SOE has closed the door on The Matrix Online for a while now and most likely deleted all records of its existence from its database. Normally I would not bother talking about a game that is no longer in existence, but Matrix was different. It was not that I thought the movies were a cinematic masterpiece, but I loved them for what they were. I did not get into debates about the differences between Matrix 1, 2 & 3 choosing to walk away knowing I enjoyed the series. So when I heard about an online game I figured it should be fun because how could you mess up a game with kung-fu, computer hacking and cool shades?
When games like Everquest came out many of had to learn that when creating an MMO you had to expect a lot of fixes and patches during the first few months of a game. However, once you have a good number of titles released and you are calling yourself a MMO conglomerate you would think you would be able to release games with less and less bugs and flaws at release. While this is not specific to Matrix Online they were pretty bad at release with the bugs, worse yet, months later many where still there.
One particular place where bugs seriously irked the player base was in missions. One of the most frustrating bugs was found in rescue missions where you would find the guy only to be attacked by agents. You would think you could run with the guy to the exit, but no. He or she would wait until you killed every agent before following you. It gets worse. Sometimes even after you killed every agent the NPC would not recognize that you had done so and so he or she would never move and your mission failed.
In other missions you would be sent into areas with NPC’s who could one shot you. It seems either your mission NPC’s thought you were the next Neo or mistakenly thought you slept with his virtual wife and wanted revenge. Either way a simple mission would turn into Saving Private Ryan as you were thrown deep into the shit.
A kick to the face
I was playing City of Heroes at the time I came across this game and I noticed it had something in common with it, no real content. I wished it also had something else in common with it, the combat system. Sadly, it did not.
Matrix Online had two types of combat, ranged, with weapons or hacking (magic) or close quarters combat. Personally, I played because I wanted to do some cool kung-fu moves and the way the hacking animation and graphics looked I did not want to shoot that crap out of my hands because it looked way to stupid.
So close quarters it was. MO used a system called interlock. When engaged, you are linked to your opponent with the battle arranged into rounds like rolls of the dice in D&D. In each round you and your opponent decide which attack you’re using for that period, after which the statistics of each are compared, a random element added and somebody wins, damaging the loser. This was done so you could see counters and blocks and all those cool choreographed moved you saw in the movies, but, just like the missions, it was buggy and flawed.
First off sometimes the interlock did not work correctly and you ended up facing away from each other but still performing the moves. This looks especially silly if you were jumping off a building. Another, more upsetting flaw, was that if you were fighting more than one NPC at a time you could be blasted from range unable to do anything because you were locked in close combat with your interlocked opponent.
Now you could disengage but this took Inner Strength (mana) and some moves could prevent you from using the escape option. So not only did it take time to try and escape, it could be blocked and there was also a lag when you did escape. When this occurred you could either be spun around or get re-interlocked by one of the ranged mobs. This led to a ton of frustration a lots and lots of death.
The human factor
While not plagued with hacks and bots and cheats like Aion, Matrix Online had its share of community leaches which helped to make the playing experience less than enjoyable. Early on there was a leveling bug which allowed many players to outpace the server level by a mile. There were also bugged missions which you could exploit and places on the map where you could trap a NPC or a fellow player.
When SOE took over the ship had already sailed. Developers were dropping left and right. Though they had a small strong community the word from above was that the game would soon be shut down permanently.
I did not play MO too much because it just did not live up to the lowest standards I gave MMO’s at the time. Strangely enough there were a good number of people upset to see the game go, but like television shows, a small group of loyal fans normally cannot save a failing product. One would have hopped that if anything other MMO developers would have learned from MO, but as we have seen with games like Warhammer, Conan and Aion, any lesson has fallen on deaf ears.