These don’t sound great.
Bafflingly that battle isn’t the end of the game. Shadow of War continues on, but with its momentum drained completely. What should be an exciting climax instead descends into a tedious slog for a cutscene that doesn’t quite feel worth the time and effort. In the game’s actual final act, you cycle through the four fortresses you explored previously for a total of 20 more defending siege battles. If you haven’t upgraded the Orcs you met early in the game–and up until this point, there was no reason to–you have to replace and upgrade your entire retinue of Orcs to match this more powerful invading force.
The enemies you face level up with each encounter, so you’re also forced into upgrading each castle over and over again, either by building up your current Orc army or finding new fighters and replacing the old. This Sisyphean quest has no corresponding significant characters to keep you company or explain why it’s important to tackle the defense missions in the order you do. It’s not even clear, exactly, why you want to do them at all.
More than once I felt like giving up on this quest thinking I’d stumbled onto some optional side content that was clearly only made for obsessed completionists. But enduring on, I found that finishing every stage unlocks the final cutscene and credits. It did not feel worth it.
Monolith has confirmed that there is a “true ending” hidden behind Shadow Wars. I love the idea of offering dozens of hours of grindy yet fun content for players who really adore this game to sink their teeth into. But that works better as an option rather than a looming obligation for completionists. Having the game’s real finale locked away behind those dozens of hours — hours that, while fun, are devoid of story missions, side quests, cutscenes or other distractions that help mix up the pace — is a disappointment.
Will I return to mess around in Shadow Wars some more? Almost certainly. But I have no plans to ever see that final scene outside of YouTube.
The bigger and more pressing problem with Shadow Wars is that it’s the main home of one of Shadow of War’s more controversial additions to the first game’s formula: microtransactions. Technically, you can jump into the marketplace and purchase loot chests earlier in the game, but there’s really no pull to do so during the main campaign. You can find plenty of nice armor and weapons and all the orcs you need by playing regularly.
In Shadow Wars, however, things get more complicated. With all other side content drained, the only thing left to do is to play fortress defense missions (and collect more orcs to help with more fortress defense missions). Finding powerful orcs becomes the be-all, end-all focus of the game, and the easiest way to find powerful orcs is, cynically, to purchase them. The cheapest chest on the marketplace (which offers the barest guarantees on the quality of allies you unlock) can be purchased using the in-game money Talion picks up. That money also buys upgrades to your fortresses, though, and between the two I spent all 60,000 or 70,000 coins I had gathered over the course of the campaign in a few hours.
When you run out of in-game money, you have two choices: Make a huge time investment by hunting down orcs in your game world and earning chests via vendetta missions, or spend some real money to get the more powerful orcs you need now. Does the game ever force you to spend money? No. I’m sure you can get to the end of Shadow Wars without spending a dime, as long as you’re patient and persistent. But locking progress through this mode (and, again, toward the game’s true ending) behind either spending more money or doing tons of tedious busywork feels at least greedy if not predatory.