Guardians of Middle-earth Review

Though server lag and disconnects occasionally interfere, Guardians of Middle-earth brings an enjoyable MOBA experience to consoles.

If all you saw were screenshots, you could be forgiven for thinking that Guardians of Middle-earth is some kind of timely Hobbit tie-in with League of Legends, so extensively does it borrow from the popular MOBA's playbook. But thanks to a few significant changes, Guardians manages to stand on its own. For one, it succeeds in adapting the controls and mechanics for consoles, and for another, its timed battles and redesigned upgrades streamline the experience for the sake of fun while sacrificing little of the genre's depth. What's more, a clear love of Tolkien's universe shines through in its 20 guardians and their associated abilities. If it weren't for bouts of crippling lag and frequent disconnects, Guardians of Middle-earth would be a must-have game for anyone who enjoys both multiplayer online battle arenas and the Lord of the Rings franchise.

Limited and full area-of-effect abilities are the rule in Guardians of Middle-earth.
Limited and full area-of-effect abilities are the rule in Guardians of Middle-earth.

Guardians of Middle-earth isn't the first MOBA for consoles, but it's the first that has made great strides at reproducing the depth of popular isometric lane-based MOBAs like League of Legends and Dota 2. The concept is simple in theory: two teams of five players begin on opposite sides of a map, and they advance toward their opponents down three separate lanes with the help of waves of non-player character drones, destroying towers along the way. Destroy your opponent's central tower at his base, and you win the game. The depth lies in the details. In the case of Guardians, you start each match at level 1 and level in health and power toward a meta-level cap of 14, gaining points for your three existing abilities and one devastating "ultimate" ability beginning at level 5. It's a design that lets you get powerful quickly, given Guardians' comparatively low cap.

Guardians of Middle-earth does a fantastic job of reproducing this design, but it brings with it a few innovations of its own, including an intense one-lane map that ditches certain strategic considerations of three-lane maps in favor of exciting tug-of-war battles. It's a pity that the two included maps don't exhibit more aesthetic variations. Middle-earth provides fertile ground for a multitude of settings ranging from the Shire to Mordor, but the game's uninspired stony pathways and charred foliage don't fully evoke the wonder of Tolkien's universe.

In their favor, the maps provide a good number of secondary goals. If you find yourself hard pressed to overcome player-controlled guardians, for instance, you can still hold your own on the scoreboard almost as effectively by focusing your attention on destroying the upgradable enemy towers and soldier spawn points that line each lane. The NPC drones themselves can be upgraded to feature mounted orcs and cave trolls that bash through enemy towers. Guardians' unique shrines add to the excitement, since capturing them bestows powerful buffs that can help turn the tide for a losing team. There's always something to do, and the accessibility keeps matches fun even in the most hopeless of situations.

Too weak for Sauron? Focus on securing shrines instead.
Too weak for Sauron? Focus on securing shrines instead.

That accessibility extends to upgrades. Gone are the usual in-game shops for purchasing new buffs throughout a match; instead, such upgrades take place outside the battlefield in the main menus. With the help of a customizable belt, you use your winnings from matches to buy relics and their associated gems and socket them so that each unlocks incrementally as your guardian battles his or her way to level 14. One relic might grant passive buffs to your ability damage, for instance, while another might grant health regeneration. For more immediate power, you can use your winnings from each round to buy one-use potions that bind to your D-pad. These adjustments don't oversimplify the gameplay, and indeed, the relic system makes it easier to stay focused on the match rather than wasting precious moments in the store.

Removing mid-match shopping wasn't just for the sake of convenience. Every second counts because of Guardians of Middle-earth's comparatively short meta-level cap of 14, and a 20-minute timer rescues most matches from slipping into frustrating slogs. (Rest assured, a ranked "elite" mode without the timer fills the gap if you're into longer skirmishes). Not everything works so well, though. Some of the 20 guardians available at launch are more popular than others, and it's not uncommon to find the trinity of Legolas, Sauron, and the Witch-King filling in most of the five slots for each team. More vulnerable guardians, such as Hildifons the hobbit, end up with less screen time. Additionally, you often face some long waits when attempting to jump in with the quick match option. A two- to five-minute wait is normal, but on occasion, the wait can exceed 20 minutes even when the estimated wait remains at under two minutes.

It's like Helm's Deep all over again.
It's like Helm's Deep all over again.

And then there's the lag. It wasn't such a problem in the first few days after release, but now many battles kick off with crippling frame rates that make you feel like you're watching a slideshow. Sometimes it gets better as the round progresses; sometimes it disconnects you in the middle of a kill streak or--worse yet--when you're whittling down the health of the enemy's base tower. (In Guardians' favor, such disconnects don't trigger the penalty for quitting a match, which limits your ability to use the matchmaker again.) Already there's a discouraging abundance of NPC guardians that fill the gaps when a full team can't be found in the matchmaker, and their AI--while usually serviceable--sometimes fails so spectacularly that two or more of them spend the entire match running back and forth, oblivious to everyone.

Gameplay takes precedence over oversaturating players with Tolkien references. Purists may balk at the sight of Arathorn (Aragorn's father) fighting on the same side as Gollum--there are no “good versus evil” battles--but the abilities themselves and their accompanying sound cues reveal a great love and respect for the source material without waving it around. Take Ori, the dwarven scribe from The Hobbit. Most of his attacks involve vivacious displays of book-based magic, and his giddy voice work makes him a joy to play despite his low survivability. One of Gandalf's most devastating attacks references the wizard's signature fireworks, and the Witch King can call down a fell beast on unsuspecting guardians. Such a diverse range of useful and unique abilities means that Guardians of Middle-earth remains fun from start to finish (provided you can finish, of course), and although there’s still a learning curve, it’s not an egregious one.

Magical circles can be a good place to hang out, or they can herald your doom.
Magical circles can be a good place to hang out, or they can herald your doom.

Even if you don't particularly care for Tolkien, there's a lot to love here in spite of the annoying server issues. It's a promising entry point for newcomers to the MOBA genre, and it plays smoothly enough to satisfy the more hardcore veterans of the genre. Eight more guardians are on the way, and purchasing a pricey season pass (at 1,200 Microsoft points) nets you all eight of them as they are released. As a surprise bonus, its short timed matches and limited meta-levels have so far allowed it to avoid the caustic communities of its cousins while retaining many of the qualities that make them so addicting, making Guardians a smart choice for players seeking a MOBA without the negativity. For now, at least, you still hear sincere exchanges of "Good game" after each round from both winners and losers, and that alone might be enough to make this an unexpected journey worth taking.

The Good
Excellent adaptation of PC MOBA mechanics for consoles
Guardians have pleasing abilities that capture the essence of each character
Timed matches keep battles short and fun
Deep combat and progression
The Bad
Occasional laggy matches, sometimes to the point of unplayability
Matchmaking can take ages
Only two maps with too little visual diversity
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

Leif Johnson (pronounced "Layf") is a freelance writer whose works have appeared on GameSpot, IGN, PC Gamer, Official Xb
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Avatar image for Ripper_TV

It's way to generic.

Avatar image for TemporalP

I cannot stress enough that you should NOT buy this game.

The actual gameplay is pretty good, for a console MOBA it functions mechanically quite well, but you'll never see it. When you very rarely do get a workable game going, it in no way makes up for how completely and utterly broken everything else is.

The matchmaking process takes on average between 10 and 20 minutes for a game to start (I have no idea where they get the 'average wait time' that's displayed while searching for matches, but it's completely wrong). When you're finally paired with 9 other people, 9 times out of 10 someone will drop during the character selection process which often causes the game to hang on that screen, unable to proceed into the match. If you quit out at this point to try again you'll be locked out of matchmaking.

If you do manage to get a game started, there will often be some lag. Sometimes it will be manageable and only cause a constant annoying stuttering until people start inevitable disconnecting/quitting, but most times it will be a crippling slideshow. Even if you're lucky enough to get a game without lag, without a doubt you'll have at least one person disconnect during a game (not kicked, just plain be dropped from the game), running the risk of causing the game to hang in an unrecoverable state of trying to resync until you're forced to quit, at which point you'll once again be locked out of matchmaking. This is only if you don't have someone outright ragequit during a game, often causing a cascade of everyone else quitting. Now you're back to waiting another 15+ minutes for a game once your lockout clears.

The game has been plagued with game breaking problems since it launched, and none of them have been acknowledged or addressed. They have however gone ahead and created/released an entire separate game mode, and close to 10 characters to buy along with an entire map re-skin. Lovely.

In addition to this, apparently Xbox versions have been plagued with a glitch where users will be forced into 'gold mode', essentially a trial version with no dlc, no updates, and can only play with other users that are in gold mode as well.

Don't waste your money on this, and don't support developers that care much more about milking money out of you than providing a product they can be proud of.

Avatar image for kyleyacko

for a console MOBA, don't think the actual game part of this game could be done any better.

that being said..

don't buy this game. don't play it with a lot of high expectations either. the terrible network is entirely game-breaking. you will not be able to get a decent game +75% of the time. people leave every single game, which might not be that big of a deal to you, but when they do, there's a 50/50 chance it will crash the entire game for everyone. you will spend an entire evening waiting 10-15 minutes for a game that goes for a few minutes til the first person gets killed and decides to leave, either crashing the game or triggering a cascade of everyone leaving. over 50% of the time someone lags out in the first 10 seconds. want to just play with your friends? well, you can make a party so the network can haphazardly place you in a game that may or may not have more than 1 slot in it, separating you from your party, or putting you on opposite teams. that might be ok, but you have to wait til the game starts to actually see the names of the people on the other team, then oops they're actually not in the game at all, causing even more people to leave games that already started. oh and you know that person who just tower dives over and over? wellp, nothin you can do about it, no voting system. good thing you waited 15 minutes for a game! i could go on. but i have to go throw up.

Avatar image for mtait01

Anyone on Playstation Plus in Europe will get this game in January for free so save your cash!!!!!!!! I am :)

Avatar image for Atheosis

Personally, for the price tag this game is far and away better than a 7.0. Connection issues have been a problem, but to me the map complaint is like complaining about only having one map in a sports game. It's just a playing field upon which a different game takes place every time.

Avatar image for yesjogosonline

Although sometimes the server does not help, and an awesome game for PC, with some fights fast and doing complicated, becomes an enjoyable game in my eyes.

see more at:

Avatar image for AlmityGuitarist

Glad they tried something else, but I think it's ridiculous how much they try to milk Tolkien's books. Every movie is released with a game, this time around it was only one book but they still found a way to split it into three movies/games.

Avatar image for HADES2001

i was really looking forward to this game but since there isnt gonna be a DVD release for the xbox in the netherlands screw them ill just play some more LoL

Avatar image for y3ivan

@HADES2001 its an arcade title at $15. Retail release is going to be more that $30. Noone is going to pay more that $15 for a game like this

Avatar image for HADES2001

@y3ivan i am i am a collector i have more then 600 games for the 360 in retail box. USA got a retail box i want a retail box.

Avatar image for alien33

@HADES2001 @y3ivan

Europe has a rerail box too. At least Greece has

Avatar image for jakerscythe

I must be getting out of touch, I have NO idea what a MOBA is.

Avatar image for BrutalPandaX2

@jakerscythe it's not as special as it sounds. MOBA experience lol the reviewer is trying to milk it

Avatar image for HADES2001


Multiplayer Online Battle Arena its like League of Legends HotN and DotA

Avatar image for DreamorDie

@HADES2001 Providing more acronyms are we? lol

Avatar image for Tsuchikage

I saw this on Giant Bomb; looks great! The familiar Lord of the Rings trappings are a great way to introduce me to an unfamiliar genre, and the gameplay itself looks really deep. I need to buy this when I get some money.

Avatar image for Liponade

this game is awesome i'm having a lot of fun playing it, as soon as more people start playing it will kick off

Avatar image for Wensea10

Sure there are only two maps but if more people start playing this game, it can easily become addicting.

Avatar image for realdevilsalias

Never had a laggy match. Although the matchmaking does take forever!

Avatar image for JiGSaW918

@realdevilsalias lucky you!! if i'm in a game with 4 of my other friends, it doesn't lag that bad, but when it's just me-the games I join are horribly laggy

Avatar image for Esotericus

@realdevilsalias Really? I'm impressed. I even played it at a friend's house in a "normal" setting to make sure I wasn't just blowing smoke. (Leif here.)

Guardians of Middle-Earth More Info

  • First Released Dec 4, 2012
    • PC
    • PlayStation 3
    • Xbox 360
    Guardians of Middle-Earth is a mutiplayer online battle arena game that features tie-ins to the film The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
    Average Rating77 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate Guardians of Middle-Earth
    Developed by:
    Monolith Productions
    Published by:
    Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
    MOBA, Strategy
    Content is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language.
    Fantasy Violence