What You Need To Know About Shadow Of War's Controversial Loot Boxes 

Ever since reviews of Shadow of War hit, talk of loot boxes and microtransactions have been heavy with panic and rife with misinformation. Are the best orcs behind a paywall? Is the design of the game predatory enough that it's going to make people feel pressured to drop extra cash on a $US60 ($77) game? And what's this about the "real ending" being a microtransactions bonanza?

Part of the confusion is that Shadow of War is a complicated game -- 60 hours later, I'm still learning new things in it -- and its loot boxes are similarly convoluted. There are four types of main loot chests, some of which have subcategories, and three types of currencies.

I've tried or earned most of these currencies and chests while playing the game for 60 hours and counting. I have a good sense of how loot boxes fit into the picture. It's not necessarily as bad as some may fear, but even 60 hours with the game isn't enough for me to bottom line that for sure.

Before we dive in, it's important to know some big-picture stuff about how Shadow of War works. The game revolves around randomised orcs that you enslave to build multiple armies. You use these orcs as your bodyguard or to defend regions of the map.

You need decent orcs to make progress in the game and, if you're not careful, your orcs can permanently die. Through the course of the game, you will kill, recruit, and replace dozens upon dozens of orcs. All of these orcs can come in a few flavours. "Epic" orcs are great to get, and "Legendary" orcs are even better.

Those rarity classifications affect the number and types of advanced skills an orc can have, such as greatly increased health counts, or high poison proficiency. All types of orcs can be found in the wild, and in my particular game, I've had no shortage of Legendary orcs to recruit and command.

Additionally, Talion, the main character, can also equip a bevy of gear, such as swords and bows. This equipment is also constantly cycled as you find better stuff and it too can be Epic or even Legendary. While both orcs and gear can be earned by playing the game, you can also save some time and buy them from loot chests instead.

There are four types of main loot chests, some of which have subcategories, and three types of currencies. Let's start with the currencies.

Mirian is a abundant currency that you mainly earn by playing the game. You can equip gem runes that increase Mirian drops, equip gear that increases the likelihood of Mirian drops, destroy gear for Mirian, and hunt down Treasure Orcs for Mirian. Mirian can also be used for in-game perks, such as castle upgrades.

Gold coins can be obtained a number of ways, including with real-world money. We don't know how much they will cost just yet, as Shadow of War's online store only lists the season pass right now.

During the pre-release period while I've been playing the game, the main method of earning coins has been from in-game daily challenges. Every day, Shadow of War tasks you with doing four different things, each with its own reward. Daily challenges run the gamut from "kill a certain number of enemies" to "go to this map and do this very specific thing." Usually, doing all of the daily quests takes around 15-30 minutes.

In my time with the game, the rewards for the daily quests have varied. Early on, I only got one daily 50 gold coin quest and multiple Mirian quests. Lately, that's moved up to two 50 gold coin quests, and more recently, three daily 50 gold coin quests.

It's unclear if the number of gold coin quests you get on a daily basis are randomised, or if Monolith, the developers, have upped the number of gold coin quests you get behind the scenes. We reached out to the Shadow of War's creators about this but haven't heard back yet.

Then there are "Spoils of War," which are points you earn by completing online activities. While the game doesn't consider this a currency, playing the multiplayer earns you points which in turn unlock chests, so functionally speaking, they fulfils the same purpose.

So, what do you buy with all this digital money? In my experience, War Chests are probably what you'll deal with most of all, because they contain orcs. There are three main types of War Chests which can be bought with different currencies.

Silver chests, which cost 1.5k Mirian, drop two orcs (at least one epic) and one consumable (things like timed boosts). Silver War Chests are the easiest type of chest to buy, because you are constantly swimming in Mirian.

Nearly every battle grants you Mirian, and you're going to sell the vast majority of your gear for Mirian. I have more Mirian than I know what to do with right now. I could buy dozens of orcs if I wanted to, but I've had a good experience using the orcs I've naturally encountered throughout the game.

Gold chests cost 200 gold coins, and for that price, you'll get three orcs (one legendary and two epic), along with two consumables. Mithril chests, which cost 600 gold coins, give you four legendary orcs and one legendary training order (these allow you to do things like move units across maps).

I've bought a few gold chests out of curiosity, not necessity. To the game's credit, I could theoretically earn a gold chest almost daily, free of charge, but formidable orcs are abundant enough that I often forgot about challenges in the first place.

Then there are literal Loot Chests, which dole out gear. Silver loot chests give you two gear pieces, one of which will be rare, for 750 Mirian. I have bought exactly one of these, just for the purposes of this article, but otherwise, the game constantly gifts you new gear just by killing orcs.

And boy, will you slaughter a ton of orcs in this game. You can also threaten orcs for higher-quality gear. Heck, you can let orcs kill you so that they gain levels and thus drop better gear. There's not much incentive to buy Loot Chests.

Gold Loot chests, meanwhile, give you three gear pieces (one legendary and two epic) for 150 gold coins. Mythril loot chests grant you four legendary gear pieces, and a single two-hour XP boost for 400 coins.

I am never left wanting better gear in my game, though: if anything, I am constantly destroying legendary and epic gear, either because it has lower stats, or because the skill bonuses they grant don't fit my playstyle. I never saw a reason to spend money on gear that might not even be what I'm looking for.

Beyond that, there are special bundles that package a handful of the aforementioned chests, and themed chests that cost around 240-260 gold coins. You can also purchase things like XP boosts for 100 gold coins, though there's little reason to do so. In my game, Talion has gotten to such a high level that I have like 10 skill points lying around. There's nothing to spend my levels on. Why would I want more XP?

According to the Market where all of this is stored, there is a sale of some sort every Friday, though I don't know if stuff that costs Gold is ever discounted.

OK. Those are just the single-player chests and currencies, but Shadow of War also includes multiplayer chests. You can earn Vendetta Loot chests by killing orcs that have bested other players. Conquest Loot chests, meanwhile, are attained by conquering other player's fortresses.

Doing either activity nets you "Spoils of War," and if you accrue enough of these points, you'll get a Spoils of War chest. So far, I've only gotten one Spoils of War chest, but it seemed the equivalent to if not better than what's inside of a golden War Chest, except I didn't have to spend any money. The Loot Chests were just OK, but again, I was never hurting for gear.

Yes, this is all confusing, but you may also notice that most of this is entirely skippable. In all the time I've put into Shadow of War, not once have I felt the need to buy any orcs or gear. In the main game, whatever you find in the wild is sufficient to beat it.

During the post-game, which is titled the Shadow Wars, Shadow of War starts to show its teeth. The gist of it is that, by now, all the castles you've commandeered will be under constant attack. You have to stop Sauron's forces from gaining a foothold once more by finding strong orc leaders and upgrading your castle. For your troubles, you'll get a bonus ending.

Reports have floated around that it would take dozens of hours to get the real ending of Shadow of War, and worse, that the game is designed to be so grindy, players have a reason to drop cash on powerful orcs.

The narrative is that Shadow of War's post-game has been designed differently than the rest of the experience. It's actually simpler than that. Shadow of War's endgame is constructed exactly like the main game, which is already a bit repetitive. And as I mentioned in my review, the bulk of the Shadow of War experience is extremely similar Shadow of Mordor, the first game.

Shadow Wars doesn't illuminate much about the evils of microtransactions and how they can change and ruin a game, as much as it reveals something about the already existing experience.

To defend a castle, you need to appoint high-level orcs as warchiefs. The problem is that the base game is easy enough that you never have to worry about which warchiefs you use. Anything will do. You don't even have to care much about your warchiefs dying in the process.

By the time you get to the final bonus act of the game, you find out your forces are severely under-leveled and lacking in combat prowess. It's the equivalent of doing the bare minimum in a JRPG and then being surprised that the final boss kicks your arse.

Shadow of War lets you coast, only to put up its arms as if to ask you, oh, you want a real challenge? Let's go.

My first hours in the final act of Shadow of War were rough. My shitty orcs didn't cut it. I had to seek out better orcs, and I had to level them up. I had to think about who I was appointing at the top, what proficiencies they had, and how the orcs meshed with one another.

I had to think about the best upgrades to complement all of it. And more crucially, I had to think about which orcs were attacking me, and how I would best take them on. This can be time-consuming at first, but learning how to play the damn game has sped the process up considerably.

Crucially, I've never once felt like any part of this would be easier by buying orcs or better gear. Randomised orcs won't necessarily be at your level or have the specific skills you need for a given castle siege. As an example: if a gold chest gives me a legendary orc who is terrified of fire, that orc is going to be useless in a fight where the enemy is packing a flamethrower.

Since you can't control what a gold chest will drop, it hardly seems worth it. The few gold chests I earned also only gave me orcs at or below my level, whereas in-game orcs could be higher level, and thus more useful in the long run.

There is no substitute for scouting orcs first-hand and raising them to be exactly how you want them. I have acquired a couple of golden chests, but only because the game is generous with its daily challenge gold. These paid orcs were not better than my other orcs. Actually, many of them have gone unused. The bulk of my orc forces are home-grown.

I've yet to run out of orcs, even as Shadow of War asks me to defend the same castles over and over again against increasingly stronger enemies. I have such a surplus of orcs that, if I am ever unlucky enough to lose a Warchief during a siege, I have a small but capable army ready to take its place. Until that happens, I'm happy to appoint all of my war chiefs a few bodyguards each.

If you make the mistake of not levelling up your orcs along the way, going through the Shadow Wars will take about a weekend. If you make sure to keep your warchiefs strong as go through the game, I'd reckon it would take somewhere around 8-10 hours.

So far, I've put in about 15 hours into the post-game and am like 72% of the way through it this portion of the game. At least seven of those hours were me messing around with sidequests, or butting my head against a wall when confronted with a formidable orc attack. I'm certain that the last remaining percentages will go by much quicker.

I'd compare all this to getting raid-ready in Destiny 2, getting good enough to beat the secret bosses in Bloodborne, or getting the real ending in Persona 4: tough, a little annoying, somewhat time-intensive, yet do-able.

I have no idea if the ending will be worth it, but at the very least, playing through this much of the endgame has given me a better appreciation of the castle siege mechanics.

I plan to get earn the bonus ending in the coming days, and will report back in more detail about the undertaking. But for those of you wondering if this game is going to make you feel like you have to spend more than $US60 ($77) to see all of it has to offer, don't worry.

You can spend money if you want to, but I'm not sure why you would.

WATCH MORE: Playstation News


Comments

    Not ideal they are in the game at all but the way they have been done does not bother me at all.

    Read so many articles and responses that you do not need to buy any at all to finish the game. Most negative response I read was I think Polygon saying how they rushed through the campaign to finish in 15 hours then complained that they had to now grind for Shadow War... RPS said this was akin to rushing through a jrpg, doing the bare minimum, then getting to the end boss and getting smashed with no chance. If you play through the game normally, not rushing, then you will get to Shadow War and not have no chance at all. It will be difficult as it is meant to be but not impossible.

    Whole thing has been blown out of proportion imo.

    Thank you for an interesting read, free of gamer hysteria or Jim Sterling's brand of sky-is-falling nay-saying (which I do respect and normally like) but sometimes I dont want to hear all about the politics or emotional based reactions, we have all heard the arguments before. Sometimes I just want to hear how things actually work, things like do you feel like you need them?

    EG: the difference between the Destiny 2 hysteria and the reality of their micro-transactions was so wildly at odds with each other I found it hilarious, after a few days I was drowning in shaders.

    Having just finished the first game again I cant wait for the second, and while I would prefer to live in a gaming world where loot boxes arent a thing at all, honestly some days I seriously couldnt care they exist. If people really want to sink money into a corporation like WB, thats is their loss. As long as I can still feel like in game, I dont need them. Some games thats enough for me. That doesnt mean I dint get all the arguments, or agree with them for the most part, some days I just cant be assed getting upset.

    Though like with a lot of WB and Ubisoft things the fact that you had to spend so many words just to explain all the differences is a tad ridiculous. I remember when games used to be more complicated than the buy/supporting of them. hehehe.

    Anyways, thanks for all your feedback about your experience.

    I would argue that they are incredibly predatory due to all the items dropping being your level (or lower), thus they quickly become redundant and people with tendencies towards gambling will rationalise that they need to buy more crates to keep up.

    It would be less predatory if the box gave you items that were your level or higher, thus extending the life of their relevancy.

    (Why does editing a comment still result in you being moderated?)

      Well said.
      We seem to be facing a barrage of justifications for these practices, but at the end of the day microtransactions are a marketing tool created by number crunchers, not developers.
      The purpose is to create a revenue steam, projections are employed and focus is given to creating both the supply and demand while balancing gameplay to make the paid options more appealing.

        My new idea is to treat games with free to play economies as free to play games. This means avoiding the high price tag at all costs. I'll pirate the game until it appears in a humble bundle and then allocate the entire purchase price to charity /humblebundle.

    Yep, I was ignoring the hype about the loot boxes, wanted to wait for more information before deciding. But I'm out. If I wanted to play a F2P mobile game with daily grind, 4 different currencies, special events and sales, I'd do that. I get video games are long, complex, expensive things to make. But when you need to rub salt in the stinging wound that is the gamers wallet to fund your game, maybe it's time to look at your scope and take it down a notch or 2.

    I prefer single player games with a certain level of immersion, feeling connected to the game land. The cartoonish image of the main character finding a box, opening it and finding a dozen orcs sitting inside staring up with puppy dog like eyes, maybe one of them holding a picture of a flower and saying "daddy?" hesitantly, goes against the idea I was keen on in the first place.

      Yeah this. Why put loot boxes in the game at all? I don't ever want to come across a loot box, it's just ridiculous and spoils the feel of the game.

      I thought I was reading a review for their tie-in mobile game at first.

    So basically, it's a storm in a teacup. I'll be fine because I can exercise restraint, the absurdly wealthy/the developers will be better off due to enthusiasts/whales being able to spend more than the box price... and the psychologically vulnerable have yet another manipulative trap to fall into.

    Not really a net win in my opinion, thanks to my sense of compassion, but it's certainly not turning me off buying the game for my own entertainment, anymore.

      I don't really understand what we are getting out of this, haven't other developers said that due to their loot boxes we will get all DLC for free?

      What is WB giving us in return for preying on those with addiction problems in our full priced game?

        Exactly. If we don't need to use Loot Boxes, then why are they in the game for? Does more harm than good in terms of immersion.

        they are a corporation, why should anyone expect to get anything in return from them? Game Publishers arent our friends or family, they dont owe us anything. They exist to exploit game developers and the general public to make money.

        Even those 'goodies' like Blizzard with Overwatch say that due to loot boxes all their DLC is free, have just as exploitive loot boxes, more so even, give how child friendly (vs how many events they have) that game is compared to something like this.

          I agree with you, free DLC is just usually one of the excuses people use to justify this kind of thing on behalf of the publishers.

          I will not be purchasing games from companies that treat their customers like this.

    Apparently you need to explicitly opt in to the microtransactions in order to get access to certain elements of the game. But if you choose not to it reminds you on start up, and closing. Every time. If that's the case that's predatory af.

    I'm hearing a lot of 'you can just not pay if you don't want to' rubbish but that completely misses the point. Granted that a slippery slope argument is pretty terrible, but it's hard to deny that the status quo is changing very quickly. Free to play economy mechanics were very uncommon in AAA titles at the end of last year, but in the last few months they pretty much all seem to have them in some form. It's proper bullshit and I'm sick of it.

      It's farkin shit I can't muck around with different cloths in NBA2K without it costing me. The ability to change clothes shouldn't be a luxury in a game that has had it for years and years for free.

    I just won't buy anything with Loot Boxes in them. But then again, I rarely ever buy AAA games any more as it is. The kind of experiences I want aren't the ones being provided by that particular space. The video gaming landscape is large enough now that I can skip all these big-budget titles and just go for the stuff that interests me. My particularly niche tastes in games are catered to quite well already, so I'm not going to scream and shout about this stuff. I've got more than enough to play, and I'm not missing out on anything.

      And you dont sound edgy or condescending at all!

        How is it edgy or condescending if it's true? That wasn't my intention at all.

        I'm not into multi-player. I'm not into modern shooters. I'm not into most open-world collectathons or sim racers. I have a Switch, so that's my Nintendo AAA fill there. I like older stuff, arcade racers, platformers, whatever and the indie space is filling that void for me. Stuff like DUSK, BallisticNG, Starpoint Gemini: Warlords are catering to my tastes perfectly, there's nothing in the AAA space that I want at the moment. There's new games coming out on old systems all the time, and I'm a retro dude, so that's more my bag than anything.

        I get the argument, and I'm glad there's people like Jim Sterling out there who refuse to stop shouting about it, because there's some shitty behaviour going on. I don't like it, so I don't buy it. I won't chastise somebody for buying what they're into though.

        Maybe when the next Elder Scrolls drops and it's full of Loot Boxes, then I'll be a little mad, but again, nobody is forcing me at gunpoint to buy it. If that makes me 'edgy' or 'condescending', then so be it.

    Ill buy it second hand and cheap that way no one gets my money.

      I like your dedication to the world of spite :P

    Friggin Loot Boxes are the devil. Whoever thought they'd be a good idea needs a swift kick to the nuts.

    Thanks for this, great article. Confirms my biggest concern about this game that it is highly similar to the first instalment. I won’t be paying full price for that.

    Given the extent of Australias consumer protection and online gambling laws... the increasing and intrusive use of Random Loot Boxes as microtransactions including their ease of access and glorified animations is cause for serious alarm.

    I think Apple Microsoft Valve, mobile phone game and AAA gsme developers will have to answer for this flagrent money grabbing soon if they continue to abuse customers confidence.

    Let's just all agree to call them what they actually are, gambling boxes.

    One day someone's gonna make a game where the actual game is a lootbox.

    You pay 10 bucks and you have no idea how much of the game you may get when you click play....

    I hate feeling like I made a mistake, but I guess in part we all have. I was one of many that thought loot boxes were fine as long as they stick to cosmetic gear that doesn't affect gameplay. Now it's slowly moving closer and closer to the free to play model without the whole "free" part. I personally have never bought a loot crate for any game. Never sent even a cent for micro-transactions but even so it looks like they are going to start affecting my gameplay whether I like it or not and that's not cool. I want my no strings attached $69 games back, I am sick of all this tie in mess.

    Multi tiered currency, collectible creatures, grindy core mechanics, and a nice old difficulty spike. Looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.

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