The battle for Middle Earth is about to begin
Some of my favorite comics growing up were Marvel’s “What If?”s. These comics would look at how things would change in the universe if one thing in the past turned out differently from what we could consider continuity. And when I started playing Guardians of Middle-Earth, a part of me flashed back to those comics of my youth because the concept of this game is much like those comics. Many of us know, or are at least mildly familiar with, The Lord of the Rings. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t recognize the names Legolas, Gandalf the Grey, Sauron, or Gollum. Well, what if 22 players, some more major than others, from The Lord of the Rings universe were all put onto the battlefield at one time. That’s what you get with Guardians of Middle-Earth.
Aside from the “What If?” scenario, there really isn’t much more to this story as Guardians of Middle-Earth is a MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena). The basic purpose of MOBAs is that you and your teammates must assault enemy towers along three lanes of combat. Each character has their own unique abilities, even with all 22 characters falling into one of five classes (striker, defender, warrior, enchanter, tactician). Being somewhat familiar with some of the characters, like Legolas being an archer, and Gandalf wielding magic, will definitely accelerate your learning curve as you’ll find who fits your play style a little faster, but you don’t need to be familiar with Tolkien’s classic fiction to really embrace a character once you find one in your wheelhouse.
The most impressive thing about this game is that MOBAs are traditionally PC games and yet this is the first game in this genre that has found a way to transition the PC control schemes many MOBA players are used to smoothly over to a console. The transition isn’t completely perfect as there are some minor issues with aiming and just seeing your character when the trenches get full with a few characters from each team and suddenly it seems like fireballs, lightning bolts, and every other matter of magical attack is flying across a small space on your screen. But usually it works itself out rather quickly when someone pays the price. In regards to how it feels though, the game handles smoothly and I found myself losing hours at a time with this game in what felt like a blink of the eye.
Something else that Guardians of Middle-Earth brings to the table besides its controls is that it introduces a new 1-Lane mode. This mode is all about great, fast-paced action where you and your foes will grind the battle out in the trenches and only the team that works the best together and is most familiar with their characters will be able to push the line of conflict.
Along with the 1-Lane mode, there is plenty of Lord of the Rings flavor beyond the characters if that is the primary aspect of this game that is making you curious about downloading it. Once you reach a certain player level, you can start unlocking custom loadout belts that you use by placing a variety of gems in to boost your health, defense, offense, magic, or combination of those. The custom loadouts are great because this can help you master several characters instead of just one or two and gives you something to keep working towards as you move through the levels. Not to mention it can afford you some flexibility if your friends want to throw down in 1-Lane or traditional 3-Lane for a while.
If you aren’t familiar with MOBAs because you are more of a console gamer than a PC gamer, this is a great way to jump into the genre. If you do like MOBAs, you’ll be impressed with how smooth Guardians of Middle-Earth feels on a console. If you like Lord of the Rings, you won’t be able to not try every character and work towards unlocking them all. All in all, I was blown away by how much fun I had with this game and it is definitely worth its $15 (1200 MSP) price tag.
SUMMARY: Easily as deep and addicting a MOBA as you’d find on the PC, Guardians of Middle-Earth should appeal to newcomers and veterans of the genre alike. Add in the Lord of the Rings flair and this should be money well spent for most gamers.
- THE GOOD: Sets a high standard for future MOBAs on consoles
- THE BAD: Sometimes difficult to tell just where you are when the action gets overly frantic
- THE UGLY: Gollum. Always Gollum.
Guardians of Middle-Earth is available on PS3 (PSN) and Xbox 360 (XBLA). Primary version reviewed was for XBLA.