Guardians of Middle-Earth preview - Lord of the Rings goes MOBA

Tolkein’s fantasy series runs into DotA and LoL

While the PC crowd has enjoyed games such as DotA and League of Legends for quite some time, the MOBA genre is one that’s been largely absent on the console market. Now, the developers at Monolith Productions are aiming to introduce that experience to a broader audience with Guardians of Middle-Earth, an upcoming console MOBA themed on Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.

The premise here is the same as it is in any other MOBA: two teams of five must work together on symmetrical maps and take out the opposing team’s base, while NPC “creeps” continually assault both sides across three connecting lanes. Monolith knows console gamers will be largely unfamiliar to this type of game - that’s why The Lord of the Rings universe makes perfect sense as a MOBA setting.

Players can choose from 20 famous characters as their guardian of choice, and all have access to a variety of abilities congruent with their fiction. Even if you’ve never played a MOBA, you’ll be able to select a character and have a pretty good idea of what kind of sills you’ll have at your disposal. For example, Gandalf has a slew of spells in his arsenal, making him a deadly damage dealer. He can use Narya’s Power to blind nearby enemies, decreasing their chances to land attacks, or the Fireworks AoE spell, which damages and silences opponents. Or, if you prefer smashing dudes with hammers instead of catching them on fire, Thráin is a solid choice, with medium damage, high health, and plenty of crowd control.

PC diehards might grumble at the thought of attempting to land skill shots with a console controller, but Guardians of Middle-Earth lends itself well to this layout. Guardians are moved with the left analog stick, while the right one slides AoE placement reticles around the screen. Abilities and potions are easily accessed, too, as they’re mapped to the controller’s face buttons and D-pad, respectively.

While accessibility is key, Guardians of Middle-Earth also contains some interesting tweaks to standard genre conventions. When full-force skirmishes break out in League of Legends, it’s easy to get lost in the chaos of battle and lose track of what’s going on. In Guardians, however, players have access to recent play-by-play combat logs, which record the last 10 seconds of a fight leading up to your death. It’s a great tool for analyzing what went wrong, allowing you to learn from any mistakes you might’ve made.

Players even have access to a variety of custom game options, including one-on-one play, practice skirmishes against AI-controlled bots, and one-lane maps that are frequently bottlenecked by all-out bloodbaths. As for character customization, every guardian has a gem belt that can be slotted with gems that increase attributes. What makes this system interesting is that by equipping certain gems in specific sequences, you can unlock additional passive buffs, like cooldown reductions.

We’d love to see a full-fledged MOBA find success on consoles, though we suspect it might have a hard time stacking up to the likes of free-to-play competitors on the PC. Still, The Lord of the Rings universe could be a big draw - and if our demo of Guardians of Middle-Earth is any indication, Monolith is on track to deliver an inexpensive game whose complexity far overshadows many full-retail titles on the market.

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