Guardians of Middle Earth (XBLA) Review

I remember seeing a trailer for Guardians of Middle Earth and thought that it looked pretty cool and could be another Lord of the Rings game would be a lot of fun to play.  What I assumed was an action adventure game turned out to be something called a MOBA which stands for Multiplayer Online Battle Arena.  It is a genre that I have not played at all before and in all honesty didn’t know much about.  Regardless, being that Battle for Middle Earth was a Lord of the Rings based game, and I still got to participate in battles, it thought couldn’t be all bad, so I jumped in and started my fray into Middle Earth.

First off, for those who don’t know what a MOBA based title is, I can best describe it as a combination of part Real Time Strategy, with all of the building, training troops, researching, etc. all stripped out of the gameplay, combined with action/adventure elements that allow you to control one character on the battlefield.  In the case of Guardians of Middle Earth you take on the roles of the iconic characters from Middle Earth like Gandalf, Legolas, Bilbo, Gollum and the Witch King.  The gameplay is really quite simple but it gets a bit more complicated with the character classes, rank, and how you level the character in game as it utilizes the rank to affect your characters within the battles.  There are five classes available which include the following:

  • Enchanter – Essentially the mage class of the game.  Enchanters have lower health and weaker defense but can deal a lot of damage quickly through an array of spells.  Gandalf is a great example of an Enchanter.
  • Defender – Somewhat like a Paladin, Defenders are designed to take some damage while distracting the enemy so your teammates can deal damage to your foes.  With that in mind they usually have some abilities to heal or increase their defense.
  • Warrior – A fairly simple class who deals a good amount of damage.  They also have decent defense so they can easily be utilized as a shield for others while dealing out a good amount of damage to be effective.
  • Striker – Legolas is an iconic character that is a Striker who I loosely consider a Ranger for all intents and purposes.  Strikers are adept at stealth, moving quickly and teleporting around as well.  They deal deadly damage quickly and fiercely but often have to resort  hit and run tactics due to their overall low health.  The Striker is by far one of my favourite classes available in Guardians of Middle Earth.
  • Tactician – The Tactician is your General in battle.  They focus on controlling the flow of the battle by creating traps and turrets on the playing field to secure control points.  They tend to have high health and often are key to a great team winning the game.

Participating in battles allows you to earn experience towards your overall rank which in turn unlocks the ability to use loadouts as well as use gems, commands and potions.  Loadouts are a good way to add some customization to your character and to give you a little bit of an edge when it comes to the battle.  Each player can unlock a gem belt, which has a total of seven slots that can be filled with a variety of gems to increase attributes such as health, damage, defense, speed, etc.  You can also fill these slots with relics.  Relics are like gems, but they give your character a bonus ability while still allowing you to slot gems within the relics.  In essence relics are a gem within a gem that allows more buffs to your character. Finally, there are commands and potions; for the most part these function the same way as each other except commands will recharge and potions are one time use.  Commands are like your abilities in the game but usually have game changing effects.  For example, you can have the command to heal yourself to almost full health instantly but this command has a long recharge time after you use the ability.  Potions on the other hand can do the same thing, or darn near close, as commands but once you use it you lose it.

Now one thing that immediately made this game frustrating to me is to play a game online, which is what this title is all about, I had to enter a game matching system that says the average connection time is around 1 minute 30 seconds, but in reality there were times I ended up waiting upwards to 10 minutes just to connect to a game.  This is primarily due to the fact that you need at least five human players to play against five computer AI players (bots) and 10 human players to play five versus five.  The only other way I could play with computer AI (bots) was to make a custom match where I played on my own which barely earns you any experience at all towards your rank which, as mentioned, unlocks more loadouts, commands and potions.

When I did get to play a match it was a lot of fun and I enjoyed the experience of battling out in Middle Earth.  The simple approach of having soldiers spawn automatically while I got to run around just slaughtering everything I could possibly get my hands on was a more mind-relaxing gaming experience as opposed to playing a full-fledged RTS game where focus and concentration need is high.  As I slaughtered my foes I earned experience which would level up my character.  This is not to be confused with ranking up as the ‘levels’ you earn only last the duration of the match.  When you level you earn a power point, which allows you to make one of your three starting powers stronger, or as you continue to level you can eventually unlock your fourth and final power.  Each character is capped out at level 14 but when you do level up it starts activating the ability to upgrade your training facilities and your various towers where you can train better troops, become stronger offensively, or use the tower as a healing facility.

In regards to the gameplay, it is fairly simple which is a great selling point for gamers who have been interested in RTS games but don’t have the time to put into the learning curve of the genre.  Guardians of Middle Earth is definitely a great middle ground (editor’s note: pun not intended) for these types of players; however, the atrocious lobby times is something that should be fixed, be it by substituting non-players with computer controlled AI (bots) after a certain time limit to ensure that players can play a little bit faster.

In regards to the game’s visuals, I was disappointed as they are not as lush and vibrant as the trailer portrays; I was really hoping for grandiose Middle Earth experience.  In the end I was left with adequate graphics that did not wow but were functional at best.  The backgrounds were the high point with great shadowing as they portrayed each battle arena quite well, but the overall feeling for the whole visual package was bland.  The characters were a bit easier to make out but that was mostly due to the clothing they wore or the colour of their skin.  The opposing soldiers on the other hand are barely noticeable and pretty much appear like lemmings marching to their deaths.  With the growth in downloadable/arcade-like gaming, gamers have come to expect top-notch graphics even in this format and Guardians of Middle Earth has fallen short of those expectations.

Like the graphics the sound and music is not spectacular but they manage to do the job they were set out to do by creating an ambiance of heroes at war with screams of death, arrows flying through the air or weapons crashing into enemy towers.  The music is mainly a staple to the menus and the much hated loading screen for getting into a match, but it was quite fitting for the fantasy genre that Guardians of Middle Earth takes place in

Although Guardians of Middle Earth’s gameplay can be enjoyable, and it does an admirable job of bringing those who play it into realm of the game’s locale, the long loading times, lacklustre sound, and “at-best-average” graphics really bring down the whole experience to that of a mediocre title that could have been much better.  In the end fans fan of The Lord of the Rings may enjoy some of the game’s elements, but overall most gamers out there will find too much frustration to fully get all the gaming pleasure they may be looking for from it.

The Good


The Bad