WB staff must have landed in LA with a giant grin on their faces. Lollipop Chainsaw rolls out next week, LEGO Lord of the Rings is on track for this fall, Injustice: Gods Among Us took the gaming world by surprise and after announcing Guardians of Middle-Earth only a week ago, a fully playable build was available on the E3 show floor. Moreover, it was set up competitive gaming style with the teams of five facing each other, color commentary and a giant display for passersby to check out the action. The game fulfills its promise of a traditional MOBA (Massive Online Battle Arena) experience on consoles, and does so with an intuitive control scheme and intensely competitive play.
For the incredulous DOTA and League of Legends fans, if you can get over using a controller, you might find a new twist on the genre you adore. For those that aren’t familiar with these games (also called action real time strategies), instead of controlling huge armies, you’re responsible for one character (called Guardians in this title). The goal is to destroy the enemy base, but along the way, you’ll encounter devastating towers that will destroy you in only a few hits.
To combat and take them down, you’ll need to use your continuously spawning grunts as meat shields while you assault the turret. The towers scale over the game, so they are just as much a threat as you level up and grow in power later as they are up front.
The games are currently 15-minutes in length, but that default could change before the game is released. With five players on each side, the action is frantic. You’ll need to take down towers and kill opposing Guardians to level up, enhance your activated abilities and increase your team score. The side with more points at the end of time, assuming neither base has been destroyed, wins.
When we spoke with Jason Olander, a senior designer at Monolith, we inquired about the conversion of control schemes to a gamepad.
“The controls worked out better than we thought. We’ve got two schemes, for beginners and advanced players.”
I was impressed with how comfortable the Xbox 360 controller worked. The left thumbstick handled movement, with the right responsible for targeting Legolas’ arrows. Right trigger is default attack, with the four upgradable skills handled by the face buttons. Left bumper activates one of two toggled defensive maneuvers and the Dpad is used for a consumable potion.
The game will launch with at least two maps. Typically, these have three lanes with multiple crossings. The second map we received confirmation on plays upon a “gentleman’s agreement” mode that some gamers play. In these, players agree to only use the center lane. Olander told us that the single-lane map is pure mayhem and a lot of fun.
In just one match, it’s hard to get a handle on all the intricacies of even one character, which means that there is plenty of reason to play and refine tactics. With over 20 guardians available at launch, and to be added alongside Peter Jackson’s Hobbit film, fans of the genre and the Lord of the Rings film trilogy have a lot of replay value to look forward to.
For those that will be experiencing their first real MOBA in Guardians of Middle-Earth, it wouldn’t hurt to familiarize yourself with how they are played in advance. On the consoles now, both Monday Night Combat and Awesomenauts offer enough to get the gist of the gameplay, even if they are different spins.
Guardians of Middle-Earth will be released later this year for Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network. When asked about the price point, we were told that the title is fully featured (which means all the guardians will be available in the purchase price rather than with via the free-to-play League of Legends rotating legends model. It should settle out at a price that “meets our expectation for downloadable titles.” We’re interpreting that as $15 with the possibility of $20 given the license. It’s about time that console players had a real MOBA, and this is great way to get them hooked.