Middle-earth: Shadow of War new patch is a good reason to walk into Mordor

Middle-earth: Shadow of War rolled out a massive patch this week that along with a host of quality of life improvements, removes the in-game store and all microtransactions from Monolith’s Middle-earth adventure. The patch also adds a fresh clan of orcs, lowers the bar to unlock the true ending as part of the Shadow War end game content, increases the level cap to 80, and adds in new story content and gear to Shadow of War to add depth to the experience so that it feels less like an end-game grind.

All in all, it’s a patch that feels like Monolith’s final attempt to flesh out community concerns and issues and leave Shadow of War in a good place before moving on to other projects, which partly involves disabling their controversial in-game marketplace.

As a result, it’s hard to notice much of a difference between this new patch and the launch version of the game, aside from the gaping whole where the shop used to be, because many of the changes are small enough that they’re difficult to notice unless you’ve actively been playing the game this last several months. That doesn’t mean it still isn’t a lot of fun, but that’s mostly because Middle-earth: Shadow of War is still one of the best games to roll out this decade.

A simple walk into Mordor

That said, if you’ve been itching to return to Mordor this patch is a heck of a good reason and comes right during the summer gaming dry spell. Most of the bug fixes and the new content are more than fun enough to make playing through to the end interesting, and the nature of the nemesis system itself means that a fresh playthrough will feel like a whole new adventure either way.

Particularly if the Shadow Wars end game content felt a little dry or grindy to you this new update is a good excuse to return because it makes the whole experience much less of a difficult hurdle with no significant payoff.

The number of missions and stages you need to complete this portion of the game has been reduced, which makes unlocking the true ending of the game much more manageable, and as a bonus doing so unlocks a killer looking new set of armor and the Masks of the Nazgûl.

The masks themselves are incredibly powerful and unlock a lot of fun playstyles for you to experiment with whether you choose to continue the Shadow Wars or dive into Shadow of War’s PvPvE hybrid experience to continue to send orc skulls flying competitively.

Good for young and old

In our time with the patch, we loaded up our old save, which involved a max level Talion with all his skills unlocked and the Shadow War completed and found that because Talion’s new level cap has been boosted to 80, we suddenly had a goal and a purpose again.

If you’re a fan of Shadow of War’s addictive blend of personal stories and the narrative of the Nemesis system, this patch has a lot of content for you to explore. We missed out on a lot of the big content drops since Shadow of War’s launch but diving head first back into our armies and trying to chase the new level cap fairy gave us a new perspective to approach the game from.

No longer did it feel like we were a young Talion out to oppose Sauron’s iron grip with the help of a plucky cast of orcs and characters. We felt older, wiser, and we were able to focus on the best part of Middle-earth: Shadow of War, the Nemesis system.

After 12 hours of farming orcs, whipping our armies into shape, and in general doing our best to finish anything and everything Shadow of War has to offer, we had to force ourselves to come up for air. Shadow of War is just addicting like that. Granted, we didn’t feel like the new orc tribe added much to the experience, but the whole experience was a refreshing reminder of the kind of interesting gameplay available to anyone that loves the Lord of the Rings universe and the kind of insane personal narratives that Shadow of War can create.

The feeling of building an orc army out of the powerful enemies that manage to slice through your defense is intense, and the very real feeling of loss and anger when you carefully manicure an orc to be the strongest of his kind, only to have him defeated by an upstart prodigy is something that you’ll only find in Shadow of War. It’s like a game of high-stake gambling involving buckets of orc-blood instead of dice and chips.

It’s unique, fun, and if you’re the kind of person that loves slicing through hordes of orcs to build an unstoppable army, the new level cap for orc chieftain and Talion alike gives the nemesis system a chance to really shine.

Short sword, sweet payoff

Unfortunately, the patch itself is a lot smaller than it seems. For someone that just recently returned to the title after a long hiatus I suddenly had 20 levels to grind, new gear to farm, and a severely out of date army to muster. But for people that were really hoping for some game changing new free DLC, you’ll probably walk away somewhat disappointed.

The new orc tribe just kind of faded to the background for me, I never really spent a whole time focusing on these tribes in the first place, so a new one to a list of other difficult tribes that manage to occasionally slaughter or frustrate me with unique abilities just kind of fades into the background.

What’s more, although there’s supposed to be a new set of cut scenes and dialogue associated with the Shadow Wars voiced by Talion, the Witch King, and Shelob, I didn’t end up seeing them in game because I had already finished the Shadow Wars before the patch. We assume that they’re interesting, but we didn’t end up hearing them and didn’t have time to play through the whole game again up to the Shadow Wars to unlock them.

This alone is a good reason to start a fresh campaign, but I was a little disappointed that Monolith didn’t roll them out when I first loaded in, so I didn’t have to start all over to experience them.

It was still fun to play, but that felt like it was more because Monolith gave us another mountain to climb with this patch, not because it really adds a huge amount of new content.

Why now?

Additionally, the whole removal of the in-game shop just kind of feels odd. We can’t help but ask, “why now?” because there doesn’t seem like there’s a big reason to remove it at all. The microtransactions in the now defunct shop were far from game breaking in our eyes, and it feels like the damage that may have occurred at launch from these in game microtransactions has long since faded.

We assume that Monolith and WB made the decision because in game sales were dropping, and maybe it’s meant to appeal to the tiny portion of their audience that claimed they would never buy the title while microtransactions were present.

It could just be an effort of goodwill, a tiny tip of the hat to the larger gaming community. Removing all microtransactions from the game could be the positive note Monolith wants to leave Middle-earth: Shadow of War on before they dive into another project, which would make sense considering the whole patch feels like it’s themed around polishing off some of the community’s chief complaints about the game in general.

Microtransactions were easily one of the most controversial features in Shadow of War in the first place, and despite the limited impact they seemed to have on a player’s personal experience many felt like it was a betrayal from a company that had a solid track record or free content in the past. No one expected Monolith to roll out microtransactions in the first place, so ripping them out seems just as unexpected, but presumably should have a positive impact for the game moving forward.

That said, there’s no doubt that on some level this whole thing is likely a PR move, and although critics of microtransactions might consider this a win, they also might call it a bit late for it to make a difference.