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Middle-earth: Shadow of War

Shadow of War - Beginner's Guide

If you're new to Middle-earth or need a refresher course, we've got some handy pointers to prepare you for what Shadow of War has to offer.

  • Text: Bengt Lemne

Middle-earth: Shadow of War has just been released and we thought we'd get you up to speed with some handy beginner's tips to help you on your way to dominion over Mordor. There's a ton of depth in the more RPG-like systems in Shadow of War so we thought we'd point out some things that will make your adventures a bit smoother...

• Tactical Retreat

While Talion is a superhero compared to most citizens of Mordor, he can still get crowded, and to have a means to dodge out of combat and reassess the situation is often a good course of action. Maybe you can use the environment to your advantage or your arrows for a bit, perhaps even reset things and enter stealth. This is particularly true when dealing with situations involving more than one Orc Captain. Make use of your Wraith vision to find potential explosive or beast-related hazards to exploit, and also make sure you know where to go in order to replenish your supply of arrows. One of the most useful abilities in this respect is the ability to shoot an arrow and shadow dominate an enemy that stands far away, essentially teleporting you to the position of the enemy. Not only does this replenish your health, but you're also able to escape the heat of the battle this way and regroup. This ability only unlocks some way into the game though, but once it does it's of great use.

Middle-earth: Shadow of War

• All skills aren't created equal

Shadow of War offers a linear skill tree where each ability has three perks. The skills gradually unlock either via story progression or by reaching a certain level. It will take a very, very long time to unlock all of your skills so be careful when you pick which perks to unlock. Everything costs the same, so you want to make sure you're actually going to use the ability in question. Unlocking three perks for one particular skill early on would be very unwise as you can only have one of them active. Later on, unlocking more variety makes sense as you'll need to tweak your build to fit the particular Overlords and Warchiefs you're targeting.

Middle-earth: Shadow of War

• Exploit the Nemesis system

Intel is key in Mordor and you should always try and seek it out, whether it's finding a dead Worm, interrogating one, or stopping by a bulletin board, make sure you scout the opposition. Finding out about mortal vulnerabilities is a bit like cheating as you'll be able to one-shot kill plenty of low-level Captains. Later on, these glaring weak links are rarer, but you'll still find major holes in the defences of some Captains even in the late game. It's very rewarding to be able to exploit enemies this way, but the opposite is also true, as some enemies grow a lot stronger if you use a certain type of attacks. You may enrage them, for instance, making them attack frenetically, so make sure you try and avoid that unless you do it from a distance to watch them lash out at their closest friends. Also, an enemy may run if they're terrified too, and thus potentially rob you of the pleasure of taking his head off, so that's also something to consider.

The Nemesis system isn't just something for you to exploit yourself, but as you enter Act 2 and start building your own army you'll be pitting your Captains against enemy Captains and that also makes for some interesting uses of the system. Pit fights are something new where you have no direct control over what happens, but rather it's the Captains alone that will do battle. An intimate knowledge of how various classes and skills match up is key to having your Captains come out on top and gain levels. Making sure to exploit fears and vulnerabilities is key here as you can't use your own player skill to change the outcome.

Middle-earth: Shadow of War

• Beast Mode

One aspect of Shadow of War that tends to be overlooked is the ability to ride beasts. Whether it's Caragors, Graugs, or Drakes, these give you a distinct tactical advantage and some Captains are susceptible and/or scared of these creatures. Caragors are great and swiftly cover ground, allowing for some mounted archery from a safe distance that can be quite effective, while Graugs are more smashy and durable in close quarters. Drakes are probably our least favourite beast, but their point of view is second to none, and if you can shadow dominate a Drake and zip down to the battlefield that makes for some interesting tactical maneuvers. This is only made available towards the end of the game, however.

• An Arrow to the Knee

The Skyrim trope has its place in Shadow of War, as an arrow to the leg of an enemy will freeze them in place. While this doesn't work on arrow-proof Captains, it's surprisingly effective against others as it will let you sink in an attack of your choice, thus exploiting a weakness. It's also a great way of stopping a retreating enemy that you either want to dominate and recruit or make an example of. So while you should generally aim for the head for critical hits and maximum damage, an arrow to the knee is sometimes an even better course of action.

Middle-earth: Shadow of War

• Loot is Everything

Managing your loot and your weapons in Shadow of War is incredibly important. You'll get tons of loot in the game, but there are many factors to consider when choosing what to put on. All rare and epic loot come with perks that can be extremely powerful, adding effects like ice or poison to attacks, allowing you to gain extra might, or adding health. You're not going to be using only one set of weapons, switching them out as more potent ones drop, as instead here you'll need to keep a rotation in play in order to best exploit enemy weaknesses and bolster your defences. Legendary loot can be upgraded several times (by completing objectives and then spending some Mirian), and should never be thrown away. But just because you have legendary items (and sets that offer rather powerful buffs when combined) doesn't mean you should disregard epic and rare items as in certain situations they may offer better advantages.

Another loot-related area is the gems that you equip with your items. These are found as you kill enemies with a white marker over their heads (they can also drop Mirian, but gems are more valuable). Make sure you always kill these enemies as you'll need lots of gems to really maximise your Talion towards the end of the game, and the top level gems really have a massive effect on gameplay (things like adding 30% damage per attack or adding 30% more health). We'd played the game for almost 30 hours until we were able to craft our first top-level gems so this is a grind and it gets easier if, right from the start, you make sure you kill enemies that carry gems. It helps to keep an eye on the mini-map as gem and Mirian holding Orcs appear as white arrows and you'll spot these sooner than they appear over the head of said Orc.

Middle-earth: Shadow of War

• Don't forget about the Glaive

There is a wealth of abilities and skills at Talion's disposal and one that often gets overlooked is the Glaive, which you trigger by holding down square (PS4) and then make a sweeping attack. The fact that it takes a little while to activate makes it a tactical option, but against certain enemy types (particularly when you've got the explosive perk unlocked), it can be key to gaining an advantage. For the most part though, using ranged attacks with a combination of acrobatic dodges and vaults with stun attacks and executions is the way to go when it comes to combat.