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Guardians of Middle-earth review

Great
AT A GLANCE
  • A true MOBA experience on consoles
  • Diverse selection of Guardians
  • Great interface and controls
  • Mini-map is hard to follow
  • Matchmaking can take a while
  • AI is exploitable

MOBA (or multiplayer online battle arena) games like League of Legends and DotA may call PCs their home, but this spin on the traditional real-time strategy genre has started making its way onto consoles, to favorable results. Awesomenauts was the first, and now Guardians of Middle-earth shows us that anyone can get a taste of a quality MOBA game without the need of a keyboard or mouse.

As its name alludes to, Middle-earth takes place in the Lord of the Rings universe and features over 20 iconic characters--or guardians--that you can unlock from the world of J.R.R. Tolkien. Guardians are divided into five different classes--Enchanter, Defender, Striker, Warrior and Technician--and the game does a great job making each one feel and play differently. Each also has a unique set of four abilities (which are inspired by the mythos of the book), allowing for a substantial amount of replayability and experimentation.

When it comes to gameplay, Guardians of Middle-earth plays like your basic MOBA. Two teams of five players need to work together to take out the opposing side's base, all the while getting help from an endless supply of AI-controlled soldiers and defense towers. Matches are 20 minutes long and can take place on either a traditional 3-lane map or on a 1-lane map, which contrary to what one may think, makes for equally lengthy back-and-forth since there’s only one route to the enemy’s base. All its mechanics make for a very traditional MOBA experience that is translated very well on consoles.

 Guardians of Middle-earth is a fine translation of the MOBA genre onto consoles.

True to its genre, the game’s RPG components let players further customize and power-up their characters during a match. Killing foes, both other players or neutral creatures, nets you experience points that let you level up and improve your abilities, soldiers, and defense towers. Shrines can also be captured to further improve your team’s attributes--but your enemies can snatch them too. All these components give the game a nice blend of action and strategy, making for many intense and calculated matches.

Middle-earth also features an extensive loadout system that adds a much-welcomed layer of complexity to its otherwise straightforward gameplay mechanics. As you play matches and increase your personal rank level, you’ll gain access to potions, special abilities, and an extensive accessory system that can greatly affect your Guardian during a match. With dozens of stat-specific runes to choose from, the choices can be overwhelming for new players. The game does a good job anticipating this, though, and defaults to wholly respectable loadouts that will keep new players competitive.

With so much to keep tabs on in a match, the game’s announcer does a good job of calling out what’s happening so you never feel removed from the action. The same can't be said of the game’s tiny mini-map icons, which make it difficult to keep track of player movement. You can’t move your camera and scope out your surroundings either (except when you die), so it’s sometimes hard to know what towers you should be defending.

MOBAs are traditionally best played with others, and Middle-earth is no exception. Friendly AI-controlled Guardians often stand around waiting for you to do something, and enemy Guardians are easy to defeat. Thankfully, human-only match-making will reliably pit you against living, breathing foes, eliminating the worry of being paired with a bot that won’t strategize with you. The game also features leaderboards, profile accounts, and a tab to invite friends to battle, making the game, and match search times, directly dependent on player involvement.

It’s easy to see how Monolith has made Middle-earth as accessible as it can be for first-time MOBA players without skimping too much on all the trimmings of what makes the genre so much fun on PC. The developers have also created a game that manages to capture the magic of the LotR universe without alienating those unfamiliar to the series. Truly a crowd-pleaser, Middle-earth is a great example of what a console MOBA should feel like and easily sets the bar for more games to come.

More Info

Release date: Dec 04 2012 - PS3, Xbox 360 (US)
Available Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Published by: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developed by: Monolith Productions
ESRB Rating:
Teen: Fantasy Violence

9 comments

  • jackthemenace - December 8, 2012 6:19 a.m.

    With The Hobbit coming out soon, and the recent release of Lego LOTR, I'm in a very Middle-Earthy mood at the moment. I might see if I can rent this one, having never played a MOBA before, and then buy it afterwards if I enjoy it that much.
  • blix2006 - December 9, 2012 7:07 a.m.

    i dont think its in the shop for rent..its a digital release (only 15 bucks)other then there terrible server issues right now(they have a patch coming today) the game is pretty good..its very very easy for new players to the moba genre to get into since it is moba stripped down to its basic form.
  • blix2006 - December 7, 2012 6:10 a.m.

    just a warning for anyone planning to buy it.the game is laggy as all hell..and you wait forever for match making..here is the big black eye on the game that isnt being talked about...IT IS PEER2PEER yea thats right...a moba with no servers...so it lags all to hell when your connected to ackbar over in 3rd world country..a damn shame too.the game had potential.
  • StrongPillow - December 6, 2012 10:19 a.m.

    The game is a blast especially with the changes to the formula. No more having to buy gear so it keeps you in the battle. The loadout system is crazy, the amount of customization for your toon is really impressive. The only problem at the moment is the fact that you can literally not get into a game online. You will be waiting 20 to 30 mins and not be guaranteed a match. The AI is actually quite challenging on Hard difficulty though.
  • GoldenEagle1476 - December 5, 2012 2:27 p.m.

    Do the maps feature a jungle? I assume they do, since there has to be something between the lanes, but is it important enough that there is an actual jungler class? Also, the inability to move the camera is kind of a bummer, but everything else sounds great.
  • EAC73 - December 5, 2012 12:43 p.m.

    Wow i was expecting this game to bomb on consoles, i might have to take a look into it if i ever get time way from playing LoL
  • ObliqueZombie - December 5, 2012 12:41 p.m.

    Though it's not my favorite fantasy world, and MOBAs are the one genre I choose to stay away from as much as possible, I think a MOBA would work wonderfully on the console. Hell, there's not many abilities to keep track of. I... might look into this.
  • BladedFalcon - December 5, 2012 10:59 a.m.

    Being a fan of the LotR franchise, I'm happy to see this being a good game, though I'm personally skipping it, because it's a pretty much multiplayer-only type of game and such.

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