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Shadow of War guide: Our 6 most helpful tips

One does not simply walk into War-dor

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

Middle-earth: Shadow of War is an intimidating game, particularly in its first few hours. Its humongous world is matched by the depth of its various menus, unlocks, skill trees. To help new players who may feel overwhelmed, we’ve collected a few tips from our time reviewing the game.

Because Shadow of War is so large, we’ll present the tips in the order in which we think you’ll need them.

This screenshot from Middle-earth: Shadow of War shows protagonist Talion in the midst of battle with a group of half a dozen orcs. A large fully armored orc is rushing at him with a flaming hammer, and Talion has his sword raised mid-swing at the enemy. Monolith Productions/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

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At the beginning, players must collect items by grabbing them. This seems simple enough, until you find yourself in the thick of battle. Suddenly, grabbing a rare sword or a precious gem puts you in the crosshairs of a half dozen archers and axe-hurlers. Shadow of War’s creators recognized the hassle of individually retrieving each item. Why else would they include the option to automatically acquire objects by moving over them?

Unfortunately, this ability is the final unlock in the Wraith branch of the ability tree.

Unlock points are plentiful, thank goodness, so focus the first bundle on pushing through the Wraith abilities. I know, the Wraith branch abilities lack the appeal of the animal husbandry or superhuman archery skills, but trust us: It’s worth nixing this issue before you’re maimed while slowly wrapping your hands around a fancy new shawl.

Clean up

Middle-earth: Shadow of War’s user interface is a lot. In a scrimmage, symbols and button prompts fill the screen. For some folks, all of these icons may be helpful, but I recommend experimenting with removing some of the overlay. You can disable practically everything individually in the Options menu.

For example, I found the button prompts for blocking and dodging (a glowing triangle or X) to be superfluous. The game already shows a smaller warning symbol, color-coded to the type of attack. Learning that a white symbol means parry and a red symbol means dodge takes a few minutes, but the investment nets you a less crowded screen for the rest of the game.

Of course, you could always follow the path of my peer Kirk Hamilton at Kotaku, who I expect will tell you to turn off every bit of UI and embrace that clean view lifestyle.

Middle-earth: Shadow of War - fire-breathing dragon attacks Image: Monolith Productions/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

Complete the story and side story missions

The fastest way to unlock new skills is through story missions. Plus, certain skills — like the delightful double jump — are only unlocked within the campaign, making story missions doubly rewarding. The side story missions are considerably shorter, but also reward unlocks, along with bonuses like special gems that buff weapons and clothing.

Sure, the story isn’t great. But the sooner you finish the main missions, the sooner you can focus your attention on recruiting an army of delightful orcs.

Defense, defense, defense

I said this in our Cuphead tips and I’ll repeat it here: Learn to parry ASAP! You will not last long in Mordor if you don’t master the game’s parry, block and dodge system. After a few hours, some enemies can’t be vaulted or stunned, and they possess unique offensive buffs. You will need to pull from the entire defensive toolkit to gain an upper hand, so get comfortable with every move.

Be patient in battle. The game punishes a player in a rush. You will, at some point, find yourself one hit away from completing a brutal combo on a difficult orc captain, when a sword will come directly for your head from a tiny foot soldier. Parry it!

A hundred times I thought I could squeeze in one extra attack before making a parry, and a hundred times I was wrong. Learn from my mistakes.

Also, take time to clear grunt soldiers, or they will overwhelm you. The orc captains tend to linger around battle (and if one tries to run away, then you’re at an advantage!).

Middle-earth: Shadow of War - looking out over seaside castle Monolith Productions/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

Test your strength

Early in Shadow of War’s second act, players are free to pursue any leader in a fortress, from the lowliest captain to the most powerful warchief. If you feel confident in your skills, start with mid-tier captains or even the handful of leaders who serve as the warchief’s bodyguards. If you fail, you can move down a tier, and take a couple hours to collect some low-level allies, improve your weapons and eventually return to the fight more powerful than before.

If the game feels too difficult, take your time through the entire management team from the bottom, working your way to the top. Bosses become less powerful (losing fortress buffs or soldier support) as you squash their direct reports. It’s a novel way of establishing a video game’s difficulty, making absurd challenge available for the hardcore, while offering a longer but more reliable path for the beginner.

Wander

There’s a lot of stuff to unlock, missions to complete and fortress management routines to learn as you grow from a beginner to an expert. Don’t let it become work, and don’t feel pressured to hurry through the first dozen hours of the game. Shadow of War rewards players who drift from one camp to the next, picking fights wherever they go, by rewarding more abilities, power and soldiers. Take in the scenery. Ride a drake. Have fun.