Middle-earth: Shadow of War was a fun action game, a pretty good Orc dating sim, and the subject of some controversy at release because it included what some players saw as an aggressive post-release monetization scheme. A core part of the game was about building relationships with orcs and using them to fight Sauron. In-game currency and "war chests" players could earn through normal play or buy with real money allowed them to skip a lot of grinding (especially in the last section of the game) by just acquiring more powerful orcs.
I didn't think this ruined what was overall a fine game, but I did feel like Shadow of War was at times deliberately hard in order persuade me to just spend a little more money. Now, six months after release, developer Monolith is removing both the in-game currency and war chests from the game.
“While purchasing Orcs in the Market is more immediate and provides additional player options, we have come to realize that providing this choice risked undermining the heart of our game, the Nemesis System,” the studio said in a blog post.
I loved Shadow of War, but it felt less focused and more grindy than its predecessor. The orcs are special, but as the game churns on and I began to melt down orcs for loot, I begun to see them as a series of traits mixed together instead of the unique and beautiful creatures they were.
This was especially true in the game's final act, which required players to defend their castles from wave after wave of orcs, and that I never completed. To survive the onslaughts, I had to acquire new orcs during siege battles, defend my best orcs from dying during sieges, and level up orcs in-between sieges. This drags on for hours, and after a few rounds, it stops being fun. It's a lot easier if you just buy some orcs.
Monolith's blog post doesn't include the words "we're sorry," but reads like an apology letter from a studio that knew about all these problems from the get go. “[The marketplace] allows you to miss out on the awesome player stories you would have otherwise created, and it compromises those same stories even if you don’t buy anything,” Monolith said. “Simply being aware that they are available for purchase reduces the immersion in the world and takes away from the challenge of building your personal army and your fortresses.”
Starting May 8, players will no longer be able to purchase in-game gold. In July, gold and war chests will be out of the game completely. As part of that update, Monolith is also revamping the notoriously long and grind-intense Act IV. “This portion of the game will be improved with new narrative elements and streamlined for a more cohesive experience,” it said.
That’s enough to make me reinstall, look around, and see if I can’t find Horza the Dead again. I hope he’s doing well.
But this also gives me another reason not to buy video games on the day they're released or shortly after. Star Wars Battlefront II, which was also dragged for its greedy loot boxes, announced four months after launch that it was completely revamping its progression system. It's of course better for developers to recognize and fix their mistakes, but releasing a game with an aggressive monetization and apologizing for it later will only burn the players who are most excited for the game in the first place.
Monolith Productions did not immediately respond to request for comment.