5 things to know before starting Middle-earth: Shadow of War

Middle-earth: Shadow of War releases on October 10, and it's a very good game. It's also a huge and complicated game, with layers of systems to manage and techniques to master, along with multiple regions of Mordor to explore and eventually conquer.

While Shadow of War does a good job teaching you the basics during its introductory chapters, there are a lot of aspects of the game that are easy to miss at first. Here are five tips to help you defeat Sauron's forces and triumph in Shadow of War

1. Your first objectives in each region should be cleansing the Haedir and interrogating worms

The Haedir are mystical towers in each of Shadow of War's regions, and cleansing them of Sauron's influence will give you a chance to fast-travel to them in the future, which is very helpful if you want to avoid running across the map all the time. Cleansing also gives you a chance to scan the surrounding area and pinpoint a few different kinds of sidequests and collectibles on your world map, including artifacts to recover and runes to examine. The rewards for each of these individual objectives are small on their own, but collecting all of them in a region is very do-able, and will reward you with more significant bonuses (and sometimes special and powerful gear). You can pick up artifacts and runes in the midst of other missions, so you'll want to populate your map with all these objectives right away in order to pick up any that you happen to pass by during your travels. 

While you're making your way to each Haedir in a region, you should be keeping an eye out for orcs known as Worms (indicated by a green highlight in Wraith-vision and a green symbol over their heads normally). Interrogating a Worm gives you information about the strengths and weaknesses of a unique orc of your choice, and you'll be much better off if you know the weaknesses of any captain you happen to stumble across (or who may ambush you) as soon as possible. 

2. The best equipment for the situation isn't always the "strongest" equipment

You'll pick up new swords, armor, cloaks, and other pieces of gear all the time in Shadow of War, and it won't take long before your inventory is looking pretty crowded. While you can (and should) scrap some of the gear you aren't using in exchange for Mirian (the in-game currency), you'll want to hold on to any gear with interesting or useful traits, because it can be an asset even after you've picked up gear of much higher levels.

Each piece of equipment has an associated "level" and sports a core rating (whether it be damage, health, stealth, or focus) that's easy to compare across an equipment category. Swords that do more damage are generally better, for example and this "higher is better" logic is a useful quick tool to evaluate gear (thrown hammers are a little tricky, because they tend to do a bit less damage than equivalent bows, but their damage applies to an area of effect).

But like so much of Shadow of War, your equipment sports procedurally generated traits. And it's these traits that can make a lower level, less powerful piece of equipment worth hanging on to, just in case. If you pick up a cloak that provides significant fire resistance, for example, it's nice to be able to put on right before you enter a battle against a pair of angry fire-breathing drakes. The cloak's level and stealth score will matter a whole lot less than the extra survivability it will give you in that battle.

You won't want to keep everything of course, but it's a good idea to try to hold on to weapons that offer a few different damage types at the very least, rather than just committing to your "most powerful" piece of equipment. A bow that can deal poison damage can be exactly what you need when facing an orc warchief mortally weak to poison, and it can be a much better choice for the battle than a non-poison bow of significantly higher level. 

3. Skill upgrades can change the way you generate Might, which can completely change your combat style 

Once you're into the real meat of Shadow of War, you'll need to start paying attention to your Might meter in order to best your foes. When your Might bar is full you're able to use powerful moves, including explosive area-of-effective attacks and even instant executions, and these techniques will be critical to success when fighting the game's more powerful enemies. 

While the gear you have equipped can provide Might bonuses under specific conditions, it's your skills that can fundamentally change the way Might generation works. 

The key skill upgrades for Might generation are Grim Resolve, Secret Might, and Fatal Might. You can only have one of these upgrades active at a time, and the one you choose determines the main way you build Might. Grim Resolve grants you Might each time you are hit, which is good when you're starting off or if you like the idea of being able to respond with a big attack whenever you're starting to get overwhelmed. Secret Might is for stealth-focused players, as it allows you to sneak around killing archers and stragglers and then charge into battle with your Might already full.

Fatal Might boosts the Might you gain from each successful sword strike, but causes your meter to be completely emptied any time you are hit. This is the right choice for those who excel at keeping their hit-streak high with well-timed counter attacks, but it's risky because you'll often have no Might when you need it most, when you're trying to recover from being hit. 

4. Dazing orcs temporarily removes their immunities 

Each elite orc (whether captain, warchief, or overlord) comes with a collection of traits generated by Shadow of War's Nemesis System which often includes immunity to certain types of attacks. These orcs might be immune to ranged attacks, fire, or stealth, for example, which can be a pain depending on your preferred tactics and current set of skills and equipment.  

Fortunately, many of these unique orcs can also be "dazed" by different sorts of attacks or situations, which both prevents them from attacking effectively for a few moments and, much more importantly, turns off their immunities as long as they are dazed. While it can be a challenge to exploit this in the heat of the moment in battle, if you plan your attack carefully this can provide a big swing in your favor. 

If you are facing a captain immune to ranged attacks, for example, all your neat bow and throwing dagger tricks will be useless...until you summon a caragor to face a captain with the "dazed by caragors" weakness. As soon as you see the "dazed" indication over his head you can start hitting him in the face with arrow after arrow, piling up the easy damage before he recovers. 

5. You can summon your orc bodyguard at any time (even during battles with a fortress overlord)

When you begin conquering a new region of Mordor, one of your first steps should be to defeat and dominate an orc captain to use as your bodyguard. Bodyguards are specific to each region, so you can't bring your best orc pal along with you through the whole game, and it's easy to forget to go into the Army menu to designate a new bodyguard with all the other excitement that's going on.

Once you have a regional bodyguard you can call him to your side at any time, so it's good to pick a strong orc who will be good in a variety of situations (and who doesn't have any fatal weaknesses to common attacks, such as fire or beasts). I'm personally a fan of having a ranged-attacking orc as a bodyguard, to provide damage support while Talion is in close, but your preference will vary. You can replace your bodyguard if he gets killed or swap him out at any time for a different one as you dominate more powerful orcs. 

Battles against the overlords of each region in Mordor are some of the toughest fights in Shadow of War, as you'll stand alone against the overlord and a group of his loyal minions in a throne room that's often booby trapped and which eliminates the "run, hide, and regroup" technique you'll likely rely on during more typical battles. You can try to dominate lesser orcs during the battle to even the odds, of course, but a much more effective technique is to take time prior to the fortress assault to designate a bodyguard who can exploit the overlord's weaknesses, then call that bodyguard to aid you during the throne room fight. 

A bodyguard wielding a poison weapon can make a huge difference against an overlord who is weak to poison, obviously, but even if you can't find a perfect trait match it's a big help to have a captain fighting by your side in these challenging battles.

For more on Shadow of Mordor read our full review and check out some of our favorite shots from the game's photo mode