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Middle-earth: Shadow of War guide: Inventory, gear, upgrades and gems

The stuff you find to stab orcs more good

Monolith Productions/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

Unlike its predecessor, Middle-earth: Shadow of War gives you a lot of control over your gear. Your weapons and armor are no longer fixed, and you’ll be finding new gear and destroying old gear constantly.

All this added complexity — new items to manage of varying qualities and upgrades, along with gems and their intricacies — can be a bit overwhelming. But we believe in you, and we’re here to help you through it. This guide is all about gear, what it’s for and how to improve it.

The basics

You start Middle-earth: Shadow of War with five pieces of gear in your inventory: a sword, a dagger, a bow, armor and a cloak. (There’s another item you’ll get later, but we won’t go into it for spoiler reasons.) Each item in these categories is associated with a stat — melee attack, stealth attack, ranged attack, maximum health, stealth and maximum focus. Now that we’ve listed them and you’ve read them, forget them. They’re not displayed anywhere else and they will have exactly zero impact on your gameplay. All you need to know here is that bigger numbers equal better gear.

Within each category, there are four gear tiers (each of which has an associated color): common (white), rare (yellow), epic (orange) and legendary (purple). And this is where upgrades come in.

Where to get gear

Some orcs drop gear when you kill them — captains especially. You’ll also get gear as a reward for completing some side quests, or you can just go to the Market and buy gear. The point: You’re not going to spend any time looking for gear. It’ll just keep showing up. All you have to do is manage it.

But you really should unlock the Treasure Hunter skill so you don’t have to hold down a button to pick it up when you find something.

Upgrades and Unlock Challenges

A rare sword and its Unlock Challenge. Easy enough.
Monolith Productions/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Some legendary armor. The Unlock Challenge for this one basically says, “You’ll never upgrade this armor.”
Monolith Productions/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

When you first pick up rare or better gear, you’ll see an Unlock Challenge below the stats. You have to do this to unlock that item’s upgrade. The difficulty of the challenge is tied to the rarity of the gear. In the first image above, you can see that to upgrade our rare sword we just need to land 10 critical hits (which basically means just playing for a while and fighting the occasional orc). In the second image, our legendary armor requires the hyper-specific and super difficult task of defeating of a level 40 captain in an Online Vendetta Mission. That one’s not going to happen for a while.

Once you satisfy the Unlock Challenge’s requirements, you can spend some mirian (the in-game currency) and upgrade the item. This just makes that item’s stat a little higher. How much higher and how much it costs depends on the quality — rare gear will go up a point or two, while epic gear will go up several points. You can only upgrade rare and epic gear once, but you can upgrade legendary gear multiple times across multiple Unlock Challenges.

All this makes our earlier statement about bigger numbers equalling better gear a little fuzzy. When you compare two pieces of gear, you have to remember that the number can go up a little — an epic sword that is two points less than a common one will end up with a higher stat once you complete the Unlock Challenge.

Two things to remember about upgrades

Unlock Challenges only work for items you currently have equipped. You can’t just sit on something and wait for the upgrade to be ready. You have to actively work on upgrading it.

Because you need more things to read while getting swarmed by orcs.
Monolith Productions/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

The other note is more of a complaint and something to watch out for. From the main inventory screen, you can track an item’s Unlock Challenge. This adds the challenge to your HUD and helps you keep track of what’s left to do. When you finish the challenge (whether you’re tracking it or not), you’ll get a notification. But there’s no indication in any of your menus that there’s an upgrade available.

It’s easy to miss that notification in the heat of battle, so it’s on you to remember to go do it. Our solution is to just periodically check our equipped gear and see if there’s anything ready to upgrade.


Gems basically add a little extra oomph to your gear.

You can fit a gem to each category of gear (not each individual item), but you’ll have to unlock the gem slot first for 1,000 mirian.

There are three types of gems: potency (damage), vitality (health) and wealth (wealth). Their exact effect depend on what type of gear they’re attached to, but that’s the basic premise.

The gem inventory screen.
Monolith Productions/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

There are five qualities of gems: plain, carved, polished, refined and perfect. You’re not stuck with just the gems you pick up or earn from side quests, though. You can combine three identical gems into a gem of the next-higher quality — three plain become one carved, three carved become one polished.

In Middle-earth: Shadow of War, gems work a lot like runes did in the first game. Add a potency gem to a sword and you’ll increase the damage. Add a vitality gem to a cloak and you’ll increase your max health. A gem’s efficacy increases as its quality increases. A plain warrior gem, for example, will add 10 percent to a sword’s damage, while a perfect warrior gem will add 30 percent.

A gem is attached to the category of gear, not the items themselves. so:

  • You can swap and destroy gear without effecting the gem.
  • You can remove gems from slots without penalty, so it’s a good idea to periodically check to see if you can remove and combine a few gems at once to get a much better gem.

And remember to come back and check on your gem inventory periodically because it’s really easy to inadvertently end up with lots of them (which isn’t a problem, but it means you’re leaving benefits unused).

Legendary sets

The Terror collection hits the runway this autum.
Monolith Productions/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

The last thing to know about gear won’t really become relevant until very late in the game when you have a lot of legendary gear. Each piece of legendary gear belongs to a set. There are nine sets: dark, feral, machine, marauder, vendetta, Bright Lord, mystic, terror and warmonger.

Equipping multiple pieces of legendary gear from the same set will give you bonuses. You can track how many pieces of each set you have and what bonuses you have available from the rightmost icon on your inventory screen.

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