The lights are on
So you want to check out this whole MOBA thing now that there’s a decent console one, do you? This brief guide will help you land on your feet.
[Not sure if Guardians is for you? Check out my full review here.]
No, seriously. You’re too close to the enemy. Back up! Against experienced players, you’re asking for a quick death if you push past the midpoint of your lane early on. If you’re at half-health or less (or sometimes more, depending on the opposition), you will almost certainly die if an enemy pops out of the jungle behind you. A single death can snowball the whole match in the wrong direction in Guardians, so do everything you can to avoid it.
Don’t kill soldiers unless you have a plan
I know, I know, they give you XP and hit you with their little sticks. The range within which heroes suck up the experience a dying enemy soldier gives is shockingly large, though, so you can hang back as your hapless troops march to their death and level up in perfect safety off of the kills they lay their lives down for. Don’t worry if the enemy champions in your lane are wiping out your guys and pushing toward your tower – soldiers do very little damage to structures, and you can take shelter under your turret while you help it clean up the enemy wave. The other team can’t hit you much if at all without risking your tower’s wrath, which is extremely lethal in the early game. Your only priority for the first five minutes of the match is to level up, which means staying in your lane within range of enemy soldier deaths. Save your cooldowns for harassing enemy heroes and avoiding their attempts to poke at you.
That said, come up with a plan
If your lane matchup is favorable – for instance, you’re set up in a 2v2 with a powerful support like Eowyn on your side so that controlling your lane is almost inevitable, or you’re 1v1 playing as a hero like Sauron who can quickly smash entire enemy waves – use that to your advantage. While your soldiers are suiciding into the opposing tower, pop over and seize control of the shrines on either side of your lane. Those buffs are significant, especially early, and there’s no reason your team shouldn’t own them if you’re keeping the enemy in your lane bottled up under their own tower.
Alternatively, use the freedom of a dominant lane matchup to jump into the jungle and either surprise an enemy from behind or take on the neutral monster camps for bonus XP. You should always, always be trying to maximize your XP gain while minimizing your opponents’. It’s nearly impossible to do anything meaningful against an enemy tower early on, so don’t waste your time there once you’ve wiped out a soldier wave.
Keep one eye on the map
Any MOBA veteran will tell you that map awareness is one of if not the most important single skill a player can develop. Get in the habit of glancing at the map every few seconds – yes, literally, every few seconds – and noting where enemy heroes are, what neutral monster camps are up, where each lane’s conflict point is, and what upgrades your towers and barracks have. This may sound like a lot of info to keep in your head at a time, and it is, but it’s the first step to becoming anything beyond a marginally capable Guardians of Middle-earth player. You’ll learn how best to use that information through experience, but here are a few scenarios to consider.
You’re in top lane, and your mid-lane ally is under his tower being harassed by an enemy champion: Peel off of your battle and beat up the offender. Surprising him from behind will at worst keep him on his toes, and at best you and your ally can sandwich him between a full blast of all your abilities and score a kill.
You got caught by an enemy triple-team, and have respawned mid-game at your own base: Upgrade all three of your barracks before heading back into the fray. It’s easy to forget to pop back to base to boost your troops. Take a quick peek at the icons on the map for your three barracks, and give them your best-available upgrade (siege/healing > stables > barracks). The increase in effectiveness for your soldiers is enormous, and can really put the other team on their back feet if they don’t counter effectively.
You and two teammates just killed two enemies, but don’t have many soldiers to help assault towers: Go kill one of the super-monsters (at the very top and bottom of the map’s midpoint). The resulting team-wide buff is a lengthy advantage that has pushed many teams to victory. With no gold income or item shopping, Guardians can become a stalemate in the lategame once everyone is max level. Killing the super-monsters is one of the few ways to get a noticeable advantage on the battlefield at that point.
All three lanes are stalemated, and the enemy is playing too cautiously to be caught out of position: Roam the jungle, killing the minor neutral camps. If all their players are locked into their lane matchups, you are free to gain an XP advantage by beating up monsters in the jungle. Just make sure you’re not abandoning your lanemate to a too-difficult 1v2 matchup in the meantime.
Learn from what just killed you
You’re going to die, probably many times, in each and every match you play. Try to learn something from each one. Ugluk seems overpowered if you keep trying to engage him one-on-one without much physical armor, or if a skilled enemy continually uses his powerful finishers to kill weak team members. Once you learn that his only defense is a weak regeneration ability and his only truly scary power – Fury of Isengard, which does a triple hit+knockback combo for a ton of damage – sends him careening uncontrollably toward and through his target, leaving him massively exposed to any counterattack.
Above all, don’t over-extend yourself
The worst thing you can do is to get yourself killed – not only do your enemies get a big chunk of XP, but you lose leveling time waiting to respawn. Few MOBA matches are lost by being too cautious, whereas recklessness loses games every hour of every day. Don’t dive at an enemy hiding near a tower unless you know you can kill her quickly and jet back out before taking much damage – there’s no greater shame than thinking you can score an easy kill only to be rooted, stunned, knocked up, taunted, or feared while a turret chews through your health bar. Don’t run into the brush to check it for enemies unless you know you can survive being ambushed by every enemy hero you can’t currently account for on the mini-map. Never, ever chase someone toward their own tower, troops, base, or allies unless you know you can catch them before they get there.
MOBAs, whether Guardians of Middle-earth, League of Legends, Dota, or Awesomenauts, have a long learning curve and a lot of unique elements that are absolutely critical to players’ success. Don’t be discouraged when someone with a lot more experience wipes the floor with you; that’s going to happen here just like it will in Street Fighter, Madden, or Call of Duty. Once you get your feet under yourself, though, you can start to appreciate why millions of gamers like myself adore MOBAs as top-notch competitive entertainment.