I recently took part in a developer roundtable discussion hosted by Washington-based developer Monolith Productions in which further information was revealed for their upcoming multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA)-inspired game, Guardians of Middle-earth. Producer Bob Roberts and Senior Producer Ruth Tomandl began the discussion by providing an overview of the game's various classes and then went further into detail regarding how character customization functions through the use of different loadout components. The included guardian characters are a variety of heroes and villains from both The Lord of the Rings
films and books in addition to the upcoming Hobbit
film. With 20 characters at the game's launch, the developers began the discussion by emphasizing that each of the guardians are extremely unique.
The characters are split into five classes including warriors, strikers, enchanters, tacticians, and defenders. Warriors function as the most balanced, versatile, and customizable of the five classes. Striker characters rely heavily on their attacks that slow enemy movement. The enchanter class, which includes Gandalf, has a low amount of health and resistance to basic enemy attacks, but makes up for with abilities that cause great deals of damage. Defenders are support and tank characters that can withstand a lot of damage, yet their attacks aren't that effective. Lastly, tacticans focus on attacks that deal large areas of damage.
Once players select their particular character, further customization is available through the use of three loadout components that include potions, commands, and guardian belts. Potions are one-time use items that affect all aspects of characters such as the regeneration of their health or attack speed. In total, the game features 88 potions that can be purchased with the in-game currency, which is earned from completing matches. Commands function as powerful abilities that are unlocked when characters advance in levels and aren't restricted by particular classes. Some examples included sudden bursts of health and the ability to summon eagles.
The most complex of the loadout components, guardian belts, contain seven lots that can hold both gems and relics. The developers described guardian belts as almost a puzzle matching game in which gems and relics that affect passive character traits can be placed in different orders for multiple results. A warrior for example could alter his character traits of damage ability and resistance in which one would favor over the other. Additional belt slots are unlocked as characters advance in level allowing for placement of particular relics that occupy two to four spots. Both relics and gems can be unlocked through the use of in-game currency. Players can save up to ten loadouts that can be switched before and after matches.
The one topic I was most concerned with was in relation to how user-friendly the gameplay will be for players new to the MOBA genre. The developers assured me that many steps have been taken to provide an accessible experience with pre-made loadouts for beginner players in addition to extensive tutorials and offline matches with bots to assist with the learning process. Even the initial five guardians unlocked from the game's beginning are user-friendly to new players. As well, an in-game glossary of terms is included that covers all of the basic MOBA jargon frequently used by experienced players. If those options weren't enough for beginners, a simple button press anywhere in the menu provides a pop-up screen that displays further helpful information.
Another curiosity I had with the game was in regards to its exclusivity for release on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Since the MOBA genre was born on PC, I was especially curious on why the game was a console exclusive. The developers stated that their primary focus with the game's development was to create an "awesome console experience" that focused heavily on accessible and swift controls that simply weren't possible to replicate with a keyboard and mouse. While I don't completely agree with the reasoning provided by the developers, I'm still interested in ultimately seeing how the MOBA-inspired experience will play on consoles. As well, the developers confirmed that the game would not include any type of real money transactions, except in the case of downloadable content for additional maps and characters. Another concern addressed was in relation to the balancing data of characters, which is being accomplished by updates through a cloud service upon booting the game that completely bypasses Microsoft's and Sony's patching limitations.
The notion alone of combining The Lord of the Rings
and MOBA-inspired gameplay is a bit frightening considering the stark contrast. However, the gameplay that I was able to see at this year's E3 in addition to the details revealed during the roundtable discussion have me both excited and cautious to ultimately see how the two combine for a console gaming experience. Guardians of Middle-earth contains a promising concept that not only has to effectively fuse Middle Earth with the MOBA genre, but as well as match in comparison to the highly-adored Lord of the Rings
series and lore.
Guardians of Middle-earth will be available on December 4 for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.