Comic Con 2012: Guardians of Middle-Earth Hands On
Developer: Monolith Productions / Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment / Played on: Xbox 360
It’s no secret the MOBA community doesn’t take kindly to new players. The community surrounding this emerging genre of game is its own special kind of elitist in an industry dominated by video games fans that already serve as the definition of the word. But there’s no denying the popularity of MOBAs; developer Riot Games has raked in cash hand over fist thanks to the massive worldwide popularity of League of Legends. Personally, I find the genre really impenetrable, both from a gameplay mechanics and community standpoint.
Enter Guardians of Middle Earth, a MOBA made for gamers like me. It features all the exciting drama and hectic action as its counterparts, but it does so with a simple console controller interface and an immensely popular and ubiquitous license: The Lord of the Rings. And initially back at E3, it was that license that really piqued my interest. I wouldn’t say I’m a fanboy, but I do enjoy me some Middle-Earth, whether that’s a novel, a video game, a board game, or a card game. So I was really interested to dig into Guardians at Comic Con.
The demo stage featured 5v5 multiplayer on a prototypical MOBA map, a large diamond-shaped arena with three main routes connecting each team’s base. I decided to roll with Gollum, who, it was explained, was a deadly, hard-hitting character that couldn’t take a hint to save his life. And this I found out pretty early on, when I had a run-in with one of the other team’s defense towers that eliminated my life bar but couldn’t quite finish off my remaining 1HP to kill me. I hobbled Gollum behind some bushes to heal and recover.
Each team featured familiar and no-so familiar characters: I was teamed up with The Witch King, Sauron, Ugluk, and Gothmog. Pitted against us were the pesky forces of good from Middle-Earth, including Legolas, Galadriel, and Thrain. Each character featured a different general play style. Galadriel, for example, was a healer and support class, while Legolas used ranged attacks that caused me no end of trouble as the melee glass cannon that is Gollum.
If you’re unfamiliar with MOBAs, they essentially boil down to a fast-paced RTS in which you control one character rather than an army, and it’s your job to work with your team to eliminate the other team’s base, both my attacking their heroes, and also by laying siege to their defensive tower emplacements to make it easier for your AI controlled soldiers (sometimes called “creeps”) to march across the battlefield and destroy everything in their path.
As you can imagine, the map layout and various team tactics employable in any given encounter make each skirmish a mix of close-quarter chaos and tactical advance or retreat. And as your character racks up the kill count, you’ll be able to upgrade one of their four abilities, which can range from buffs to attacks to support skills for teammates. What really stuck with me, though, is how addictive the tried-and-true game mechanics of the MOBA are without a legion of foul-mouthed 16 year olds constantly telling you that you suck (though granted I ended up taking MVP of my team as I swung the tide of battle when all looked lost). More surprisingly, the controls are fantastic, and while the PC crowd will stand fervently behind their click-click-clicking, that argument would be missing the point. Guardians is designed as a console-only experience, for a console audience that may be unfamiliar with the game style; in fact, one of the game’s designers likened it more to a dual-stick shooter. It definitely succeeds at that (it’s not meant to be a cutthroat DOTA-killer), but there is a healthy amount of depth itching to be discovered, and I desperately want to spend the rest of my time at Comic Con sitting in the Guardians of Middle Earth tent taking on all comers.