If there is one thing the self-proclaimed “master race” (aka PC gamers) still has over console gamers, it is the beloved genre known as MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena). Games like the popular League of Legends still remain woefully out of reach of we console plebes, which is why it was exciting when Warner Bros. confirmed a MOBA tie-in to the upcoming film, The Hobbit. Guardians of Middle Earth is very much an attempt to bring the excitement of the genre to consoles, but does it succeed?
My first MOBA
Guardians of Middle Earth is set in the Third Age of Middle Earth, just before the events in The Hobbit. Players can select from famous characters in the series such as Gandalf the Grey, Sauron, Ori, Legolas, Éowyn, etc., and more are sure to be released at a later date, ala League of Legends. Each of the characters has their own strengths and weaknesses and fall into a variety of classes such as Enchanter, Tactician, Striker, Warrior, etc. Additionally, each character has their own special abilities.
Inside of matches characters can level up from killing other characters, creeps and canon fodder thrust at you. Each skill has three levels which can be accessed as you level up, including a fourth, ultimate skill which is unlocked at level 5. As you continue to play matches, you are able to Rank up and gain access to more impressive loadouts, similar to Call of Duty or most online games. In fact, most of this should sound familiar to LoL/DoTA players.
In classic form, games are divided into two groups of 5 in top-down maps with three lanes. Players must fight against fellow players and opposing team computer-generated troops, all for the ultimate goal of destroying the enemy base structure. Easy … right?
This will not be painless
Let’s get this out of the way now: transitioning a PC staple like this to the consoles wasn’t going to be smooth. Certain factors would need to be sacrificed, and in that, Monolith has created a strong introduction to the genre. It’s just simple enough for those new to the genre, and those familiar will instantly fall into the habit of juggling lanes and hiding in bushes for the precise moment of attack.
One of the ways they helped simplify (I refuse to use the phrase “dumbed-down”) was by removing the in-round currency system. In most MOBAs players earn currency in rounds which can be used to buy items to improve your character in that game — they disappear out of game. This can lead to some frustration for newbie players who don’t understand that you must purchase Nancy’s Boots of Walking in the first two minutes of gameplay or else. Removing this feature from Guardians may make it more accessible for newbies, but veteran MOBA players may find gameplay wanting because of it.
This currency was replaced by an out-of-round system which allows you to buy additional guardians (you don’t have access to all of them immediately) and items to customize your loadout. Again, it’s very Call of Duty and ergo, very console. I will say, however, the keyboard and mouse controls have transitioned to the 360/PS3 controller as well as we could have expected. It’s not as smooth and finite, but it’s not as bad as many naysayers expected.
When it works…
The problem with all of this is that it is a good introduction when it works. Guardians of Middle Earth features some of the lousiest matchmaking I’ve encountered in an online game. Despite the matchmaking queue’s boast that the average wait time is a mere 1:41, I often found myself waiting 10 or more minutes, only have a member of my team instantly disconnect. Unlike LoL which tries to balance such instances, Guardians does not appear to — any d/c is most assuredly a death sentence for your team.
The lag in the game is considerable, as well. The characters naturally move at a slow, lumbering pace, which will, again, frustrate seasoned players, and the constant skipping/pausing makes it downright aggravating. Granted some matches can be smooth and lag-free, but it seems to be feast or famine. If you encounter lag early on, it’ll be there for the rest of the match. At this point I feel obligated to say I have the fastest connection Comcast offers and have never encountered this kind of lag in any other games, and I don’t appear to be alone in this issue.
According to the official forums, Monolith is aware of some of these issues and will be issuing a patch for it shortly, but these issues are of concern early in a game’s lifespan. When trying to prove that there is a market for a traditionally PC-only offering, lag and matchmaking issues may prevent the game from reaching critical mass of players necessary for smoother matchmaking. Not to mention this just feels like the type of issue that shouldn’t exist at launch.
Guardians of Middle Earth has a lot of potential to introduce console players to the MOBA genre and it shouldn’t be written off as a cheap movie tie-in. Despite strong criticisms, when it’s good, it’s good. However, until the lag and matchmaking are patched or fixed, it’s hard to wholeheartedly recommend this game. Traditional LoL/DoTA players may find it a little too simplistic and slow, and new players may find themselves needlessly frustrated by these issues. We’re going to check back in with the game in a week or so to see if it’s improved but as of now, proceed with caution.
- Release date: December 5, 2012
- Genre: Battle
- Platform: PS3, Xbox 360
- Developer: Monolith Productions
- Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
- ESRB Rating: T
- MSRP: $14.99/1200 MSP
Our Score: 3.5 / 5
Reviewer’s note: An Xbox Live code was provided by Warner Bros. Interactive for the purposes of this review.