Author: Lydia Sung, D.G. Anders
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Thursday, December 6th, 2012
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Games/Reviews/guardians_of_middle_earth/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.
Monolith Productions and Warner Bros. took a real chance when they decided to go through with Guardians of Middle-Earth. This Lord of the Rings themed strategy game marks the first true console MOBA, one built entirely for and aimed at a crowd that remains relatively unfamiliar with this popular PC-centric genre. But how do you even begin to build such a following from scratch?
Perhaps the most obvious selling point to Guardians of Middle-Earth is its Lord of the Rings theme. The game borrows a pretty wide collection of iconic characters from the definitive fantasy franchise, letting players take control of familiar faces from both sides of the Middle-earth conflict. As with most multiplayer online battle arena games, Guardians doesn’t have a story mode of any sort. Players simply grab a team and face off against another for map domination in a back-and-forth exchange across a battlefield split into lanes. Minions, defense towers, and neutral monsters are added factors as well.
The other major draw isn’t as obvious, at least not until you actually play the game. On the surface, Guardians resembles any typical MOBA, which just leads to so much doubt over how such a title could possibly exist as a console exclusive. In action, Guardians works very much like League of Legends or DOTA, but it isn’t just a copycat looking to cash in on some industry fad. This game was designed specifically for a non-PC platform, to function without a keyboard and mouse.
The game’s roster is made to accommodate players of every inclination. As with most strategy games, characters are divided by class and role, so you’re free to choose from a wide range of offensive or defensive type characters. For Tolkien fans, the way Monolith delegates characters to a class – striker, defender, warrior, enchanter, or tactician – can be interesting, as you invariably end up questioning the accuracy of these choices. Some of that magic is certainly lost if you’re not into Lord of the Rings, but an interest in Tolkien’s work isn’t necessary for enjoying the game itself.
Whether facing AI or human opponents, maps come in two basic varieties: three-lane and one-lane. The former follows your very typical MOBA setup, where two players will go top and bottom, while one heads center. In between the lanes are forests shrouded in the fog of war, peppered with buffs that can be claimed for either team and a number of neutral mobs. Here, ganking and ambushing come into play, and the fights are overall slower. When you do a one-lane match, however, there is only a single path for players to take, making for shorter but more frantic matches, where you could run in and die in a matter of seconds. During team fights, losing track of your character can become an issue.
For experienced MOBA players, Guardians will feel downright slow, maybe even cumbersome. Yet I can’t help appreciating the design decisions that went into the controls, combat – heck, everything. To resolve the issue of aiming attacks, many of the spells and abilities in Guardians are actually AOE in nature, typically in a cone that can be adjusted as you’re moving.
To cut down on match times, Guardians has done away with the in-game store, meaning “last hits” are no longer an issue. Killing minions becomes a means of farming experience, not money, and players will no longer be porting back to base just to build another piece of gear. All the character building has been moved out of the matches themselves. As you play and level up your player profile, you’ll earn money and points with which to buy and unlock various consumables, stat boosts, and other buffs, and these can be assigned to loadouts that you may equip at the start of a match.
More loadout slots and customization options will be unlocked over time with each rank up. Gems offer bonuses to defense, ability power, speed, and so forth, but you can only equip so many for use. Similarly, you won’t be able to bring every potion you own into a match, though your carrying capacity does increase over time. Playable characters also need to be unlocked with in-game currency, but everyone starts with five. Definitely a disappointing number, but Monolith is planning to implement weekly rotations where a select number of characters will be made free for a limited time, offering the community some variety and a chance to try before they buy.
Guardians of Middle-Earth is a solid game, by all accounts. As the first true console MOBA, it certainly does a lot of things right, from a design perspective. It managed to make the genre accessible to console gamers without actually dumbing anything down. Sure, the game has been simplified and streamlined to suit its platform, but I didn’t get the sense that anything important was sacrificed for the sake of performance. Guardians still feels like a full game, with all the addictive appeal of its PC counterparts (questionable AI, too).
My main concern falls on the community itself, and whether or not there is a place in console gaming for a real MOBA. Although the genre has flourished on PC, it’s still a relatively new thing on consoles. Only time will tell if Monolith’s risk will pay off.
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