Review: Guardians of Middle Earth
Anyone who has picked up Awesomenauts knows by now that a successful MOBA (see: dota clone) experience can be brought to consoles. But where Awesomenauts blends traditional MOBA elements like lane pushing and skill development with features more reminisce of Worms like a 2D layout and cartoonish art-style, no game had successfully taken the top down four ability system which has made games like League of Legends so popular and made it work on consoles until Guardians of Middle Earth.
Don’t let the name fool you. Although I had originally dismissed this game as a fan service tie-in to the movie release of The Hobbit (and in a lot of ways it is), the core gameplay features its built on are rock solid – and the ways it expands on the traditional MOBA formula were inspired, softening the transition from mouse and keyboard to using a controller.
First up, all abilities work on an area of effect target system – from hitting every unit in a line to targeting enemies via a range bubble around you. This removes the necessity of clicking targets, allowing a quick combination of two buttons to unleash your abilities on nearby enemies. In addition to this, the attack button also automatically hits whichever unit is closest in range – making it easy to swap targets.
The item system also had to be reworked. After all, you can’t be clicking separate items in order to build powerful combinations like you would in DOTA 2 or Heroes of Newerth. Instead you form your item combinations pre-game, and then they unlock based off of level while you play. The effect of this is two-fold, not only does it put a high importance on pre-game strategy but it also works as a late game balancing mechanism – as by the time everyone is max level, they all have a full kit of items.
There are also shrines with team buffs scattered across the maps, helping to give players a goal outside of “laneing” the towers and health spawns are scattered within the games forests between paths – promoting out of lane play and ganking situations.
Of course, the Lord of the Rings element is high here. Traditional enemies like ogres make up the neutral creeps scattered across the map, and heroes are based off of LOTR lore so it’s not uncommon to watch Gandalf face off against Gollum. But even here Guardians manages to balance the written ideas with traditional MOBA elements – like making Gollum an assassin or “jungler” type character, and Gandalf as an intellect based hero (or wizard, yeah that one was a pretty short jump).
All up it creates a unique MOBA experience which is potentially the closest you will ever see to getting a game like League of Legends on a console. Sure, it may have a few rough edges in terms of character balance and it hinges off a microtransaction system which trades off financial investment against time investment – but this isn't a pay to win scenario, as with LoL you simply get what you want a little faster by paying.
The exception to this is the new characters released since launch, which are only available through purchasing them externally. I’ve got to say, this puts a bit of a tarnish on an otherwise solid experience – but everyone wants to make money at the end of the day.
So if you are a console player who has played MOBA titles in the past, or a current DotA, HoN or LoL player who is looking for a bit of a break with a controller in your hand – I’d recommend Guardians of Middle Earth. It might features a bit of a silly Lord of the Rings candy coating, but deep down its all tasty competitive goodness. Mmmm.