The MOBA (Massive Online Battle Arena) genre has been growing at alarming rates these past couple years, largely due to the popularity of DotA and then the explosion of League of Legends into the E-Sports space. Games like Heroes of Newerth, Bloodline Champions, DotA 2, and SMITE have flooded the PC market and attempted to snatch their piece of the money pie. Some have had more success than others, but they’re all proof that the genre is only growing stronger, and not going away anytime soon.
While PC gamers have been on the receiving end of this onslaught, console fans have been largely left out in the cold. With the exception of Awesomenauts, we haven’t really seen any controller-based MOBAs up until this points. That is, until the recent release of Tolkein-inspired Guardians of Middle Earth. With it, developer Monolith Productions has taken a huge gamble banking on the success of a console MOBA, and it’s one that just might work out for them.
Those familiar with League of Legends will feel right at home in Guardians. Just like in the former, GoME is set up on either a 1 lane or 3 lane map, with two 5 person teams pitted against each other. These lanes have a jungle on each side which you can travel through to get from lane to lane, or kill certain NPCs to gain a buff. There are also bushes to hide in to make a sneak attack on the enemy. While you’re in there, it’s a good idea to capture one of up to five shrines to give your team a regeneration buff. This stacks for each shrine that your team holds, which is a very interesting concept that can really turn the tide of the battle.
Victory of each match is achieved by destroying your opponents and their towers, and eventually the centerpiece of their base. This is not an easy feat though. In lieu of any currency during the matches, since it probably wouldn’t work well on a console to deal with an item shop, Monolith made the decision to make the structures in the game upgradable instead. What this means is, that as the game progresses and players gain levels, they are able to actually make each tower stronger, so it either heals those around it, or deals increased damage. The same goes with your three “barracks” –one for each lane– which when upgraded, increases the size and strength of your minion force, who are companion NPCs that keep pushing down their designated paths towards the enemy base.
After each match, you are awarded experience and coins, based on your performance and goals reached during the match. There are too many to go over here, but whenever you reach certain achievements you unlock bonus XP, money, and extra items. The experience points level up your account, just like in LoL. As your account gains levels you are able to open up more loadout and potions slots. Also like League, each loadout allows you to equip relics, which buff your in-game abilities, and fill them with gems which also give you perks. These are strengtheners such as extra ability power, attack speed, and regeneration.
You buy these relics and gems using the currency you gain from the matches. Depending on the size of the relic, the price is different, and the same goes for the strength and type of gems you socket them with. Coins can also be used to purchase extra potions, which are almost a necessity during higher ranked matches, and also to unlock more champions. You start out with a few champions unlocked, and then a few more are available to play for free on a rotating basis. If you find one you like, and you don’t own it, you can unlock it with 5,000 coins and it will be available on your account permanently.
Monolith has also released a Season Pass available through the store that you can purchase for MS Points or Wallet Balance depending on your system of choice, and this unlocks 8 additional characters throughout the coming months for free. Considering how easy it is to throw down money on a good MOBA, the pricing is actually done very well and I trust they will keep everything reasonable in the future. As far as structure and gameplay goes, I would say that Guardians is one of the best MOBAs I have ever played, and they were able to convert the genre to home consoles beautifully.
Even though I’ve had a lot of good things to say about the game, it is not without its issues. One of the major pet peeves of mine is being in some sort of competitive match and being disconnected. It’s bad enough when this could result in a death and possibly hurt your team a bit, but at least with other MOBAs I’ve played, I’m usually able to connect right back in if I somehow get dropped. That is not the case with GoME. If you get disconnected for any reason, which unfortunately happens about 25-30% of the time right now, it puts you back at the game’s home screen with no ability to join back in. You’re out of the game and your team is now down a player.
This is a horrible design flaw on the part of the developers, and is almost game-breaking. It was getting so bad at one point, that I had my ISP test my connection to make sure that it wasn’t me losing internet connection. I don’t have issues playing any other games like Halo 4, Castle Crashers, League of Legends, or World of Warcraft, but I am constantly disconnecting from games in Guardians. On top of that, I would say another 40% of the games I don’t get disconnected from, have horrid lag, sometimes making it almost unplayable. It would seem that the other players suffer from it as well, as all of our reaction times are atrocious when it happens.
From what I’ve been researching, these problems are being addressed, but it’s something that needs to happen sooner, rather than later, or they risk losing a great deal of players. With how smoothly other multiplayer games function with zero to limited interruption, it’s inexcusable for network problems of this magnitude to exist in such a high caliber product. The gameplay is fantastic and the theme so ripe for the picking on consoles, that it’s a shame that this problem even exists.
Because of the connection issues for a game that relies so much on teamwork and reliability, I had to bring down the score of the game. As of right now, I have to give it a 3/5 due completely to the fact that you cannot compete seriously if you cannot stay connected, and that is what this game is all about. If it wasn’t for that, this game would have earned my very first 5/5 for a game here on Vagary.
The game is still worth the purchase if you’re a fan of MOBAs, and is one of my top 10 games of the year for what it is trying to do. Monolith did a fantastic job bringing Middle Earth into a whole new arena (pun totally intended), and I hope that they are able to resolve the outstanding issues and continue growing this game for the years to come. I know I will be playing it for a long, long time.
This review was conducted on the XBox 360 version of the game, with a copy supplied by the publisher.