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Guardian’s of Middle Earth Review (PC) – Mount Doom Shovelware

"Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me" as the saying goes.  Occasionally a developer pumps out a product that is unacceptable by today's standards and it's not due to budget limitations or the size of the dev team. It's due to laziness.  Last December, Monolith released their brand new MOBA game, Guardian's of Middle Earth for PS3 and Xbox 360.  This was one of the first legitimate MOBAs for consoles, and they did an admirable job of translating the control scheme to a controller and allowing it to appeal to the hardcore and casual crowds of the genre.  The problems came with the technical issues, and lacking any sort of heart. Neither of those things have been fixed for this port.  In fact, being on PC has only compounded these technical problems further. 

Guardians is a MOBA through and through.  It features a deep combat and progression system, and a wide array of selectable characters from the Lord of the Rings universe.  It's frantic, fun, but a bit souless.  The game nails the look and sound of Lord of the Rings.  Character abilities flash with grandiose and flair leading to the occasional fireworks display that are the teamfights that MOBAs are known for and the sword clanging and shield clashing is very high fantasy-esque.  The environments themselves are a bit bland however, though the game does attempt to shake up the visuals by utilizing different themed backgrounds.  Character models are fantastic as are the animations that accompany them.  Voice-acting is great, but none of the actors from the films reprise their roles.  The music is equally fantastic and fitting.

The biggest problems with GoME lie with the baffling design choices. The UI specifically is a mess.  It's unresponsive with a mouse and keyboard, there's an awful lot of latency between attacks and button presses, and it refuses to inform the player of important aspects of the game.  For example, on the map there are "relics".  Relics give stat bonuses like health regeneration, but the game doesn't let you know which one's are stacking with other relics, or if they are even active, because some stackable relics don't even work.  Conveyance is a crucial part of teaching a player a MOBA's rules and GoME doesn't seem to understand this.  When the game isn't lagging, which isn't very often, the gameplay is solid, good fun.  Character are a blast to use and the abilities given to them are very much in their respective character.  The game also makes the player experiment with different characters to complete challenges for faster gold gain to purchase new heroes.  It's an intelligent system and it works in the game's favor.  The problem is that the experience is almost always hampered by connectivity issues.  This was a major issue with the console game, and why they didn't choose to fix it is beyond me.

The "Belt" system that you create outside of the match that the game has in place creates a great meta-game of sorts.  There are no purchasable items in a match, rather you have gems that become active as the game progresses, taking on the role of items.  The game though doesn't let you know which of the gems are active when you mouse-over it in game.  It gives you visual cues, but the lack of any sort of stat information is baffling.  The game doesn't give any options for key-bindings at all, nor does it allow the player to adjust the graphic settings in any way shape or form.  These issues probably come with it originally being a console port, but you are making a PC game, so key-bindings and graphic settings are second-nature, and frankly elementary.  Maybe when Monolith gave Zombie Studios the rights to create the PC game, they just said "Don't adapt the game to match PC.  Keep the game as is, warts and all."  

If it sounds as if I'm bashing the game to death, it's because I am.  It's so ultimately disappointing, and shameful.  It's almost as if no heart or care went into making what should have been the definitive version of the game, and more than likely, it's because there wasn't.  The game doesn't only have the license going for it.  There is a great MOBA in there somewhere and it features some genuinely good ideas, like the "Belt" system, but the game as a whole is behind the curve.  The UI is clunky and unresponsive, and the game features some of the worst lag I've experienced in years, which is a significant issue when discussing MOBAs.  We've gotten to the point where the polished design of games such as DOTA 2 and League of Legends have become burned into our minds, that it leaves us to take the little things for granted.  I left Guardian's of Middle Earth with a sour taste in my mouth.  It's unnacceptable when compared to MOBA's today and given how over-saturated the genre already is, you either come out in a blaze of glory, or burn into dust and ash in the following months.  Given the status of Guardian's of Middle Earth as of right now, it only becomes increasingly obvious which category it falls under.                                                       



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