What's new in Middle-earth: Shadow of War for Xbox One and Windows 10

Following up on the hit action role-playing game (RPG), Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, Warner Brothers is back again with a second take on Talion and Celebrimbor's tale in the mystical universe. Taking heavy influence from both "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit," Shadow of War aims to build on what made the first game so compelling while continuing the story for long-term fans.

Shadow of War is shaping up to be a promising title for Microsoft, with a range of benefits for those on its platforms. With both Xbox One and Windows 10 releases, the game takes advantage of the Play Anywhere program, offering cross-buy and cross-platform saves between devices. Those on Xbox One X this fall can experience the game in 4K with HDR, via an upcoming patch.

We rounded up the biggest changes making their appearance in Middle-earth: Shadow of War and what to expect from the game ahead of its release this month.

A tale of vengeance unfolds

Middle-earth: Shadow of War leverages the strong pre-established world from J. R. R. Tolkien, pursuing a new adventure building on the events of the first game. With Talion and Celebrimbor having forged their own Ring of Power, Talion now has access to a wide range of powers to fight back against the Dark Lord Sauron and his evil forces.

Shadow of War also marks the first appearance for the Nazgûl – a new group of enemies serving the Dark Lord. This sets up for the attack on Minas Ithil, a human settlement, hit with a brutal siege that falls into the hands of evil forces. Establishing the premise for a majority of Shadow of War, the game explores a tale of retribution against dark forces.

Following similar themes to the first game, Shadow of War's narrative attempts to capture wide-scale conflict across Mordor, with a range of locations and characters. And while the game might reward long-term fans of the franchise, the game's developer has also pitched this as a potential entry point for the series.

The 'Nemesis system' is back and better than ever

The "Nemesis system" made its debut in Shadow of Mordor and soon became a defining feature of the series. Through the system, enemies learn and adapt based on previous actions as a player, with personalized interactions influenced by prior events. This made for a more immersive narrative across the board and a story tailored around your personal decisions.

This system makes a triumphant return in Shadow of War, expanding its scale as a main draw of the package. The second iteration of Nemesis system expands its reach beyond a per-character basis, putting further weight on your decisions. With knock-on effects across Mordor, this tailors your Shadow of War experience on the fly.

All-out blood and battle

Siege Battles aim to create large-scale, immersive, conflicts in heavily defended fortresses scattered across Mordor. To conquer occupied enemy territories, players need to storm the gate and work through fortifications, ahead of taking down the Orc war chiefs and all-powerful Overlords.

The Nemesis system also factors heavily into these sieges, with war chiefs and overlords bearing personalities, alongside associated strengths and weaknesses. Fortresses have various ways of being attacked, meaning players can experience a dynamic string of events leading up to their capture.

A friend in need is a friend indeed

In terms of its gameplay, one of the biggest changes to Shadow of War branches off from the Nemesis system, allowing players to recruit more advanced allies from the field. While the late moments of Shadow of Mordor established a basic sense of building your own following, this has been developed as the main improvement in its successor.

After defeating Orcs in combat and gaining their allegiance, previous enemies can fight alongside you in combat. After becoming an ally, Orcs maintain similar personalities, while also bearing the same strengths and weaknesses seen in previous encounters. This also feeds into the advancements seen in the Nemesis system, allowing for further complexity to your ally and enemy relationships.

New skills to learn, even more to master

Personal skills return as another principal aspect of Shadow of War and act as the main form of progression in terms of gameplay. Both new and returning abilities are available to Talion and Celebrimbor, with options to tailor the warriors to your play style.

Throughout your journey, you'll have the chance to expand and upgrade Talion and Celebrimbor's skill set, via a deeper set of skill trees focusing on six main aspects of the experience. Combat, Predator, Ranged, Wraith, Mounted and Story skills are all divided into their own respective categories, with smaller upgrades available on a per-skill basis.

Not just a single-player game

While Shadow of War remains a single-player experience at heart, as with many modern franchises, a shift is also being seen toward online play. The new multiplayer aspect allows players to invade each other's in-game fortresses, with activities based around attacking and defending bases.

Many have likened the "Social Conquest" mode to a similar feature in Konami's Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. After hijacking an Orc base, players can invest into a line of defense and upgrades to secure the settlement, while preparing an assault on other fortifications. Upon successfully invading fortresses, players will be rewarded with randomized loot chests containing upgrades.

With a shift to online connectivity, Warner Brothers also took the opportunity to open a further route for monetization via loot chests. Microtransactions will be available in-game, providing access to randomized gear drops, XP drops and followers. Unsurprisingly, this has stirred up a fair amount of controversy, though developers have defended the move, clarifying these boxes aren't mandatory for the full experience.

Middle-earth: Shadow of War has micropayments, here's how they work

Middle-earth: Shadow of War is slated for release on October 10, 2017, for about $60, for Xbox One and Windows 10. The game will also support the Xbox One X later this fall, with an upcoming patch currently scheduled for the console.

Matt Brown

Matt Brown was formerly a Windows Central's Senior Editor, Xbox & PC, at Future. Following over seven years of professional consumer technology and gaming coverage, he’s focused on the world of Microsoft's gaming efforts. You can follow him on Twitter @mattjbrown.