There aren’t many places that you would rather be as a Tolkien fan than in the Warner Bros. Headquarters in Central London, two weeks before The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey hits cinema screens. Lucky for me, RU was invited down to visit WB and get to grips with their latest title Guardians of Middle Earth, a Multi-player Online Battle Arena hitting XBLA and PSN this week. Filled with over 20 famous icons from both books and licensing rights for Peter Jackson’s vision of Middle Earth, it was certainly enough to get me interested, but would it tick all the right boxes or leave me feeling bleaker than a night on Weathertop?
First things first, if you’re like me and have never really stepped into the realm of MOBA gaming before you really need to know exactly what you’re dealing with. Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas put gamers head to head within a playing field. Divided into two teams, players are given a selection of characters to use in battles ahead. Like many RPG/RTS games the available characters, or Guardians as this games title names them, have varying talents and abilities. It is down to each player on the team to work out the best strategy for winning based on the character they play. Glory is gained by destroying a specific tower inside the opposing team’s base, while successfully defending your own.
It sounds simple, but when you jump into your first match there is really quite a lot to get to grips with. Guardians are divided into five classes with varying skill sets and roles. Gandalf, for example is an Enchanter who can cast spells to blind, silence and damage foes, or enhance the skills of allies while Eowyn, a defender, has healing and shielding abilities to use. The first trouble, as a newbie at least, is getting to grips with each character type, their abilities, and how to use what is available to the best effect.
I initially found myself dying incredibly often as I struggled to learn when and how to attack with my tactician – Hobbit Hildifons. I went charging in, like courageous Meriadoc at the Battle of Pelennor Fields but soon found that unlike Mr Brandybuck, I would inevitably wind up waiting to re-spawn into battle rather than becoming a renowned Hobbit of the Shire. This is no hack and slash my friends, this is a tactical affair and you have to use strategy to win.
As a new player, very few abilities are available which, while it encourages you to continue playing to unlock new skills, items and even Guardians, can leave you very frustrated with the lack of options in early battles. Similar to many modern shooters you can create load outs, customised options for a variation of additional skills and abilities, once they become available. This will mean that you will spend a lot of time getting beaten by those with a higher XP level than you, but don’t feel disheartened as things will get easier if you persevere!
The gameplay itself, given that it contains a varied amount of commands and abilities, is very easy to pick up and feels comfortable with a controller despite its tradition to be a PC based genre. GoME’s tutorial prepares you well for the first rounds of battle and guides you through all the basics so even the newest of player has some sense of what is expected, whether its upgrading towers or taking out some Warg!
As a new MOBA player, it is hard for me to compare this to similar games on the market, however I certainly consider myself converted to the genre and would happily venture into similar titles as a result of the game. Guardians of Middle Earth may not feel groundbreaking, but it provides gamers with an addictive challenge and Tolkien’s world certainly seems fitting for its style of play.