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Middle-earth™: Shadow of War™ - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Alice O'Connor)

Monolith have announced plans to remove loot boxes from Middle-earth: Shadow Of War in July, eight months after the open-world enslave-o-stabber launched. They’ve realised that they make the game worse, they say. The ‘War Chest’ loot boxes in Shadow Of War contain random items, orc slaves, and bits, and are sold for either the virtuacash earned in-game or for a microtransaction currency bought with real money. Monolith say the loot boxes cause people who buy them to miss out on the experience of the game’s Nemesis system – and even if you don’t buy them, their presence detracts from the game. Neither realisation is remotely surprising. (more…)

Middle-earth™: Shadow of War™

The evils of capitalism, like Sauron, have been dealt a blow. Six months after it launched, Monolith has announced that Middle-earth: Shadow of War’s Orc-filled loot boxes, or war chests, are going to be plucked out of the open world action romp, along with all traces of microtransactions. You’ll need to wait a little bit longer for Middle-earth to be free though, as the changes aren’t happening until July 17. 

Shadow of War’s loot boxes were widely criticised at launch. The system encouraged players to buy war chests with currency that could be purchased for cash, unlocking allied Orcs instead of finding them in the wild and converting them. It wasn’t just a way to scrape more money out of players, it also reduced one of the best parts of the game to a monetary transaction

Monolith’s impending removal of war chests, gold and the market isn’t an admission that microtransactions in single-player premium games are sort of crummy, but rather an acknowledgement that making Orcs purchasable diluted the Nemesis System. 

“The core promise of the Nemesis System is the ability to build relationships with your personal allies and enemies in a dynamic open world,” reads Monolith’s blog post. “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. It 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.”

When criticisms about microtransactions are brushed aside, it’s usually because you don’t need to engage with them. In Shadow of War, for example, you can finish the game without spending any money or using the market. There are arguments that the mere existence of these systems has an impact on the game, however, even if players don’t use them. After six months of feedback, Monolith now recognises this and how it can negatively affect one’s immersion in the bloody game of recruiting a foul army. 

So you’ll have until July to spend any gold you’ve got left, but if that’s still not enough time, don’t fret. All gold will be converted into items once microtransactions have finally been excised from Middle-earth. 

Another one of Shadow of War’s less-than-lauded systems is being overhauled as well. The end-game, known as the Shadow Wars, sees the game culminate in a series of large sieges, 20 of them, leading to the final and true ending. It’s a slog. It takes quite a bit of grinding to get tough enough armies and defences to withstand the constant sieges, and then the Shadow Wars itself feels like it goes on forever. I ran out of steam long before then. 

Monolith says that this whole section is being changed. New narrative elements will be introduced, and we’re promised a more cohesive experience. Though if you quite enjoy the grind, the Endless Siege mode that was introduced in November will be sticking around. This will be accompanied by changes to the Nemesis System, new skins, skill changes, tweaks to gear and progression—generally a whole lot of stuff. This is all due on July 17, just like the microtransaction changes. 

While Shadow of War still has DLC to come, it’s great to see that there are going to be a few reasons to revisit it even if you don’t have the season pass or aren’t tempted by the expansions. The microtransactions were far from the most egregious we’ve seen lately, but they definitely marred the game, so it’s a relief to see them being put in the ground. 

Middle-earth™: Shadow of War™

Loot boxes (War Chests) and nearly everything associated with them are being ripped from Middle-earth: Shadow of War.

The ability to spend real-world money on game gold will be removed - for good - 8th May, and gold, War Chests and the Market will be permanently removed 17th July.

The slightly different Loot Chests will remain but you won't be able to buy them; you will only be able to earn them through Online Conquests and Online Vendettas.

Read more…

Middle-earth™: Shadow of War™ - Monolith_Mark
Free Game Updates – Coming July 17

We want to thank all of the Middle-earth: Shadow of War players, as we’ve learned a lot from you. Since we released the game last fall, we’ve been listening to your feedback and continue to update and improve the experience. With that in mind, we’ll be releasing a series of free updates in the coming months to offer current fans and new players the best Shadow of War experience we possibly can.

The core promise of the Nemesis System is the ability to build relationships with your personal allies and enemies in a dynamic open world. 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. It 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. 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. In order to fully restore the core promise of the Nemesis System, we’ll be permanently removing Gold, War Chests and the Market from Shadow of War. This means the option to purchase Gold with real-world money and the ability to gain Orc Followers from War Chests will be removed. There will be a specific amount of time given for players to utilize their unused Gold. If players have unused Gold by the end of the time allotted to spend it, any remaining Gold will be converted to in-game items.

Additionally, we’ll be updating the Shadow Wars section of the campaign, where players defend their fortresses against Sauron’s repeated counter-attacks. This portion of the game will be improved with new narrative elements and streamlined for a more cohesive experience. For players who choose to continue with these on-going fortress defense missions, the Endless Siege update released last November will still be available. We’ll also be incorporating many other gameplay improvements that will be detailed in future build notes, including Nemesis System updates, new player skins, skill tree additions, gear system upgrades and progression updates, just to name a few that we’re excited about.

Please note that the above updates are free for all Shadow of War owners. The ability to purchase Gold will permanently cease on May 8, 2018. The permanent removal of Gold, War Chests and the Market will take place on July 17, 2018, at the same time as all other updates discussed above.

The entire team here at Monolith appreciates our dedicated fans, and we feel that these improvements will provide all players with the very best Shadow of War gameplay experience. In the meantime, we’ll keep everyone informed throughout the process as we work through the details associated with these changes. We’ve also posted an FAQ below to provide additional information.

Thank you again for your support.

Monolith Productions


FAQ

Why are Gold and the Market being removed from Shadow of War?
The core promise of the Nemesis System is the ability to build relationships with your personal allies and enemies in a dynamic open world. 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. It 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. 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. In order to fully restore the core promise of the Nemesis System, we’ll be permanently removing Gold, War Chests and the Market from Shadow of War. This means the option to purchase Gold with real-world money and the ability to gain Orc Followers from War Chests will be removed.

When will Gold and the Market be removed from the game?
Gold will no longer be available for purchase with real-world money beginning on May 8, 2018. Players will still be able to spend Gold and receive Gold via in-game challenges up until the Market closes permanently on July 17, 2018.

Are there plans to add Gold or the Market back into the game in the future?
No, these are permanent changes to the game.

Will players still be able to spend Mirian on in-game items through the Market?
Players will be able to spend Mirian in the Market until it permanently closes beginning on July 17.

Will players still be able to earn and spend Mirian in the game?
Yes, Mirian will continue to be used to unlock gem slots and increase fortress defenses. We will also be adding the ability use Mirian to acquire Training Orders or upgrade a piece of older gear to your current level, as well as spend gems to reroll gear stats.

What will happen to unused Gold when the Market is permanently closed?
Any remaining Gold will be converted to Gold Loot Chests beginning on July 17. Each 150 in Gold will be converted to one Gold Loot Chest, with any balance under 150 Gold being converted to a single Gold Loot Chest. The contents of Gold Loot Chests will remain unchanged.

Can Gold voucher codes still be used after the Market is permanently closed?
Gold vouchers redeemed on or after July 17, when the Market closes, will be converted into Gold Loot Chests. Gold vouchers redeemed before July 17 can be used normally.

Will these game updates change how players can recruit Orcs?
There will now be more ways to recruit and upgrade Orcs, including recruitment during Online Conquests and Online Vendettas, as well as having more Legendary Orcs present in the game.

Will players still be able to purchase or earn War Chests?
No, the ability to purchase or earn War Chests will be removed from the game when the Market permanently closes beginning on July 17. However, all unopened War Chests that a player has obtained will still be available in the Garrison.

Will players still be able to earn or purchase Loot Chests?
The ability to purchase Loot Chests will be removed from the game when the Market permanently closes beginning on July 17. However, Loot Chests can still be earned in-game through Online Conquests and Online Vendettas. Loot Chest contents will remain unchanged.

How are the in-game chest rewards going to change going forward?
Online Conquests and Online Vendettas will continue to award Loot Chests. Online Fight Pits will continue to award Training Orders through chests. Community Challenges will award chests. Spoils of War chests will now contain Training Orders instead of Orcs, including a guaranteed Legendary Training Order.

Will the Garrison remain in the game?
Yes, unassigned Followers, unopened chests, unused Boosts and unused Training orders will continue to be available in the Garrison.

Will weekly Market updates continue to be released until the Market is closed?
The Market will continue to update as normal until May 1. On May 1, the Market will still be available, but no longer feature any new content or promotions. The Market will be permanently closed beginning on July 17.

Will Daily Challenges continue to reward players with Gold?
Gold will continue to be available as a reward for Daily Challenges until the Market is permanently closed on July 17. After that date, challenges that awarded Gold will now award Legendary gear.

How can Gold be used between now and July 17?
Players can continue to purchase items in the Market with Gold until the Market is permanently closed on July 17.

What will happen to unopened chests that have already been purchased when the Market is closed?
After the Market is permanently closed on July 17, all unopened chests will continue to be available for use in the Garrison

What will happen to items in the Garrison once the Market is closed?
Nothing will change. All Orcs and in-game items that were in the Garrison prior to the Market closure will continue to be available after the Market is closed.

Why is the Shadow Wars portion of the game being changed?
With the addition of the Endless Siege mode, we are now able to streamline the Shadow Wars and add a number of improvements to the presentation, along with new narrative elements to provide a more cohesive experience.

When will the Shadow Wars updates be implemented?
The Shadow Wars updates will be available on July 17, along with other game updates.

What will happen to players who have already started the Shadow Wars when the update goes live?
For players who have already started the Shadow Wars, it will restart upon receiving the update. For players who have already completed the Shadow Wars, it will remain completed. For players who have yet to begin the Shadow Wars, the new version will be available when they arrive at that point in the game.

What other game updates are being planned?
We will be incorporating many gameplay improvements that will be detailed in future build notes, including Nemesis System updates, new player skins, skill tree additions, gear system upgrades and progression updates.

Will these changes be implemented in all regions?
Yes, all game updates will be available in all regions and platforms globally.
Middle-earth™: Shadow of War™ - Monolith_Mark


The Desolation of Mordor Story Expansion includes:

• NEW Story campaign
• NEW Side missions featuring Torvin
• NEW Human Mercenaries and Bodyguards
• NEW Region of Mordor - The Desert of Lithlad
• NEW Beasts: Were-wyrms

Play as Baranor, the Captain of the Tower from Minas Ithil, and travel deep behind enemy lines in the Eastern Deserts of Mordor.

Raise an Easterling Army to open a new front in the Shadow War.

Rendezvous with Torvin, the epic Dwarven Hunter, who journeyed deep into the Desolation of Mordor in pursuit of the legendary Were-wyrms.

Join Monolith every Thursday at 3PM PDT on twitch.tv/monolithlive to get a first look at the new DLC.
Middle-earth™: Shadow of War™

He's baaaaaaaaaaaack.

Harassment and toxicity are once again hot topics at this year's Game Developers Conference, but I didn't expect to come face to face with my own cyber bully. During a talk entitled "Helping Players Hate (or Love) Their Nemesis", Chris Hoge pulled up a slide with a screenshot of my 'F*** This One Particular Orc' article. And there he was in all his rancid glory: Mozû the Blight. My green whale. The ultimate nemesis. "I actually wrote that," I spluttered, to a light ripple of applause because they knew my pain. Hoge just laughed at me.

Hoge, who previously worked on the software for F-16 fighter planes, is now lead systems designer at Monolith Productions, and therefore supremely placed to explain what's going on under the hoods of Shadow of War's green-skinned antagonists. He explained that the best player relationships with orcs are like rollercoasters with lots of ups and downs. "We want the ride to be really long, because it gets better," says Hoge. From it's work on the first game, the Monolith team discovered that the more stress and frustration an orc induced, the more satisfaction and jubilation resulted when the player finally got the upper hand.

The key to a good nemesis, as I know only too well, is therefore finding yourself caught in something Hoge calls the "Revenge Loop". This is the process whereby you keep struggling and failing to kill an orc, during which time its abilities improve and your unhealthy codependency deepens. For the player, the fun part comes from working out how to break the loop, which usually means by taking advantage of one of the orc's weaknesses—whether that be to stealth, beasts, or in Mozû's case the poison that had left him looking like a two-week old pizza left in the Kalahari sun.

The red lines give you a sense of the 'revenge loop'. But not my burning rage.

In order to ensure no orc became truly unconquerable, Hoge explained that one of their weakness is secretly baked in, meaning that it won't be removed no matter how much the orc levels up. If you've played the game you'll know that even the lowliest orc can potentially become a captain if it lands a killing blow on the player, for which it's rewarded with a promotion. Aside from a few hand-crafted storylines involving orcs like Bruz, which orcs go on to become your nemeses is handled entirely systemically. 

Brilliantly, one of the main determining factors is an index called PIS, which stands for player interaction score. This measures your relationship with every orc in the game. If you have a high PIS rating with a particular orc, it's more likely that it will be able to 'cheat death'. "We need cheating death to be an exception," explained Hoge. "It can’t happen to every orc, it has to be an amazing thing." Orcs with good PIS also have their chance to be on the receiving end of a random decapitation removed, which otherwise would guarantee a true death. They're only safe a few times, though. Eventually the immunity is removed behind the scenes, and Talion can add that noggin to his sizeable collection.

Boiling your PIS

There's more to making a memorable nemesis than a PIS score though. Appearance is key, and though the orcs are generated procedurally, those systems are designed to ensure they have the most chance to grab the player's attention. So for instance if an orc gets given the name Blarg Fireguzzler, there's a good chance he'll get a flaming sword, or wear a burning brazier for a helmet. Hoge noted that what really mattered was how the orc looked from the head and shoulders up. Players wouldn't even notice sweet design lower down, like jars of eyeballs hanging from a belt.

Orcs are also taught to remember their individual history, even if the player doesn't. For example, it might say: "You ran away last time, manthing!" Again, having certain rare traits helps to make individual orcs stick in the memory. Only around 6% of orcs will get the 'Humiliator' perk, which they use to shame Talion after each victory. When it first happens you're both amazed and immediately enraged. There are also a handful of unique orc archetypes, each of which can appear just once per playthrough. An orc with "the Claw" title will be one whose arm you hacked off and has come back with a metal replacement, while "the Uncatchable" is an Orc that escaped your blade three times.

Maybe I could have worked it out with Moz somehow?

Unsurprisingly, Mozû was one of these orcs. His "the Blight" title meant he'd been transformed by poison, which in a delicious piece of irony also proved his eventual undoing. In a Q&A session after the talk I asked Hoge if Monolith keeps data on the most amount of times a player has been killed by the same orc. He told me they do, but that it's hard to parse what's genuine because some players allow themselves to be killed by one orc 100s of times to level it up, and then painstakingly use the 'shame' mechanic to reduce that orc back to a gibbering level 1 dolt. I deeply hope the identity of these players is being passed to the authorities. Or at the very least PETA.

These rare encounters are key to making a system-driven game feel fresh. It's important that the player isn't able to see how things are being manipulated under the surface, because that would rob Shadow of War of its mystery, and thus some of the drive to explore. Indeed, I agree with this idea that one of the main themes at this year's GDC has been how good narrative is increasingly being generated by systems rather than hand-crafted storylines. It was also prevalent in this Assassin's Creed: Origins session I attended. The blur between story created by systemic vs bespoke content is only likely to keep blurring further.

Not pictured: Me shutting down the computer and going to bed too angry to sleep.

Tantalisingly, Hoge mentioned a couple of possible interactions that I didn't see at all in my full playthrough. He gave the example of an Olog-Hai titled "the Sword Breaker", who will snap your prized weapon if he wins in combat. Hoge said they were frightened some players would rage quit on the spot and never come back, so they added a feature that enabled players to get their weapon back by killing the orc that had broken it. The weapon would even be leveled up as a reward.

Another cool encounter which I didn't experience was a special sort of ambush in which the enemy orc turns up with one of your followers held hostage at knifepoint. At the start of the fight he slashes' your buddy's throat, and you have to juggle trying to heal him up and handling the bad guy's ministrations. But the ultimate peak on the rollercoaster, according to Hoge, is when one of your favorite orc followers turns heel.

Monolith began assessing features based on whether players would be likely to blog about them.

Hoge noted that players learn to love their best orcs in a way that Talion and Celebrimbor never do. We level up our favorites and give them their own fortresses, and in response sometimes they even turn up to give us gifts or even, very occasionally, save us from a killing blow by instakilling an enemy captain at the last second. Or they betray you, because hey they're orcs and that's what they do. Either way Hoge is happy, because it helps extend your personal story with that orc. "Now you've got another hill on the rollercoaster, and more emotions to express." 

Hoge even says that Monolith wrote all the words in Shadow of War—both dialogue and in-game text—with a mind to making it as natural and shareable as possible, because they wanted players to tell their friends these incredible stories. They even began assessing features based on whether players would be likely to blog about them. Which I guess is exactly what I ended up doing. If only I could have recruited Mozû, we could have ruled Mordor together. Instead I had to gank him in a back alley with a bunch of poison-daggered orcs, one of whom was riding a warg. Which, in some ways, is how all great love stories should end.

Middle-earth™: Shadow of War™ - Monolith_Mark
Some of you have been asking for prizes in Tribal Wars and we've heard you. So for the final week, we’re asking you to send us a screenshot of your favorite tribal champion. We'll do random drawings this week and next over on Twitter @ShadowofWarGame, giving away Mithril chests. All you have to do is Tweet us a screenshot of your favorite Captain from the current winning tribe with #Sweepstakes and #ShadowofWar to enter. (This week it’s Terror. Next week, who knows? But maybe Terror.)

Remember to use hashtag #sweepstakes with your post. (Seriously, if you do, you’re already waaay ahead of the competition.)

So the final challenge is upon us. It's an online pit fight battle royale:



And we’ll be diving into Pit Fights today (Thurs.) on our livestream to kick things off. Join us at 3 PM PST / 6 PM EST to challenge our champions or just to laugh at the random carnage. http://go.wbgames.com/MonolithTwitch

And once more for posterity – congratulations to Terror tribe for their back-to-back wins. That's impressive but it would cool to see a new challenger enter the fray for the final round.

Middle-earth™: Shadow of War™ - Monolith_Mark
Overlords look down on the rank and file. That’s a perk of the job - right up there with getting to toss the head of a spy off the top of their balconies.

But only the strong stay on top –there’s always room at the bottom. This week, keep your Overlords on their toes AND give your favorite tribe a chance to climb to the top of the Tribal Wars by promoting as many Overlords from your favorite tribe as you can.

Every promotion counts. You can promote and demote a single Captain as many times as you want.

It’s time to topple the pretenders.



And the results of last week are in – all hail the Terror tribe! Fittingly, the Masters of Pain dealt the most punishment to their foes in week 2’s Assassinations and Pit Fight missions. Will they stay on top? That’s up to you…

Middle-earth™: Shadow of War™ - Monolith_Mark
Week 1 of Tribal Wars is in the books and the Marauder tribe proved triumphant. The Captains of Bling dominated week 1, swelling their ranks with an impressive 443,430 new recruits! With a late surge, the Marauders were able to hold-off rival Terror tribe and secure victory. Terror was barely edged out, though, with 443, 055 of their own Followers added - a mere 375 Dominations off the lead.



Still, the ultimate winner (or "Uber" winner as we said confusingly last week) will be the tribe with the most weeks won throughout the entire month. In case of a tie, we’ll aggregate all four weeks results to crown our champion.

Now it's time to take those newly Dominated Followers (and old favorites) from your adopted tribe and send them on Assassination or Pit Fight missions from the Army screen. Remember, we’re counting Follower vs. Follower Pit Fights this week – online Pit Fights will be scored in week 4.

Every victory earned in either of those mission types will be tallied community-wide to determine the winning tribe.

The more you send your tribal champions out, the more you add to your tribe's final tally.

Prove your tribe is a cut above the rest.

...

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