Tackling a license is never exactly easy, but with breadth of content like that of Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Monolith Productions is embracing every second of it. As fans of the fiction they’re committed to respecting the lore and authenticity of such an expansive universe. Drawing characters from the series that fit into the classes of a MOBA game has been anything but challenging.
In fact, the Lord of the Rings fantasy seems tailor-made for the MOBA genre. Imagine League of Legends or DOTA with Gandalf, Sauron, or Galadriel at the helm of the players’ teams. With such a diverse cast of leaders and warriors, it isn’t hard to see how many of Tolkien’s figures would fit into roles on the battlefield.
“A lot of what we’ve done is picking a specific character from within the lore and thinking wow, this would really resonate with people,” Ruth Tomandl, producer at Monolith, said. “Many of the characters make sense to people intuitively, like Legolas. You look at him and immediately think okay, he’s a striker. He does high damage. The characters we’ve chosen fit a really obvious role in the game that players will recognize.”
Fans of Tolkien will immediately become acquainted with characters’ abilities, seeing as how many of them are pulled directly out of the films or books. Gollum’s “My Precious” ability and Galadriel’s “Waters of Nenya” are a couple of direct nods to the fiction.
“It’s really fun, it reminds the player of how the character should play or look like,” Tomandl said. “We really look at what makes a certain character interesting to play, what are more obscure pieces of lore that many people might not be familiar with?”
Only the more devout fans of Middle Earth lore will instantly recognize several Guardians characters. Monolith has dug deep into the well to find which of the more obscure characters will fit into classes. Ugluk is the leader of the Uruk Hai who captured Merry and Pippin at Amon Hen. While many players may not have extended knowledge of the warrior, his fighting style led Monolith to include him as a playable character. Gothmog, the Lieutenant of Minas Morgul, also stood out during character selection. His leadership role in the story plays well into the tactician class in Guardians, creating a definitive niche for him both in terms of personality and gameplay. Although more of these lesser-known figures have yet to be announced, Monolith is promising updates in the future.
“Going back to Legolas, because he’s a really good example, we had a plethora of designs we could have implemented for his character,” Scott Compton, lead designer, said. “ But knowing his flavor and what people already know about him, we really build up his strengths. We were able to really alter how both well known and obscure characters would play against how others would play.”
The Classes of Guardians of Middle Earth
Due to the fact that Guardians will be releasing on consoles, a much wider audience than those of many MOBA games will be exposed to Monolith’s upcoming title. The development team has taken this into account. Hours of usability testing have been used to gauge whether the game will be able to convey the massive amount of information necessary in the genre. Even for players new to the MOBA genre, the results have been positive. However, the team is intent on making sure the game is accessible from the start for new and veteran players alike.
“Some guardians are definitely more difficult to play, while others are more accessible,” Tomandl said. “The five characters immediately available are all fairly easy for people to pick up and learn how to play. As you level up and earn currency, more characters will become available, and the expensive ones will have a higher barrier of entry. They’ll also have higher reward, though.”
The characters are spread across five character classes, some which will be unfamiliar to veteran MOBA players. Compton defines the classes more as guidelines than actual rules when playing a character. It is within these classes that players will discover their play styles, both on a small scale and in terms of the meta game.
The enchanter class has lower overall health and attack resistances, but their ability damage is through the roof. Gandalf falls into this class, so expect him to play out as a fighter with varied tactics. Additionally, enchanters’ abilities will play out well against large groups of enemy soldiers.
The defender class will suit those who prefer to take on a support role given their high survivability against all attack types. Essentially a tank class, these characters pair well with strikers, who deal the most damage but present little in the way of defense. Defenders such as the Witch King will ensure longer life spans for those who wish to inflict massive damage without trading their lives for it. Common abilities for the class include shielding and healing.
The striker class has the lowest health and resistances but, as evidenced by the name, can destroy many foes with ease. Legolas and Gollum are both examples of this class, preferring guerilla tactics to the bruiser style of other classes. Gollum’s “Coward” ability is a prime example of this, allowing him to restore all damage and negative effects as he retreats from the fight. On the other hand, his aforementioned “My Precious” ability does massive damage, and has no cool down if it kills an enemy.
Warriors have the most versatile play style, allowing players to choose between a bruiser or tank style. Their balance between basic attack damage and survivability allow them to deal and receive ample amounts of attack damage. Enchanters will have a step up on the food chain when squaring off with warriors, though, as the warriors cannot receive as much ability damage. This means that characters such as Gandalf will cause warriors like Ugluk to change tactics on the fly.
According to Tomandl, the warrior class is the most accessible of the five.
“The warrior class has the largest roster of characters, just because they’re more accessible and have a lower barrier of entry than the rest,” she said.
Compton agrees on the role of warriors. “They can play more like a DPS character, or a tank,” he said. “They’re very flexible in most regards, so players will be able to reflect that in their play styles.”
Guardians is a lot faster paced than most MOBAs, so it can be difficult to defend every lane of attack over the course of the game. Monolith’s answer to this new tempo is the tactician.
“Tacticians are unique to Guardians,” Compton said. “They have the ability to control the battlefield by creating dangerous zones and pushing lanes. They have relatively high survivability, but characters like Gothmog can change the course of the battle really because of their meta game influences.”
The variety in classes isn’t the only way players can change their play style, however. Loadouts are persistent across all the characters of a player. Changing loadouts between games can seriously affect the course of the upcoming battle. The ability to see the composition of the other team before selecting one’s kit will also allow players to react to what they see.
Loadouts consist of gems, relics, commands, and potions. Items from each of these four categories can be unlocked and purchased as the player progresses through their levels, allowing them to further customize their approach to each individual game.
The gems and relics are at the heart of the loadout system Specific items can offer either passive or active abilities for each character. These items will completely change how a character will play out, and not merely how a small scale skirmish results. Whereas commands and potions provide a reactionary option for unexpected situations, the gems and relics will have the largest impact on the meta game. The deep character customization paired with progressive and effectual loadouts promise that few players will approach a game the same way.
“Loadouts are great ways to change the way a character plays overall,” Compton said. “Relics and gems will allow this. The commands and potions will make these fast-paced, short games play out very differently. The loadout system as a whole will shine when players use it to their advantage.”
Guardians of Middle Earth is set to release this fall, and a further look at the famous characters and lesser known figures will only entice expectant fans more. A deep character customization mechanic will extend the possibilities and longevity of the game, and also make sure that no one game plays out like the previous. Persistent classes and tactical loadouts could be just what this game needs to make an impact on the console market.