Instead of simply rehashing the movies by putting players in Neo's shoes, the dev team decided to continue the story by setting the game in a post-Matrix Revolutions era. When players created characters, it was with the understanding that they were escaping the illusion of the Matrix to begin living the truth. At this point, all redpills could pursue alliances with one of the game's three factions: Zion, the Machines, and the Merovingian. Each faction had its own agenda and ideas on how to best handle this brave new world, and the more missions a player ran with one, the lower his reputation would fall with the other two.
As due their status as super-powered humans, players were able to greatly increase their abilities by downloading programs and pursuing specialized classes. Players were also free to experiment with these abilities, as they could be easily swapped out and exchanged for other ones without locking characters into a permanent build.
The Matrix Online
boasted two different styles of combat: ranged free fire (by which players would attack and defend in real time, as in most MMOs) and melee "interlock" (by which two players would be locked together in round-based combat). Just like in the films, everything from kung fu to machine pistols was par for the course.
A rocky start
Given how fixated Matrix fans were with symbolism, they could hardly ignore the bad omens that came during MxO's
launch period. While The Matrix may have been a strong IP back in 1999, Matrix fever had dulled considerably by 2005. To make matters worse, Ubisoft backed out of its deal
to co-publish the game with Warner Bros. Interactive
, leaving WB on the hook until Sony Online Entertainment
scooped up the title from Monolith Productions
a few months after launch.
And no matter what we may have wished the game to be, the initial reviews were mixed at best. Gamespot seemed to hit it on the nose
when it wrote that "
The Matrix Online has some very good qualities, but you'll need to wade through a lot of potential frustrations to enjoy them."
These frustrations included buggy combat, a dearth of quest content, glitchy graphics, server lag, an unweildy interface, and low population, all of which contributed to a less-than-stellar reputation. Still, all was not lost -- at least, not right away.
The greatest hook for the game -- there always needs to be one of these, doesn't there? -- was that the developers placed a huge emphasis on adding to the films' tale. Instead of being "B-canon" or an "extended universe" type of deal, The Matrix Online
was promoted as an official continuation of the storyline, with input from the creators of the series.
This story was designed to draw players into the game on a daily basis through the use of live events, cinematics, and critical missions. The team even included a group of dedicated virtual actors who would assume the roles of Morpheus, the Oracle and other Matrix celebrities, creating stories in real time for players to experience. As the team shrunk later on in the game's lifespan, MxO
players stepped up to assume these roles as volunteers.
These stories would become one of the most fondly remembered aspect of the game and an interesting experiment with developer-generated live content. Our own article written at the sunset of The Matrix Online's lifespan
, related some of its author's favorite in-game events and how they elevated the game into an endangered species of sorts. Or that may just be waxing poetic. In any case, it's an enlightening read to those who never dipped their toes into MxO
, so check it out!