. Missions are all of the common fetch and/or kill variety. The second is the quality of game service execution from a technical standpoint. I created characters on three servers, and at least one server is almost always down. Unfortunately my favorite character is on the server that seems down the most. Gameplay, particularly movement, is somewhat jumpy and too often laggy. These issues are bad enough that they'll take away from your enjoyment of the game. As I mentioned, I had hoped the game execution issues were just pre-release bugs, but while play is better now than it was in beta, it's still too jerky and laggy¦ bummer.
Do I like the game? YES.
Will I continue to subscribe after say 3 months? I am still not sure. If Warner Brothers and partners improve server response and game control, and if Monolith develops more varied missions, I would love to be a regular player. Until then, I am not enthusiastic about paying up to $15 per month to play a game that is not compelling to me. That said, I can see why some players will make MO their game of choice.
Who will love it? Players who like to combine fashion with kick-ass combat and a social scene will have the most fun in MO. In short, The Hip Gamer.
Who will hate it? RTS or fighting game lovers may not like MO. It looks fast, but the fighting mechanics are slow enough to be frustrating to many such players. Also, some cultish devotees of the Matrix movies could be very disappointed by the differences in MO and the films.
In its present state I give MO just 3 stars. However, with a little improvement in just a few things like character control and the mission system, and adding street traffic and/or pedestrians, I would give MO 4 stars. Until then, 3 is where it stays.