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Middle-earth: Shadow of War guide: Your skill tree

What to buy first (and what to ignore)

Middle-earth: Shadow of War - Talion with Celebrimbor in background Monolith Productions/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

Like a lot in Middle-earth: Shadow of War, your skill tree is extensive, complex and mostly unexplained. Talion has 33 skills available to choose from, and those 33 skills have a total of 87 upgrades to add into the mix. Most of them — a skill or an upgrade to a skill — cost one Skill Point. You’ll earn these every time you level up and complete various activities in the game. You get a lot of Skill Points as you play (we had 46 or so by the time we got to level 23.) Other skills and upgrades unlock with quests and activities.

With so many options to choose from, figuring out what to purchase next can be really intimidating. This guide will run through the (broad) categories of skills in Talion’s tree, then call out the best and most useful ones, the ones to unlock first and early, as well as our favorites.

Middle-earth: Shadow of War skill tree

So, so many choices.

Talion’s skill tree works from left to right — to purchase a skill, you need to have purchased the one to its left first. And, obviously, you can only get upgrades to skills you own.

We’re going to list the skill categories below, but we have to point out that it’s hard to break them down comprehensively. The broad categories are easy enough to describe and understand — stab things, shoot things, ride things, etc. — but the upgrades are kind of all over the place and will often change how you’ll use a skill.


Combat skills are, unsurprisingly, involved in combat. They’re your sword-based skills. Things like executions and parries (counters) fall into this category.


These are your sneaky and stealth-based skills. Running silently and poisoning grog barrels from a distance are two skills you’ll unlock here.


Bow skills fall into the Ranged category. Skills like Freeze Pin, which immobilizes an enemy, or the teleportation-like Shadow Strike are here.


Your banished-from-death-ness skills show up here. Things like your thrown Wraith dagger and the life-sucking Consume are Wraith skills. (The fifth skill in this category, Treasure Hunter, is probably the most useful skill in the game.)


You don’t start Shadow of War with the ability to ride beasts. As you unlock skills in this category, you gain the ability to ride the three ridable beasts — caragors, graugs and drakes(!).


Story is kind of a catchall or miscellaneous category. There’s no real theme to these skills. They start with the Drain ability and end with the Dominate Captain ability.

So what skills actually matter?

Choosing between roughly 120 available options is intimidating to say the least. Even just the 33 main skills are hard to prioritize. But we’re here to help and to tell you what worked for us.

Treasure Hunter

Holding down a button to retrieve loot is problematic for a few reasons. Mostly, you’ll get stabbed.
Monolith Productions/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

The fifth skill in the Wraith category, Treasure Hunter, is arguably the most useful in Middle-earth: Shadow of War. Treasure Hunter makes it so you don’t have to hold down a button to pick up the gear, gems or Mirian you find. You just have to walk across them, and you’ll pick them up automatically. It’s not the strongest or the flashiest, but it’s such a time- and frustration-saver that it’s going right at the top of the list.

It’ll cost you five Skill Points to get here, so it’s not, technically, the first skill you’ll unlock, but it should be your first goal. The skills you unlock along the way — Brace of Daggers, Elven Light, Ice Storm and Consume — are worthwhile, so it’s a good goal.

Once you unlock Treasure Hunter, consider the first upgrade as well before you start spending points elsewhere. Discerning Eye increases the chance you’ll get better stuff from the drops you (now automatically) pick up. (For the other two upgrades, one has nothing to do with loot and the other requires you to find every single piece of one kind of collectible in the game, so they’re not worth considering until much later.)


Execute is the first skill to unlock in the Combat category, so it’s cheap. When your might is full during combat, this skill lets you Execute an enemy — killing them with one attack. This makes thinning out enemies’ numbers much easier. And it’s a useful tool to have while fighting Captains — some of them are vulnerable to Execution attacks.

Freeze Pin

An orc stuck in place with Freeze Pin.
Monolith Productions/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

On the ranged side of combat, Freeze Pin should be your first goal. It’ll take two points to get there, so it’s not too difficult. But the usefulness of the skill makes it an important one to get early. Freeze Pin lets you shoot an arrow into an enemy’s foot, pinning them to the ground. This is great for defenders (enemies with shields) and Captains that you can’t attack head-on — or just to buy yourself some time when facing a tough baddie.

Hammer of Eregion upgrade to Shadow Strider

Shadow Strider is a story skill you’ll unlock as you play the campaign. It gives you, effectively, a double jump. The upgrade to that skill, Hammer of Eregion, is one you should purchase as soon as you unlock the parent skill. With this upgrade, vaulting over enemies freezes them for a short period. This is a great way to build up your hit streak, and it often comes in handy against Captains.

Anything that replenishes Elf Shot

Ammo for your bow is relatively easy to come by, but seeking it out is not always exactly convenient. That’s where a couple of upgrades become useful:

  • Combat/Perfect Counter/Rain of Arrows. The second combat skill has an upgrade that will give you one Elf Shot for every Perfect Counter you execute.
  • Story/Drain/Quiver of Souls. The first skill in the story category will let you refill your quiver every time you drain an enemy.

What should I wait to buy?

Every skill has its uses, and there’s no skill that’s bad or that you should avoid. Chances are, you’re going to unlock every skill (if not every upgrade) eventually. But just like there are skills you should buy as soon as possible, there are a few you can hold off on.

Predator skills

Stealth and sneaky methods of killing are good options to have in a stealth-heavy game like Middle-earth: Shadow of War wants to be. But Shadow of War isn’t exactly great at stealth or, honestly, subtlety. There are a couple good skills in this category, like Elven Agility, but as a whole, they’re not as useful as the ones listed above.

Mounted skills

Khaleesi Talion, First of his Name.
Monolith Productions/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

Riding beasts is a great way to get around, and it sure comes in handy sometimes, but these skills and (especially) their upgrades shouldn’t take priority over the more commonly used combat ones above.

And as friggin’ awesome as it is to ride a dragon (drake), it is, quite frankly, not worth the skill points required. For a while. When you’ve got a handle on combat and you’ve upgraded the rest of the skills you want, you should definitely add in drake-riding to your repertoire because, c’mon, you can ride a dragon.

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