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Middle-earth: Shadow of War guide: Fortresses

Home is where the haradrim are

Monolith Productions/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Jeffrey Parkin (he/him) has been writing video game guides for Polygon for almost seven years. He has learned to love just about every genre of game that exists.

Fortresses are one of the new mechanics added to Middle-earth: Shadow of War. They’re, well, fortresses in each area of Mordor that you can (try to) take over and control. Doing so sends a message to Sauron and can earn you some rewards.

You’re not going to encounter your first fortress until you’re many hours into the game (we were at over 20 hours in at that point, but we play slowly), and you won’t encounter your second until many hours after that. But fortress become a major mechanic in the late stages of Middle-earth: Shadow of War, so they’re important to understand.

We’re going to work from the top down for this guide, starting with what a fortress is, then how capture one. From there, we’ll work backward through the ways you can make that easier. Once you know how to claim a fortress, we’ll talk through your options for keeping it yours.

What’s a fortress?

Monolith Productions/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

You’ve seen the basics of fortresses before in the game. They’re similar to the outposts you encounter, but these are dressed up nicer. And they have an overlord running the show.

The other big difference is that fortresses have some extra defenses to keep you out. The walls might be stronger, which will keep your armies out for longer because they can’t climb like Talion can, or they might have poison-spewing siege beasts. These defenses are tied to the warchiefs that serve the overlord (more on this below).

Monolith Productions/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

A combination of the overlord and warchiefs’ levels and the additional defenses adds up to a fortress level — a number you don’t really have to understand beyond “higher equals better defended.”

On the attacking side are members of your army (assault leaders) and any upgrades you give them. You can purchase these upgrades — which are different from training orders — when you start the capture mission. You can add things like your own siege beasts of various flavors or extra archers. Your captains and their upgrades all contribute to your assault force level. Once again, higher is better.

If the fortress level is higher than your assault level, it’ll be a rough fight. If your assault level is higher than the fortress level, it won’t be easy, but some of your captains might survive. “Survive what?” you may ask? Well …

How to capture a fortress

Monolith Productions/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

Taking a fortress is straightforward enough. With your captains by your side, you crash through the walls (or over them, in Talion’s case), and then you capture victory points by standing in them while fighting off enemy orcs. Once you’ve captured all of the fortress’s victory points, you make your way inside the throne room to face the fortress’ overlord.

You don’t, technically, have to do any preparation to storm (and maybe capture) a fortress. You can rush in alone, through all the defenses the overlord throws at you. You might be able to mow through the waves of orcs that come at you while capturing the victory points. And, if you can do that, you can probably handle the overlord. But that’s a very punishing way to approach a fortress.

Even assuming you can survive capturing the victory points (there are a lot of orcs defending a fortress), the overlord fight is going be tough no matter how much preparing you do. Overlords tend to have a beefy level and they’ve always got backup in the throne room. There’s not really any way to make that part of the fight easier, but there are ways to make getting there easier.

Defeat warchiefs to weaken a fortress

Fortresses are hard to break into, as you’d expect. They’ve got defenses and defenders, and claiming one is no small feat. But there’s a way to take out some of those defenses before you even get there.

Monolith Productions/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

The warchiefs that serve a warlord — the orcs that are standing on the ramparts on the army screen — are tied to the defenses the same way your captains have their upgrades. If you systematically take out those warchiefs, you remove those defenses. This lowers the fortress level dramatically and makes getting inside and capturing those victory points much, much easier.

Warchiefs get promoted for a reason: They’re strong. You can take them out during a warchief-specific mission that goes pretty much like any other captain fight. They’re just a lot harder.

If only you could get some help.

Get help defeating warchiefs

A warchief usually appears with a few loyal captains in tow. They obviously make getting to and, hopefully, killing the warchief extra difficult. Happily, there’s a way to tilt the scales in your favor.

Monolith Productions/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

As you defeat the captains in an area and recruit them to serve in the army of the Bright Lord, you can command them to infiltrate a warchief’s entourage. You can even do this several times over, completely filling the warchief’s ranks with your traitors. Then, when you take on the warchief, your orcs betray him and fight on your side.

Defending and defenders

Now that you have infiltrated the warchiefs, your captains have betrayed them, and you’ve captured a fortress, you have to shore up the defenses. The first thing to do is promote a captain out of your ranks to become the new overlord. A pair of captains will also get promoted to warchiefs. That all happens right after you capture the fortress. But there’s still a little more work to be done.

Monolith Productions/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

There are two ways that your enemies can attack your fortress — either behind-the-scenes in someone else’s online conquest mission, or as defense missions (the first one is part of Bruz’s storyline):

  • Online conquests are another player trying to overcome your orcs and your defenses, and you don’t actually participate or even see it happen.
  • Defense missions flip the script on everything we wrote above. To prevent the fortress from getting captured, Talion and his captains must defend victory points and defeat enemies. It’s made all the more complicated by wave after wave of orcs with many enemy captains involved.

Because you recruited the orcs when you took over the fortress, they were at or around your level back then and haven’t leveled up since. Chances are they’re underpowered for any incoming attacks. So, what can you do to shore up your defenses?

Siege upgrades

Monolith Productions/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

Siege upgrades make your fortress harder to break into. Spend some mirian, and you can unlock extra defending warchief slots (depending on your level) and give each of your warchiefs upgrades — the same way enemy warchiefs add defenses when you’re trying to capture a fortress. Extra warchief slots unlock as Talion levels up, so be prepared to keep spending money.

Using and improving your army

The warchiefs assigned to protect your castle don’t level up with Talion, so if you want to keep things fair (or just make your defending forces better), you have to put in some work.

Replace them

Monolith Productions/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

If you’re flush with mirian, you can just buy new followers in the Market. You can even spend real money to buy better followers. These new followers never exceed Talion’s level, but they do seem to keep pace with it. Purchased followers are very likely better than those left behind to guard your fortress.

To swap out warchiefs, replace them on the siege upgrades screen or reposition them on the army screen. You can replace any defeated captain with one out of your garrison on the army screen, too.

If you don’t have any in your garrison, you’ll have to recruit some. But if you don’t have any free spots for captains — say, if you already control all of the captains in the area — you’ll have to free up some room. There are two ways to do this: reassignment orders (training orders that send a captain back to the garrison) or, you know, murder (you monster).

Make them better with pit fight missions

Training orders give your captains a boost and make them stronger, but training orders are pretty tough to come by. Instead, you can send your captains to pit fight missions in any area you control.

Monolith Productions/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

Pit fights pit two captains against each other to see who comes out on top (not dead). When you send your captains there, not only do you reap the rewards (mirian, gear, gems and skill points, usually), but your captain also levels up. You can just keep doing this at the three levels of pit fight difficulty until your captains are the same level Talion is, assuming they survive. (If they lose, you get the rewards, but they don’t level up.)

Just be warned, this is a time-consuming process that you can only sit back and watch.

What about the warchiefs and the overlord?

The warchiefs and the overlord you left in charge don’t level up either. But you also can’t send them to the pit fights.

Monolith Productions/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

If you select them from the army screen and give them a command, you can then choose to reposition them. This swaps out your current overlord or warchief for a different captain in your ranks (or just demotes them to the rank and file if you move them to an empty spot), freeing them up for level-improving missions. You can just keep swapping your captains around in this way until everyone is up to snuff.

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