It might seem unusual to see Middle-earth: Shadow of War featured here on MP1st, as it’s known mostly for its single-player component. Hell, I’d wager that many of you didn’t even know that Shadow of War had a player-versus-player component… Well, it does, though it might not be what you’re expecting! You see, Online Sieges in Shadow of War use real-player armies, but are controlled by AI.
At launch, I binged the Shadow of War single-player campaign, staying up until 5 a.m. at launch, and just loving every moment of it. I achieved the “first ending” and began to work my way towards the “true ending.”
50 Hours Later…
50 hours have passed since I began the final act, “Shadow Wars”. This final chapter frustrated a lot of reviewers, and I can understand why. It increases the grind significantly, and clearly isn’t intended to be rushed. Microtransactions will indeed speed things up, but there’s not an enormous pressure to invest. You’ve got to remember that reviewers are often in a rush to complete a game and meet the embargo. This game is not very reviewer friendly!
Shadow of War‘s endgame feels very similar to that of Destiny 2, with Daily Quests and random loot drops. Like with Bungie’s “living shooter,” Shadow of War‘s final challenge isn’t supposed to be a simple walk in the park. There are sidequests to complete and collectibles to find, which all grant better loot and help you grow stronger. It’s the equivalent of grinding to Power Level 305 in Destiny 2!
Diving Into Multiplayer
Taking part in the game’s multiplayer is one way of getting better orcs, though the process is slow and can become repetitive. With that said, as Online Sieges become more predictable, the easier they become to beat. Hell, I’ve managed to successfully take over a high-level fortress with no special unit support whatsoever. (I did this for fun, and just to see if it was possible!)
Occasionally, I’ll come across a fortress that’s loaded with high-level Legendary orcs. While they are tougher to beat and possess more strengths, they haven’t proven to be frustratingly overpowered. Perhaps if the opposing player was physically controlling them, I might have a bigger problem, but even the scariest (potentially paid-for) orcs can be felled with careful combat and clever ability use. A max (or almost max) level Talion has proven to be an incredibly powerful force.
Don’t get me wrong, it definitely doesn’t hurt to have high-level orcs watching your back. Legendaries have proven incredibly rare for me to hunt down in the wild, while Epics are fairly common (in my experience). The easiest way of ranking orcs is to make them battle in the Fighting Pits. Orcs take each other on in one-on-one combat and the winner gets a boost. You don’t actually control the fighter, but you can at least see the strengths and weaknesses of the enemy and plan accordingly. It’s a pretty cool feature, but after 100+ fights, I wish there was a “Skip Fight Sequence” function!
Microtransactions and Pay-to-Win
I haven’t put any money into Shadow of War‘s microtransactions. I’ve completed Daily Quests which reward Gold and Mirian, and used what I’ve earned to buy bundles of chests. The rewards here are significant and can rapidly speed the endgame process up, which may be enough to get some players to drop serious dollar, but for online play the advantage becomes increasingly moot. A level 60 Talion can warp the mind of any orc and change them into an ally, turning a fearsome foe into a deadly ally.
The controversy surrounding Shadow of War‘s loot boxes was overblown, in my opinion. However, I will say that the overall presentation of the in-game market, and the bizarre insertion of loot crates into the world of Mordor, is more than a little jarring.
Slow Ride, Take It Easy
Rather than solely depending upon random spawns or loot box drops for new Legendaries, I’d love to see additional ways of securing high-level orcs. A similar feature to Hitman‘s “Elusive Targets”, where a new specialized orc pops up for a limited time to be captured or killed, would be superb and well-suited to the game. I know free content drops are coming, and I expect the Shadow of War endgame experience to only get better.
I think that the final chapter is supposed to be enjoyed at a relaxed pace, and is intended to last through the upcoming expansions, with players building their endgame armies with new and exciting tribes, and equipping Talion with better and more badass weapons and armor.
In short, yes, microtransactions can fast-track players to the “true ending,” but the advantage in multiplayer is nowhere near as significant as many players (and non-players!) claimed.