06 February 2013

Guardians of Middle Earth

Picked up Guardians of Middle Earth today, since it's free for those blessed subscribers of PS+. From what I understand, it's a Tolkien-themed "MOBA", which is cool. Wander back and forth an arena vaguely reminiscent of your standard fantasy landscape, beating down endlessly spawning hordes of goons while your enemies do the same. Sounds like a decent way to spend an hour or so.

Just a couple of things before I begin, though. One, MOBA is not the name for a genre, and anybody you've ever heard using it needs to stop. Seriously, it really needs to stop. This type of game is, according to your preference, either an action-RTS, an AoS (short for Aeon of Strife, one of the more popular custom maps in Warcraft III), or a dota clone. You're not allowed to make up genre names because you don't like the ones you've got. Metal Gear Solid claims to be "Tactical Espionage Action" but it's got a genre: Third Person Stealth. So fuck League of Legends for making up the worst genre name ever. Really? Multiplayer Online Battle Arena? Come the fuck on.

Anyways, Guardians of Middle Earth is a fairly standard DotA clone, with a couple of neat twists that I'm really enjoying so far.

First, and least important, is the grouping of the heroes into useful "Tactician, Warrior, Enchanter, Defender, Striker" instead of the tired "DPS, Healer, and Tank." But Nick, you might say, aren't they the same thing? Count again, my friend, and grab a seat while I explain.

Tacticians are a sort of supporty DPS. They have a lot of variety in what they do and how they fight. For example, Gothmog wants to utilize his seige equipment (catapult, battering ram) to smash his enemies. And he's got a bigass morning star to really bring the hurt. But Nori is more of a team player, buffing up his enemies with his abilities and debuffing his foes. He doesn't do much on his own. Felgrom is a tactician, too, but he's more of a direct "Let me explode everything" kind of guy. Using his abilities takes tactics because you'll kill yourself otherwise.

Enchanters, they're really more spellcasters than anything. You have Gandalf's generally melee-ranged buffs and debuffs, Lugbol's fiery effects, Ori's close-ranged lorecraft. They like to be casting spells and have generally poor melee abilities. Again, generally. Where Agandur has a pitiful strike, Gandalf's sword and staff are actually fairly good.

Strikers are your regular damage-dealing fighter chaps. Bilbo Baggins, Haldir, Gollum, and Legolas make appearances here. They're pretty straight-forward; they want to surprise you and then make you into a pincushion.

Warriors are incredibly variable and make up the largest category, being everything from Thrain's hammerfest to Ugluk's gentle ministrations of whip and sword. This is kind of the catch-all category for heroes, but I think it's fun. They all play extremely differently.

Defenders are like Warriors but they heal, usually. Highlights include the Witch King, and the Great Goblin.

Anyways, all of the heroes have a great art style. It looks a lot like the movies- thankfully more like the latest Hobbit movie than the 2000 Lord of the Rings trilogy. Check it out: Gandalf looks like Sir Ian McClellan, and Legolas looks like Orlando Bloom. Arathorn looks kind of like Viggo Mortensen, which is weird but it would be his in-character dad (I kind of look like mine, too) and also Viggo kind of looks like a regular dude anyways so that's fine. A land of Mortensens sounds reasonable enough. The Great Goblin is directly from the movie, which is really awesome and the Witch King is too, but it's done in such a way that everything kind of fits together. The bad guys are bright and colorful and mean looking, and the good guys are wearing vibrant golds and greens and everything looks great, even when scaled down massively to get everything on the screen. I actually wish that more guys from the movie were here, like that metal-handed dude that rode the wolf everywhere. You know what I'm talking about, you saw that movie.

Moving is left stick and aiming is right stick.It's really quite easy to use, and means that you hardly notice the lack of mouse and keyboard. Your ranges are shown clearly, and the weapons have a bit of AoE to them, meaning that you can cleave hordes of baddies with your weapon if you angle it right. It's extremely satisfying and it makes you wonder why it hasn't been done before.
The rest of the controls are similarly obvious, with shoulder buttons to smack people around, or use "commands" (read: summoner spells from LoL) and the face buttons use your spells. The minimap is kind of hard to make out,  but serviceable and the spell effects are actually pretty subtle. I really dig it, I can't lie, and the little touches like the scrollwork on the targetting circle and the stylized arrow symbol for the towers shooting is kind of fun. The bushes, while a little silly, are much less silly than in the obvious inspiration, League of Legends, since they're put in places that make sense and it's really more of a thicket than knee-high brush. If you gave me some shubbery roughly seven feet tall, I bet I'd be a bit hard to spot as well.

The towers are upgradeable and so are the barracks, and with the complete lack of money that means the only thing you lose is time and also the irritation of having to go back now and again to re-do them if somebody changes them or you level. Oh, right, did I mention that there was no money? There is a complete lack of that, which is actually really good in terms of play. Farming is important only for experience, and there's no double-dipping if you kill somebody. You slay somebody, you get experience and they have to wait to respawn and then run back. It means that there's always the possibility of coming back if you're careful and if you play well.

Matches are short and about as soon as they start to drag, they're pretty much over. I think that the monsters and shrines really help. If you've got nothing better to do, you can go beat up a beastie, get a boatload of experience, and be stronger. Or you can capture a shrine, to make the fight in that lane go a little easier.

Now the downsides. The servers are apparently pretty slow; I thought it was just my connection, but on the forums there are numerous complaints about it as well, so keep that in mind. In my time playing, I've already been dropped three times.

Additionally, there aren't very many heroes around- not really a problem, since the ones that exist are so well designed, EXCEPT there are micro-transactions. So if you aren't willing to pay money (and an admittedly smallish amount at $2 per hero, but still, c'mon), you're locked out of half of the heroes. The Great Goblin, for example, and Bilbo Baggins. I can't imagine what they were thinking. I know it's not exactly a competitive game, but flat out disallowing heroes for no real reason is really annoying. Just make them really expensive and then give me the option of real-money unlocks, at the very least. I don't mind making 1.5 Middle Earth Bux per hour, because I'm playing anyways. I'd play if I wasn't getting "paid," because that's what you do when you like a game. But don't make me unlock gems and heroes and everything else and then go "oh yeah, by the way, you have to pay me for these ones." No, fuck you.

Seriously, the amount of unlockable things is a little silly. In another obvious "inspiration" from League of Legends, they've decided to let you customize your hero with Gems or Commands or potions that (you guessed it) get bought with the same money that you're trying to unlock new heroes with. I don't really mind, since at least this time you're actually able to unlock them with the money you get for playing the game, but it is, again, kind of annoying.

But, in case you can't tell, I'm kind of grasping at the periphery of the game here. The game itself is polished, fun, and really pretty. It was free for me (and for you too, if you have PS+), but normally it's $15 on the Playstation Store. If you have the XBox for some reason, I guess that's like 15 million MS Points or whatever. You do the math.

But I am recommending it. It's as good as you thought it was going to be. Maybe actually better.

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