MOBA’s are an expanding genre that is only getting more and more popular as time trudges forward. Due to games like DOTA and League of Legends, there’s really no end in sight for the massive amount of potential this genre possesses. But by far one of the biggest issues for many is the complex and daunting nature of the gameplay. Many people aren’t interested enough to take a deeper look and instead only see videos of the high level play, leading them to think they will never be near the level of the experts so they back off and retreat to their single player experience.
Monolith, developers of the beloved Condemned series, has decided to dip their toes into the MOBA business and attempt to introduce something the genre hasn’t seen before: a simplistic, console focused experience. The first step to achieving this is obviously designing an intelligent and informative tutorial that explains the concepts within a MOBA while also introducing you to the new features that Guardians of Middle-earth originates.
Sadly, Monolith only hit one of those bullet points, introducing the MOBA genre. They guide you into the simple concepts before slowly introducing the more complex aspects of a MOBA, such as towers, creatures, etc. While explaining the complex genre is a big plus, Monolith still stumbled on introducing their individual features such as the relics and gems system. There was no explanation for what these parts of your character accomplished and that forced me into banging my head against the menu screens until I finally understood at least partially why they exist. Despite that stumble, it’s still quite the achievement that Monolith managed to compress a deep genre into one twenty minute tutorial.
Once you’re in a game that is where Monolith’s true work begins to shine. It’s clear the amount of effort they put into rounding out each corner of their well-crafted experience. Granted, it is still a MOBA, using many of the standard MOBA concepts such as lanes, but the real marvel is how well the experience translates onto a gamepad. With some intelligent use of the triggers and face buttons, Monolith made Guardians of Middle-earth feel flawless on the console. It’s becoming more and more clear that this genre will not be relegated only to the PC for much longer.
One nice addition that comes with Guardians of Middle-earth is the one lane mode. In your typical match, you would have two teams marching towards one another, splitting across three lanes and destroying apposing towers as they march onwards. This obviously spreads out the action, making things much more strategic in where your player characters should attack. But in the aforementioned one lane mode, all five players are fighting in one lane, creating a hectic back and forth power struggle until one team finally gives out. This is a great addition into the genre because it manages to remove the strategy concept that some may find a tad scary to jump into. Also, the pure havoc that happens when all players meet in one lane is something that glues your eyes on the screen up until the last tower has fallen.
Any time a game is both multiplayer focused and console based, you instantly have to worry about whether or not connectivity will hold up in the long run. This is when an otherwise fantastic experience in Guardians of Middle-earth begins to crumple apart. It all starts with the horrible connection times, which, when lucky, will only take three minutes to get through. On its worst days, however, you can expect upwards of an eight minute long wait before you finally connect. One of the best modes in Guardians is the Elite Battlegrounds mode, a standard three lane game that guarantees all guardians will be actual players instead of AI bots. But, every time I’ve loaded up this mode it has taken around eleven minutes to get a game going. Of course, minus the one time I was extremely lucky and managed to connect in only seven minutes.
This issue would be easy to overlook if the actual in game combat didn’t have any connectivity issues. As you can probably guess, that is not the case. Let’s say you manage to get an Elite Battleground game going, I can almost guarantee you that half the players in the game will disconnect before the end of the match. Whether that is due to them manually quitting or just server issues is beyond me, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating in the long run. I ran into multiple games where my team was on a roll, about to destroy the last tower before we attack their base, and out of nowhere two of my players disconnect and we’re quickly out manned, something that is near impossible to overcome in a MOBA.
I’ve yet to mention the most frustrating aspect which is when you’re booted from a game entirely, forcing you to lose all progress you made, no matter how far you were into the game. By booted I don’t mean kicked by the host, I mean somehow, someway, you lost connection and must now start the eight minute wait for another game all over again. Most games take upwards of twenty minutes to complete, you can imagine the frustrations that come with playing fifteen minutes and immediately having It erased for an unknown reason. Unfortunately, that isn’t a problem that appears once in every ten games as it happened in almost half of the games I took part in.
I really wanted to love Guardians of Middle-earth. I’m far from a MOBA expert and thought that maybe this could be my stepping stone into the genre. It definitely was that as after spending hours within this world, I can’t wait to step out and check out other games like the widely loved League of Legends. But in the end, Guardians of Middle-earth could have been so much more than it was. With improved connectivity and servers, it could have been a MOBA that would live on for a year or so as the approachable but deep experience that brought the community together. Instead, it is no more than a stepping stone into bigger, more technically thought out experiences.
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