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Jan 8 2013
Guardians of Middle-Earth - PS3 Review
Release Launch Price Publisher Developer Offline Players Online Players
5/12/2012$AU29.95WB GamesMonolith Productions12-10
Media HDD Space Resolution Move Controls Tilt Controls OFLC Rating

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Guardians of Middle-Earth is out now.
Just like Futuregamez itself I stick to PS3 games almost exclusively, with nary an Xbox or PC game in sight, and just the odd Wii game to break up my Sony fanboy tendencies. With that said even I have heard of League of Legends, probably the biggest MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) game in the world. Unbelievably the League of Legends final was watched by 8.2 million unique viewers back in October, so you can see why other companies are keen to jump on the MOBA bandwagon. Guardians of Middle-Earth represents the first MOBA brought to the PS3 Ė is it worth picking up to see what all the MOBA fuss is about? Read on...

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.

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The game has a large multiplayer focus...
You start every battle at level one, but you level up quickly by defeating enemy soldiers and, where possible, guardians and towers. Each guardian (that is, a player-controlled character) has four skills, handily mapped to the face buttons, and you can upgrade one of these every time you go up a level. Skills max out at level four and guardians max out at level fourteen. When you hit levels 6, 9 and 12 you also unlock powerful commands for use, as well as the ability to upgrade your towers and barracks. Commands do things like heal, give you temporary stat boosts or unleash huge attacks. They have a long cooldown though, so you should use them wisely.

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.

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...but there are currently few online gamers.
There are three game modes, though the only difference between the three is the number of human-controlled players. Skirmish is a good place for new players to start because itís 5 players vs 5 AI-controlled guardians. Your experience and battle rewards are lowest in Skirmish however. Next up is Battlegrounds which is 5 players vs 5 players, but if matchmaking is taking too long (anything over three minutes in my experience) empty slots are filled with AI-characters.

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.

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Graphics are solid, not spectaular.
First off there are a number of significant online issues with the game. In games with many human players there is usually a high amount of lag, often resulting in one or more players being dropped from the game. Player dropouts are commonplace, even when the game seems to be running smoothly. The biggest problem though, is the lack of players, which will have you waiting upwards of thirty minutes to get into an Elite Battlefield match. Perhaps recognizing this, the game is now free to PS+ members via the Playstation Store, so hopefully player numbers improve significantly soon.

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.

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Playstation Plus subscribers can get the game free!
As far as sound goes, there isnít a whole lot to the game. There are sound effects for every attack and ability, and theyíre all quite suitable. Thereís a little bit of voice-work in the game, mostly during the tutorial, and its fine. Guardians do say things during battle occasionally, especially when theyíre revived, but none of it is earth-shattering stuff. Thereís not much music , which is a little surprising, but whatís there is ok.

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

GRAPHICSEverything looks fine, but thereís nothing special here outside of the opening cinematic.
SOUNDThe sound effects are solid throughout. There isnít much music, but whatís here is suitable.
GAMEPLAYAt its best it can be great fun, but these battles are punctuated by excessively long wait times, high lag and players being dropped from games, none of which is ideal in an online game.
VALUEJust the one game mode, though there are three ways to play it. Itís $30 on PSN (or free if youíre a PS+ member), and at that price itís not too bad.
OVERALLThereís potential here, and if the community grows and online performance improves there is hope for the game yet. Currently though, the technical problems overshadow the game.

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