How the loot boxes work in Middle-earth: Shadow of War

When J.R.R. Tolkien sat down to write The Lord of the Rings, I wonder if he ever imagined that his fantasy world would one day involve people spending real-world money on imaginary treasure chests stuffed with cockney orcs. Imagine going back in time and trying to explain that to him.

Middle-earth: Shadow of War has microtransactions, and people are mad. And I sympathise, because microtransactions are depressing. The crass commodification of an artform. A gaudy fast food joint popping up on a quaint village high street. An airline charging you $10 for a tiny, weak beer when you already dropped $200 on your damn ticket.

I reviewed Shadow of War and not once did the game flash up a message trying to sell me shit. There’s a Market option on the pause menu, but I never bothered clicking on it. I figured I’d wait for the microtransactions to be intrusive or hamper my enjoyment in some way before getting annoyed at them.

But to give you an idea of what exactly Warner Bros. are hawking, here’s all the stuff currently available in the Market menu. Note that there are two distinct currencies in this weird made-up economy: Gold and Mirian.

Assassin’s War Chest (240 Gold)
“Recruit three Orc Assassins to eliminate your enemies.”
- 3 Orc Assassins: At Least 1 Legendary, 2 Epic

Olog Reinforced War Chest (260 Gold)
“Recruit three Orc Followers, including at least one Olog.”
- 3 Orc Followers: At Least 1 Legendary, 2 Epic
- 2 Consumables: Training Orders and Spoils of War Boosts

Loot chests

Silver Loot Chest (750 Mirian)
“Contains two pieces of Gear, including at least one Rare.”
- 2 Gear Pieces: At Least 1 Rare

Gold Loot Chest (150 Gold)
“Three pieces of quality Gear, including at least one Legendary and an XP Boost.”
- 3 Gear Pieces: At Least 1 Legendary, 2 Epic
- 1 Two-Hour XP Boost

Mithril Loot Chest (400 Gold)
“Contains four pieces of guaranteed Legendary Gear and an XP Boost.”
- 4 Gear Pieces: All Legendary
- 1 Two-Hour XP Boost

War chests

Silver War Chest (1500 Mirian)
“Recruit a pair of Orc Followers, including at least one Epic follower.”
- 2 Orc Followers: At Least 1 Epic
- 1 Consumable: Either Training Orders or a Two-Hour Spoils of War Boost

Gold War Chest (200 Gold)
“Recruit three powerful Orc Followers, including at least one Legendary Follower.”
- 3 Orc Followers: At Least 1 Legendary, 2 Epic
- 2 Consumables: From any of our Training Orders and Two-Hour Spoils of War Boosts

Mithril War Chest (600 Gold)
“Recruit four Legendary Orc Followers and gain a Legendary Training Order.”
- 4 Orc Followers: All Legendary
- 1 Legendary Training Order

Boosts

Two-Hour Player XP Boost (100 Gold)
“A potion that boosts your experience gain by 100% for two hours.”

Two-Hour Spoils of War Boost (100 Gold)
“A potion that boosts your Spoils of War gain by 100% for two hours.”

Ah, yes. That famous potion of Lord of the Rings lore that boosts your experience gain. I think Gandalf mentioned that in The Two Towers.

So yeah, it’s the usual microtransaction nonsense. Earn XP faster. Unlock better gear without actually having to earn it by killing captains and warchiefs. And free high-level orcs for your army without having to dominate them yourself.

Here’s how the two currencies work according to WB.

“Gold is awarded in small amounts at specific milestones and for participating in community challenges. It can also be purchased through the PlayStation Store, Xbox Store and by adding funds to your Steam Wallet using real money. Everything a player can buy with Gold can also be earned in the game over time for free, but Gold gives players the option to acquire these items immediately. No Gold purchases are necessary to enjoy the complete game experience. The main story campaign and progression have been balanced and tuned based on the player being offline.”

“Mirian is a form of in-game currency that players earn by playing the game. Along with Gold, Mirian can be used to purchase Loot Chests and War Chests from the Market. Mirian can be acquired by defeating Treasure Orcs, destroying Gear for Mirian, destroying Orc Followers for Gear (which can be destroyed for Mirian), and finding Mirian stashes throughout the game.”

I’ve asked WB how much Gold actually costs on Steam. If I get a response I’ll update the article. It isn’t possible to buy it in the review version.

Mirian flows into your fantasy bank account constantly, mainly through trashing old gear when you find a better sword, dagger, or whatever.

WB is keen to stress that buying loads of Gold won’t give you an edge over other players. “Gold does not give you any advantage over other players,” they say. “A player who invests enough time can progress the same amount and have access to the same content as a player who purchases Gold. Gold is not required to progress or advance in the game at all."

I got a Gold War Chest free with my review copy of the game, so if you’re interested in what’s actually in them, here’s what I got.

- Lorm the Shy, a Legendary ‘Cursed Dark Slayer’ follower

- Ronk Beast Butcher, an Epic ‘Cursed Feral Destroyer’ follower

- Bûbol the Shredder, an Epic ‘Poisonous Terror Tank’ follower

And as for reports that Legendary orcs only appear in loot chests and not in-game, that’s a misunderstanding, as our own Leif Johnson confirms here:

Playing the main story myself, I never felt like I was missing out on anything. I didn’t think about the microtransactions. But that’s my experience. I still had fun befriending and beheading orcs in Shadow of War regardless of their existence. Microtransactions in $60 games is definitely bad news, but for me they didn't hurt the game—open world bloat and poor storytelling are its biggest issues. Read my review to find out what I thought of the game. 

We'll have more on how and if loot boxes affect the online content and post-game content after launch.