Whether intentional or not, the release of WB’s Guardians of Middle Earth at around the same time as Peter Jackson’s latest Hobbit film is a wonderful thing for us Tolkien fans – even though they don’t have much to do with each other. Developed by Monolith Productions, this multi-player online battle arena takes elements of tower defense and mashes it up with some great third-person action to create a surprisingly fulfilling experience.
When WB sent us this title (they sent us the XB360 version), I was a little bit leery of how it would play. I loves me some MOBA goodness on the PC, mostly because of precision (mouse-control); but when taking the reins of Guardians, I was very pleased with the ease of control and the amount of work that was put into making the game accessible and fun..
The premise is pretty simple, making the game quite easy to pick up. Two teams comprised of five Guardians face each other over a battlefield composed of either one lane or three lanes. Each team has a control tower that they must guard while they attempt to destroy the opponent’s tower. AI-powered grunts charge automatically toward down the lane(s) toward the enemy, targeting any of the enemy-controlled defense towers along the way to their goal. You, as a human player, are in control of a Guardian, one of the heroes or villains of legend, who is more powerful than the soldiers that your teams command.
There are twenty Guardians to choose from; by all rights, there should be one that will suit your play style. Each guardian has a basic attack (bound to a trigger) and three special abilities (tied to X, A and B). At the beginning of a new match, you start at level 1. As you play, you will achieve goals and defeat enemies – thus earning you experience and allowing you to gain levels. For every level you gain, you can add a point to one of your special abilities (they can be leveled up 4 times – and never twice in a row). Once you hit level 5, you unlock your ultimate ability (assigned to Y) and the ass-kicking truly begins.
“If I had a hammer, I’d hammer in the morning…”
Not only can you upgrade your own powers – you can also upgrade any of your towers that are still standing, as well as your barracks. The higher your level, the more powerful the upgrade (and consequently the more damage you will do to incoming enemies or to enemy towers). Nothing feels more satisfying than seeing your original soldiers replaced by mounted soldiers or even Ents and Trolls. And if you find yourself neither gaining nor losing ground, then capturing some of the secondary objectives (shrines) will add powerful bonuses to your side, possibly giving you the edge you need to turn the tide.
Once your game is over, you receive your reward in the form of experience points and gold toward your overall profile as well as relics and gems that can be used to buff your character in later matches. You can also use your gold toward purchasing these handy items – which can do anything from increasing your attack power to granting you the ability of regeneration. To keep things somewhat fair, the bonuses are unlocked at certain character levels in each game – so everyone starts off the same. You can also purchase single-use potions that are tied to your D-pad – for those moments that require some immediate assistance.
What I really like about this game is the fact that upgrades are done outside of normal combat game-play. Nothing sucks more than wasting time messing around in a “shop” trying to figure out the best thing to buy with the limited amount of scratch you have. Given how fast some of the games can be in Guardians, I suspect that if there was an in-round store there would be a lot of people making purchases only to re-spawn and find that the game is already over.
Gandalf brings the pain.
Visually the game looks pretty awesome – like a made-over version of The Battle For Middle Earth 2. Character animations and attack effects are beautiful to watch; the backgrounds, while lacking in variety between different stages, are vibrant and well-designed. Audio is great – from the rousing score to the decent voice-acting, Tolkien fans are in for a treat.
There have been a number of complaints of lag and horrendous wait times. I am not sure if I am just lucky, but I have only ever experience one instance where I had to wait for three minutes to connect; also, one of the games I was involved in went into a strange state of suspended animation for five minutes – but everyone playing just ended up having a bit of a chat until it started up again. Maybe it’s because I was a bit late to the party that all of the kinks have been worked out.
Guardians of Middle Earth is a fun game to play, whether you are a Tolkien fan or not. Well-balanced game-play combined with single-lane or triple-lane boards makes for some entertaining time spent with other people online. Great graphics and solid audio keep the eyes an ears entertained while the mind works on figuring out how to take down the enemy using a variety of different abilities and perks. Complaints have been made about lag and long wait times – but I haven’t experienced this yet. Well done, Monolith!