5 things I wish I knew before playing Middle-earth: Shadow of War

Middle-Earth: Shadow of War is a familiar sequel. Developer Monolith Productions hasn't made any astronomical changes or additions to the excellent foundation that was Shadow of Mordor. Instead, they've polished tried-and-true ideas and layered in quality of life improvements. Andy was unimpressed by the story and general bloat, but the stellar Nemesis system is smarter than ever, and that clutter means Mordor is overflowing with things to do. So much so that it's easy to miss some of the finer points, many of which will make your life much easier. With that in mind, I've put together a list of essential pointers for Talion's second album.  

Buy abilities first and upgrade them later  

Shadow of War showers you in skill points from the word go, but you're still going to want to spend them efficiently. To that end, you're better off purchasing all of your base abilities before fleshing them out with individual upgrades. This opens up the game in several ways. You'll have more options in combat and gain access to special skill challenges which reward experience and money. You'll also get a feel for the abilities you like most and how you use them, which will help you tailor the upgrades you get later. You can only equip one upgrade to each ability, so choose wisely.

Abilities work on a parent system, meaning you have to unlock them in order from left to right. I recommend knocking out some basics like executions and mid-air shots, and then focusing 'shadow strike,' which lets you teleport to and instantly kill enemies from absurd distances. Shadow strike unlocks some dubious stealth options and really speeds up traversal. And speaking of basics: rush through the first act to unlock several awesome core abilities which I won't spoil here. Reaching the second act will also blow the Nemesis system wide open, unlocking new features like death threats and outposts. 

You have a 'might' meter 

In Shadow of Mordor, abilities worked on a combo system. Once you got your combo high enough, you could use certain abilities. This was indicated by your combo meter turning red and certain button prompts appearing. Well, the combo meter is functionally gone in Shadow of War. In its place is a 'might' meter which fills as you land hits and other moves. Once it's full, you can spend it on a special ability like an execution or an AoE. Thankfully, unlike the combo system, you don't have to spend might immediately. You can keep your bar full between encounters and then spend it when you want. This totally depletes your might, and it takes quite a while to build might in the early stages of the game, so execute frugally and pick up some upgrades that help build it.  

Really though, the main reason I wanted to call attention to the might meter is because it took me hours to notice it. This is partly because it's hidden away in a tiny bar in the corner of your UI, but also because I had such tunnel vision from my Shadow of Mordor run that I didn't pay it any attention. I honestly thought execution procs were random for the longest time. Do as I say, not as I do.

Captains are smarter than ever… 

Fundamentally, the Nemesis system hasn't changed much, which is a good thing. But those wily Uruk captains have made some improvements here and there. There are many more unique traits you'll want to make note of before targeting a captain, as well as special new abilities like tribe bonuses for pikemen and assassins. On top of that, they've got some new toys. You'll encounter captains brandishing poisonous and cursed weapons which deal heavy damage over time and can quickly send you packing if you aren't careful. 

More impressive is the new 'adapt' system. Captains will actually learn your strategies and adopt counters to them mid-fight. This punishes spammy attacks and puts you on a timer, which breathes quite a bit of life into fights. Let's say you're fighting a shield-toting defender-class captain. The best way to hit him is to vault over his shield and attack him from behind. Great! Vault away. But get the job done quickly. If you vault over him too many times, he'll gain the skill 'vault-breaker' and start blocking your approach. Captains can also adapt to overcome weaknesses if you give them time, so be sure to end them quickly.  

...But also have more weaknesses 

It's not all good news for the captains, mind. Talion's got some new tricks himself, and if you use them wisely you'll be gutting Uruk with the best of them in no time. For starters, there's a critical distinction between weaknesses and mortal weaknesses. If a captain is weak to ranged attacks, you'll be able to damage him with your bow. If a captain is mortally weak to ranged attacks, you can damn near one-shot him with a charged headshot. The same goes for explosions, stealth attacks, executions and so on. Mortal weaknesses are your best friend. Apply liberally until dead.

There's also a new 'dazed' status ailment that directly counters the adapt system. Captains can be dazed by exploiting their fears or weaknesses. Set them on fire, poison them, cover them in morgai flies, brutalize one of their guards in front of them—whatever it takes, daze them. Because when a captain is dazed, all of their immunities go out the window. Poof. Gone. Immune to executions? Defends against stealth? Blocks all ranged attacks? Not anymore. Dazed captains are not only totally defenseless, they'll often stagger around for a short period. If you save up some arrows and might before dazing a captain, you can often end them right then and there.

You can upgrade gear 

The process of acquiring and improving your gear is considerably more involved in Shadow of War. First of all, you actually change items this time instead of just slapping new stats onto the same old swords. This creates an addictive, almost Diablo-esque loot grind, and there are a few key rungs on the ladder to The Best Pants. On top of swapping out old gear for new stuff with bigger numbers, you can improve the quality of your epic and legendary items by completing their skill challenges. These can be found in their item descriptions, and once complete, will unlock new passive abilities. However, you also have to spend some mirian (the free currency, not the paid one) to apply these abilities. Epic and legendary items will often outpace higher-level common items, especially if you upgrade them, so it's worth doing their skill challenges. Additionally, there are now legendary set bonuses, because the Diablo comparison wasn't clear  enough already. You can also dismantle gear to get mirian to fuel other exploits, so don't get too attached to anything. It's all fuel for the grind. 

Austin Wood
Staff writer, GamesRadar

Austin freelanced for PC Gamer, Eurogamer, IGN, Sports Illustrated, and more while finishing his journalism degree, and has been a full-time writer at PC Gamer's sister publication GamesRadar+ since 2019. They've yet to realize that his position as a staff writer is just a cover-up for his career-spanning Destiny column, and he's kept the ruse going with a focus on news, the occasional feature, and as much Genshin Impact as he can get away with.