The Lord of the Rings has been a fan favorite since long before any of us can remember and, over the years with the advances in media, it has become an even bigger phenomena. Since 1982, we’ve ventured to Middle-earth at the hands of various publishers, including Sierra, Electronic Arts, and more recently, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. With the upcoming release of The Hobbit in theaters, we’re seeing an increase in LOTR-inspired titles, including WB’s successful LEGO: The Lord of the Rings and the newest addition to their catalog: Guardians of Middle-Earth, a MOBA title. For those of you unfamiliar with MOBA games, they are an exclusively multiplayer marriage of real-time strategy and action.
Guardians of Middle-earth is your very typical MOBA game, sans learning curve. Your team and your opponents spawn on opposite sides of either a 1 or 3-laned map and march into heated battle. The player chooses one character (out of an impressive roster of 20) to control and there’s heavy emphasis on cooperative team play. Solo, John McClane style defense and offense is almost impossible to accurately execute without spending a hefty chunk of time at your base, waiting to re-spawn Many creatures appear along the battlefield, although the choice to fight them is yours to make. They don’t attack unless provoked, but make for massive XP when taken out. And, when you strip this title down to its bare bones, you begin to realize that it’s the collective level of XP each of your teammates has that gives you the needed advantage to win a match.
…an exclusively multiplayer marriage of real-time strategy and action.
As you engage in combat, your character quickly levels up, earning you a skill point to put towards three basic abilities. These usually include a special attack useful against an opposing player-character, a ranged magical attack, and a shield or a ranged healing spell depending on your character’s class type. There’s also a powerful special move, dubbed a ‘Command’, that is unlocked and upgradeable after a certain level is achieved and becomes most useful when pitted against groups of various enemies. The objective of the game is to defend your towers that lie scattered around your base, while strategically moving up into enemy territory and destroying theirs. These towers become upgradeable as well, but still seem to go down rather easy when pitted against seasoned attackers. You’re also followed into combat by a handful of foot soldiers, which seem to be more or less decoys, rather than aggressors, as enemy AI and each tower’s defense mechanisms will attack these before your team’s Guardians. These, too, can be upgraded after a short period of time but still seem to be lacking in strength, as per usual MOBA game style.
From a graphical standpoint, I found the few maps that this title offered to be mediocre. While being very reminiscent of the Lord of the Rings franchise, the landscape seemed to be somewhat dull and lacking in variety, something which the detailed and impressive character models and animations could have made up for if it wasn’t for the irritating and relentless screen tearing. Texture pop-in was also a big issue, especially during heavy battles, to the point where I’d find myself retreating to escape the visual pain. These were the least of my complaints, though as there were times when the lag was completely unbearable. The frame rate hiccups interrupt the flow and rhythm of gameplay, not to mention completely distorting the battle at hand. While this seems to be something very patchable in the future, getting booted 3 out 5 matches in the now makes it a chore to enjoy the better aspects of the overall experience.
With all of the negative said, it would be a shame to ignore the endearing qualities of what this game could be. From the moment the intro ends, the player is engulfed in a very intuitive world. A gameplay tutorial is recommended, though not necessary, as combat has been made uncomplicated while still upholding a level of tactical depth that you’d expect from a MOBA game. There are 5 character classes: Striker, Defender, Enchanter, Tactician, and Warrior – each having a similar yet very diverse set of abilities that are well-animated and fun to use. Each character manages to feel different on the battlefield, and you quickly fall into choosing favorites. After a certain amount of leveling, you’re also rewarded with gold that can be used to buy potions, guardian belts, commands, relics, and gems, which increase things such as health and ability damage. It’s these rewards that keep the player interested in progressing. Combat, while having its aforementioned issues, still manages to uphold a level of fun. There are four modes of gameplay: Skirmish (5 player match versus AI-controlled Guardians), Battlegrounds (5 versus 5 competitive match with a 20 minute time limit), Elite Battlegrounds (5 versus 5 match with no AI and no time limit), and custom match. While I favored the elite mode, I found the lobby wait to find an additional 9 players to be a waste of time, when the AI is only slightly predictable and far from sloppy.
It feels like it’s in beta, and one that’s been rushed to meet a certain movie deadline…
Overall, as much as I enjoyed the moments of clear and crisp gameplay I was able to milk from Guardians of Middle-Earth, I find it very hard to recommend because they were very few and far between. Combat was simple, strategic, entertaining, and very rewarding, but fell short when confronted by the severe lag and server issues. It feels like it’s in beta, and one that’s been rushed to meet a certain movie deadline, which is very disappointing on many levels. This is a title with a lot of potential, for both Lord of the Rings fans and those new to the series alike, and I hope to see it receive a patch to fix the relentless bugs that keep it from reaching that potential.