Gamescom 2012: Guardians of Middle-earth Hands-On Preview - MOBA Rule
Written Saturday, August 25, 2012 By Lee AbrahamsView author's profile
GOME is a MOBA rather like DOTA. If you're looking at those strings of letters and assuming that we’ve gone a little bit mental then, rest assured, you’re right but that doesn’t make what we're saying any less true. Guardians of Middle-earth is a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA see?) in a similar vein to Defense of the Ancients (DOTA, now you get it) and titles like League of Legends (LOL, is the acronym not our personal feelings on the matter). So far so good but what does that all mean to those of you that haven’t been indoctrinated into the genre via your PC?
Luckily for us all, Bob Roberts, a Producer with Monolith, was on hand to separate the men from the boys, and the acronyms from the gibberish. “With this game, what we’re doing is bringing a new, competitive, multiplayer experience to home consoles,” he explained, “We’re doing this through the MOBA genre, which is super popular on PC but hasn’t really had much play time on consoles yet.” Releasing the game on the Xbox Live Arcade seems to be the right way to go for a game that is fairly simple at heart but eminently replayable, and having the Lord of the Rings franchise as a starting point is bound to lure in more than a few players who are new to the genre.
Roberts shows us through the menus and adds, “The characters you’ll be using are from that universe and they’ll be familiar to you from the films. But we have also pulled some from a little deeper in the lore as well.” The obvious figures of Gandalf and Sauron stand out right away, along with a few familiar elves and hobbits and the like, all of whom are spread across five distinct classes that can then be tweaked to make them fit your preferred role. Teams are five players per side, so there is plenty of chance to mix and match the characters and come up with strategies and abilities that complement one another, which is exactly how players can emerge victorious. Going it solo is likely to lead to a painful death while clever team play is going to lead to glory and unimaginable riches. Well glory anyway.
Having not experienced the world of MOBA gaming before we weren’t sure what to expect, so getting a lengthy hands on offered a chance to jump in at the deep end. The results were pleasantly surprising and it is easy to see how people can get sucked into the genre in a remarkably short space of time. The basic goal is for your team to destroy the enemy's base, aided by some AI controlled underlings and upgradeable defence towers at key locations. You can also capture unique areas to gain team buffs as well as leveling up your character by beating up on the opposition. Hopping into the game and being able to pick up the controls is surprisingly simple, and it doesn’t take too long before you can give a good account of yourself.
Of course the whole point of the game is being able to work well with others. The maps are symmetrical and generally split into three paths, or lanes, that the fighting takes place down. Each side has a smattering of towers to defend their lands and taking these down effectively is your first priority. So using the various sneaky traps of the hobbit class can slow down your foes, allowing your big guns like Gandalf to step in and deal some serious damage. You can enhance your skills on the fly and even power up your own defences and goons to boot, but the real trick is to co-ordinate your assaults with your allies in order to take out enemy heroes and towers as you streamroll your way to victory. Theoretically at least.
Of course, when you start to clash with your foes then you can whip out one of four unique abilities to try and take them down or just rely on basic attacks should you so wish. As you amass points you can make said abilities even more powerful and learn the nuances of how to combo them well with your team. Should you be brutally cut down, then you can expect a short wait before you can hop into the fray again, all of which is time your enemy will be spending whittling away your defences. Controlling specific lanes and co-ordinating your efforts on perceived weak points and lone wolf characters can help you get closer to victory, but the ebb and flow of each battle is a real spectacle with momentum shifting from one side to the other (THE PENDULUM HAS SHIFTED: as Jim Ross might bellow).
You can also load out your character with what Roberts describes as, “Huge, game changing spells that might only come out once or twice a match”. A good example of this is the ability to summon a Balrog which, as you can imagine, leads to an insane amount of decimation. As well as this you can take along some single shot items and potions that might just help you out of a jam long enough to accomplish a smaller goal, like taking out a rival or similar. You also have a relic belt that helps you to tweak your character more specifically in terms of statistics and builds, with players able to mix and match hundreds of items to find the set up that makes then INDESTRUCTIBLE. Right up to the point where someone kicks your ass and it’s back to the drawing board.
Of course, if you aren’t up for just pummeling, or being pummeled by human foes, then Monolith still has something for you. The basic set-up is Battlegrounds, which is five on five with a set time limit, but you can opt to fill the extra slots with AI team members so you aren’t hanging around. For those wanting to fight only those of us that eat, sleep and breathe then you can head to Elite Battlegrounds where games are populated only by real life players and there is no timer, so it’s an all-out brawl until someone emerges triumphant. For those just after a friendly game you can hop into Skirmish which sees you and some buddies tackle AI foes together for good times and a few laughs – you weaklings. Solo players can also challenge training missions to help ease them into the genre.
After emerging triumphant from our first game (naturally) it was interesting to see how such a simple concept could become so engrossing. After spending a short amount of time mastering the controls, it soon became apparent when we needed to tag along with our team and when we could sneak off to capture a helpful objective. Likewise using the various abilities was a simple case of using the face buttons and we were soon dropping foes like flies, before beating a hasty retreat to get healed by an ally. It looks and plays supremely well and it is easy to see clans of players emerging to dominate matches online and pummel the unwary into submission. Having said that, it's obvious that a lot of effort has been made to introduce new players into the genre and for that we should be grateful. What seemed an inhospitable and bewildering battleground may just turn out to be XBLA’s next big thing.
Expect to be dominating lanes that aren’t at your bowling alley with the likes of Gollum, Galadriel and the Witch King come the end of this year, when Guardians of Middle-earth will be available for download.