Few films spark the imagination of a whole of a civilization. These films are often called great, and The Matrix is arguably placed in the top echelon. With thought-provoking storyline, innovative slow-motion effects, and identifiable characters The Matrix was the film to love. Naturally, it was only time before the online world of The Matrix made its way to MMORPGs in the aptly titled The Matrix Online. As with the movies the game has negatives and positives--cause and effect if you will.
The Matrix Online, like the movies, is set in urban areas set in four separate areas. Upon entry into the beta, the first in-area you enter is a number of constructs to get you somewhat familiar with the interfaces. Battle interfaces proved to be somewhat of a challenge at first, but Monolith has thought of beginner "redpills" and made a battle tutorial. With a basic "roll system",The Matrix Online gives the player a choice from 5 basic tactical battle commands. The first is a "blue", or quick attack which does medium damage. The second is a "Red" attack, or power attack, which does large amounts of damage. The third is a "green", or throw attack which does medium damage as well. The final attack option is "yellow" or a deflect attack which allowed you time to recover your Inner Strength, which is used to use skills. The final button for tactical use comes in the form of a red run button which removes you from the interlock battling system.
"[Matrix Online] has a promise that so few games have: the promise of originality."
If you're worried about going into one tree, but never seeing another one don't worry. The Matrix Online allows you to switch between trees as long as you have the levels, the money to upgrade specific skills, and the skill in your code database. Ability code can either be created by a player specializing in the coder tree, or by buying it through the vendors. However, to have a coder make abilities you need specifically numbered code bits that are dropped by enemy gangs you fight. Another source for code bits comes from the in-game Marketplace where sellers can list items for a preferred price and you can buy it for that price. Sadly, many in the beta chose to abuse this feature and place basic items on the marketplace for 100,000,000 information, which is the currency for The Matrix Online.
The mission system for The Matrix Online is fairly forward, almost bordering on monotonous. I began working for Zion, as all new players begin. This gives the player a way to both gain easy experience and learn the basics of future missions. Opening the mission menu gave me a choice of Zion, difficulty of mission, and duration of the mission. After choosing difficulty, experience is set according to what you chose with hard earning more experience. When the default, tutorial missions for Zion are complete I was then contacted by both Machines and the Merovingian to begin working with them. The Machine loyalists, an group bent on controlling humanity, were to be controlled by an Agent Grey. Zion loyalists, the group of humans born outside of the Matrix and inside of the Matrix, were contacted by a woman named Tyndall. The third faction, the Matrix-bound exiles led by the frenchman Merovingian, were contacted and led by an effective subroutine program named Flood. After choosing faction, alliance points would be earned by doing missions for your faction. Accordingly, alliance with the other two unselected factions would turn negative. Allegiances could be easily switched should you decide you're tired of the goody-good Zion and want to kill some humans along with the Machines.
As with most betas, the missions in The Matrix Online often came victim to in-game bugs. Some objects would not appear, others would appear but not interact, doors would not open, and some doors would open but not allow you through them due to server latency issues. As the beta began to wind down, latency began to improve slightly and missions became more reliable. As I began to gain more reputation, my missions changed from pre-assigned missions to missions I could choose from. I was given two nested choices from critical storyline missions and basic template missions. The critical missions were quite limited due to the storyline sensitivity, but they allowed me to gain an important signal scrambler for the Merovingian, meet the Merovingian, meet his wife program Persephone, and meet the Merovingian handler Flood.
If you were unlucky enough to be killed in-game then you were sent back to the Loading Area, where the menu gave many options before I 'jacked in' to the world again. I could replace clothing with clothing in my inventory and see how it looked, upload and download bits should I have them, watch cinamatics, change my skill tree, and choose the hardline or spawning point of which I would return. However, in the beta, there were no item or equipment storage systems--only storage for code items. After jacking back in to the world of the Matrix, I had the distinct annoyance of finally noticing the penalties of death: I lost all the code bits in my inventory, my equipment may have lost 'stability' and begun the road to ineffectiveness, and my statistics were temporarily lowered by a 'death effect'. Thankfully, the developers opted out of the often used system of losing experience or oweing experience torward your death.
Movement through the highly urban Matrix provided great contrasts as the area of Richland, the freed area thanks to the truce between machine and man, was free to all travel. However, once I began to venture outside of Richland through choice and through missions, I noticed these areas were restricted by the machines. If I stayed too long in these areas, level 255 agents would materialize and instantly kill my character as they shouted I was not authorized to be in the area. Thankfully, the developers have put into place a system of data nodes that can be found by city section, activated, and the agents would not find me as easily. Close to the closing of beta, however, the developers put into place a key system for data nodes. These nodes, previously hard for most due to high level gangs, now required me to fight the gangs for non-tradable and non-sellable keys. It has yet to be seen if this keys system will remain after beta.
The graphics system for The Matrix Online is a give and take of options and perfection. Some options had to be disabled due to my mediocre graphics card, but generally ran well when rendering both character and environment. A warning to all considering this game: you will not get away with just having 256 MB of RAM or even 512 MB. The world of Richland, Downtown, International, and Westview had so many elements that a power system is a must unless you are looking for an exercise in painful loading. The textures, although nicely done on higher options, look bland when detail is lower. If you were lucky to create a female "RSI" or residual self image, and wore a skirt, the censorship laziness shown as the female lacked a rear end no matter what detail setting you choose. Another major point of disappointment for The Matrix Online graphics came with the selling-point of the movies: bullet time. The movies published by the developers seemed to not take into account the reality that bullet time pulls you in tight to the action--sometimes too tight. To add to the sometimes fluid confusion, battle cameras would sometimes cut into walls if not completely fail to focus on your character due to being in tight spaces. Add in a horribly contrived singular-chat window with minimal customization and the user interface and you have one really bad cake.
Wrapping up the world of The Matrix Online is the very intricate social interaction and setup. All "redpills" are allowed to create their own hovercraft ships immediately. These ships allow for crews of 12 to join and fight together, share a ship bank, and develop friendships. As you begin to gain more reputation, you are then allowed to form factions loyal to one of the three mission factions. These ship factions can house an unlimited amount of ships under a larger umbrella, similar to the idea of guilds. These factions can then further form truces with other factions, creating a sense of community co-operation. To further the feeling of community many factions host dance parties, social mixers, iterm scavenger hunts, races, and other events. The possibilities of themed factions are endless.
Storyline development for The Matrix Online was slow, at best. Purpose was fleeting until the final days of the Beta in which select factions were given the oppertunity to meet with developer-played contacts and superiors. Merovingian factions met with the Merovingian, Zion factions met with Oracle protector Seraph and Zion icon Morpheus, and Machine factions were given the honor of being visited by Agent Greene. As the storyline progressed, Morpheus was determined to get the body of savior Neo back from the machines at the cost of anything--even peace. As Zion received word of these actions, they declared Morpheus a renegade damaging the peace between man and machine. At this time, an assassin was tasked to kill Morpheus for unknown reasons. Morpheus continued with his unauthorized missions until he was finally caught setting a decompiling bomb in a warehouse. The assassin had finally caught up with Morpheus and gave the Zion idol his swan song, killing him without prejudice.
Zion, in their pride, accused the Machines in a meeting between the Zion captain Niobe and the machines. The machines, clueless in the whereabouts of Morpheus, exclaimed that Zion has as good a chance as Machines do in finding him. The truce was officially at its straining point, only to be broken at the prodding of Niobe and Seraph. Agents were sent in to control the fighting Zionists, eyes began to appear in the sky, and all humans were put into rest until the Matrix could be rebooted. As the final hours of beta progressed, the sky began to turn red and more eyes became present in the sky. A virus that set players ablaze on contact with the infected was unleashed, powerful Agents played by developers began dispatching those that fought. Users with notoriety were deleted by the system, and friends were infected with a virus that turned them against other friends. Finally, silence came. Skies began to clear, the end was at hand, and the Matrix beta went out not with a whimper, but with a scream. All 'redpills' collapsed in on themselves screaming in anguish, turning into small, lumpy balls of their former selves.
Although The Matrix Online started off slow, it began to deliver great content in just a few days. Of course, there are bugs to be worked out and edits to be made as with any MMORPG. With preorder server launch in only 3 days now, the developers have given themselves a week to work out the countless bugs. The question of will they can only be answered in release. This game is a fun one, an escape from the same formula of sword and staff fantasy. It has a promise that so few games have: the promise of originality. The community setting certainly creates new dynamics and an ability to create friendships with people in your crew and faction. This game is a definite addition to any Matrix fan's library, and could be a must-buy for any MMORPG fan.
I'd like to send a thank you to The Matrix Online staff for their attentiveness to our requests for accounts, and to The Matrix Online faction The Sirens for their help, hospitality, and friendliness. Without this all-female character faction, I would have never been able to write this impression. Your help was invaluable. Stay tuned to RPGamer for more coverage of The Matrix Online right into release.