Shadow of War is the latest high-profile game to feature loot boxes, but how do they work?
According to this detailed breakdown by Kotaku, the main thing you should know before we get into the detail is that Shadow of War loot boxes don't ruin an otherwise good, albeit repetitive game. They are entirely optional, and if you don't engage with them then you will still get plenty of high-end orc buddies and gear for brutalizing their kin.
However, Shadow of War certainly does have loot boxes, and they sound complicated and excessive.
Apparently there are four different kinds and three different currencies that contribute to unlocking them. The currencies are Mirian (abundant), Gold (earned from daily challenges or bought with real money) and Spoils of War (essentially multiplayer XP). The chests, meanwhile, are split between War Chests (mostly focusing on unlockable orcs), Loot Chests (for gear like weaponry) and Multiplayer Chests (more gear).
In common with a lot of recent games, Shadow of War stratifies its various elements into categories like "Epic" and "Legendary", and guarantees a certain droprate for individual chests. So for example, silver War and Loot Chests can be bought with the easily obtained Mirian and guarantee some Epic stuff and consumables, while gold chests require gold coins and include more Legendary content.
"Crucially, I’ve never once felt like any part of this would be easier by buying orcs or better gear," Kotaku's Patricia Hernandez said of her experience with the loot chest system. "For those of you wondering if this game is going to make you feel like you have to spend more than $60 to see all of it has to offer, don’t worry. You can spend money if you want to, but I’m not sure why you would."
Phew. All the same, it sounds as though Shadow of War suffers from a similar problem to games like Forza Motorsport 7, where loot boxes have been shoehorned in against the grain of otherwise-strong game design. Inevitably this sows distrust and controversy, and it will be interesting to see whether it pays off for developers or becomes another fad feature that only works for a gilded few.