With just a few 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—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 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 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 and Pollyanna McIntosh.
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? 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
Where exactly on the Lord of the Rings timeline does this game take place? Creative director Michael de Plater recently reconfirmed that the series takes place in the 60 years between The Hobbit and the The Fellowship of the Ring. And although this is a large window of time, he also reiterated on record that he wants to connect these games to The Fellowship of the Ring. With the release of several more gameplay videos, we believe he might do it sooner rather than later.
One major clue we’ve been given to this 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 specific 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.
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.
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’s playable in the Philippines, and will be through July 24th, at which point the beta test will end. It’s unclear whether the game will launch then or at a later date for the rest of the world.
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.
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?