There isnít much of a story to Guardians of Middle-Earth; basically all of the Tolkien characters you know and love from the Lord of the Rings movies, and the recently released Hobbit movie have ended up in the same place, ready and waiting to enter battle arenas where they can fight each other. Gandalf, Bilbo, Legolas, Arathorn, Galadriel, Gollum and even Sauron himself are part of the 25+ characters available to play.
If youíre new to MOBAs itís probably worth explaining exactly what they involve, or at least what this one involves. The basic idea is that two teams of five players each try to break through their opponents defenses and destroy their towers while defending their own. The game map comes in two forms; one-lane and three-lanes. The one-lane map is basically a single corridor with each teamís tower at the end, while the three-lane map is bigger and has more towers. While teams are comprised of five players each both teams auto-spawn soldiers from their barracks every minute or so to help repel enemy attacks.
When a battle is complete youíre rewarded with in-game currency that can be used to buy potions, gems and relics. Potions can be used any time during battle to give a once-off boost. Relics and gems can be used together or separately to provide passive boosts during battles. Relics are placed in your belt, taking up between 2 and 4 slots they provide bonuses to your attack, finesse (movement speed and immunities), hardiness and utility (shorter cooldowns, experience buffs). Gems can be placed into relics to unlock the relic bonus, or they can be placed into the belt directly. Potions, gems and relics are also given as rewards for your performance in battle.
The third game mode is Elite Battlegrounds, which always involves 5 players vs 5 players, with no AI-controlled guardians Ė matchmaking waits for ten players, no matter how long it takes. Battle rewards are highest in this mode, and without doubt Elite Battlefields offers the stiffest challenge in the game.
If you have friends you can join a game as a party, which theoretically places everyone in the party on the same team. I say theoretically because many people complain that theyíre dropped from their party before games even begin.
As a wholly multiplayer game so much of the fun in the game is dependent on other people. When you play with people that know whatís going on battles become intense, gripping affairs. If you play with (or against) people who donít know the ins and outs of the game battles are usually very one-sided. Team-work is crucial to your overall success in Elite Battlefields matches, which is as it should be. Unfortunately, for a number of reasons, Guardians of Middle-earth fails to deliver a rewarding multiplayer experience.
Two other, smaller, issues that inhibit solid team work are the inability to communicate with other players without a headset and the small mini-map. Not being able to ask a friend to come and help you eliminate a weak link is frustrating, and some very basic on-screen words would be handy. Similarly the small mini-map makes it hard to tell exactly what is going on in other areas, and whether your help is needed. You canít increase the size of the map either, so youíre stuck with it just the way it is.
Visually Guardians of Middle-Earth is solid but not spectacular. Guardians do look like their movie counterparts, but they are quite small. Any time you launch an attack or consider using an ability an on-screen display shows the range of the attack. This works well for the most part, but when battles get congested, as they often do, it can be difficult to spot your attack area among everyone elseís. The game would definitely benefit from a few more environments; at the moment there is only one or two in the game, and they get old pretty quick. The opening cinematic looks awesome, and is well worth a mention here.
Guardians of Middle-Earth does a credible job bringing the MOBA genre to consoles, but itís currently let down by the small number of players and some significant online issues, such as lag, parties being split up and players being dropped from games entirely. At its best Guardians of Middle-Earth offers frantic and engrossing battles, but unfortunately these battles are too few and far between.
Review By: Mike Allison