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Don’t spend a cent in Middle-earth: Shadow of War’s marketplace

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We have a better way to farm orcs

Middle-earth: Shadow of War - fortress assault Monolith Productions/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

Middle-earth: Shadow of War design director Bob Roberts insisted that his team balanced the game with its online features — including its controversial loot boxes — disabled. Nonetheless, the game’s final act, Shadow Wars, seems to be designed around pushing players to spend in the game’s marketplace economy.

But don’t spend any money in Shadow of War’s marketplace. Not a single Illuvatar-damned tharni.

We’ll show you how to get enough experience boosts to make it to max level without paying for loot boxes; we’ll explain why the best Legendary set in Shadow of War is one you can get for free without messing with the game’s random drop system; and we’ll tell you the most reliable way to get an army of Legendary followers so you can stock your garrison with all-stars without paying in cash.

This method, which involves using the game’s online features, reliably yields three to four Legendary followers in two hours of play. That’s significantly better than any other method of farming.

I worked this out playing the game over the weekend, and I didn't find any other discussion of farming Legendary followers this way on Reddit, YouTube or anywhere else. The game is also very new, so this may be the first place this method, which is not particularly obvious or intuitive, has been publicized.

Even if you think you know how to farm orcs in Shadow of War, please take a look.

You’ll want experience boosts, but don’t pay for them

You need 100,000 experience points for each of the last 10 levels to get to the cap of 60. There are no campaign missions in the final act, so players have to grind randomly-generated Nemesis missions to level up. And since Nemesis missions only award 3,000 to 4,000 points each, including the points you get for killing or dominating a captain as a part of the mission, you’ll have to run several hundred of them to reach the level cap.

Shadow of War, of course, is happy to sell you experience point boosts for about a dollar each that will cut that grind in half.

Middle-earth: Shadow of War - fire-breathing attack on tower Monolith Productions/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

Experience boosts are the only item in Shadow of War that you can only get with gold, a premium currency that is extremely scarce as a gameplay reward, and which the game encourages you to purchase with real money. But although the game is very stingy with free gold, you can get enough of this currency to boost your experience without paying real money.

There are the daily and community challenges that are given every day and every few days, respectively. Both of these challenges can award gold, and I’ve earned 650 gold in the week after the game’s launch. That’s enough for six and a half boosts.

I completed the game’s first community challenge, which awarded gold, while I was still doing the main campaign. I was then able to buy boosts to get double points for many campaign missions. This allowed me to start Shadow Wars at level 51.

But even if you didn’t do that, and you started Shadow Wars around level 46 or 47, you should still earn enough boosts to get to level 60 over a couple of weeks. Pace yourself and take your time, and get your boosts for free.

A couple of tips on Nemesis grinding: You can create a new Nemesis mission by assigning a follower orc to kill any orc that doesn’t already have a Nemesis mission active.

You can also assign up to two of your followers to an “Ambush a Nemesis” mission, and they’ll show up during the mission and attack the enemy orc. These missions go very quickly when three of your captains gang up on the target with you.

Try to skip missions where an enemy captain is hunting ghuls or caragors. The hunt target always seems to die in the melee, and the mission completes with a success for the enemy captain. That means you don’t get any experience.

Every time you finish a Nemesis mission, older Nemesis missions you may have skipped will cycle off the map and new captains spawn to fill any empty spaces on your Army page. That means can feel free to kill off enemy captains or any of your followers that betray you while you’re grinding. More orcs will be along to replace them, and one of those replacements might even be Legendary.

Unfortunately, Nemesis missions are not a great way to get Legendaries because they rarely spawn. The ones who show up in the world frequently have the Iron Will trait, which prevents them from being dominated. When you shame an orc, it has a chance to lose its Iron Will, but it also has a chance to get a new weakness. Shaming will often ruin a Legendary by giving him a mortal vulnerability or a debilitating fear of something very common.

Don’t worry. There’s a better way of getting Legendary followers.

The Silver War Chest is the only thing you should buy without hesitation

Shadow of War’s in-game currency is called Mirian. Enemies drop it sometimes, you can get some as mission or bonus objective rewards and you get some when you dismantle random loot that drops from orc captains. Common pieces are worth about 200 Mirian, rares are worth about 300, epics are worth 400 and, if you get a duplicate Legendary, it is worth about 800.

You’ll need a lot of Mirian to upgrade your fortress defenses for Shadow Wars; the metal walls upgrade alone costs 7,500 Mirian for each fort and you’ll want to buy that for all of them. This upgrade keeps enemy orcs outside your fortress and getting pelted by your siege graugs and archers for a lot longer than stone or wooden walls.

But once you’ve bought your upgrades, you’ll be dumping your Mirian into Silver War Chests, which is the main reason you’ll visit the marketplace. Each chest contains two orc followers, and one of them will be epic. You’ll rarely get Legendary orcs from these chests, but epic orcs are useful.

The other thing in the box is an item that can be either a training order or a Spoils of War boost. The orders are useful; they can do things like change an orc’s weapon effect to poison or curse, move an orc from one region to another or, very rarely, upgrade an orc to epic or even Legendary quality.

But the Spoils of War boost is the most important thing you can find in these boxes. Spoils of War is a third type of currency you get from Shadow of War’s online activities: Online Vendettas and Online Conquests. I’ll talk about these activities more later on, but the important thing to know is that you get 50 Spoils for doing a Vendetta and up to 200 for beating a Conquest. If you have a Spoils Boost active, you get double that.

Every thousand Spoils, you get a Spoils of War chest. A Spoils chest contains three orc followers, and two items that can be either training orders or Spoils boosts. At least one of these followers is guaranteed to be Legendary, and the other two will be at least epic. Getting two Legendary followers in a Spoils chest is not uncommon. The only difference between a Spoils box and a premium box is that Spoils chests never give you experience boosts.

Spoils of War is really important, and we’re about to talk about it more.

Free legendary gear is the best legendary gear

There are nine legendary gear sets in Shadow of War. In addition to giving Talion better stat boosts than lower tiers of gear, each Legendary set has two sets of bonus effects. The first effect activates when you have two of the six gear pieces equipped, and the second activates when you have four. Since you have six gear slots, you can have both bonuses for one set, and the first bonus of another set active at the same time.

All Legendary gear can be upgraded to level 60 by completing different challenges, so it can be relevant at the end game, regardless of when you find it.

One of them, the Bright Lord set, you get for completing all the Ithildin door puzzles in Celebrimbor’s barrows during the main campaign. A second set, an upgraded version of Talion’s starting gear, is a reward for completing the main campaign.

Five sets are random drops, a set for each tribe of orcs. Legendary orcs show up pretty rarely in the campaign, and you’ll usually want to recruit them into your army, if at all possible, rather than killing them for gear drops, so these sets are hard to collect. On top of that, you can get duplicate drops, so it can take a long time to collect these through normal play. These sets also show up in the Legendary gear chests that Shadow of War sells for cash in the Marketplace. Isn’t that nice of Monolith and Warner Bros.?

These sets do some cool stuff; the standouts are the Warmonger set, which lights everything on fire and heals you while you burn things, and the Dark set, which spreads poison among enemies and then charges your Might meter with each poison tick, to let you do more special attacks.

These may be something you’ll spend your quest reward gold on after you get all the boosts you need, but you don’t need to spend any money on those chests because you don’t need this gear.

Arguably the best set in the game, and my personal favorite, is available without messing with random drops at all. It’s the Vengeance set, which you get from doing Online Vendetta missions. These missions spawn a Nemesis Quest in your world that lets you hunt down an orc that killed another player. If you can avenge the player by defeating the orc, you get Spoils, and a chest containing two rare or epic items.

These rewards are … OK. I did a two hour Spoils boost session on Vendettas to see how they measure up. In two hours, I completed 13 Vendettas and failed one when two high level Captains from the other player’s game showed up to ambush me while I was fighting the target. That means I earned 1.3 Spoils chests and the loot from the Vendetta boxes broke down to about 7,250 Mirian, almost enough to buy five Silver War Chests.

You get less experience doing Online Vendettas than you can get from regular Nemesis missions because, other than your bodyguard, your followers can’t back you up on Vendettas, so they take longer, especially since these killer orcs are unusually dangerous. And you get more Spoils from Conquests.

This is the set you want
Monolith/Warner Bros.

So the Vengeance set is the main draw here. Upgrading each piece to level 60 requires you to kill those difficult high-level Vendetta orcs with pretty much every move in the game, including some dumb moves you’d rarely use otherwise, like mounted stealth attacks and Bird of Prey headshots. This is harder than the upgrade challenges for other Legendary sets, but it’s worth it. The Vendetta set’s bonuses allow you to use Might attacks even when your Might meter isn’t charged, by paying the cost with 40 percent of your health.

That sounds a little risky. But if you have a fully charged meter, you can unload four executions into an orc, one after another. That will usually be enough to obliterate a Conquest Overlord, a Nemesis orc or a Vendetta target. It also allows you to use battle-turning abilities like chain-consume and raise dead in your Shadow Wars missions without needing to fill your Might bar first.

And when you’ve drained your health bar to use those attacks, the set’s other perks give you massively increased damage while your health is low, so you can finish off anything that has survived your onslaught or heal up with your lifesteal gems. And the set’s ring has a perk that doubles your health gains from drains or dominations, so if you’re in a tight spot, you can always shadow-dominate an orc for a quick heal.

Get this set upgraded, and you don’t need anything else. You don’t need the loot drops, and you don’t need to buy loot chests.

Exploit Ranked Conquests for tons of free legendary followers

Ranked Conquest is a mode that has gotten very little community attention so far. It lets you and a squad of your orcs attack other players’ forts. People are scared of it because, even though your actions don’t impact the defending player’s game, your orcs die permanently in Ranked Conquest if they fail.

Sort of.

Ranked Conquest isn’t a real online mode, and your game save is local. The game only saves when the Conquest concludes in either success or failure. So if one of your orcs dies while you’re attacking, you can just shut off your console or force quit the game, and it won’t save, so you’ll get the orc back. Or you can just use orcs you don’t care about, like the dozens of Epic fodder orcs you’ll get from the Silver War Chests that you will buy looking for Spoils boosts.

The defender has a rating based on the strength of his orc defenders and his defenses. A fort with no upgrades and no defending captains other than a very low-level overlord will have a rating in the low double digits. An upgraded fort with six warchiefs around level 40-45, a second, inner set of walls and six checkpoints will have a rating of about 350. My fully upgraded fort with level 54 legendaries in every defensive spot has a rating of 516.

The attackers are rated not on the orcs’ strength or your upgrades but your performance in previous conquests. Depending on how long it takes to finish a conquest, you get either gold, silver or bronze rewards. If you capture all the control points and kill the warchiefs and the overlord in less than seven minutes, you earn gold.

That means your assault rating rises 100 points, you get a gold chest with five items in it, whose levels are determined by the difficulty of the raid, and you get 200 Spoils, regardless of the level of the raid. That last bit is important. If you finish within 12 minutes, you get silver, your rating rises 25 points, you get a silver box with four items, and you get 150 Spoils.

If you lose, your assault level is lowered 25 points, and the next fort you attempt will be a little bit easier.

It’s a bit sneaky, but it works
Monolith/Warner Bros.

It’s probably supposed to work like an Elo rating system; your rating should rise as long as you win more than you lose, and when you hit a 50 percent win rate, you’ll reach an equilibrium and your rating will stabilize. And the reason the Spoils rewards are so good for finishing is because Monolith probably assumes players will be losing a lot of their ranked Conquest attempts. When you lose, you get nothing. And you can’t win forever. You’ll be facing the forts of people who spent a bunch of money to boost to 60 and fill their forts with legendary orcs eventually.

But Monolith done goofed, because nobody cares about their ranking on the dumb Conquest leaderboard. Nobody cares about earning the Steward title. The reason people will play Ranked Conquest is to get those sweet, sweet Spoils of War, and the Spoils rewards are as good for beating the easiest forts as they are for beating the hardest.

That means that what you actually want to do is tank the shit out of your rating. You want to run face first into the enemy base, burn 80 percent of your health using your Vendetta set bonus to execute a couple of random grunts, and die as fast as you can to the first thing that will kill you, and then do that again and again, around 15 or 20 times, until your assault rating is zero. Then, you want to pop your Spoils of War boost, and start running roughshod over easy forts for the boost’s two-hour duration to maximize the gains during the boost period.

Remember, though, that gold medals increase your rating 100 points. You’ll be back to facing level 400 forts in less than half an hour if you win four golds in a row.

My solution was to capture the checkpoints and then wait out the gold clock before entering the Overlord’s keep. Once inside, I summoned my graug, stomped the Overlord like an insect, and collected silver rewards. Each run took seven to eight minutes and, once you add in load times and cut scenes like Captain taunts that stop the clock, I was able to do that 10 times in two hours for 3,000 Spoils of War. The last fort I did was only a 250 rating, because I only added 25 rating per silver medal, and I watched a couple of TV shows while my character idled time off the clock after taking all the checkpoints.

I got four legendary followers from the three boxes, and I got 9,000 Mirian from breaking the junk in the low-level silver reward boxes. That bought me six Silver War Chests, and, while that doesn’t guarantee another Spoils boost, I’ve been getting them faster than I can use them.

You could probably do even better if you just earned a sub-two-minute gold on a level zero fort and then burned off the 100 rating by killing yourself four times before doing the same thing again.

Either way, this is more than twice as good as earning spoils chests from Vendettas, and much, much better than trying to find Legendaries in the world doing Nemesis missions. I did two hours of Nemesis missions and only saw one legendary, and he had Iron Will, and then got a mortal vulnerability to fire when I shamed him.

When a game plays you that way, you should play it this way. If you want a clear, simple to follow list of steps to take to use these shortcuts and exploits, the bullet points below have you covered:

The Fastest Way To Farm Legendary Followers

  • You earn Spoils of War for completing Online Vendettas and Ranked Conquests. 1,000 Spoils gets you a chest with a guaranteed legendary follower, two epic followers that have a chance to be legendary, and two Training Orders or Spoils Boosts.
  • Spoils Boosts double your Spoils of War rewards. You can find them in Silver War Chests or in Spoils of War Chests. You can also buy them with real money, but don’t buy anything with real money in Shadow of War.
  • Ranked Conquests provide the same amount of Spoils at a rating of zero as they do at high ratings. Every time you fail, your assault rating drops 25 points, and you get matched against weaker forts. This means you can intentionally fail conquests until your rank is zero before you use your boost. By intentionally dying as quickly as possible, you can fail a Ranked Conquest within 30 seconds of it starting, so even a high-ranked player can tank to zero pretty quickly.
  • If you earn gold medals on the low-level forts you face after tanking your rating, you’ll get 100 points back each time you win, and your rating will quickly rise back to the level you were facing before you tanked your rating. So, either wait for the gold medal timer to elapse before killing the Overlord to get silver, which increases your rating only 25 points per victory, or quickly fail a few Conquests between each gold medal victory. Either way, you can win a Conquest every 10 to 12 minutes, earning 300 Spoils if you’re taking silvers or 400 for golds.

This should net you at least 3000 Spoils of War over the course of your two-hour boost, and there is a good chance you will get another Spoils boost from the Spoils chests or from the Silver War Chests you’ll buy with the Mirian you get from destroying the junk loot you get from your conquests. Farming legendary followers this way is much faster than any other method.