Guardians of Middle-earth is coming to PC

Hands on with Guardians of the Middle Earth for PC
Of all the magic in Lord of the Rings, nothing makes me more envious than the elf-tossing power behind Sauron's giant mace. The look on those pretty faces as they flail through the air is just priceless.

Guardians of Middle-earth, a console MOBA from Monolith Productions and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, is finally coming to the PC, and with it my dreams of throwing elves to and fro are realized. With playable characters such as Sauron, Radagast, and Elron, it's easy to see why any Lord of the Rings fan should take a look at this upcoming MOBA.

Characters, items, and upgrading structures

In a rich and deep world such as Middle-earth, you should expect to see an equally diverse roster of playable characters. GoME doesn't disappoint with 36 playable guardians ranging from fan favorites like Gandalf and Bilbo to Sauron, the Witch King, and the Great Goblin king.

I decided to align with my envy, picking the melee warrior guardian, Sauron. The guardians are spread across five different categories: Warrior for flexible-all-around playstyles; Tacticians, who rely more on basic attack damage and skill utility; Enchanters, who pack their strongest punch when using abilities; Defenders, who act as the tanks and supports of the game; and of course, Strikers, who are the burst DPS junkies stealing all your kills. I tend to go support, but the power of Sauron's attacks convinced me to try something new this time around.

The interesting aspect to GoME is its approach of skills, skill trees, and the various abilities a player uses within a match. To start, I clicked on the equipment tab and noticed that I had several fields for which I could equip gems, potions, and commands. Gems, bought via gold earned by playing matches and fulfilling challenges, fit on a belt and determine the types of passive bonuses I earned leveling up throughout a match. For instance, I chose a few health-increasing gems to start, followed by a few attack-speed gems and finally a few life-leaching variants. Each level I gained unlocked these bonuses from left to right on my belt. Depending on the order of my gems, I could select Relics that granted additional bonuses based off the order of gems I placed on my belt. The system replaces the need for a store during the match, allowing players to focus more on the battlefield than their particular item build.

Hands on with Guardians of the Middle Earth for PC
Potions are selected before a match to help grant specific utilities to a character in the game. Purchased via gold, potions serve as four consumables that can be utilized anytime during a match. I happen to stack healing potions to keep myself from dying, but players can buy anything from attack speed increases to tower diving potions, which make the player immune to tower damage for up to five seconds. Each time you use one of the four potion slots, the rest of the potions will go into a temporary cooldown dependent on the potion used.

Commands are like Summoner Spells in League of Legends. The difference in GoME is that the player can select up to four of these commands, each of which has specific cooldown-like potions. I favored commands like heal and speed burst to help me survive or finish kills, but players can select commands such as Summon Defense, which manifests an Ent or Balrog to a location for damage and healing.

Even with the lack of an in-game item shop, GoME manages to create depth with the increased skill management and the interesting feature of upgrading structures. At various levels, I was able to stop and select turrets or barracks (read: minion spawners) and select an upgrade, slightly altering the damage or behavior of the structure for specific benefits. At level 6, I upgraded towers to shoot faster, but by level 12 I could alter them to do more AoE damage. With barracks, I could change the soldiers spawned for greater effect against structures or enemy soldiers. The micromanagement of structure upgrades took the place of upgrading items while still allowing for depth and customization within a given match. Deciding who upgraded and how we upgraded also added a new depth to the team gameplay.

Survival mode

GoME is coming to PC with a new mode called Survival. The mode is just what you'd expect: A team of five guardians is pitted against wave after wave of enemies and the occasional enemy guardian until the guardians can no longer survive.

Hands on with Guardians of the Middle Earth for PC
The cool thing about survival mode is the inclusion of structures and upgrades that need to be utilized in order to successfully progress to higher levels. Tower points spawned, and then a teammate or I would have to find time to use the point to create a tower. At first, the tower is of little use, offering small single target DPS against the hordes of monsters overwhelming you. However, a few upgrades can turn the turret into a healing turret that restores life to all nearby guardians or an AoE turret, which helps even the odds. Each upgrade provides an incredible advantage to the team.

Not all structural spawns are meant to help you. During the course of my match I encountered enemy turrets that nuked me as I ran from the Sauron-hungry hordes. These enemy towers had to be taken down in lulls between wave or else my team risked losing accessibility to health and shield pick-ups scattered around the map. Another structure that occasionally spawned was the generator. Generators made specific enemies or entire waves immune to damage, forcing our team to rally and push to destroy them. If we couldn't handle the hordes, one player was forced to kite the enemies away to free up some time to take down the structures.

Hands on with Guardians of the Middle Earth for PC
Mobility quickly became a key advantage in survival mode. If one of us couldn't kite and utilize towers, the rest of us would be overwhelmed and killed. I appreciated the depth and strategy of the mode, but more often than not we ended up with two players running for their lives while the rest of us prayed they could find time to resurrect us. It rarely worked.

GoME isn't a new MOBA on the scene, but it does bring some interesting gameplay to the table and a new mode for PC gaming. The survival mode is a nice break from traditional MOBA-fare, and the structural upgrades feel more engaging than just purchasing items in the shop. Plus, Sauron. I hate to say it, but playing as the mortal enemies of Middle-earth was great. Hobbit punt, anyone?

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This article was originally published on Massively.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.