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.
The loot boxes, the Gold currency they've bought with, and the Market they're sold in will all be removed in an update on July 17th, Monolith announced yesterday. They explained why they're taking 'em out:
"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."
So they've realised loot boxes make the game worse not only for people who don't buy them, but for people who do too. Smashing. Lovely. Great stuff. Everyone who bought the game at full price received a game saddled with nonsense that was clearly nonsense but is only now officially recognised as nonsense and getting cut out.
The various other reward chests, earned by playing, will remain but they'll no longer contain orc slaves, replaced with Training Orders.
Monolith say they're revising the game's final chapter, Shadow Wars, as well. It's a repetitive section of defending your clubhouse against ten attacks from Sauron's forces, for which you'll want lots of beefy orcs and decent gear. But, Leif Johnson told us, loot boxes are really not necessary for that as he was swimming in goodies just from playing.
"This portion of the game will be improved with new narrative elements and streamlined for a more cohesive experience," Monolith explained. "For players who choose to continue with these on-going fortress defense missions, the Endless Siege update released last November will still be available." Leif said he grew bored of Shadow Wars before the end of that chapter, so good, streamlining sounds good. Better late than never.
Other update plans are afoot, "including Nemesis System updates, new player skins, skill tree additions, gear system upgrades and progression updates" according to Monolith.
Ah, this is daft. I'm sure many people at Monolith knew loot boxes were an unpleasant idea. But post-launch purchasables are clearly popular amongst publishers, making them feel happier about the risk of investing huge sums of money into fancy singleplayer games (and to keep releasing updates after launch), and I'd be surprised if Monolith had much say in the matter. Big Video Games sure are in a volatile and unsustainable-looking position.