The idea of putting out a console-only MOBA has certainly left many strategy gamers scratching their heads (or raging), but that's exactly what Monolith Productions and Warner Bros. are doing with Guardians of Middle-Earth.
As Monolith noted during their E3 showing, a huge part of development has gone into adapting a MOBA game for consoles. This is a much bigger challenge than most might imagine, and the developers have broken quite a few MOBA conventions in the process of molding Guardians of Middle-Earth into a console arena game.
We were able to hear senior producer Ruth Tomandl and staff designer Scott Compton delve a bit deeper into the design manifesto guiding the studio's direction. In order to produce a strong MOBA for console, Monolith had to rethink how the genre worked, leading to some massive changes most of us might not have thought possible.
Controller mapping was obviously a large design component, and for this, Monolith looked to action and shooter titles for a little guidance. In GOME, players will be able to independently control the camera and Guardian movement using the two thumbsticks, while the standard four skills are mapped to the controller's face buttons. Rest assured you will have more than one option to choose from, with the inclusion of a Basic and Advanced control scheme. The former seems more geared toward speed, allowing a player to trigger abilities without the (right) trigger, relying instead on tapping or holding the face buttons; Advanced, on the other hand, emphasizes precision, letting more experienced players make better use of targeting visuals to time their attacks.
Drop the Store, Drop the Grind
One of the most fascinating changes is the complete absence of an in-game store. By eliminating this feature, Monolith completely alters the traditional MOBA dynamic. Money is no longer an issue, and the initial grind is gone, resulting in much faster matches where players will be able to go head-to-head early on. At the start of a match, you'll actually be allowed to learn three skills off the bat, with your Guardian's ult unlocking at level 5. Since gold isn't a factor anymore, last hitting soldiers (minions) in-lane isn't important anymore, though you'll still want to last hit jungle creeps and champions for beneficial perks and XP. By level 6, you'll have picked up augmentations to beef up towers and soldiers.
All the item building is still there, to an extent; it's just been moved to the pre-match stage. In a traditional MOBA, players are able to build on the fly based on the enemy team comp or the tide of battle. In GOME, you'll actually be able to see the enemy Guardians during the selection phase, which allows you to choose an appropriate loudout ahead of time.
By removing such an integral segment of the fight, Monolith also hopes to shorten the battles for GOME. Where a typical League of Legends match be anywhere between half an hour to well over an hour, the average Guardians fight should be between 10 to 20 minutes. At least, this is what Monolith is aiming for.
In terms of matching players, Monolith has implemented a behind-the-scenes ELO system in additional to profile levels. Every match you play will earn you some XP that goes toward this level, though the amount earned will vary based on match types. Playing against bots, for instance, won't reward as much as PvP matches. Three match types were revealed earlier this month at E3: Battlegrounds PVP, Skirmish, and Custom Match.
Leveling will unlock more options for your loudout, like relics (similar to League's Masteries), spells, and item slots for potions and other consumables. These level-based unlocks will be tiered, so more options are made available with progression.
Why Lord of the Rings?
Few high fantasy franchises enjoy the same widespread fame as Lord of the Rings. Monolith chose Middle-Earth and its iconic cast for this reason. Compton explains:
"So we were looking for a 'wrapper' to fit this MOBA -- what would be a really good fit? And obviously Middle-Earth was just absolutely perfect. The characters and settings, they're just so recognizable, and there's a lot of expectations behind those particular characters. That's what we focused on.
Our design staff -- we're obviously fans of Middle-Earth, and MOBA fans on top of that. We thought, okay, a lot of people know what Galdalf does or what Legolas does, and we took those basic core concepts and really honed the designs based on those character concepts and their play styles."
Players won't be limited by faction either, so you can have a Gandalf and Sauron on the same team, if the combination suits your team build. Like any MOBA, however, only one of each Guardian is allowed on a team.
The official Guardians of Middle-Earth site currently lists 20 playable characters, all of which are to be included with the game at launch. Only five will actually be playable out of the gate, and you'll have to unlock the rest over time using GOME's in-game currency. Because of the platform, microtransactions will not be implemented, Tomandl noted, meaning players won't be able to buy Guardians with real money.
To give players a bit more variety, weekly rotations will temporarily unlock a handful of Guardians for free play. Alternate character skins aren't in currently in Monolith's plans.
Being a title under the Warner Bros. name, Guardians of Middle-Earth will, of course, have a presence at Comic-Con next month. For an early look at the game in action, however, we've got the debut gameplay trailer right here. Check it out.
As of now, Monolith still doesn't have a solid release date for GOME. Regarding price, Compton predicts a "standard price point," but couldn't name an actual figure.