The Matrix Online Review
The Matrix universe has not fared too well since the original movie captured the imaginations of moviegoers back in 1999. Two increasingly disappointing sequels, a disjointed collection of animation in the Animatrix, and a mediocre video game have all conspired to take the luster off of a movie that ranks near the top of every gamer’s list of favorite films. Enter The Matrix Online (TMO), an online MMORPG that will try to convince gamers that The Matrix universe remains an interesting and fascinating reality even after the talk-heavy snooze-fest that was The Matrix Revolutions. That’s a lot of pressure for the game to shoulder – succeed and The Matrix will recapture its magic and the imaginations of gamers, fail and The Matrix falls further down the rabbit hole of disappointment. TMO lands somewhere in between these two extremes; it has its good points but it is not the “One” who can help The Matrix regain its former glory.
First, the basics: You are a “red pill”, a human newly awakened to the existence of the Matrix and quickly pressed into service as an operative for Zion, the last remaining human bastion. The game is set after the events of The Matrix Revolutions, so humanity co-exists with the machines in an uneasy truce but remains vigilant that the status quo remains in effect for the time being. After your character advances far enough, you’ll have the opportunity to change your allegiance from Zion to the machines or The Exiles, rogue programs dedicated to living to excess within the Matrix, but as of now there’s not much of a difference in gameplay no matter where your loyalties lie.
Although not a fantasy-based MMORPG, The Matrix Online certainly draws heavily upon those games for its inspiration. There are three major career paths you can follow in the game, operative, hacker, and coder, which pretty neatly fall in line with fighter, magic user, and crafter classes respectively. Operatives specialize in combat, and can use a wide variety of martial arts and weapons to ply their trade. Hackers can manipulate the Matrix code to basically cast the digital equivalent of spells. Coders can “compile” items into existence for sale to or use by other players. As you progress in level, you’ll eventually be able to specialize further to take on more specialized fantasy MMORPG style roles equivalent to healers or tanks. Throw these classes into a game heavy on the “deliver this” and “kill that” mission-based gameplay, strip away the leather and cool sunglasses, throw in a few elves and dwarves, and you’d have the makings of a fantasy MMORPG here. However, TMO is a bit more than that and when you take everything into account it does provide its own unique experience.
TMO begins to depart from the typical MMORPG mold by building on the premise established in the movies that humans jacking into the Matrix could download new skills straight into their brains, allowing them to become expert martial artists or skilled pilots in the blink of an eye. While in the movies any skill was available at any time, certain restrictions had to be placed on the game’s equivalent of skill downloading for obvious play balance reasons. Your initial set of available abilities will be limited, but as you progress in level you’ll have access to more and more high-level skills. These skills include things such as new combat moves or the ability to launch a code virus at an enemy (remember that in the Matrix everyone is just computer code). The number of skills that you can have active at a given time is limited, but you can visit phone booths in the game to access a “hard line” and swap your skills in and out of your active slots. This gives you way to fine-tune your character a bit before taking on a mission or to experiment with different skill mixes. Don’t take this to mean that you can become a completely different type of character by switching around a few traits – these become increasingly more expensive the more powerful they are, so you won’t be able to afford everything and will naturally need to make choices towards some sort of specialization.