[The Matrix Online] OK, everyone has probably heard about Sony Online Entertainment aquiring the rights to The Matrix Online from Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. I played The Matrix Online for a while and I thought it had the most potential of any MMO. But, like the Matrix movies, potential was not realized.
Remember at the end of the original Matrix movie? Neo was stopping bullets in mid-air, beating the crap out of agents, and flying around in full view of the public. You got the feeling that in a sequel with a bigger budget they could do amazing things. Plus you had the very interesting story of how the world (well, those “blue pills” in the Matrix anyways) would react to seeing a flying man. Instead of showing us any of that, in the sequels Neo pretty much just goes around kung fu fighting more people.
Instead of one agent he takes on hundreds, plus two ghosts for good measure. We don’t learn how the world reacts to flying Neo or seeing Morpheus swordfight on a moving truck. By the time the third film came along, they basically gave up everything they set up at the end of the first film and focused on the real world (Zion). I actually enjoyed the last film a lot and I think the people making the new Superman movie should watch that final fight between Neo and Smith. The second film actually isn’t that bad either if you try and ignore all the pretentious pseudo philosophy talk. However, neither film lived up to the potential of the first one. Why is Neo even worried about agents when he could stop bullets and easily defeat them at the end of the first one (the answers is probably because they didn’t want to make him too powerful, which would be boring to watch since he would never be in danger)? Well, the game pretty much suffers the same fate as the film series.
The game is based on a great premise that it never really lives up to. Maybe I’m just missing the whole techno punk aesthetic, but the game is very depressing to play. The gloomy, green tinged cityscape aside, the central concept of the game is to maintain the status quo. The three factions (Machine, Zion, and Merovingian) have a peace which you must maintain although you spend much of your time killing operatives of the other factions. While it makes no real difference which side you choose in the game, if you look at it logically, why would anyone side with not Zion? Before you point to Cypher, who betrayed everyone and worked for the Machines in the first film, realize that in that film the Machines agreed to let him re-enter the Matrix and live a happy life with no knowledge of the real world. Which mean the motivation (storywise anyways) for joining the Machines in game is to… one day not have to play the game? Maybe I’m just taking the story aspect too seriously. Some people probably just get a kick out of working for the Machines, but for me I must be emotionally invested in the story to enjoy the game.
In WoW I truly have moments when I feel bad for the Undead and want to kill those Scarlet Crusade bullies picking on them. In MxO the most sympathetic faction is Zion, but they admittedly cannot win and their goal is to only maintain the status quo, which isn’t exactly the most exciting of motives.
MxO was probably designed to have murky motives that might appeal to some. The incredible ammount of customization of wardrobe and abilities would definately appeal to more hard core gamers. However, the game suffers from more than just a tedious storyline. The finished game just wasn’t polished. It was confusing as hell and it was harder to get into than Guild Wars. To be fair, I did not experience any of the live events that MxO is know for. Friends who have told me those really shined and alone are enough to justify the monthly fee. If they are as fun and involve as many famous actors from the film as I’ve heard they are, I would agree. (BTW, what ever happened to those elemental attacks promised in the last, last WoW patch?) I love in game events. I even liked the lack luster Children’s Day WoW had a while back. It was lousy, but at least it was something new.
Getting back to MxO: under Sony I’m not sure the special events will continue. They were probably the main reason to play to game to anyone outside die hard Matrix fans. Over the past few years Sony has actually gone from electronics company to major media player. They bought out Columbia Pictures and are now a major Hollywood player. I would imagine that they could definately continue putting out decent MxO events. They got Heather Graham for EverQuest 2 so it isn’t as if they haven’t involved famous actors with their online games in the past. I’m just not sure MxO will be a huge priority for them. The game doesn’t have huge subscription numbers and their flagship title is EQ2, which has had live events as well, although, by all reports, not as fun as the MxO ones.
It’ll remain to be seen if SOE is commited enough to continue producing live events for MxO. Remember, the MxO live events involve must be approved by the studio (Warner Bros. would probably not be happy if they had a live event where everyone dies and they can never make another sequel), the creators (who have been said to have wanted to continue the Matrix storyline in the game and were active in the games development), and actors (who would get hefty paychecks and some creative input). How difficult will it be for SOE, which is owned by Sony Pictures, to work with Warner Bros., a rival studio? Then again, SOE seems to get along fine with Fox, which owns Star Wars, but everyone knows Lucas really owns Star Wars.
I was going to write about SOE aquiring the rights to a DC Comics MMO set to be released in 2007, but didn’t realize that I’d write so much about MxO. I’ll do the DC Comics thing later this week. For those keeping score: DC Comic is at Sony Online Entertainment. Vivendi Universal has the rights to a Marvel Comics MMO.