Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor's highly anticipated sequel is waiting on the horizon, but feelings are more mixed than they've ever been about the series, and for a potentially solid reason: It's a primarily single-player game with micro transactions. If you've managed to go this long without hearing about the changes to the game's structure and how real life money may influence its play, you may have missed out on some other key details along the way.
To recap, coverage for Shadow of War has actually been fairly heartening. With promises of improvements across the board, things were really looking up for the series. The first game's Nemesis system was a fun, albeit occasionally shallow, way to offer some randomization and replayability to a single-player game in a fairly novel way. Enemies felt unique and vibrant, often clashing with one another and exploiting one another's weaknesses, clawed their way to the top of a violent social structure, and generally added a believable level of vibrancy to an otherwise static game world.
Granted, the Nemesis system is essentially just a pretty way to hide a random number generator that assigns traits and personalities to enemies, but you can break down most any game to its most boring-sounding mechanical components if you try hard enough. Long story short, it made the game feel more alive in a way other games just haven't explored enough.
Though the combat could be considered streamlined and simple, you often felt like the powerful figure you portrayed through how simple it was to parry, counter and generally ruin your opponents with well-timed button presses and simple maneuvering. If you died, it was usually the fault of failing to time a counter properly, though there were a few nagging exceptions in how your enemies could be assigned combinations of strengths and immunities that made them nigh-impossible to beat at best.
So when the Shadow of War team revealed they'd upgraded the Nemesis system and added things like fortress capturing and proper war game skirmishing mechanics, it was easy to feel excited. It seemed like the perfect setup to a sequel: Take what made the first exciting, refine it, and expand on concepts that complement its features. Simple in concept but incredibly difficult in practice.
Then came the announcement that soured perception across the board: Microtransactions. It's becoming something of a dirty word in the gaming industry but is generally accepted when applied in sensible ways. Cosmetics in free-to-play games, for instance, offer a way for the game to collect operating revenue without giving players direct advantages through paying real life money. Path of Exile has been remarkably successful using this model and it makes perfect sense.
On the other hand, with the announcement of equipment and soldier crates in Shadow of War that could potentially throw off the multiplayer elements currently pending inclusion, one has to wonder just how well the game's balance will remain with real money on the line. Pre-orders aren't cheap and there's something remarkably strange about paying to skip content in a single-player game, even if you never touch the multiplayer.
Is it going to ruin the game? Probably not. Will the game's balance be untouched with profits on the line? That's a harder call to make. WB's made some questionable calls in the past and you really have to wonder if this is going to be another shining example.