Preview: Hands-on with Guardians of Middle-earth PC version
If you haven't heard, the Lord of the Rings-themed MOBA, Guardians of Middle-earth, is coming to PC via Steam on August 29. A few days ago, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment invited myself and other members of games media to an early access of the game. After a brief presentation and breakdown of features, I was able to get a few matches in, and here's what I took away from my time...
First off, let's cover the basics of what the PC version provides. If you bought the game on console, you'll get a free download code for Steam, which I think is a really great gesture. The PC version was developed by Zombie Games Studios, best known for Blacklight Retribution.
If you're familiar with MOBAs, Guardians of Middle-earth is a little more action-oriented/fast-paced than some others. You don't worry about buying items; you just focus on fighting. That's emphasized by selecting your loadout of gems and relics before the game starts. Those will provide you with more damage, cooldown reduction, attack speed, and stuff like that. There's you're standard one-lane and three-lane matches, but you don't have to worry about last-hitting enemy minions. You auto attack and push waves, trying to burn down enemy towers and kill enemy Guardians. Levels are king, because the higher level you are, the more of your rune belt you'll have unlocked in the match and the better skills you'll have. Since you start out with three skills at the beginning of the match, you can have really intense fights right from the get-go.
If you don't want to battle it out against other players, you can team up with other players to battle bots, which have three levels of AI and default to Hard. And let me tell you, they are no joke. Myself and three other human players lost to a team of AI bots, and we were playing with Adam Hanson, producer of Guardians of Middle-earth. If a player drops or you can't find enough players to play with, a hard AI bot will take their place, and it's great that you won't have to worry about the bot holding its own.
There's also a new Survival mode, a cooperative mode where you and four other players battle against the AI in waves. Every wave gets harder, and every five waves you'll face a boss. This mode is a nice change of pace, but it also has practical purposes. It's really good for honing your skills with Guardians, as well as getting achievements and completing character challenges.
In my matches I didn't play any Survival mode, instead opting for the classic three-lane, five-on-five matches. I really wanted to try the keyboard and mouse controls, because on the Xbox 360, that's not an option. I preface this by saying that I play a lot of League of Legends... more than I'd like to admit. So I'm well-versed in MOBAs, controls and mechanics. While the keyboard and mouse controls are fine, you can tell that this game is meant to be played with a controller. I found the keyboard/mouse controls a little clunky, and the responsiveness I was expecting wasn't there. You'll want the movement and attacking to play out like other PC MOBAs, but the attacking just isn't as precise. I always likened to the controls of GoME to a twin-stick shooter, in a way. It doesn't translate as good as it should to keyboard/mouse. Getting off abilities while moving with the mouse was a bit awkward, and at times, my Guardian would attack whatever he wanted, not necessarily what I wanted him to.
That said, when I went back to playing with a controller, I found the game to play a lot better. In my opinion, Guardians of Middle-earth is meant to be played with a controller.
Visually, the game looks fine. Keep in mind it's a port from consoles. The textures can cause the Guardians to kind of get lost in the environment, but it's not a bad game to look at. The Guardians can also look a little blocky at times
The best part of the move to PC is the Steam features. While there's no Steam Trading Cards for the game ... yet ... Big Picture, leaderboards, statistics and Steamworks matchmaking makes this a very social game. It's easy to play with your friends through Steam, and I found the servers a lot smoother with noticeably less lag than the Xbox 360 version.
That's what I took away from my time with the game. If you're a fan of the game on console, you'll enjoy it -- possibly more -- on PC. I'm not thrilled with the keyboard and mouse controls, but more time with that could get me used to it. I'm not sure where GoME fits in among other MOBAs on PC, but it offers something unique to the genre.
Guardians of Middle-earth releases on Thursday, August 29 through Steam. To learn more about the game, its features and pricing options, check out this post.