The Multiplayer Online Battle Arena genre, lovingly referred to as MOBA, has seen a massive surge in popularity mostly due to the success of League of Legends (LoL) for PC. Those too timid to join for fear of annihilation or those who don’t game on the PC have probably heard of it, but never experienced it themselves. The developers at Monolith have developed a MOBA for consoles that should remove any reservations inexperienced players have. Guardians of Middle-earth presents a gameplay experience catered to each player’s particular skill level, users can enjoy themselves online or off, with friends or without. And as one of the first games of this genre available for Xbox 360 and Playstation, they’ve set the bar high.
The objective of each match is simple: destroy your enemy’s primary tower. It’s far easier said than done, of course. Players must battle through waves of soldiers and destroy defense towers on the way to the primary tower, all while staving off enemy Guardians equipped with their own special abilities. Defeat an enemy Guardian and they face a long respawn time. Get yourself killed and you face the same fate, which puts your team, consisting of AI or player-controlled Guardians, at a severe disadvantage.
But simply tearing down a lane, battling soldiers, towers, and other Guardians doesn’t make for particularly great gameplay. That’s why there are additional creatures and “free areas” throughout each map. By traveling to one of these areas your team can capture a shrine which grants an important buff to the rest of your team. These shrines are highly contested throughout each map and should you capture one from the enemy, be prepared to defend it. The creatures scattered throughout the maps are also of Lord of the Rings lore, with trolls, shades, and spiders resting in out of the way places. Kill them though and you will receive a game-changing buff to tip the battle in your favor. Be wary though, these buffs will wear off and if you find yourself in the midst of a battle when that happens, you may pay with your life.
The key to winning is understanding your own playstyle and that of your allies. You can’t expect to be dealing massive damage if you’re better at healing. Similarly, you shouldn’t be playing defensively if you’re more adept at using hit-and-run tactics to wear down the enemy. Developer Monolith understands this and has implemented characters that excel in particular categories. Additionally, the characters themselves have talents and skills that directly draw influence from their characters inside the realm of Middle-earth and each of the movies (including newly released The Hobbit). Bilbo Baggins for instance excels at stealth and dealing damage. The beautiful elf Galadriel, on the other hand, is particularly skilled at healing. Evil characters are also included, giving players the option of playing as Sauron or Bert the Troll.
You begin each match as at level 1 and as you dispatch soldiers, Guardians, and towers, your character earns experience that will take them to level 2 and eventually to the maximum level 14. The benefit of leveling is that you can increase the power and effect of your skills, mapped to each of the face buttons on the controller. You will also develop the ability to upgrade the soldiers that spawn periodically, moving from simple foot soldiers up to massive Ents or dangerous spiders. Finally, your level determines the upgrade for your defensive towers as well. Instead of simply firing at enemies that come within range, you can increase attack speed, targeting ability, and even the ammo used.
At the end of each game your profile will earn a particular amount of experience and gold that will allow you to increase your rank. While you start at level 1 for each match, your rank will continuously increase allowing you access to other goodies to use during each match. There are four slots for potions and for commands. Potions grant different bonuses and are used only once per match, so trigger them wisely. Healing, damage increase, even ability cooldowns are affected by the different types of potions, of which each character has a maximum of four.
Commands on the other hand are extremely powerful skills that have extended cooldowns ranging from 120 to 300 seconds. That’s for good reason as each one provides a fantastic benefit immediately upon triggering it. Healing, damage, summoned minions, they’re all available and come in tiers. As with potions, commands are given four slots for use, but instead of filling them with your own selections, commands are delivered in tiers ranging from one to four. Each tier provides different commands, but as they increase in tier so do they in power.
Rounding out the role-playing experience is the inclusion of the player’s belt. On the belt players can add gems or relics, again with varying benefits. Every player has seven slots to fill with gems, while relics come in different flavors. Relics can be filled with gems, so there really is no benefit to using gems alone. Each relic can fit two, three, or four gems and grants a particular bonus. Gems act as miniature versions of the relics, but their bonuses aren’t as intense.
While Guardians of Middle-earth doesn’t do anything radically different than other popular MOBA’s that are available on PC, delivering it on console makes it notable. Customization of loadouts with potions, runics/gems, and commands creates a sort of meta-game when not in the thick of battle. Figuring out which characters excel with particular equipment and commands will compliments your team and your own particular play style. With most games lasting around 20 minutes or less, it’s easy to get involved with a match if you have just a few minutes to spare, but the intense action and overwhelming pride from a victory is sure to pull you in for hours at a time. With Monolith dedicate to providing continued support with new characters and maps, whether you’re a PC MOBA fan or simply interested in the genre, you do not want to miss this game.
Overall score 8.5 out of 10
A video of gameplay can be seen here