J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth makes for an excellent setting in video games. With a wide range of characters, an awe-inspiring scale of exploration, and a variety of epic battles that feature thousands of combatants going head to head, it’s no wonder that there are plenty of video games (set across a wide variety of genres) that have explored Tolkien’s famous fantasy already.
Guardians of Middle-earth
Developed by Monolith Productions/ Published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Available on the PS3 and Xbox 360. Reviewed on the Xbox 360.
One of the newest titles to do so is Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and Monolith Productions’ Guardians of Middle-earth¸ a MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) set in the titular realm. Eschewing Tolkien’s characteristic storytelling for a game that’s all about action and bashing in the heads of your online foes, is this new journey into Middle-earth worth it, or should you be satisfied with (re)reading the books instead?
As mentioned previously, Guardians of Middle-earth is unlike other Lord of the Rings-inspired games due to the lack of a proper narrative. Instead, the game focuses on various characters and races from the novels duking it out for dominance over the other team. Good guys or bad, the lines have been blurred as there’s only two teams.
The game plays much differently from other LotR games, as this time the gameplay is inspired by PC MOBA’s, like the popular League of Legends. In the game, players choose an avatar from a large pool of characters that may or may not have appeared in the books/film, and then engage the other team in a closed-off arena, seeking to destroy the home base of their rivals.
This task, however, isn’t as simple as it sounds. While each character is a powerhouse – capable of dealing loads of damage and casting powerful spells both offensive and defensive – they must deal with towers that shoot damaging beams and impede their progress, respawning foot soldiers that like hacking at anything in front of them, and of course, the rival team.
That’s where the strategy element of the game comes in. Guardians of Middle-earth plays like a sophisticated version of ‘tug of war,’ with both teams attacking and defending, and advancing and retreating. Allied foot soldiers serve as cannon fodder and shield the player from the dangerous tower’s beam of death, so players must make use of them to attack towers when they are distracted, hopefully dealing enough damage to take them down. If the allied soldiers are eliminated before a player finishes a tower, then they’ll take massive damage if they continue attacking, or have to retreat and wait for the next wave of soldiers to come to the rescue.
Keep in mind that the other team is doing the same thing as well, which makes all the on-screen action quite hectic.
The game pretty much boils to players destroying towers, fending off foes and advancing until reaching the opponents stronghold and bringing it down to the ground. Doing so is difficult though, because you’ll find yourself attacking at one moment and then quickly having to change tactics due to rival players swarming in and attacking you, or you’ll see on the mini-map that one of your own towers is in jeopardy of being destroyed and you’ll have to rush to it in order to save it. It’s this constant back and forth of attacking and defending that is the heart of the game, and in all honesty it’s really great fun.
The game has a lot of depth. Each character is varied and unique, and comes with a number of spells that can hinder enemies or assist allies. Some characters, like Legolas, are long range fighters, while others like Galadriel and Sauron can be defenders or melee warriors. Success in this game really depends on whether teams use their guardians effectively and work together as a team.
Guardians gain experience points in battle for staying alive and defeating foes, and these in turn can improve a character in a number of ways. In addition to increased health and resistances, once a level is gained a point can be assigned to one of four abilities in order to strengthen them. Also, after a certain amount of levels are gained, players can upgrade the defensive towers in order to improve their firepower, and can choose to spawn different types of soldiers – like horseback riders or catapults – that come with their own strengths and weaknesses. Constantly upgrading your guardians and defenses allows for tight, competitive gameplay well into the latter stages of each match.
Outside of battle, players can further upgrade their characters by adding runes to the characters’ belt, which can improve their stats in a vast number of ways, and can equip single-use potions. Both runes and potions must be purchased with in-game gold earned by playing matches and defeating opponents, or buying them with real-life cash. The customization element is an intricate part of the game, and it really works quite well, allowing players everywhere to create their own unique builds.
While the game is fun, thrilling and nerve-racking, it’s not without its flaws. Since Guardians of Middle-earth is solely a multiplayer affair, one of the most glaring issues is that other players are capable of ruining the fun.
One situation I frequently found myself with was having players on my team that wouldn’t play. Due to the game taking two to three minutes (sometimes more) searching for a match, I assume players often leave the console waiting for the game to load. When the game started however, I frequently found myself with teammates that never moved or anything, leaving my team with a large handicap. There’s no way to kick the player and find another either, so this kind of situation really sucks.
Another issue I had (which I mentioned previously), is the waiting time for a match. Looking for a quick match frequently takes from three minutes to five, and can really annoy players just looking for a hop in/hop out experience. Expect yourself to wait a bit before each match.
Another thing I’d like to mention is that if you’re playing with people who are selfish and play without focusing on the team effort, then you’ll really going to have a hard time winning in this game. I suggest players find themselves good partners before tackling other foes online.
Overall, Guardians of Middle-Earth is an excellent console MOBA. It’s fast, fun, and quite challenging. Sure, it may be overpriced in comparison to similar experiences on the PC (which are usually free), but it manages to pull off the competitive nature of the genre quite nicely, and can provide hours upon hours of action-RPG fun.