You go to hell! You go to hell and you die!
After the absolute delight that was Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, I was actually looking forward to the upcoming sequel. The trailers and written materials for Middle Earth: Shadow of War certainly had me intrigued. The inclusion of smarter Ogres in the Nemesis System that had more fleshed-out personalities and strengths/weaknesses sounded great. Plus – and this cannot be hyped enough in my eyes – YOU CAN TAME AND RIDE FUCKING DRAGONS!!! I figured there would be nothing that would temper my excitement.
I forgot who I was dealing with. If there is a publisher that can piss on my enthusiasm harder than I can piss in the morning, it’s Warner Bros. For this bit, they went with extra vinegar to go with the piss. My excitement is not only tempered, it has chilled enough to classify as a global event.
Monolith Productions, the developer for Middle Earth: Shadow of War, put out an official announcement that the game will include microtransactions. That in itself is not a complete surprise. Again, if there is a publisher that will do its best to screw up even the best game premise, it’s WB. This announcement, however, goes beyond even their low standards.
Monolith goes out of its way to pump up the importance of “customizing and leading your own army of unique Orc followers against the fortresses of Mordor.” To help out in this endeavor, Monolith has introduced three different purchasable items to assist players: Loot Chests, War Chests, and XP Boosts. In addition, Monolith has set up TWO different currencies: Mirian and gold. I will lace into each of these abominations in turn.
Before we begin, I want to acknowledge something. I am well aware that microtransactions in and of themselves are not insidious. Not only that, but certain microtransactions are sorta-kinda accepted by the gaming community at large. Despite the inherent shit that I feel surrounds ANY microtransactions in a full-retail game, I know that many people will accept cosmetic-only microtransactions. Big Lou and Grumpy Joe constantly try to convince me that the loot boxes in Overwatch, a game I sincerely love, isn’t that bad. Their main point of contention is simple: they’re cosmetic only.
For the record, Big Lou and Grumpy Joe are smoking crack if they think paying $60, then paying MORE money on top of that for cool costumes for Reaper and Symmetra is okay. That’s fine; I do not discriminate against drug addicts like them. I will accept microtransactions in free-to-play games because that’s the price of admission. If I give you $60, I ain’t giving you another penny!
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor takes it further still. Sure, they have Loot Chests that can be purchased via microtransactions. But these Loot Chests don’t provide simple cosmetic changes. You see, Loot Chests contain gear that can vary in rarity. They are potential boosts to Talion, the protagonist. Essentially, Loot Chests are microtransactions that translate into pay-for-power. In addition, the Loot Chests can also contain XP boosts for Talion, buffing his stats even further. That is not cool.
War Chests are a different beast altogether. They provide Orcs that you can drop into your army of followers. Normally, Talion would have to dominate the Orcs in order to recruit them. But why bother if you can just buy a War Chest and pay for the chance to add a rare Orc to your army? Better yet, War Chests can contain Training Orders for your Orcs. It’s great to have powerful Orcs on your side, but Training Orders you to beef them up further.
Worst of all is the introduction of two currency systems. Naturally, one of them is freely available in-game: it’s Mirian. The other currency, gold, is obtainable in-game with substantial grinding. But why not just hop on PSN or Xbox Live and buy some more? Gold can be purchased through those storefronts, and it’s important. I mean, gold lets you buy War Chests and stronger loot. Yes, you could just grind gold or Mirian; they buy the same stuff. But gold can buy Chests quicker. So why not just pay WB some money and get the loot and War Chests faster? Did I mention that War Chests could include rare Orcs?
Whenever a developer or publisher announces a microtransaction mechanic like the ones announced by Monolith, I immediately call shenanigans. The fear in my head is that the microtransactions were introduced as a way of giving players a shortcut. Yes, players could just grind out the currency needed to make the purchases without real-world money. But the temptation to take the shortcut and throw more money at Monolith and WB will be tempting. If that’s the case, then how hard would it be for them to gimp the game’s economy in favor of microtransactions? Isn’t it possible that Monolith or WB can demand that in-game grinding of Mirian be slower? Can’t they make gold – the currency that can be purchased with real-world cash – scarcer, thus more valuable? Wouldn’t that influence them to break the balance of the game in order to “encourage” more microtransactions?
As bad as I feel the loot boxes in Overwatch are, I can at least delude myself into toeing the company line of “cosmetic only” there. Monolith and WB are basically offering up power for money. Nothing in their Loot Chests or War Chests are meant to be cosmetic-only. Why not dangle the carrot of convenience and try to entice players who want to but power?
Square Enix tried that most recently with Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. They took a game that was perfectly balanced for gamers and completely unbalanced it with microtransactions that allowed players to make the protagonist completely overpowered. Playing the game as-is was challenging but fair. Adding the microtransactions allowed players to break the game in the name of more power.
Thanks, Monolith and WB. Thanks for taking a game I was excited to play and ruining it. When this game launches later this year, I will not be buying it. I’ll wait for someone to sell it to me used for about $20. As much as I want to dominate Orcs and dragons, I will NOT be dominated by bullshit microtransactions in full-price games.