When talking about MOBA games you probably have never thought: “Yeah, I want to play that game on my console with a controller.” The latest Lord of the Rings branded game to come out of Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment not only brings the genre to consoles, but it does so with an accessible control scheme and familiar characters.
MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) is a new genre in gaming but uses a tried and true set of mechanics and expectations that have been solidified and made popular thanks to free-to-play games like League of Legends and DOTA.
Guardians of Middle Earth takes these traditional gameplay mechanics and puts them in an easy to consume, familiar shell. The game gives the player direct control of their hero, with visual elements showing the attack range of their unit. The rest of the controls are simple. Holding the right trigger brings out the primary attack at the fastest possible rate while upgradeable powers are activated by pressing and releasing the specified face button.
The benefit to using licensed characters from the Lord of the Rings series is that players new to the genre will be comfortable trying out new characters because they are familiar with their names. Monolith wanted to give players a sense of familiarity, and with the established characters they made sure to style their moves after established combat from the films and books. For this reason, Legolas and the others play like you’d expect.
Guardians of Middle Earth contains a progression system. At the end of a match, players earn gold that they can spend to unlock additional characters and buy items in order to spec their loadouts and match their play style.
When the game is booted up, players will be able to play through a tutorial mode that will explain the controls and at the same time.
While the game is much more accessible than a typical MOBA game, that doesn’t mean it that Guardians of Middle Earth has scrapped features in favor of simplicity. The dev team has been working with professional players for over a year perfecting the control scheme and making sure that all the hardcore systems are there for the dedicated player.
In addition to the controls working great with a controller, Monolith is also including a jargon dictionary within the game, so when your teammates start yelling at you for getting “ganked” too often, you will be able to understand their criticism.
During the play session we got to play a handful of 5v5. The gameplay is fun, fast and as stressful as any MOBA I have played. Sticking to your lane, pushing to the front lines, working/communicating with your teammates and NOT DYING are all important to secure your team a victory. Like the style of the genre there are groups of stationary creeps lurking around. Also scattered throughout the center of the map are control nodes which add team wide buffs to power up one sides units. Capturing and holding these points are crucial to victory. The rush of chasing after one of the other side’s guardian and landing a killing blow is a high that will keep you coming back to the game for more.
A little different from the genre’s formula, Guardians of Middle Earth has a point system and time limit to keep the battles moving quickly. The match ends after 20 minutes, or after one side has taken out the opposing main base. Points can be earned from killing creeps and enemy guardians or by upgrading towers and assisting allies. Another difference from the traditional MOBAs is this game doesn’t have players focus on buying items during a match. Instead, players customize a loadout when they pick their character at the start. This also means that getting the last hit on the army of the enemy isn’t as important. The removal of this level micromanagement lets players focus on the combat.
The 3 lane map was a blast, but my favorite part of the game so far is the 1 lane map. This corridor of death is dedicated to being hectic and packed full of combat. Because this puts all the guardians in one location, players level up quickly and the carnage is constant.
Guardians of Middle Earth takes the traditional MOBA formula and brings it to PS3 on Dec. 4 and ‘holiday season’ for Xbox 360. It will have two different SKUs, one digitally distributed on XBLA and PSN for $14.99 or on a disc with additional content for $29.99.