Middle-earth: Shadow of War: The ultimate guide to siege battles

Siege battles and all the mechanics of the nemesis system that go along with them are easily one of the best parts of Middle-earth: Shadow of War. This aspect of gameplay is especially important once you finish the main game and enter the Shadow Wars late game adventure, where defensive sieges against some of the game's toughest orcs take center stage.

It can be tough to figure out Shadow of War’s siege upgrades when you’re dealing with charging Ologs, Iron Walls, Sappers, and Savages, all in a huge mess of a battle. So let’s dive into the nitty gritty of siege upgrades, assaulting fortresses, and some of the winning strategies for both sides of the conflict.

Fortress on Fire

If you’ve played Shadow of War for any significant amount of time, you’ve definitely encountered a fortress. Fortress assaults are a mid-to-late game mechanic and appear anywhere from 15-20 hours into the title. When you win an assault, you control that fortress and begin to spread your influences throughout that region. 

With the Fortress captured, things get more complicated. Now that you own this patch of grass in Mordor, you’ll need to spend resources and time to keep it under control. This means switching roles so that you’re actively working against an assault team. They will periodically attack your fortress in an attempt to steal it from your clutches or to earn multiplayer rewards.

At face value this is largely a numbers game. The attacking army has an Assault Force level and the defending army has a Bastion level. You can get a pretty good idea of the likelihood of your success either attacking or defending a fortress based on a “your level versus mine” mentality.

These levels will go up or down based on the strength and number of orc captains deployed in your army, and with the inclusion of upgrades for each orc you assign to your attack or defense force. These upgrades, along with Talion’s own intervention in a battle, are the biggest deciding factors of success. Use careful planning, and a small fortune in Mirian to maintain your base.

Assault Upgrades and You

Assault Upgrades are the bread and butter of your attacking army. They largely influence both the troops you’ll bring with you when storming the siege walls, and how quickly and effectively your troops can storm those walls.

Both siege and assault upgrades are based on the number of captains you can deploy in your force, which is locked based on Talion’s level. At level 35 you’ll have access to four Assault Leaders. They can each access one of three separate upgrades to influence what troops they bring with them to the battle. In contrast, at level 45 you’ll be able to field six separate assault leaders. This same principle applies to defending a fortress. In order to unlock the final defense slot you’ll also need to complete the third fight pit challenge in that region, which will unlock the final Citadel slot for you to place a captain.

Each upgrade has its purpose and its own role on the battlefield. Upgrades can be used to counter opponent strengths or to attack a weak aspect of an enemy fortress.

Assault Leader Tier 1

Sappers

Sappers are expendable gate breakers. They are fantastic for making quick and dirty entrances into a fortress. If you’re not careful the sappers can quickly either run out of bodies or blow up and kill your own troops. Also keep in mind that if the enemy has enough ranged units, they can potentially detonate or kill the sappers before they reach the enemy’s walls. If the sappers are near your orcs, it could have disastrous results.

Iron Gates will also prevent Sappers from immediately breaking through. If a fortress has this upgrade, consider switching tactics to either mounting or destroying the walls with Ologs.

Mounted Cavalry

Mounted Cavalry is a serious trade-off in terms of actual fortress infiltration. On the one hand you get a small horde of caragor cavalry to terrify certain captains and to in general wreak havoc on an enemy army. On the other hand, these elite units are useless if you can’t bring the walls or gates down to get your army inside. Only consider using this upgrade against fortresses with weak walls and gates. Try to pair them with Fiery Siege Beasts and a War Graug that can still make a hole to let your cavalry into the fortress proper.

Olog-hai

Ologs are a good wall breaker standby, especially if the enemy has their gates well reinforced and plenty of contraptions, like Poison Spouts and Wall Spikes, that make climbing the walls themselves difficult. Generally Ologs can break through almost any level of wall given enough time. They’re particularly susceptible to Fire Spouts, and will even go down to Poison Spouts and Fire Archers if they’re having trouble breaking through something beefy, like Metal Walls. For these rare occasions, it’s worth it to double down on your tactics by adding Fiery Siege Beasts to your assault force so that the Ologs have a little help doing their job.  

Once inside, Ologs also make fierce reinforcements due to the sheer level of health they have at their disposal.

Assault Leader Tier 2

Savage Host

Savage Host fills out your ranks with the dual axe wielding archetype of orc. They’re more than worth their weight in gold against lightly armored enemies, like hunters, because of their ability to close quickly and end the fight as fast as possible. Too many ranged enemies will overwhelm them, so it’s advisable to take Talion on a domination spree if the enemy is bringing a lot of archers to the party. Just make sure that enemies on the walls and nearby rooftops don’t make your life difficult.                

Defender Host

Defenders are arguably the most well-rounded choice in the mix, their shields and massive health bars make them great for stalling the objectives. This lets Talion get on point and act as a street sweeper. Generally, Defenders also seem to counter Savages well, but they really aren’t meant to act as a hard counter to anything aside from the clock. If any enemy type outnumbers or surrounds them, they’ll eventually go down. The key word being "eventually." It gives Talion plenty of time to show up for the party to take the point.

Hunter Host

Hunter Hosts are ideal against anything beast-related. They can also fill out your roster of ranged infantry for the battle within the walls itself. Just keep in mind that they’re about as squishy as orcs can come, so only use them if the defending force has Caragors or Graugs on the field.

Assault Tier 3

Fiery Siege Beasts

Fiery Siege Beasts are a hard counter to enemy ranged units on the walls. They should definitely be used if the enemy fortress has Farsight Archers or Fire Archers on hand. Fiery Siege Beasts also make fantastic secondary wall breakers, to make it easier for your Ologs. They are also an alternative to Ologs on weaker walls.

Don’t forget that the walls are awful close to your own armies. The occasional fiery missile might wreck your favorite orc that’s unlucky enough to be in the crossfire. You can mount and manually aim any siege beast to target specific enemies, captains, and other siege beasts.

Poisonous Siege Beasts

These units will automatically target opposing beasts like Caragors, War Graugs, and Siege Beasts. They slowly weaken and eventually knock them out of the fight entirely. Again, these can be used to manually attack key positions and captains as well. They are a good fallback if you already know you’re going to rip apart the enemy walls or gates. The poison does a good job of making sure that Talion rarely has to go up against an enemy at full health.

Cursed Siege Beasts

Cursed Siege Beasts will automatically target infantry and captains. While it does cause some damage over time, the real power is that it temporarily separates captains and war chiefs from their innate abilities and immunities. This means that a captain that’s normally fireproof or immune to arrow attacks can be temporarily damaged with these attacks while they’re cursed, similar to if they were dazed. These are a great fallback for fortresses where there are a lot of active war-chiefs on the field. They are great in case you don’t feel like targeting each one individually or if you’re in a PvP siege and don’t have the ability to remove enemy captains from the equation anyway.

Assault tier 4

Shelob’s Brood

For this tier, Shelob’s brood is arguably the best default because it can deal massive passive damage to most of the enemies in the fortress with no intervention on Talion’s part. The spider swarm can either kill the orcs outright or leave them severely damaged by the time you arrive at the scene. The constant poison makes every siege battle easier. It should only be avoided if you’re passionate about your love of drakes and graugs, or if you’re facing off with several captains that are enraged or immune to poison.

War Graug

Who wouldn’t want their own personal graug to ride into battle? This is definitely a great option and delivers a lot of DPS, but only in a tight controlled area. If you’re planning on riding it, this war graug is an awesome force on the battlefield. Even on its own it can do its fair share of damage to walls and infantry alike. If the fortress has hunters or poisonous siege beasts, your graug might go down faster than expected. You can also replace this once you get access to your own personal graug bodyguard, so it’s your call whether you want one Graug on your side or several.

Wild Drake

Drakes. Wild ones. Great for dolling out fire damage across the battle, but not so great if you don’t want that fire to hit you or your troops. These drakes are a powerful force to be reckoned with, but they can and will do damage to you, the fortress, and your troops without discrimination. Of course, if you like riding drakes and have the appropriate skills, you can easily throw a bridle on that storm of fire and scales.

Assault Tier 5

Fire Archers

Great for fans of fire, or players that need to deal fire damage to a fortress with wooden walls. Other than that, and the optional tactical bonus if you’re fighting a captain that’s vulnerable to fire, these are a pretty standard ranged unit with an added DoT.

Farsight Archers

Again, not stellar, but a good option if your enemy has a lot of forces on the walls with standard ranged gear. Farsight archers can outshoot every other kind of archer, which means they can soften or eliminate the defenses on the wall before your army has to deal with the effects.

Mounted Archers

Definitely the more versatile option, Mounted Archers come with bonus Caragors. It makes them deadly at close range, difficult to hit at long range, and worth the occasional life saving arrow at medium range. These are a good counter to Farsight archers on the walls, because they can close quickly and minimize losses from the enemy’s increased range. Keep in mind that the Caragors will go down easily to poison and Hunter enemies.

Assault Tier 6

Inspiring Banners

While weak themselves, bannermen make your orcs absolute monsters. They increase attack speed and damage and allow even common soldiers to rip through tougher units. They’re particularly vulnerable to ranged attacks because their only real safeguard is a wall of orcs between them and the enemy. A lucky archer can still occasionally finish them off and remove the buff from nearby orcs.

Overpower

The perfect blitz buff, this ability gives your orcs a huge speed bonus to capturing victory points. This upgrade makes it easy to storm in with Talion at a key moment and clear the area with a fancy flag of the Bright Lord. It's perfect for players that prefer to keep things quick and dirty, and who avoid fair fights like the plague.

Siege Upgrades and You

Siege upgrades are the bread and butter of your defense, and can make repelling assaults a breeze or an absolute nightmare. It’s important to note what each upgrade specializes in and where you should spend your Mirian for the best payout. Like Assault Team upgrades, Siege upgrades are unlocked as you continue to level up. The seventh tier can only be unlocked by hitting level 40 and also completing the three trials at the orc fighting pits. You’ll need to complete these championships for each region, but they’re not terribly difficult and the payoff is well worth the trouble.

Siege Upgrades Tier 1

Stone Walls

Stone Walls are the most basic way to reinforce your fortress. There’s no reason not to get some kind of wall upgrade to give your defenses some time to kick in before enemy orcs stream into your favorite orc hovel. Stone Walls are the cheapest but also the weakest option on the table. You should do your best to at least purchase this tier so that you’re not using wood walls, which are both paper thin and highly susceptible to fire from almost any source. This includes your own siege weapons and Fire Spouts. Ologs and most siege engines can still break stone walls down pretty quickly, but it takes at least a few moments, giving you time to engage enemy captains outside the walls or giving your archers and siege engines a chance to go to work.

Reinforced Stone Walls

Reinforced stone walls are exactly the same as Stone Walls, with just a bit more durability. These will slow down most singular siege engines significantly and give your defenses plenty of time to go to work. If you can afford it, always purchase these walls.

Metal Walls

Metal Walls are the big daddies of the wall family. They’ll hold back most hordes long enough to give you a chance to sprint out and destroy, or take over, the siege engines themselves. These are the best option for defense, but they’re also extremely expensive. Install them when you can, but don’t stress if you can’t yet afford it.

Siege Upgrades Tier 2

Iron Gates

Iron gates repell sappers and enemies that are attacking your gates directly. You give up a layer of defense for your walls themselves, but if you know your enemies are going to try and push your gates, they’re a must have.

Fire Spouts

Fire Spouts are meant to be similar to the iron gates, but specifically catered to torching enemies attacking your walls rather than your gates. Fire Spouts doll out massive damage to Ologs, making them a solid hard counter to our lumbering friends and a decent solution to enemies scaling your walls.

Poison Spouts

Poison Spouts are a counter for beast enemies like Caragors and Graugs, and a hard counter for anything that likes to try and climb your walls. They’ll also eventually do a number on Ologs, but you’ll want to invest in some heavy duty walls to give the poison time to work.  

Siege Upgrades Tier 3

Savage Host, Defender Hosts, and Hunter Hosts

Most of these options follow the same rules as the assault variants. Hunters are good against beasts, Savages are good damage dealers, and Defenders are good point holders. Our advice is to default to Defender to give your plenty of time to move from point to point and clear the area, swapping to Hunters if you know you’re going to be dealing with beasts.

Siege Upgrades Tier 4

Fiery Siege Beasts

Fiery Siege Beasts are the massive damage dealers of the siege beast arsenal. Hop on top to take over manual fire and use it to focus on groups of enemies attacking your weak points or to wipe out smaller tribes before they can even join the fray. These will also occasionally cause your enemies to flee in terror. They make a great, well-rounded option to thin key units out of the fray before the battle is even at your door.

Poisonous Siege Beasts

Like on the attacking side, Poisonous Siege Beasts are primarily anti-siege beast and anti-monster. Applying damage over time to creatures with large health pools that kill them about as fast as actually swinging a sword at them.

Cursed Siege Beasts

Although these are similar to every other siege beast’s assault counterparts, the ability of these beasts to cut down a captain’s abilities makes them absolutely irreplaceable for some strategies. They’ll generally auto-target captains and unique units. If you’re the type that likes to jump the walls to take the party to the invading army, it makes dominating enemy captains significantly easier. 

Siege Upgrades Tier 5

War Caragors

War Caragors are a great option for handling captains that have a fear or lethal vulnerability to these massive hounds. They also offer the most well-rounded defense for the fortress at large, offering you a free mount on the fly and a tanky DPS unit to add to your ranks. Although not as impressive as the War Graug or Hellfire upgrades, the Caragors are the best option if you know the enemy is going to break through your walls or other defenses quickly and you plan to fight them within your fortress itself.                    

Hellfire

The ultimate final line of gate defense, Hellfire adds a group of caged drakes to the area just behind your gates. When the enemy inevitably breaks down your gates and rushes inside, the drakes let loose a wave of flame. This is guaranteed to roast even the toughest units and take a hell of chunk of health off any captains that manage to survive the blast. This is a great backup plan to pair with Iron Gates. By the time the enemy horde manages to break through the Iron Gates, they’ll be packed in tight, often with their strongest troops at the forefront. When the drakes let loose the death toll will be massive.

War Graug

Although not the most well rounded DPS option, having a War Graug on your side during a defensive siege is pretty nice. We recommend holding it back when Hunters are in the assault force. Generally, it seems like it’s better to ride it than allow it to go off on its own. The nature of RNG means that more often than not you’ll find the War Graug wandering off to commit slaughter wherever it pleases. This often ends with it overwhelmed by superior numbers or far away from the objectives where you really need it.

Siege Upgrades Tier 6

Spiked Walls

Perfect for someone aiming to shore up every avenue of entry, Spiked Walls keep enemies from leaking in by climbing over your expensive metal walls and around your fancy Hellfire and Iron Gates. These are a must have if you want most of your dastardly traps to succeed. They keep your fortress enemy free until your gates or walls themselves fall.

Fire Archers

Fire Archers are great for burning down the enemy over time. If you’re building up your fortress to specialize in damage over time over defense, these are a good option.

Farsight Archers

Similar to the assault variant, these archers can fire from a longer range than other archers. Generally, if you want to use archers at all you have to hard counter any assaults that feature Farsight Archers with Farsight Archers of your own. Otherwise the enemy Farsight Archers will rip apart your defenders on the wall before your own units can attack at all. Otherwise these troops are still effective at thinning the ranks as they assault your walls, but arguably less so than Fire Archers.

Siege Assault Tier 7

Poison Mines

Poison Mines are placed between your walls and your victory points, making them a great final line of defense after attackers breach your walls. When detonated, they apply a particularly lethal brand of poison. This ensures that any enemies that finally make it your victory points can be cut down in just a few sword strokes.

Fire Mines

Fire Mines are a much more dastardly variant of the Poison Mine placed outside your walls, waiting for an unlucky orc to trigger them. When triggered, Fire Mines rip apart pretty much anything in the epicenter of the blast and light any survivors on fire. They also force enemy orcs to march through the flames if they want to advance. As a result, the mines will generally flat out kill any normal orcs anywhere near the mine itself. They will deal significant damage to any larger units, often flat-out killing any captains with a weakness to fire. We highly recommend these to any player that plans to play an offensive defense.

Assault Strategies

Assault is the most liquid variant of the two game modes. You’ll want to carefully cater your strategy to the forces of the fortress you’re attacking. Beasts should always be countered with Hunters. If the gates are secure, attack the walls, and if the walls are secure, attack the gates. If there’s Hellfire at the gates but no Iron Gates, and Fire Spout along the walls, you may have to sacrifice units pushing through a set of quickly broken gates and risk the losses, rather than lose your whole army at the walls.

We found that the best offensive setup often involved avoiding the gates altogether in favor of a combination of Ologs and Fiery Siege Beasts. This duo is guaranteed to wreck most walls in short order. You can ride one of the Siege Beasts to cut down anything intimidating within the walls themselves. Back these up with Defenders to hold the capture points, Hunters if there are a lot of beasts on the defensive side, and Shelob’s Brood to poison and panic the enemy before you even breach the walls. If you’re high enough level, bring Mounted Archers to the battle nine times out of ten because they’ll give you a quick means of escape once inside the walls, and a well-rounded ranged and melee unit in the heat of battle. Finish it off with Overpower if you predict an easy assault, and Inspiring Banners if you feel outclassed and outnumbered.

That said, be sure to adapt this strategy if the enemy has chosen to use Fire Spouts and Metal Walls instead of Iron Gates, by focusing on pushing through the gates with Sappers.

Defense Strategies 

There’s no perfect defense, but there are quite a few ways to skin a Ratbag. In Shadow of War you can focus your efforts on a variety of tactics to keep things locked down tight. One of our favorites include doing your best to lock down the fortress as tight as you can while taking the fight to the enemy beyond the walls. The other focuses on applying as many small wounds to the invading army as possible to make the battle inside the walls a breeze.

Both defenses rely on snagging the most expensive walls you can afford. Consider Reinforced or Metal Walls just a natural evolution of your budget. Unlike many of the siege defense choices, Metal Walls are simply superior to the other options you could choose (and cost a little bit more as a result) 

The first method involves pairing your best walls with Wall Spikes, Iron Gates, Hellfire, Cursed Siege Beasts, Defenders, and Fire Mines. The Wall Spikes keep your fortress clear of invaders while quality walls and gates force the assault force to try and break through something if they want to complete their objectives. Meanwhile, Fire Mines will rip holes in the first few waves of attackers and make your job a lot easier. If anything does break through the gates, Hellfire will further thin the ranks, and Defenders on the control points will give you plenty of time to react.

Ultimately, these defenses are all focused on delaying actions, which will allow you to enter the field of battle as the literal force of nature that you’ve become. It’s up to you to keep the fight from entering your fortress proper.

The second the battle begins, we suggest singling out a captain outside the walls that you’re confident you can defeat quickly. Rush him while he’s still outside the walls and try to dominate him as soon as possible. This immediately creates a powerful enemy behind the attacking force that should distract enough of the attacking force to keep your walls and gates intact, at least intact a bit longer. As soon as this is done retreat. Either target another captain or do your best to support the one you turned. Just be sure to fall back to the fortress as soon as the attacker breach the walls or gates so that you don’t lose because you were busy fighting outside the fortress.

If you’re lucky, with this method you’ll often finish off most of the enemy forces before they have a chance to actually get inside the Fortress. What does get inside will be a fraction of the strength they would normally be.

The alternative is a much more passive approach and involves applying as many damage over time effects as possible so that any orcs that do make it inside can be finished off with relative ease. This strategy involves your best walls paired with Fire Spouts, Savage Host Poisonous Siege Beasts, Hellfire, Spiked Walls (or your choice of archers), and Poison Mines (varying with fire mines to taste).

This method focuses on keeping the walls standing long enough for the Fire Spouts to deal plenty of damage and continually apply fire damage over time effects. All while making the default gates an obvious target. Once the gates are down Hellfire and Poison Mines will further thin the herd and rip apart any big captains that enter the fold. Meanwhile, the Poison Siege Beasts will be working away and should continually drop poison on the advancing army with a focus on larger creatures and siege beasts. Once inside the fortress, the Savage Host boost to the army should be able to take down even the toughest grunt with one or two hits. This just leaves you to focus on the captains and defending victory points. It’s also highly advised to bring a tamed Caragor or Graug to the party. Here the AoE effects from these mounts can quickly dispense with the weakened attacking army.

What are your favorite siege tactics in Shadow of War? Let us know in the comments below. 

For more on Shadow of War read our full review and check out 5 things to know before you get started.