Ranger Talion and elven wraith Celebrimbor are back in Middle-earth: Shadow of War, the canon and lore-abusing sequel to Monolith’s wonderful Shadow of Mordor. If slicing and dicing a variety of unique and grudge-holding orcs is your sort of thing you’ll be pleased to know there’s all that and a huge amount more on the way. Need a quick run through of everything there is to know? Let us be your guide. We’ll be taking the Misty Mountains path for this one, the previous party seemed to disappear when taking the Moria route...
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Middle-earth: Shadow of War release date
Shadow of War released on October 10. It arrived a little later than first anticipated, as it was originally due late August, but was delayed in order to allow extra development time.
"Monolith is committed to delivering the highest quality experience," the developer said. "In order to do this, we have made the difficult decision to move our launch date to ensure that Middle-earth: Shadow of War will deliver on that promise.”
Middle-earth: Shadow of War review
We scored Talion and Celebrimbor a mighty 8/10 in our Shadow of War review, praising its intricate and fun Nemesis system, orc personalities, and fort assaults, but noting that the core story quests fell very flat.
As for its tech credentials, our Shadow of War PC performance review found that Monolith put together a very strong offering. While the open world puts stress on frame rates, overall Shadow of War looks and runs great on PC.
Middle-earth: Shadow of War story
Shadow of War picks up after the events of Shadow of Mordor, which saw Talion and Celebrimbor forge their own Ring of Power in order to challenge the Dark Lord Sauron. The ring provides Talion with new abilities because it is, of course, an RPG item rather than a corrupting, hateful weapon of mass destruction. Joined together, Talion and Celebrimbor have become The Bright Lord; a now-legendary figure in Mordor.
The game sees the introduction of the Ringwraiths to Talion’s journey, and features the fall of human city Minas Ithil to the Witch King. It’s one of the most important moments in the history of Middle-earth, signalling the start of Mordor’s expansion and their preparation for war. The launch trailer shows the siege in action, and you can see the city’s eventual fate (it’s rebranded as Minas Morgul, the green mist-shrouded fortress of the Nazgul).
The game’s focus on areas beyond the slopes of Mount Doom means the story takes you to new and more varied places. Forests and snowy mountains feature heavily, as do Mordor’s evil fortresses Seregost and Cirith Ungol. A certain armoured, all-seeing necromancer is also back in town, so Talion needs to deal with him, too.
Shadow of War also features returning and new characters from the Tolkien mythology, including Shelob the spider (who can now shape-shift into human form, thanks to being technically a spirit and not an actual spider) and the entwives; female talking trees who, before now, have only ever been mentioned in passing in the Lord of the Rings books.
Talion and Celebrimbor also have to contend with some of Middle-earth’s most ancient, deadly foes. The balrog Tar’garoth, who has lain hidden in Mordor since the first age, has been summoned by Sauron’s orcs. In response, Talion is joined by the spirit of Carnán, a long-term enemy of Tar'garoth, who can shift into a variety of forms. As dangerous as Sauron is, this ancient evil easily stands as one of Talion’s key new antagonists.
Middle-earth: Shadow of War endgame
One notable absence from the otherwise brilliant Shadow of Mordor was any meaningful endgame content. Once you’d finished sticking it to Sauron’s goons and conquered the map there was nothing to do except to continue scything down Uruks, which while fun, gets a little dull after an hour.
Middle-earth: Shadow of War however, has a significantly expanded endgame where players are tasked with defending the numerous strongholds they’ve captured across Mordor. Called the Shadow Wars, this mini campaign takes place after the main story, with Sauron launching a number of aggressive counter-attacks on Talion’s captured fortresses. Shadow Wars takes place in stages, starting out with fairly meagre assaults on single locations, and ramping up to huge, multi-pronged attacks on entire regions.
Lose a fortress and not only will you have to reclaim it, you’ll also have to rescue the overlord you left in charge of it - a little mission variety to keep you from feeling totally penned in by Uruks.
The Shadow Wars campaign is finite though, and once you’ve successfully repelled Sauron’s army you’ll be treated to the game’s final, proper ending. This final scrap of story directly links the events of the game to the Lord of the Rings.
Middle-earth: Shadow of War Nemesis system
The Nemesis system was Shadow of Mordor’s great gift to the world, and it returns for the sequel in a far more detailed, expanded form. Once again, you are able to form rivalries and grudges with a hierarchy of generated orcs, although this time there’s a new top-tier above Warchiefs in the form of Overlords.
Overlords are in charge of Nemesis Fortresses; huge castles that you can lay siege to. The physical appearance of the fort vastly changes depending on what orc tribe rules it. Tribes are another new feature, and provide orcs with special abilities and bonuses. The Beastmaster tribe, for instance, have access to special creatures they can use in battle.
You lay siege to Nemesis Fortresses using your followers, the third key branch in the system. Followers provides you with your own hierarchy of orcs, and you can lead your army into battle in order to seize forts for your own use. This adds a whole new element to the personal stories that the Nemesis system spins; no longer is it just rivalries you are creating, but also friendships that build loyalty. For example, you may be on the verge of death in a battle, only for one of your loyal orcs to dive in at the last moment and save you.
Assaults are conducted with up to six followers, and each can be assigned a specific upgrade. For example, you could have one of your Warchiefs backed up by a team of sappers, who at the start of the battle can strap explosives to the front gate in order to get your attack off to an explosive start. Each of your followers can have one upgrade each, paid for with the in-game Mirian currency that can either be found in the open world or earned through quests and fortress takeovers.
Fortresses can start out as being a bit too powerful for your followers to assault, but there are several ways to make your attack a little easier. You can find intel in the world that reveals what orcs will be awaiting you inside, allowing you to take in followers who can successfully counter them. You can also assassinate Warchiefs beforehand, or even force their bodyguards to be your spies so that they’ll fight for you when you breach the walls.
When inside the walls of a fort, you need to capture a few victory points and defeat the enemy Warchiefs, before pushing forward to a boss fight with the fortress’s Overlord. While all your assigned followers can help you in the main assault, only your bodyguard can join you in the boss battle.
If your siege is successful you’ll take control of the fortress. You can then assign one of your own orc followers to it, with that choice directly influencing the appearance of the fort in much the same way as your enemies. Your chosen Overlord will also impact things beyond the fortress walls; for example one type will cause bait to be available in the region, allowing you to summon dragons.
Middle-earth: Shadow of War new mechanics
Alongside an expanded Nemesis system, Shadow of War improves the RPG elements that provided a small-but-sturdy base for the original’s combat. Skill trees return but they now offer more customisation. Unlocked skills can be altered with a modifier. For example, the Elven Mobility skill from the first game can now be enhanced with Spectral Dash, which allows Talion to leap forward in exchange for a little extra Focus. For more on Talion's new repertoire, check out our Middle-earth: Shadow of War skills guide.
Shadow of War also introduces more RPG-like gear. You can collect loot in exchange for defeating orcs. Equipping it both changes the appearance of Talion and bestows him with passive bonuses. Some gear items even come with challenges, which when completed unlock damage boosts and other buffs. Equipment can also be socketed with gems, allowing yet more bonuses to be applied.
The most important piece of gear, however, is Talion’s new Ring of Power. The ring can be etched with new runes to provide several bonuses to your skill set, plus even more to unlock.
Talion isn't restricted to the ground for his new adventure. A drake is available to ride later in the campaign. By dominating one after damaging it enough, you are able to hop on and take to the skies. Drakes can, of course, breath fire, so you can toast orcs and outposts. Graugs and caragors return from the first game, meaning there are several rideable creatures. Talion can even summon beasts to help him, including spiders.
Once again the open world is full of small activities to do. Outposts are one of these, which are small camps run by lesser-ranked orcs. Taking out an outpost will prevent orcs from using the alarm there, making your travels through that section of the world a little easier.
Shadow of War has an interesting approach to mission failure. Rather than ask you to replay a mission you fail from a loaded checkpoint, the game will instead roll time forward. Your enemies will gain strength, and your allies will be captured, meaning your next attempt at the objective will be very different.
Middle-earth: Shadow of War online
While Shadow of War doesn’t have true multiplayer, it does have online functions. The Vendetta system from the first game returns, allowing you to fight your friends’ Nemesis orcs.
The new Social Conquest mode allows you to use an orc army to maintain an online fortress. Other players will be able to use their armies to assault your fort, and can win rewards based on how long it takes them to overcome your defences. Social Conquest will come in friendly and ranked modes; any orcs lost during a ranked game will be permanently killed and unable to return to your main campaign.
Middle-earth: Shadow of War loot boxes
Keeping up with modern gaming trends, Shadow of War features loot boxes. They are split into different categories, including Loot Chests, War Chests, and Boosts. They contain weapons and armour, orcs, and XP boosts, respectively.
In-game ‘Mirian’ currency can obtained by killing Treasure Orcs, finding hidden stashes, or destroying specific items. The premium Gold currency is awarded at specific story milestones, but can be purchased with real cash.
Middle-earth: Shadow of War DLC
The first DLC for Shadow of War will be The Blade of Galadriel - you can watch a cutscene from it above. This mini campaign will focus on Altariel, an assassin employed by elven queen Galadriel, and she may potentially be a playable character. When she arrives in Mordor she discovers that Talion and Celebrimbor have lost their Ring of Power, which sounds like a pretty foolish thing to do.
Middle-earth: Shadow of War system requirements
According to the product page on Steam, Shadow of War’s system requirements are:
OS: Windows 7 SP1 with Platform Update for Windows 7
Processor: Intel i5-2550K, 3.4 GHz
Memory: 8 GB RAM
Graphics: GeForce GTX 670 | Radeon HD 7950
Storage: 60 GB available space
OS: Windows 10 version 14393.102 or higher required
Processor: Intel Core i7-3770, 3.4 GHz
Memory: 16 GB RAM
Graphics: GeForce GTX 970 or GeForce GTX 1060 6GB | Radeon R9 290X or Radeon RX 480
Storage: 60 GB available space
Middle-earth: Shadow of War pre-orders and editions
There were no fewer than four editions of Shadow of War that were available to pre-order, each coming with escalating bonuses for parting with more cash.
The standard edition included the game and a code to redeem a Legendary Champions War Party and an exclusive Epic Sword of Dominion. Upgrade to the Silver Edition to get all that plus the Slaughter Tribe Nemesis Expansion, the Outlaw Tribe Nemesis Expansion, and a Silver War chest. The expansions add new orc tribes to the game, introducing extra enemies, followers, missions, abilities, weapons, and fortresses.
Going for Gold nabed you everything in the Silver Edition, plus The Blade of Galadriel story expansion, The Desolation of Mordor story expansion, and a Gold War chest rather than Silver one. Story expansions include a new campaign, playable character and abilities, side missions, enemies, and allies.
The tip-top tier, available only in limited quantities, is the Mithril Edition, and contained the Gold Edition extras plus a bunch of physical swag: a set of lithographs, a premium case, a magnetic Ring of Power, the official soundtrack, a cloth map of Mordor, and a set of tribal stickers. The star attraction is a 12” tall statue of a Tar-Goroth Balrog fighting with a Carnan Drake, painted in a bronze effect that makes it look like some kind of Middle-earth artifact.
Middle-earth: Shadow of War trailers
The story trailer gives a brief glimpse at Shadow of War's plot, with Sauron learning the location of Talion's new Ring of Power and dispatching his Nazgul to retrieve it. There's plenty of action involving Talion's new comrades, plus a look at new enemy types such as giant spiders and armour-plated balrogs.
This short in-engine trailer gives us a whistle-stop tour of Shadow of War’s Middle-earth, with a variety of new locations and visual styles. The grimness of Mordor remains from the first game, but there’s more greenery in the new areas closer to Gondor.
This 16 minute gameplay video walks through the process of besieging a Nemesis Fortress, demonstrating both the followers system and procedurally generated enemies. There’s also a quick look at the new loot and gear, as well as plenty of decapitated orcs.
The announcement trailer is entirely CGI, but depicts the attack on Minas Ithil by the Nazgul and Sauron’s orc army. Among the ranks is even a balrog, suggesting there’s some hot monster action to come. There’s also fell beasts, suggesting that bigger creatures to fight may be one of Shadow of War’s box bullet points.
That’s everything we know so far about Shadow of War, but we’ll update every time an eagle drops off more detail-inscribed parchment.