I have played a few MOBAs (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) in my day, and I will be the first to say I am horrible at them. With the popularity of League of Legends and Defense of the Ancients, the MOBA scene has really taken off with a huge following. Of course, this is all on the PC. Finally, a full-fledged MOBA has made its way to the consoles in the form of Guardians of Middle-earth.
Much like the others in the genre, Guardians of Middle-earth (GoME) pits two teams of five players against each other in an arena-based action RPG. It’s similar to an action-based MMO mixed with an RTS. The players control one Guardian that has special abilities that they must use in order to escort their AI controlled minions to the enemy base and destroy it to win the match. Along the way, players will have to drive away enemy minions, destroy attacking towers and fight off enemy Guardians.
When the match begins, all the Guardians begin at level one and work their way up. Making kills will give the Guardian experience points, and when leveled up, the Guardian will earn increased health and basic attack along with a skill point that can be used to upgrade of the four abilities. After hitting level six, the players can then begin to upgrade their defensive towers to fire off better attacks or do more damage. The spawn points for minions can also be upgraded on the same arc. The top tier of both towers and soldier generators offers a choice of benefit that gives rise to different strategies and can be changed at any time.
There are also wild creatures on the map that can be killed for large experience gains and shrines that can be captured earning team buffs. These are extremely important, especially when you need to turn the tide of battle.
There is a massive upgrade system where players can change their loadouts for the perfect customization. There are numbers of potions to equip that can restore hit points, increase stats, and other beneficial things. There is also the gem belt mechanic, and players can purchase gems from the in-game store and equip them either directly onto the belt or in relics. When relics are equipped with the correct gems, they will activate and add bonuses to Guardians in the form of stat boosters. The belt becomes revealed throughout the match as level thresholds are met. The upgrading and customization options are very deep, and experimenting with them is enjoyable.
Choosing the right Guardian to use is critical. Many play strategically, while some rely on brute force. It all depends on the player. There are different difficulty ratings for each character that convey how easily a Guardian can be played. Every Guardian is different and most require a bit of time to effectively learn how to use.
When not in matches, the main menu will show all the statistics of pervious games, show what your friends are doing in the game and allow you to customize all your loadouts. Everything is simple and easy to navigate. After matches, the profile used will gain points and possibly rank up. When ranked up, money will be awarded. Money is used to purchase new gems, new Guardians, potions, and belt loadouts. There always seems to be something new to pick up when ranking up.
There are two maps to play during the game. One is a single lane, while the other is a three-lane map. The single lane map is a frantic tug of war that sets the middle of the map as a warzone where all the Guardians meet to kill each other. The three-lane map is a slower paced arena where going down one lane can help push your army while the other lanes may be exposed. I would have liked to have seen some more maps with different paths to play. With only two, and one of them as frantic as it is, it just feels like I have seen everything within an hour’s worth of play.
Most of the game will be spent playing online against other players. This is where the game really shines, especially when it is 5 players versus 5 players. There is also a 5 players versus 5 AI controlled players. The online is a rather smooth experience with occasional lag, but never game breaking. Most players will want to spend their time in the online due to the fact that the AI controlled bots are as dumb as bricks. They will watch teammates die without providing aid or simply run back and forth doing nothing.
One of the biggest things going for the game is the fact that it is on consoles. There have been games like Awesomenauts that have approximated the genre, but never in such a scale as GoME. Standard attacks are executed with the pulling of the right trigger and all the special abilities are mapped to the face buttons. Bringing up the menu is as simple as holding down a bumper. Monolith has done a good job of having everything right at your fingertips. Upgrading skills and towers is implemented very smoothly.
Using the Lord of the Rings lore, GoME is full of characters and creatures that fans of the fantasy books will know and love. Of course, you will see the likes of Gandalf the Grey, Sauron, and Gollum, but other lesser known characters like Arathorn, Hildifons Took, and Mozgog make an appearance. Monolith seems to have delved very deep into the world of Lord of the Rings and brought back with them a ton of fan service.
Monolith has done a great job making a MOBA game work very well with a controller. Will I say after putting the time I have into GoME have I become good at MOBA games? No. Will I say I had a fun time with the fast game play, deep customization and online play? Absolutely. MOBA players should look into this game, and interested in the genre should absolutely check Guardians of Middle-Earth out. It is well worth the $15 pricetag.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.