The Guardians of Middle Earth was one of the first traditional MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) to hit consoles after the insurgency of the genre on the PC market with hit titles like Defense of the Ancients and League of Legends.
While it didn’t offer the kind of depth or player base that the PC MOBA games enjoyed, it was heralded as a success due to its overall ease of play, licensing (nerds love LotR) and for the simple fact that there weren’t many games like it on the platform.
However, now it has come to play with the big boys on the PC market with a poor adaptation of the control scheme and a laughable pricing model. It marks not the return of the king, but of a jester playing the role of pretender to the crown.
Guardians of Middle Earth can be played in different configurations of one or three lanes. Three lanes is what one would expect when they think of DotA or LoL as there are three paths lined with towers, with a constant stream of mindless soldiers marching across.
The single lane houses all five characters against each other in the same lane which turned out to be a constant, nearly unplayable lag-fest without a semblance of strategy as bodies piled on top of each other. While its existence is novel, the only way to truly play this title is with three lanes.
The game play of Guardians is rather simple. At the start of the round, everyone chooses a hero which is separated by roles like striker or defender. Then, they choose a belt filled with status modifying gems (these power on as levels are gained in-game), a list of one time use potions and powerful command spells which share a cool down.
After that, it’s off to the arena where the players go off in their lanes and play the proverbial tug of war as they kill creeps (enemy or neutral) or players to gain experience to level up their skills to get gradually more powerful as the game progresses.
When players reach a certain level, they are able to upgrade the towers and barracks to become more potent and it’s recommended they do so as soon as they can as it just takes a few seconds and nothing else.
There are shrine points littered across the map that can be captured for one team or the other that gives a rather significant passive bonus to the player’s team so it’s wise to keep as many shrines under one’s control as possible.
A score counter is tallied for each team showing which team is leading in kills and/or tower kills. When time runs out and neither base is destroyed, the team with the greater score is automatically offered the win for their efforts.
The game mechanics are all fine and dandy, even if they are considerably shallow when compared to DotA or LoL, but it’s in the title’s overall playability and pricing model where the true problems arise.
While the controls on the consoles worked well enough, the transition to mouse and keyboard is less than ideal. Every single action, from moving, casting spells or even auto attacking felt clunky at best. Whenever I right-clicked to move, the pathing often bugged out as I found myself clipping into friendly and hostile creeps endlessly. The natural speed of the heroes also left much to be desired as they moved at an oddly slow pace.
Casting a targeted spell required me to be unnecessarily precise, as I needed to line up the cursor not on the hero, but somewhere near their feet. Then, the skills I queued up would often get canceled inexplicably without any feedback from the game. There’s nothing more frustrating than needing one more hit on the enemy and watching them scamper away because the kill shot skill I queued up got canceled. Perhaps it’s the constant spikes of lag but I feel the word “clunky” describes how playing this game feels like, top to bottom.
Then, there are the skills themselves, as many have ambiguous animations that lack much impact so sometimes I couldn’t even tell if the skill had landed at all. Also, there was no way that I could check the skills of the enemy or allies that I was playing with/against for reasons unknown.
How am I supposed to coordinate an attack with my ally if I don’t know what skills he has access to? How am I supposed to predict and expect what kind of tactics my enemies want to use against me if I don’t know what they can even do?
MOBA, like most other competitive games are about learning from one’s losses and if I lose not knowing what skills my opponents were using and what effects they had, I can learn nothing outside of “hey, that hurts.”
It’s a curious omission that boggles the mind. In fact, it might be possible to check the enemy’s skills in combat or do all sorts of other things that might be useful even though I never figured out how but unfortunately, I learned very little about actually playing the game from the tutorial, so much to the point that I might as well have gone in blind.
If all that wasn’t bad enough, the player base for Guardians is seemingly non-existent. Out of the eight or so 5v5 games I queued up for, only two of them had a single human player with the rest of the slots being automatically filled with bots. I thought it was just the time of day I was playing so I did some research but it seems that this is happening all across the board, in every time zone, every region.
Lastly, there’s the down-right insulting pricing model for the game and various character packs. The title itself is currently on Steam for $19.99 and has rotating “free” characters to play. The character packs include five unique heroes and go for $14.99. To pick up the game and all the characters separately would cost roughly $110. There’s a so called, “Mithril Edition” for $79.99 that has all the character packs included with an exclusive in-game relic which I’ve read in their official forums, nearly breaks the game and is very much a “pay to win” item.
Do they know how their greatest competitors in the PC market are all free-to-play with very balanced micro transaction system that goes to great length to make sure “pay to win” doesn’t rear its ugly head?
If I was told the publishing team behind Guardians did absolutely no research on the PC market before releasing this title, I would easily believe that based on the results.
I’ve played many different MOBAs on the PC in the recent years and Guardians of Middle Earth ranks in the worst out of the half dozen that I’ve tried.
The clunky controls, lack of player base, shallow depth and laughable pricing model makes me feel as though there’s really no reason why anyone should buy or play this game as it stands now when the alternatives are superior in every possible way imaginable.
Avoid this one, even if you are a die hard LotR fan.
Fun Tidbit - Check out me and Drew’s fail at playing this game!
Review copy of game provided by publisher.