E3 2012: Guardians of Middle-earth First Look Preview – Mordor MOBA Mania
Written Friday, June 15, 2012 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
As a genre, the 'Multiplayer Online Battle Arena' (or MOBA) has being doing the rounds on PC for years, and now Monolith and Warner Bros. Games want a piece of the MOBA pie on consoles. Their gambit? Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit – a pair of licenses that Warner is uniting for Guardians of Middle-earth, a tactical, team-based game of 5 versus 5 battling supplemented by AI reinforcements and a range of iconic Tolkien characters.
Consisting of a range of top-down isometric, symmetrical maps that can be played in several configurations, Guardians of Middle-earth tasks you and your army with pushing forward against an opposing force, as you march down either a single or three-pronged track. You start by choosing your character from a selection of more than 20 guardians taken from the books, the movies and the deeper lore of Tolkien's universe, including the likes of Gandalf the Grey, the dark lord Sauron, Legolas, Thráin, Gollum, Galadriel, the Witch-King, Gothmog the Lieutenant of Minas Morgul, Uglúk the Uruk-hai and Hobbit fella Hildifons Took, then you mount your attack.
Marrying RTS elements with swords and spells action, each of Guardians of Middle-earth's characters is meant to present a variety of different gameplay styles, whether it's the range provided by spells or arrows, or the melee capabilities of axes, swords or maces. The characters you choose will ultimately inform your play style and how you choose to plan your attack and defence along the top, middle and bottom lanes on the map, or the single lane, depending on which mode you play.
During our presentation, we're shown a large-scale battle with Sauron and Gandalf facing off against one another, both using summoning spells – Sauron conjures up the Balrog, while Gandalf summons his Great Eagle, Gwaihir, for instance – and sending out waves of AI minions in an effort to breach the opposing team's base and overrun their forces. There's a few modes to choose from in Guardians of Middle-earth, with the core experience centred around the 5v5 Battlegrounds Mode, in which the goal is to destroy the opposing team's base.
You can play online with nine other players, fighting through defensive towers in each of the map's lanes that hamper your army's progress, orchestrating the war effort while getting stuck in with attacks and spells. The key to success lies in co-ordinating your commands efficiently in order to come out on top, which during co-operative play will require communication between your team, which on a single lane map, should prove far more manageable. In Skirmish Mode, you can play alone against rival AI, enabling you to try out strategies, different characters and loadouts, which should prove invaluable.
Alternatively, you can tailor the entire experience in Custom Mode, where you can set up a private match with friends and set the game's parameters to your liking. There's an array of customisation options for your chosen characters too, with three loadout categories to fiddle with. You can assign potions that are consumable items to augment your speed, health, damage and so on, and add commands that each have a long cooldown, including spells like summon defences and speed boosts. You'll be able to unlock extra slots for your loadout as you level up and gain access to some truly epic spells along the way.
It's the Relic Belt where you can really go to town customising your characters though, adding gems to increase your passive stats and attributes, creating additional nuanced effects. Whether you choose to bolster a ranged or melee character's attack damage, speed or defence is down to you, but you could potentially transform a character like Thráin – a strong dwarf with an axe – into an unstoppable tank with the right defence boosts, or make Legolas almost impossible to get close to by giving him extra speed and strength to augment his arrows.
Your character has four core abilities that are specific to them mapped to each face button, so Gollum has some nasty moves like his 'Throttle' that damages a single target, simultaneously casting silence and 'We Are Starved', which roots enemies to the spot, dealing damage while self-healing. Gandalf meanwhile can use abilities like 'Narya's Power' to blind and damage foes or the 'Flame of Anor' to cast a shield and reveal enemies on the map. Sauron has a similar (read: identical) power called 'Lidless Eye'.
As the first proper MOBA for consoles, Monolith has set itself quite a challenge in translating a genre that's traditionally always been PC-centric, but with Guardians of Middle-earth, the FEAR developer looks to have covered all of the bases. In the full game, there'll be comprehensive tutorials to teach players the intricacies of the MOBA, while matches will generally last no more than 20-25 minutes as opposed to PC MOBA bouts that can last much longer.
Monolith and Warner still want to provide a highly competitive title that's different to anything currently available on consoles, and there's extensive post-launch support planned for the game, with long-term balancing for what it calls a “constantly evolving” experience. Guardian's 20 characters will surely keep you occupied upon its launch, but with several extra warriors planned to tie in with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey after the game releases, Guardians of Middle-earth is a downloadable title that should offer plenty of depth and longevity for both action and strategy fans. One MOBA to rule them all? We'll find out later this year.
Guardians of Middle-earth will be fired from the bowels of Mount Doom in autumn 2012 for 1200 Microsoft Points.