With several months to go until Middle-earth: Shadow of War hits store shelves this summer, 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, 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, once you win 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. If you can successfully conquer a fortress after a siege of your own, you can then assign one of those allies we mentioned earlier to run the place while you start preparing for the next battle.
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.
Also, 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 forces air superiority.
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.
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? Announced alongside the game when it was revealed back in February at GDC 2017, Middle-earth: Shadow of War will be available on August 22, 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
Where exactly on the Lord of the Rings timeline does this game take place? One major clue we’ve been given thus far is a gameplay video depicting some of the conflict happening in Gondor at Minas Ithil, likely better known to most as Minas Morgul. Minas Ithil is a key strategic point and serves as the first line of defense on the eastern border of Gondor before crossing over into Mordor. Minas Ithil was once a bastion of humanity built in 3320 of the Second Age. Its fall over 100 years later to Sauron’s forces would kick off the War of the Last Alliance and bring the Second Age to an end. From the beginning of the Third Age onward (started at the conclusion of the War of the Last Alliance and Sauron’s defeat), the city would switch hands repeatedly until finally in the year 2002 of the Third Age the city would become a city of evil once more. During the War of the Ring, the army that attacked Osgiliath and undertook the Siege of Gondor came from Minas Morgul in the year 3019 of the Third Age, meaning it had likely been under the control of dark forces for a millennium at that point.
It was during the siege of 2002 in the Third Age, though, that the city’s Palantir, or seeing-stone, would become lost. We know for sure that Talion and Celebrimbor arrive at the city as it’s preparing for a great war and they are looking for the Palantir that was lost a millennium earlier, likely hoping to use it to aid in their creation of a new ring of power. This leads us to believe we are much closer to the events that kick off The Fellowship of the Ring–likely around late 3018 of the Third Age considering the Orc preparations that are underway in gameplay, or mere weeks or months before Frodo and friends left the Shire–than the ending of The Hobbit. Creative director Michael de Plater has said on record before he wants to connect these games to The Fellowship of the Ring, and it looks like he might do it sooner rather than later.
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 considering the settings seen so far and assumed time period, we believe both the Ringwraiths and Sauron himself will have a much larger role this go around.
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.
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 color within the lines of what’s accepted.
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. At the very least, we strongly believe Sauron and the Ringwraiths are going to be our primary bad guys this go around, and they still count, right?