Fancy teaming Gandalf up with Sauron and Gimli to take on Gollum, Galadrial and Bilbo? Now you can with Warner Bros' new Lord of the Rings online battle arena.
LotR:GoME - the long and the short of it
Lord of the Rings: Guardians of Middle Earth
PS3, Xbox 360
Trust the fantasy gamers to make things complicated with excessive use of acronyms. From WoW (World of Warcraft, of course) to MMORPG (that'll be Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games), there's a dungeon full of terms to understand to avoid being laughed at in the wizards' guild. They were largely restricted to PC users because of issues with unfeasibly complex controls your average DualShock couldn't handle, but one has now ventured into the console kingdom, and it's done so with perhaps the best-known assortment of elves, dwarfs and jewellery-obsessed dark lords.
In Lord of the Rings: Guardians of Middle Earth (or LotR: GoME if you want to stick with the theme), we have a MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena), basically a never-ending series of massive RPG-style fights. There's no storyline, no discernible plot to speak of; the game simply revolves around giant battles in which you and a random assortment of Tolkien-approved figures must get from one side of the arena to the other to destroy the enemy's tower. There's a whole lot more to it, naturally, but that's the gist.
Pick a character, choose a battle, join a merry band of fellow LotR warriors (made up of AI and humans, depending on who's online) and off you go. You start each battle at Level 1 and must hack (or twang, if you're Legolas) your way past the smaller players to up your points, increase the power of your special moves and give you a better chance of getting the big chaps. Each character comes with their selection of moves and techniques. Gandalf's are - predictably - spell-based (including a cool one that blinds enemies), while Gollum is a hit-and-leg-it kind of guy with a "Coward" move that gets him out of danger. If you prefer to stand back rather than enter the fray, then go for an archer. If getting stuck in is your thing, then perhaps a dwarf might do.
The idea is really about strategy, knowing when to attack, when to retreat and when to offer necessary support to your teammates. It's also about dying. Because you'll do that a lot. LotR: GoME is excruciatingly hard, especially for those who might never have dabbled in any such swords-and-spells acronyms before. But you'll keep going, you'll eventually figure it out and when you do, it is intensely satisfying, especially when your team utilises its various skills to achieve a result.
There are issues. Middle-earth aficionados are unlikely to be overjoyed when the likes of Gandalf and Sauron end up on the same team. More worryingly, it does have a habit of stuttering online, not great for a game whose entire raison d'être is online play. Occasionally you'll disconnect for no reason, which is sort of fine when you're battered and broken but not ideal when victory is in the bag.
But when it does work, when your band of hobbitses, orcs, dwarfs, goblins, elven queens, wizards, sons of Arathorn or whoever makes up your group of fighters gets it right, it can be a real joy.
MMORPGers may scoff at someone attempting to move their complex online warfare away from mouses and keyboards. Sure, WoW on a console may seem ridiculous. In LotR: GoME, however, there's proof that a MOBA can work without having to dumb down.