Guardians of Middle Earth Review
In Soviet Russia, Gollum Owns Sauron!
So I’m just going to throw some buzz words at you. MOBA, League of Legends, Lord of the Rings, Consoles, Streamlined, Turbo dynamic integrated business processes. That pretty much sums up Guardians of Middle Earth. Guardians of Middle Earth is a Turbo Dynamic Lord of the Rings tie-in console exclusive MOBA game with streamlined mechanics.
For those that don’t know, MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) is a competitive game genre where two teams of five players try to out level each other until they are strong enough to destroy the opposing team’s towers and base. Guardians of Middle Earth takes the familiar genre and sets it in middle earth using Lord of the Rings characters as champions (or in this case guardians.) What makes Guardians of Middle Earth interesting is that it takes the familiar MOBA genre and adapts it to be played with a gamepad. No other game has tried to bring the MOBA genre to consoles in its purest form. Every other console MOBA has attempted it by mashing it up with another genre. Awesomenauts mixed MOBA gameplay with a platformer and Monday Night Combat turned MOBA into a third person shooter. Granted, these other genre experiments are interesting but MOBA games have a certain magic to them that can only be invoked in a straight MOBA game. Still, Guardians of Middle Earth may try to bring the wholesome MOBA goodness to consoles but the changes necessitated by adapting the genre to consoles keeps it from being the unadulterated MOBA experience you would find in League of Legends or DOTA 2. Luckily these changes come off as fresh rather than debilitating and makes it a worthwhile experience for hardened fans of the genre looking to spice things up a bit.
The game has been simplified somewhat, creating a more casual experience. The most notable difference is that there is no in game shop. Items have been replaced by relics and gems which are equipped before the match and activate once you reach a certain level during the match depending on the order that you equipped them. You also get to equip potions and commands before the match. Commands are like an extra ability that any champion can use with an extremely long cool down. A champion can have 4 commands equipped at once but they all share the same cool down timer. The potions you equip can only be used once during a match and have to be repurchased in between games. The game also provides you with a default loadout of relics, potions, and commands for each champion, so that you can still play a champion effectively even if you can’t afford the items yet to equip him or haven’t yet figured out your build for that particular champion.
Champions also seem to level up much quicker in Guardians of Middle Earth. A substantial lead in leveling can still be decisive but most games end with both teams at their max levels. This shifts the focus to players’ skill in winning team battles rather than trying to outpace their opponents’ leveling.
The shift to playing with a gamepad results in two major differences. The first is how the player handles targeting. The player perpetually has a circle around his champion indicating the range of his basic attack or currently selected ability. The player then sweeps a field around this circle using the right thumb stick over whatever he wants to target. The result is that the game almost feels like a twin stick shooter at times, with two champions running circles around each other while trying to keep their targeting field over the enemy. The other major difference is that the camera stays locked on your champion. Consequently, it’s more difficult to have a good idea of what else is happening on the map. The game allows you to unlock the camera by clicking both thumb sticks and scrolling over to what else you want to look at but the clumsiness of this gives the player a great sense of vulnerability when doing so. Also it can be annoying when you accidentally click both thumb sticks while in the middle of a fight.
Even though you have to pay to play the game, all of champions don’t start out unlocked. Guardians of Middle Earth maintains the traditional weekly champion rotation that other free to play MOBAs have. New champions are incredibly easy to unlock though so it’s not too inconvenient. I personally enjoy having something to work towards and unlock and waiting a bit gives you a chance to really get to know a specific champion in detail.
The Lord of the Rings License is lightly used. All of the champions are drawn from the books but the current champions seem to be based on more obscure characters than you would expect. You can play as Aragorn’s father Arathorn and Gothmog, the orc commander at the siege of Gondor, but you can’t play as Gimli or Aragorn yet. The game also suffers from the awkwardness common in a lot of MOBA games that comes from making characters equally powerful during the matches when some characters are clearly outmatched by others in the lore. It’s just weird watching a really fed Gollum take out Sauron with one hit.
All in all I really enjoyed Guardians of Middle Earth. It’s just as addictive as any other MOBA and playing it with a controller made it a more interesting way to experience the same old genre. It doesn’t use its Lord of the Rings license too much but I think the hallmark of a good movie tie-in game is one that has good enough mechanics to stand on its own without the tie-in. That kind of advertising never works anyways. Now If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to see the Hobbit.
Is it worth $15? Yes. Rating: B