Friday, December 7, 2012

Demo Friday: Get Out!

I wasn't kidding when I said that I didn't know what MOBA stood for. I had to look it up, Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, but I have no idea what it means. Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew that LoL was a MOBA, but that does not mean that I know what LoL is, either. This is a huge hole in my gaming knowledge; League of Legends has streams that pull in numbers that dwarf fighting game tournaments and I have never watched a single game. Upon first hearing someone try to explain them they were lumped in with of two genres that I don't even attempt to play, regardless of quality: real time strategy. In the distant past some effort was put into trying to learn StarCraft and WarCraft 2. It did not go well at all and I have since avoided any and all titles that include moving units, building things, zerg rushes and technology trees. Of late that has come to include even turn based strategy games. Judging from my experience with King's Bounty, it was the right decision.

Screen shots of this game all look exactly the same.

Guardians of Middle Earth is a console attempt at a PC-centric game type. I was rather nervous about what kind of acrobatics my fingers would have to perform to make things happen, but thanks to the tutorial it seemed fairly easy. You only directly control a single hero who has a standard attack and several special attacks with varying cool down times. So far, so good. Soldiers automatically spawn from your base and automatically move down lanes towards your opponent. Hold on, lanes?

No explanation. The tutorial moves on.

As your hero gains levels you can upgrade your own defense towers and soldiers. There are also shrines you can occupy to gain temporary bonuses. You don't build any of these things, they are just there on the map, ripe for the taking. On top of those there are neutral monsters scattered around that can be killed for experience. From my point of view it looked like an action RPG with a bit of tower defense sprinkled on top. No problem! Off to the training skirmish.

There was my Gandalf, in all his wizardly glory. There were the soldiers who I did not control but had to protect and assist. Why can't I control them, or at the least specify which tower they should attack? Hold on, there are other named characters here, better than soldiers but I still can't control them. All my poor Gandalf can do is pick a group to tag along with and, surprise, get killed. This happened about three times before I turned it off. Obviously there is something that I am missing, some bit of strategy or customization that was not explained in the previous tutorials. The game felt intentionally obtuse, designed to keep newbs on the outside for as long as possible. It worked, I will not be trying again.

Fighting games, especially Street Fighter, are equally difficult to start on from scratch without outside, preferably human, assistance. You could play for months and not know what a link is and why it is important. Guardians of Middle Earth feels exactly the same. There are genre terms, like lane, that are simply not explained because the player should already know them. And if you don't then gtfo. The tutorial was okay right up to the point that is stopped explaining what the buttons do. I can figure that much out on my own, tell how the game works. Give me a leg to stand on so I am not stomped by the computer in the mission that is supposed to teach me what to do.

How to play is not button config, it is fucking how to play.

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