Let battle commence
J.R.R.Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy is packed with blockbuster battles, so it's no surprise that this game based on his fantasy world translates these into epic, bruising encounters between the two teams of Guardians.
The screen is filled with magic and pulsing shock waves following heavy strikes (check out what happens when you destroy a fortress), thanks largely to a generous attack radius and the impressive lighting effects. Gandalf even gets to use his trusty fireworks, as seen near the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring movie, to damage groups of enemies; it's one of the more colourful attacks available. Similarly, the rousing soundtrack that accompanies battles makes it difficult not to get too carried away with charging around the map.
Maps are largely made up of stony paths and foliage, a sort of cross between the Mines of Moria and Parth Galen (the area where Boromir falls in The Fellowship of the Ring). Bridges connect a map's three lanes, and a tight, one-lane map option provides gameplay variety and a whole new set of tactics to get to grips with.
Meet the Fellowship
As befitting the rich world of Tolkien's Middle-earth, the characters are at the heart of the game. With over 20 Guardians to choose from, you're sure to find your favourite character to take into battle.
Characters are divided into five classes – Defender, Enchanter, Striker, Tactician, Warrior – allowing you to experiment with different playing styles and develop the one that suits you best:
- Defenders such as Éowyn are decent all-rounders – adept at fighting as well as healing and shielding allies.
- Enchanters such as Gandalf use magic to damage enemies and protect themselves.
- Tacticians such as Hildifons the Hobbit deploy traps and other offensive equipment to do their dirty work.
- Bilbo and Gollum are Strikers, and they specialise in speedy, stealthy and surprisingly effective attacks.
- And, Warriors, which includes Sauron and Arathorn, can deal huge, powerful strikes.
Expect more Guardians to be released as downloadable content soon.
The freedom to choose whichever character you want and line them up alongside other players' favourites makes for some interesting and amusing match-ups. Who'd have thought you'd see the day when Legolas, Gollum, the Witch-King, Galadriel and the Great Goblin were all fighting on the same side.
You shall not pass!
Two teams of five players, each one controlling a single Guardian hero, do battle as they try to destroy the fortress in the other team's base. It isn't as easy as it sounds. Maps are divided into three lanes, so your team can get stretched easily, and everyone gets to customise and level up their Guardians and computer-controlled characters between matches with bonuses such as more powerful damage and increased health.
Get your tactics right, both individually and as a team, and you invariably win the match. Your Guardian class and how you level them up determines your role on the team, whether it's lying in wait to ambush an opponent, taking the fight direct to the enemy by destroying their spawn points, or following a few teammates to hunt down lone Guardians.
The measured pace will suit strategy fans, with matches lasting anywhere between five minutes and hours, while action fans will enjoy levelling up and launching some seriously powerful magic attacks. If you've ever wanted to wipe the smirk off Gollum's face or see how scary battling Sauron really is, then here's your chance.
One team to rule them all
Up to ten players can go toe-to-toe via PlayStation Network in the battle for Middle-earth. You've got three game modes to battle it out in, plus the option to customise matches by inviting friends to play.
Battlegrounds mode features a 20 minute match, which means the game is decided on points if you don't destroy your opponent's fortress within the time limit. You earn points for killing enemies, demolishing towers and so on. Elite Battlegrounds mode is one for the purist and for those who have plenty of time to spare, as matches only start when you have enough players for five-on-five and end when either your or your opponent's fortress is wiped out. There are no computer-controlled Guardians in Elite Battlegrounds, just other human players. Finally, Skirmish mode pits five human players against five computer-controlled Guardians.
Communication via in-game voice chat is often the key to winning matches, as it's always helpful to know the whereabouts of your allies should you need their help, need to rescue them or simply fancy ganging up against a lone enemy. Comprehensive stats and leader boards track your every move, and they're also handy for checking which Guardians are the most popular and which tend to come out on top.