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Guardians of Middle Earth Review

(Image from Steam Community)

The MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) genre, which dominates personal computers, is not very apparent on consoles. Fans don’t have much option when it comes to this ever-evolving form of enjoyment, with the exception of unique gems like Awesomenauts. So it was inevitable that someone would fill the void sooner or later. But will it be based on Tolkien’s prose and the epic Lord of the Rings? No one could have predicted this.

What is remarkable and maybe most essential for console is how nicely the Monolith team managed to convert the complicated PC controls to pads. The analogs govern movement and aim, while the four buttons on the front of the controller control our abilities. The keyboards have been intelligently designed so that even a beginner can sit in front of the TV, pick up the gamepad, and begin playing. Playing on a console, while somewhat less accurate and providing less maneuverability owing to the lack of a physical cursor, feels natural and, contrary to my first thoughts, does not affect the game’s established formula in any way. This one sticks to the classic format that League of Legends and Dota have made us accustomed to. The main goal of the player’s team is to cross the screen and demolish the opponent’s base before the opposition team destroys ours. The game’s appeal stems from the sad nature of the situation: warriors battle in the middle of the board, simultaneously waging an armaments race, and remain there until one of the players makes a mistake, tipping the scales of victory in favor of the better-coordinated side. However, one disadvantage of utilizing a gamepad is the disparity in gaming speed when compared to PCs. It takes a little longer to pick targets without the mouse, and the gained talents are unlocked from the full-screen menu. The game moves at a slower rate, while the characters stroll at a leisurely pace. This will gratify new players since it will make it much easier for them to comprehend what is going on in the game. Even them, though, will eventually become tired of jogging across the same map’s repetitive trails for the hundredth time.

(Image from Gameplay Video)

I’m ignoring the Lord of the Rings license, on which the game is based, for a good reason: the game gets nothing and loses nothing as a result of it. From the start, it appears to be little more than a skin for a game that might function just as well without it. Battle games like League of Legends aren’t known for their lengthy story arcs, and Guardians of Middle-earth is no exception. The playable characters are inspired by Tolkien’s heroes and antagonists, but the relationship with his writings ends there. No one would notice if Gandalf named himself “The Magician” and Legolas “The Archer” unless they were die-hard Middle-earth aficionados. There’s a lot of Ard folklore in this place. In terms of characters, the titular “Guardians” have roughly twenty to pick from, evenly divided between “good” and “evil” groups. Among them are crowd favorites such as Sauron, Gandalf, Gollum, and Legolas, as well as heroes who appear to have been invented just for the game, such as Goblins Felgrom and Lugbol. The character we select will have a significant influence on the game’s outcome; each has a distinct combination of talents and statistics. The diversity poses issues with balancing their skills – certain warriors are clearly stronger than the others, and we can only hope that future game patches will correct any balance issues. Aside from the apparent parallels to the classics, Guardians of Middle-earth attempts to add a couple of minor yet game-changing gameplay changes. As the warrior’s experience level rises, we will get new abilities such as the capacity to create defensive towers and barracks. The first will be able to heal our fighters or fire in bursts rather than single rounds. The second will enable the creation of stronger “minions,” i.e. cannon fodder. There are also shrines dotted across the area that, when seized, would grant the team bonuses. Strategic goals offer dynamism to the game by requiring you to continually adjust to changing scenarios and focus on something other than the traditional “lanes.”

The inability to purchase equipment during the game is a significant and contentious distinction from, say, League of Legends. Equipment in these kind of sports is usually a touchy subject. Each player has their own strategy for equipping their character, and the incorrect stuff may be fatal not just for the hero, but also for the entire team. Perhaps this is why “Guardians of Middle-earth” chose a method more common in current shooters – unlocking and equipping subsequent equipment in the main menu between fights. On the one hand, this decision reduces the tactical aspects of dynamically adapting the character to the situation; on the other hand, by playing with a group of randomly selected Internet players, we avoid the concerns associated with beginner players equipped with five pairs of unnecessary shoes. However, due to the time restriction enforced in most game types, it all falls apart. It has a strict time constraint of 20 minutes, forcing players to respond swiftly. When the timer runs out, the win is determined by points won not only for kills, but also – for example – for demolished towers, so a big portion of the strategies are rendered useless. Even the most orderly games devolve into mayhem in goal-scoring circumstances, as frantic players try to score the last few points against the time. Fortunately, traditionalists will find themselves in the “Elite” mode, which is more akin to previous games of the type, where success is determined not by the passage of time, but by the players’ devotion and ability.

(Image from G2A)

The success of Guardians of Middle-earth will be determined by the community and the creators’ support. MOBA games depend on the ever-expanding pool of accessible, one-of-a-kind heroes that are key to keeping the genre interesting. It’s not that straightforward in a restricted console ecosystem. The game will be supported by paid DLC, featuring extra characters, skins, and even a new game mode, according to Monolith Studio. In my humble view, the game is worth playing, even if it contradicts Tolkien’s source material. The sheer joy of murdering enemy Guardians alongside friends outweighs any long-term considerations. Seize the day!

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