One does not simply pay a fixed price for a game anymore, it would seem. Yesterday, I was saddened to learn that the latest game to fall victim to the industry’s version of Sauron was one that I had never thought would – Middle Earth: Shadow of War. It’s a cheap, frustrating and money-grubbing decision that has seriously made me question whether this is a game that I’m excited for anymore.
Before I begin my angry tirade, I would just like to point out for those uninformed what the said microtransactions will apparently entail. According to Monolith, you will be able to purchase in-game currency and loot boxes, which will give you XP boosts as well as new weapons and gear. However, they are careful to draw attention to the fact that all of these things are still accessible through, you know, playing the game, which is nice (the sarcasm is strong here.)
My most immediate concern is that Shadow of War is a single-player dedicated experience, and with the inclusion of microtransactions, an influence on gameplay is almost a certainty. Obviously, being a company that want to make money, Monolith have implemented this in an effort to gain more real-world currency from players after their outright purchase. If you don’t believe that this will result in changes being made to how the game plays, in an attempt to coerce you into buying into this pay-to-win scheme, then you are blissfully naïve. The fact that you’re still able to earn everything through gameplay doesn’t mean a damn thing. To me, it just suggests that they will have made level progression slower, or loot drops less frequent/lucrative, in an effort to tempt players towards coughing up extra dough just to see some noticeable upgrading in their character.
Personally, I consider this to be an absolute tragedy, mainly because for myself and many others, the main draw of the first instalment was its gameplay, and in particular the fantastic Nemesis system. Monolith, since they first revealed Shadow of War, have endlessly talked up how much they have improved and updated it for the sequel, but if my fears are well-founded, then it will in actuality have been made a whole lot worse. The thought of all that lovely, meticulously crafted balance and well-paced levelling being thrown into chaos makes me genuinely miserable.
The thing that annoys me most of all, though, is that us consumers have allowed this to happen by falling for this stuff so many times before. The developers wouldn’t have bothered to set up the online infrastructure necessary to include this feature if they didn’t consider it a safe investment, and it’s a dead cert that no matter what I or others might say, there will always be plenty who will continue to exchange their cash for a bit of a boost without a care in the world, all the while giving developers an excuse for lazy game design.
The practice of paying for such things as this is something that I have never really understood. If you purchase the game on or around release day, you will already have spent £50 or more. What, therefore, is the attraction of paying money to make the game not only easier, but perhaps even shorter if you get an XP boost? Games are expensive enough on their own, and when you’re paying so much for something that you assumedly intend to get extended enjoyment out of, why would you opt when given the choice to lower the level of challenge, and pay money to do it? For multiplayer components of games, I can understand the appeal to a degree. When playing against others, there is no opportunity to adjust the difficulty. This means that unless you’re put against players of a similar skill level to you, if you’re awful at the game, you don’t stand a chance. Loot boxes, therefore, open up the possibility to access things you might not otherwise and level out the playing field a little. The difficulty of single player games, however, is entirely dependent on you being the level you’re meant to be at any given point in the campaign. As a result, XP boosters and access to weapons and armour that you otherwise wouldn’t yet receive is guaranteed to throw things off completely. Most of the fun in Shadow of Mordor came from making some very challenging encounters easier for yourself by playing strategically, but being given an insta-kill ancient warhammer throws all of that out of the window slightly.
Once upon a time, in what feels like a faraway fairytale land now, when you paid for a game, that was that. There was no room for ‘release day patches’ to fix bugs that should have been squashed before release, no DLC locked on discs (sorry, I just tasted a bit of sick in my mouth) and artificial support in gameplay was, when implemented, done so free of charge, and called what it really was – a cheat. But then us gamers allowed ourselves to be played for fools, and now here we are, with the future of one of my most anticipated games of 2017 worryingly uncertain. It still looks undeniably awesome and I know full well that I’ll buy it, but I’m still not pleased. I’m not angry, Warner Bros., just disappointed. And to the future inclusion of microtransactions in single player games, I for one say, “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!”