MOBA Guardians of Middle-Earth "isn't necessarily a game for [LOTR] purists"

"We are bending how the match-ups would play out in 'real life'."

Update: The 10th guardian whose name eluded us is Hildifons Took, Warner Bros. has informed Eurogamer. Hildifons is Bilbo Baggins' uncle, from what we can work out - and he went on an adventure, possibly at Gandalf's behest, and never came home.

Original story: If Morgoth means anything to you, then the dramatic licence taken by Lord of the Rings-inspired MOBA Guardians of the Middle-Earth may rankle.

That's because in Guardians of Middle-Earth, a PSN and XBLA game, sneaky wimp Gollum out damages - and can quickly kill - the majestic Gandalf. What's more, there's no good-evil divide, so Gandalf and ultra-baddie Sauron can be members of the same team.

bilbo

They WHAT?!

"We are bending how the match-ups would play out in 'real life'," producer Ruth Tomandl told Eurogamer. "Obviously, every character needs to have a chance against every other character.

"We realise that purists - this isn't a game necessarily for purists, and the purists will realise that."

"We really thought about the story background, the lore specifics of the specific character, not the interaction of the characters from a story aspect," staff designer Scott Compton added.

Guardians of Middle-Earth has no anchor in time, either, so notable characters from the fiction's past can fight alongside more familiar faces from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. But not from The Silmarillion - Warner Bros. (owner of developer Monolith, and publisher) doesn't own those rights.

So far, 10 guardians have been announced, but there will be over 20 eventually (and more via DLC is "a good possibility"). The known guardians are Gandalf, Sauron, Galadriel, Ugluk, Legolas, Gothmog, Witch-king, Thrain, Gollum and a 10th whose name we didn't recognise and was distorted on our recording. Sigh. It may have been Gildor Inglorion.

"We realise that purists - this isn't a game necessarily for purists, and the purists will realise that."

Ruth Tomandl, producer, Guardians of Middle-Earth

The same elusive guardian can be seen in this Comic-Con video on YouTube at the five-minute mark, but, again, we can't make out who it is.

Gandalf versus Gollum.

Those guardians all fit into five class types: Enchanter, Defender, Warrior, Striker and Tactician.

Gandalf's an Enchanter, a class with low health but decent resistances, and which can dish out considerable ability damage.

Defenders, like Galadriel, are support characters, which have high survivability and can aid their team. Warriors are the all-rounders, built to be defensive or offensive.

Strikers, like Gollum and Legolas, have terrible health and resistances, but high damage output - particularly against a single target. To make up for their glass chins, they tend to abilities that help them escape from a fray.

Tacticians, like the Balrog Gothmog, have high survivability and can put down turrets and traps. They're effective against structures and at controlling the lanes (main paths) of the maps.

Each guardian then has four main abilities and one passive ability to help them stand out even further.

Characters like Gandalf and Galadriel also have rings of power. Gandalf has Narya, the Ring of Fire, and Galadriel has the Nenya ring, which draws opponents in and stuns them. The One Ring does not exist, however.

There's also a load-out system that uses gems and relics, and commands and potions.

Gems and relics are unlocked at certain character levels during a match, although you specify which ones you'll use beforehand. They're passive abilities, and they proc - produce an effect or 'go off' under the right circumstances.

"It's different enough from the PC ones that it's hard to predict how it will be compared to them. We'll see. Obviously, we hope it will be taken as seriously as those games - I don't know, though, if the console is the right platform this. Maybe it is - we'll have to see."

Ruth Tomandl

Commands and potions are reactionary. A command is a "potent" ability whereas potions are "more minor". Commands can be things like summoning a giant Balrog onto the map, or eagles, or elves and orcs. It sounded commands and potions can only be used once per match.

AI-controlled baddies besides guardians also exist. A stream of soldiers pours out from both teams and heads towards the opposing team. Soldiers can be upgraded to mounted soldiers (goblins on spiders) and even to siege units (big monsters).

Gameplay.

We asked whether big spider lady Shelob would feature, and we were told that some creatures lurk on the map waiting for a fight.

A team of three conceived Guardians of Middle-Earth at Monolith after work on Gotham City Impostors finished. They were experimenting, and happened to be fans of MOBAs, which are all the rage at the moment.

But Guardians of Middle-Earth will be slightly different to the Dota 2s and League of Legends of the world. "Our goal from the very beginning was to have a shorter, encapsulated MOBA experience for console," designer Scott Compton said.

Games last 15 to 18 minutes on average, but some can be as quick as eight. Other MOBA matches take much longer, because you have to level up your heroes and buy items and what not. But in Guardians, three out of four abilities are unlocked at level one, and everything is geared to getting back into the action super quick. There aren't any in-battle merchants, either.

Given that, will Guardians of Middle-Earth ever be taken as seriously as Dota 2 or League of Legends, games with hefty eSports followings and serious prize money up for grabs?

"That will depend largely on how the game's received on the console," producer Ruth Tomandl said.

"We had about 10 pro MOBA players come into the studio and try out the game ... And they said that it actually felt to them like a different genre.

"It's different enough from the PC ones that it's hard to predict how it will be compared to them. We'll see. Obviously, we hope it will be taken as seriously as those games - I don't know, though, if the console is the right platform this. Maybe it is - we'll have to see."

Guardians of Middle-Earth will be released this autumn alongside - or pretty close to - The Hobbit film.

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