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Guardians of Middle-Earth Steam Launch Review

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By Mohammad Abubakr (Abubakr)

The journalists on the OnRPG/MMOHuts team are given the freedom to choose their projects. This means that most of the time I tend to give out positive reviews due to only selecting to write about those games that appeal to myself. I would rather not force myself to sit down and play something I do not see myself enjoying at least a little bit. When I saw Guardians of Middle-Earth in the list of upcoming games, being a fan of Lord of the Rings, I knew I had to give this game a try.

Guardians of Middle-earth is an Action RTS/MOBA type game developed by Zombie Studios and published by Warner Bros. featuring heroes from J.R.R Tolkien’s famous books The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. It is not a free to play game and can be purchased on Steam for $19.99. Similar to Dota 2 and League of Legends, the objective of the game is for each team of five to fight with the overarching goal being the destruction of all enemy structures. Upon destruction of the enemy’s base, your team will come out as victorious. Games are also running on a timer which upon reaching the limit, the team with the most points wins. Of course destruction of the base can result in an auto win regardless of team points. Normally at this point when I am talking about an Action RTS game, I’d go on about the game being much more complicated than it sounds. However, I cannot say exactly the same about Guardians of Middle-earth.

While there is more to the game than simply marching up the three lane map (there is also an optional one lane map) and mowing down enemy towers and structures, it is simply nowhere near as complex as other games of the genre. We do see complexity differences in all games from the Action RTS/MOBA genre but GoME (Guardians of Middle-earth) takes it to a whole new level by taking out major features that defined the genre. I am not one to hate on change, I love companies trying something new, but taking out such massive features to reduce complexity was really a bad move for GoME.

This decision might have made sense for console versions (which do exist) due to the difficulties that are bound to appear from restrictions on controller buttons, but I am really disappointed in the PC version of this game.

My team is ready to begin battle!

In most, if not all popular, Action RTS/MOBA games, there are certain phases throughout each match. The early minutes of a game are spent more passively than others to allow for heroes on opposing sides to compete in lanes for creep kills in order to receive gold. This phase has been completely eliminated in GoME. To some, this sounds great; no more time is wasted on farming and we can simply begin the game in aggression. One would think anyway. It doesn’t exactly play out this way. Towers are still very powerful early on so you are still forced to play semi-passively unless you want to get killed by enemy towers.

There is very little reason to dance around creeps in order to gain the last hit due to creeps not even rewarding gold on death. You simply kill creeps to push the wave and get closer to enemy structures. This really eliminates one of the main reasons for complexity in Action RTS/MOBA games which is deciding on what items would be best for each unique situation. There is simply no shop in GoME so there is no need to worry about purchasing any items. Simply kill creeps, push waves, level up, and decide on which skills to level up.

Skills are also very simplistic. They do not have any mana costs, allowing for them to be spammed at all times. All you need to worry about are the cool downs which are also very short. Basically, the fights take very little thinking due to there being no mana management and low cool downs. This doesn’t mean that skills are just mindlessly spammed, you are still required to aim skills and use them in the correct order to deal optimal damage but skills have been overly simplified from other games of the genre. The controls are also very clunky, resulting in execution being very difficult.

The pro to these design decisions is that action is always going on. There is no need to wait around for strong skills to get off cool down. You simply begin fighting again within seconds. However, I’d rather have a game be more strategic than just mindless combat at all times.

To be honest, the graphics aren’t too bad.

Let us not completely bash the game as there are some elements which are good additions to the genre. For example, aside from mindlessly pushing all three lanes alongside creep waves and fighting the enemy heroes, there are shrines positioned around the map which can be captured to provide buffs to your entire team. These shrines are captured just like a typical control point seen in first person shooters, you must stay on or close to the area until the capture is complete. The shrine’s can decide the outcomes of fights so it is essential to keep these under control. Notifications indicating takeover attempts result in both sides actively positioning themselves to hold these points.

As a substitute to customizing heroes by purchasing items, towers can be upgraded. While this does give some more incentive to stay in lanes and gain experience to gain levels instead of mindlessly running around getting kills, it is not as complex of a system as the item system seen in other games of the genre.

While you may not gain gold inside of the game, you are rewarded with experience (for player level) and gold that can be used to purchase additional items outside of the match. This was one of the main concepts that was a disappointment when it came to game design for GoME. You are already paying for the game, why should you need to grind gold to purchase more content?

Players can purchase relics, gems, and potions with their gold currency to suit their play style. For those familiar with League of Legends, relics and gems are very similar to the rune system. They can give bonuses such as additional attack damage, armor penetration and so on. This is one area where there is a lot of room for customization, but once again you will need to grind out the gold to purchase these. Potions are simply consumables which grant buffs for a limited time and can also be purchased with gold. Alongside potions, there are also additional usable skills (Commands) similar to Summoner Spells in League of Legends but in GoME four skills are allowed to be equipped at a time, only limited by a global cool down.

The above options may not sound so bad, there are lots of buy-to-play games that require you to purchase additional items for stats. However, the problem is that even heroes need to be purchased and unlocked with in game gold! You are only given access to a limited pool at the beginning and must work to unlock the others. There are currently 36 heroes released and you are given access to less than half of that pool without spending gold.

While some heroes (ahem, Guardians) are available, you are still required to purchase others.

Skins may also be purchased to customize your hero’s appearance but these can only be bought with real cash. They come in bundles and are sold as DLC on the Steam Store. These bundles also provide bonus gold currency allowing for those with big wallets to gain an advantage over those unwilling to spend more on the game.

With all these cons clearly outweighing the pros, the Guardians of Middle-earth community is also dead. I’ve only gotten matched against one other player in each of my 5 vs 5 matches. The match making system simply gives up and places you against bots. As many people know, these kinds of games involving PvP are not very enjoyable when playing against artificial intelligence. My opinion of this game may have been slightly better as I would have definitely enjoyed it more if I had been given the chance to play against other players.

Final Verdict: Poor 1/5

In conclusion, Guardians of Middle-earth has been a very disappointing game to play. Seeing characters from some of my favourite books, I was expecting to have a lot of fun razing down buildings with characters such as Gandalf and Thorin but was disappointed with the simplicity of the game. This game is not for those familiar with the Action RTS/MOBA genre as you will instantly miss a lot of the staple features from the genre. For new players to the genre it is a decent game to get used to the camera and controls of Action RTS games but will cause those players to become overwhelmed when jumping into more complex Action RTS games. I do not usually tell gamers to stay away from a game but I am unable to give my recommendation for this game. Save your money and look at other games from this genre such as Dota 2.

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