Is Middle-earth: Shadow of War’s expansion pass worth buying?

Earlier this month, Warner Bros. and Monolith Productions released the Desolation of Mordor story expansion for Middle-earth: Shadow of War, the final piece of content included in the game’s $39.99 expansion pass. As someone who enjoyed the core Shadow of War experience, I decided to also invest in the expansion pass mainly because it looked like it would offer a decent mixture of gameplay enhancements and new story content. So is the pass worth the $40 price tag?

Nemesis Expansions

There are two different Nemesis expansions included in the expansion pass, but they are very similar in nature so I’m just going to discuss them both in a single entry. The expansions add two new orc tribes into the core game: the Slaughter Tribe and the Outlaw Tribe. Each expansion tribe includes its own unique orc ability (i.e. an ability that orc captains can use against you in combat), themed orc fortress, and other aesthetic details.

There are also supposedly “thousands” of new Nemesis trait combinations that can make the orcs feel unique, but they honestly aren’t that different from the core game’s orcs. Lastly, each expansion adds in a new Legendary tier gear set that the player can earn by defeating powerful orcs from the new tribes.

The best way to enjoy the two Nemesis expansion tribes is if you’re playing Shadow of War for the first time since, in the grand scheme of things, they don’t add a whole lot to the core game. Completionists might enjoy recruiting the new orc captains or hunting down the new Legendary gear sets, but if you’ve already beaten the main game the expansions don’t bring enough to the table to warrant a return visit.

Also, each of the expansions costs $15 on its own ($30 for the pair), which means getting them through the expansion pass is the only cost effective way to play them (at least in my opinion).

Blade of Galadriel

Shadow of War’s first story expansion allows players to control the lithe elvish assassin Eltariel in a new story adventure set after the events of the core game. I won’t discuss the story details of the expansion for the sake of spoilers, but I will say that Eltariel is pretty fun to play as, mainly because she comes equipped with her own unique combat animations, skills, and ring-based powers. Eltariel feels similar to the base game’s protagonist Talion, but she’s also different enough that fans of the core game won’t grow bored while playing the expansion.

If you want to continue Shadow of War’s storyline beyond what is shown in the base game, playing Blade of Galadriel is a must, though some fans might balk at having to pony up for a DLC expansion just to see the ultimate resolution of the game’s narrative. Still, even from a pure gameplay perspective Blade of Galadriel is worth experiencing, and for your efforts you can even unlock a few Eltariel skins for the core game, though sadly they just cosmetically replace Talion while still restricting you to his weaponry and powers. Out of all the content included in Shadow of War’s expansion pass, I’d say Blade of Galadriel is the best of the bunch.   

Desolation of Mordor

Similar to Blade of Galadriel, Shadow of War’s second story expansion allows players to control a character who only showed up as an NPC in the core game: the Gondorian captain Baranor. Desolation of Mordor also adds in a few other wrinkles such as the new desert region of Lithlad, the ability to hire human mercenaries, and the chance to play as a character who lacks the supernatural support of a ring of power. Baranor relies on gadgets such as a grappling hook and a deployable parachute (in this regard Baranor is basically Middle-earth’s version of Batman).

Perhaps the biggest wrinkles of all, however, are the new roguelike elements that affect both the expansion’s character upgrade and region progression systems. There is a structured story campaign to work through and a handful of orc outposts to liberate, and as the player progresses they’ll find and unlock passive gear upgrades and skills. However, since Baranor is mortal, there are serious consequences for dying. Upon death, Lithlad’s orc forces retake all liberated outposts and the player loses all their passive augments, though story progress and non-passive gadget upgrades remain preserved.

The idea behind this sort of “reset structure” is to make Desolation of Mordor highly replayable since players can push to improve their final “score,” and the way Baranor functions in combat can vary drastically depending on which passive upgrades you find. Personally, I didn’t enjoy losing a large chunk of my overall progress just because I accidently pressed the wrong button during an orc execution quick-time event, but if you’re the sort of player who felt that the core game’s death penalties were just a bit too lax, Desolation of Mordor should be right up your alley. And of course, at the very least, owning the expansion allows you to utilize a Baranor cosmetic skin for the base game.

Is It Worth Buying?

Since buying all four DLC packs separately would cost you $65 in total ($15 each for Blade of Galadriel and the two Nemesis expansions, $20 for Desolation of Mordor), the expansion pass is already a pretty good deal, but that’s assuming all of the pass’s content appeals to you.

Fortunately, Monolith accounted for this by also offering a $25 story expansion pass that only includes Blade of Galadriel and Desolation of Mordor. If you’re a casual player who has already beaten the core game, I’d say the story pass is the better option since the Nemesis expansions don’t really add enough to the core game to warrant laying down an addition $15 for the standard expansion pass.

It’s also important to note that, while Shadow of War probably won’t be getting any more paid DLC, there is still more free content to come on top of the free updates Monolith has already implemented, so investing in the game’s paid DLC right this second isn’t strictly necessary if you’re looking for an excuse to return. Personally, I felt I got my money’s worth with Middle-earth: Shadow of War’s expansion pass.