With just a couple months to go until Middle-earth: Shadow of War hits store shelves this October, we’ve decided to sit down and put together a comprehensive list of everything we know, and everything we think we know, about this highly anticipated sequel to one of 2014’s surprise hits. So if you love Lord of the Rings, just really liked Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, or are new to the series and curious about Shadow of War, this guide is for you.
What we know we know
What is Middle-earth: Shadow of War‘s story about? Middle-earth: Shadow of War takes place immediately after Shadow of Mordor. Talion, the Ranger possessed by the spirit of Celebrimbor (the forger of the One Ring), wishes to use the abilities of his spectral ally to create a new ring of power. Obviously, Talion wishes to take the fight directly to Sauron as he seeks revenge for the loss of his family, but must do so as Sauron himself is growing stronger and his return approaches.
What gameplay elements are carrying over from Shadow of Mordor? The lauded Nemesis system returns, which allows each player to have unique rivalries with various members of Sauron’s Mordor Orc armies. Learning their weaknesses, or controlling them so you have moles on the inside, will be critical to crippling the command structure of the orc armies and leading your own allies to victory. The free-flowing combat and counter system seen in the original game—borrowed from the Batman: Arkham series—also returns, helping Talion even the odds no matter the numbers against him. Given that the game is an action-RPG, Talion will also be able to level up to unlock new abilities that can help him in all sorts of different scenarios.
What changes are coming to gameplay? The Nemesis system is getting an upgrade now so that you’ll not only be able to plot against your orc rivals—with new combat indicators letting you know when you’ve broken them or not—but also figure out how best to appease your allied commanders. Learn the interests of your potential troll, orc, and human allies and woo them to your cause by learning what they like and dislike. It’s like Tinder for Middle-earth. But be careful: Winning them over doesn’t mean they’ll remain your ally if you get on their nerves too much, so you’ll have to keep them happy to prevent possible defections.
With war on the horizon, you can also commandeer great siege beasts from the Mordor armies and turn the beasts against their orc masters now, wreaking havoc behind enemy lines. On a larger scale, there’s also a metagame as you command your own army to lay siege against critical Mordor-controlled outposts and fortresses. There are several ways to capture a fortress, from undermining it with spies to a full-frontal assault. You can also eliminate enemy commanders in special side-missions that require you to stealthily infiltrate the forts on your own before calling in your full army. If you can successfully conquer a fortress after a siege, you can then assign one of those allies we mentioned earlier to run the place while you start preparing for the next battle. You can also assign an ally to be Talion’s bodyguard, calling on him whenever you’re in trouble to turn a one versus many fight into a two versus many fight. Should any of your allies fall in combat and not be revived by Talion, though, they are lost forever.
Part of the reward for conquering a fortress, as well, is that you can get new loot. In a shift towards deeper RPG elements, new items can be found and instantly equipped to change the look of Talion, but to help you maximize your game time, you can now also order minions to collect loot at places you conquer instead of running to every treasure chest yourself. You can also instill runes into Talion’s armor and weapons to give them special benefits, and as you master these weapons, the runes can unlock potential hidden abilities that further augment their power.
Furthermore, the ability to ride beasts returns—but that’s also been beefed up to the point that you can ride dragons. Yes, you can basically control your own fantasy air force by riding a fire-breathing dragon into battle to give your side air superiority. You can also summon mounts to you mid-combat if you wish, allowing you to change strategies on the fly if certain tactics aren’t working out.
Talion also has a new weapon in the two-handed spear, giving him range at the cost of defense, and can swap between this and his sword and dagger on the fly.
Will Talion take on Sauron directly this time? The first game’s primary antagonist was The Black Hand of Sauron (even if Sauron himself had a close eye on the proceedings), but we now know the Ringwraiths and Sauron himself will have a much larger role this go around and all information points to the game building to an epic confrontation between Talion and Sauron at some point.
Besides Sauron, what kind of enemies can we expect? Although orcs still make up the bulk of the enemies you’ll take on, Ringwraiths have also been seen in the game. Orcs are also more varied now, with many belonging to specific tribes that affect their style of attack and bonus effects they’ll give to you if you make them an ally. This was done in an attempt to create a living, thriving orc ecosystem. Currently, we know of the Machine, Terror, Feral, Marauder, and Dark tribes. We also know for a fact that Talion will have to at some point subdue Balrog Tar Goroth, fire-breathing drakes, ferocious graugs and caragors, spiders, Ghûls, and the mysterious, shape-shifting nature spirit Carnán.
Will anything from my personal playthrough of Shadow of Mordor carry over and potentially influence Shadow of War? Personal choices made in Shadow of Mordor in terms of leveling up Talion won’t have any effect on him here, but some Nemesis system decisions can be ported over in a new feature recently revealed called Nemesis Forge. If your save data for Shadow of Mordor is on a current-gen console (sorry Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 players), then Nemesis Forge will detect your highest ranking Nemesis in Mordor and can port them over to Shadow of War to continue your epic rivalry. It can also detect your most loyal orc follower, giving you a lieutenant in your new army right off the bat.
Will Shadow of War do a better job handling the Lord of the Rings lore than Shadow of Mordor did? It’s pretty well known that Shadow of Mordor had some blowback from the hardcore Lord of the Rings community in terms of how it handled a lot of the series’ mythos. It’s never easy to work in such an established universe with such strict guidelines, particularly given that the time period in question is so well documented. Considering the dedication of fans to this series, Monolith trying to clean up some loose strings could go a long way, I’m sure. Then again, they’re already using Minas Morgul and Minas Ithil pretty interchangeably here, which really shouldn’t be done if they’re trying to stay true to what’s accepted. Also, the reveal of Shelob, the infamous giant spider from The Two Towers, is seen as an ally for Talion in recent trailers. She has been given a human form by which to communicate visions to Talion like some sort of seer, and this has caused much rancor to already be spewed forth by series purists. So, if you’re looking for Monolith to color within the lines, you might be disappointed here.
Will we get any cameos from The Lord of the Rings? We saw Gollum appear in the first game, and if we’re looking to forge a new ring in this one, it’d be surprising if he doesn’t make a comeback, but we don’t know for sure. Whether or not Gandalf, Frodo, or anyone from the Fellowship is going to make an appearance, though, is yet to be seen. It’s far from impossible, however, considering this game could lead us right into the books and movies, depending on how the story is written. As mentioned above, The Two Towers‘ Shelob has a much larger role here, even fighting the Nazgûl at one point, and we know Sauron is actually the big bad this go around, so at the very least we’re seeing some bleed over in those regards.
Will the voice cast from the first game be returning? Much of the voice cast from the first game has been confirmed to return in Shadow of War. In fact, Troy Baker, who voices player protagonist Talion, even assumed performance capture director duties this go around to help get the most out of the cast. Besides Troy, Alastair Duncan returns as the wraith Celebrimbor. Laura Bailey also returns, but instead of playing Ioreth, Talion’s deceased wife, she now plays the elite assassin Eltariel. We imagine there will be less flashbacks to Talion’s past life as a ranger this go around. Two newcomers to the cast have also been confirmed: Kumail Nanjiani as the Agonizer—a self-doubting, neurotic orc—and Pollyanna McIntosh as Shelob.
Where exactly on the Lord of the Rings timeline does this game take place? Although previously vague about where exactly Shadow of War takes place in the 60-year gap between The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring, WBIE has since confirmed that Shadow of War‘s events directly pave the way for the heroes to start their mission to Mount Doom in The Fellowship of the Ring. This means it likely could start several months to years before that, depending on the length of this game’s narrative, but that it’s ending will butt right up against the already established timeline. We’ve also since learned that there will be a second, true ending in the game if you complete Shadow of War‘s “Shadow Wars” post-game content, where Sauron’s forces try to reclaim all of your previously conquered fortresses in a Horde-style mode. A successful defense will give the true ending and hopefully smooth out any rough edges between this game and the movies.
Will there be any collector’s editions? Two special editions of Middle-earth: Shadow of War, Gold and Mithril, have been confirmed. The Gold Edition will run you $99.99 and include a war chest worth of in-game valuables including four special champions that will never leave your side and a special sword of dominion. The Mithril Edition will run you $299.99 and include some real world items like a cloth map of Mordor, a 12-inch statue of a balrog fighting a dragon, a ring of power magnet, lithographs, the game’s soundtrack, and all the in-game goodies from the Gold edition and then some.
Shadow of Mordor had two story-driven DLC packs. Will Shadow of War have any DLC? Shadow of War will have two story DLC packs, just like its predecessor. They are called The Blade of Galadriel and The Desolation of Mordor. When they come out, how much they’ll cost, or what they’re about is anyone’s guess. All we know is they’re coming post-launch, and they come standard with the special editions of the game if you want the aforementioned Gold or Mithril editions.
Will Middle-earth: Shadow of War have microtransactions? Yes, Shadow of War will have microtransactions. Real world cash can be used to buy premium currency in the game, which can then by used to upgrade Talion and your army more quickly then grinding for all the gear in game. No content will be behind a pay wall, however, and everything can be earned in game if you put the time into it.
Will there be online multiplayer? Not exactly. Likely best compared to the Forward Operating Bases in Metal Gear Solid V, players will be able to assault the captured fortresses of people online. There is both a Friendly and Ranked version of this mode, and successfully capturing a base someone else captured in their single-player campaign will earn you loot and rewards for your own single-player campaign. This mode will always be available, even once you beat the game, so in theory you can continue to pimp out your own captured fortresses to make it harder for others to conquer them online, and keep on playing Shadow of War long after we find out Talion’s fate.
Is Shadow of War getting a port or tie-in game for mobile devices? A Shadow of War mobile game has soft-launched for iOS devices in at least some regions ahead of a wider rollout. Currently, we know for sure it was playable in the Philippines up through July 24th, at which point the beta test ended. It’s unclear when exactly the game will fully launch, but we expect it to be around the October release of the main game.
You can see gameplay video from the test on YouTube, apparently showing a game that blends the hero collecting of Nintendo’s Fire Emblem Heroes with the world and characters of The Lord of the Rings, as well as combat that’s (at least optionally) heavily automated.
The Basics (skip)
Who is making Middle-earth: Shadow of War? Middle-earth: Shadow of War is being developed by Monolith Productions, who developed the first game in this series, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, and previously worked on F.E.A.R, No One Lives Forever, and the Lord of the Rings-inspired MOBA Guardians of Middle-earth. The game is being published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, whose parent company, Time Warner, also distributed all the Lord of the Rings films under its the New Line Cinema brand.
What platforms is the game launching on? Middle-earth: Shadow of War will release on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC. There is no word yet on if it will come to the Nintendo Switch.
When will Shadow of War release? Recently delayed from its originally announced August 2017 release date, Shadow of War will now release worldwide on October 10, 2017.
Where can I see the Shadow of War announcement trailer? Originally released in February 2017, you can watch the trailer right here:
What we think we know
How is Shadow of War taking advantage of the PS4 Pro and Project Scorpio? Both Project Scorpio and the PS4 Pro have separately confirmed that they will have updates that will allow Shadow of War to take advantage of the extra power both systems will provide. However, no one has seen the game on either system to definitively say just how much of an upgrade this will be. Our guess is going from 1080p to 4K resolution is going to make the game awfully pretty, though.
What we still want to know
How big will the open world of Middle-earth: Shadow of War be? The map in Shadow of Mordor was pretty expansive, considering it was Monolith’s first go at an open-world game, but it ended up being pretty repetitive. This time, the studio has promised to make the world larger and more diverse this go around. We haven’t gotten any specifics, however, surrounding that claim, and we would love to know how that could potentially affect that brand new fortress-conquering metagame they’ve got going on.