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Guardians of Middle-earth
Score: 82%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Monolith
Media: Download/1
Players: 1 - 10 (online)
Genre: Online/ Real-Time Strategy

Graphics & Sound:
I am sure there are very few people who have not heard of The Lord of the Rings. I would venture to say that a large majority of people have seen at least one of the movies or the new movie, The Hobbit, so you all know what these characters and their world looks like. The character design in Guardians of Middle-earth is spot-on. They all look exactly as I remember them. The ones that arenít as well known (which means I donít know what they are "supposed" to look like) fit in quite well with all of the rest. I was quite pleased with the characters.

Iím glad I was pleased with the characters, because the adaptation of their world I found to be quite lacking. There are only two different boards that I can discern. One of them is darker, evil looking, and the other is lighter, maybe the good side. Yes there are different designs for both 3-lane and 1-lane boards, but thatís still only 4 boards, two for each style. Given that they have pretty much the exact same layouts, you feel as if nothing changes every time you play.

Basically, Guardians of Middle-earth is a giant game of Capture The Flag. You have two teams of 5 people each. On a 1-lane battlefield, the idea is very easy: you try and take down the other teamís main tower. There are two defending towers in the way. There are only 2 shrines that you can gain control over. Shrines will boost your entire teamís health regeneration. On a 3-lane, there are three different paths that you can take to get to the main tower, with two towers to take down on each path. This means that you can really work on strategy rather than just killing each other on the same path. There are also 4 shrines that can be controlled.

Your main area has the tower that you have to protect or you will lose, plus defense towers and barracks. The defense towers are to help you protect the main tower. Trust me, you donít want to let them hit you. Itíll only take three to five hits and youíre dead. These towers can be upgraded to Quickfire, Splitshot (two projectiles), Siegestone (three projectiles), or Healing once you get to a high enough level. Upgrades can be very beneficial, but you can only choose one upgrade. In other words, if you want a Healing tower then you will have to give up the double shot or whatever other upgrade you had previously. The barracks can also be upgraded. You can make them Elite soldiers, Mounted soldiers, Siege soldiers, or upgrade all soldiers. Once again, you have to choose one upgrade because they donít stack.

From the Main Menu, there are several options. Battlegrounds are 5 players vs. 5 players with a 20 minute time limit. Elite Battlegrounds are 5 vs. 5 as well, but you have to have a Profile of Rank 2 to enter. There is no time limit on them. Skirmish is 5 real players vs. 5 A.I.-controlled players with no time limit. If none of these meet your needs, you can choose a Custom Match of up to 5 players, real or computer-controlled. This is where you can go to play alone if you just donít like people, but still want to play the game. After you choose the type, you can then choose how many lanes you want to have. A "3-Lane game" will give more areas to attack from, so it tends to be a longer game. The "1-Lane Game" obviously only has one path you can attack from. You choose your character after the game has been created. There are 26 characters total, but only 16 unlocked at first. You will have to buy the rest with money that you earn from matches.

When you are playing a custom battle in Guardians of Middle-earth, you can choose the difficulty of the A.I., but you can only choose Easy or Hard. Most of the time, youíll be playing online and the difficulty is going to vary based on your opponents. Some games I was horrible compared to the rest and other times, I found myself the best player on the field. Once you start to get in depth and playing more, youíll find that there is a lot more to the game that can help you win. You have character "Loadout" that will allow you to customize additional abilities and potions to take into battle. Potions can be quite useful. There are nearly 70 potions in 5 different categories, so itíll take you a lot of testing to figure out which ones you like best and what are the most helpful. To use the potions and more, you will need to customize a Loadout. In the Loadout, you will set your potions and your belts. Belts can contain relics that youíve unlocked and these relics will give you different abilities once you put the correct gems in them. The more relics you get, the more you can customize your abilities. You will also put commands in your belt. There are four command tiers and four choices of commands per tier. You can select one to take into battle with you. You can have 10 different custom Loadouts, so thereís plenty of room to play with deciding what configuration you prefer.

Game Mechanics:
The controls in Guardians of Middle-earth felt a bit odd to me, at first. Your basic attack button is (R2), which is something Iím just not used to. It has taken me a lot of time to get used to that. I highly recommend that you go through the tutorial just to get to know where everything is located and which buttons do what. Your potions are on the D-pad, but youíll have to rise in rank to enable more slots. Your abilities are on the other buttons on the controller face. These will level up as you level up during a match. In between matches, your characters will reset to level 1. I canít say that I still have the hang of the controls as I have gotten so used to (X) as your basic attack like it is on so many games, that I find myself reverting to that if I am not careful. Otherwise, the controls are fine with me. There is no need to change camera angles since everything is in one plane and youíre watching from overhead.

My one real complaint with Guardians of Middle-earth is that it takes way too long to get connected to an online game (over 10 minutes sometimes) and the majority of the time (about 70% of the time), I was disconnected before the game could complete. I even took my system to someone elseís house just to make sure it wasnít my connection. Sometimes, I could play for an hour straight without a problem and then it wouldnít work for more than 10 minutes the next hour. When you are disconnected, the game doesnít count towards your stats or anything, so basically I wasted 20-30 minutes for every disconnected game. Overall, I really enjoyed playing Guardians of Middle-earth online, but I found myself getting very frustrated with the disconnect, so Iíd go back to playing alone just to test different characters. I quite like the game, but the connection issues and lack of games to connect to really need to be fixed. I do recommend that you check out the demo and see what you think!

-Cyn, GameVortex Communications
AKA Sara Earl

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