Middle-earth: Shadow of War continues the previous game’s narrative, which is based on J. R. R. Tolkien’s legendarium and set between the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Like its predecessor, the game also takes heavy inspiration from director Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings film adaptations. The player continues the story of the ranger Talion and the spirit of the elf lord Celebrimbor, who shares Talion’s body, as they forge a new Ring of Power to amass an army to fight against Sauron. The game builds upon the “Nemesis System” introduced in Shadow of Mordor, allowing Talion to gain followers from several races of Middle-earth, including Uruks and Ologs, and plan out complex strategies using these to complete missions.
Middle-earth: Shadow of War is an action role-playing game set in an open world environment and played from a third-person perspective, following from its predecessor. The player controls the game’s protagonist Talion, who has several natural athletic and combat abilities as a ranger of Gondor, but also has unique abilities provided by the spirit of the elf lord Celebrimbor, who he shares his body with. The player uses their combined abilities to complete various missions, typically aimed to disrupt the armies of Sauron. The game includes main quests that drive the game’s narrative, and numerous optional quests that can help the player boost Talion’s abilities and Followers via the game’s “Nemesis System”. In contrast to the previous game, which was more of a hack and slash, the sequel will have an action role-playing approach, creating a more personalized experience for each player. It will also feature dynamic weather system as well as day-night cycle which affects the gameplay and enemy behaviour.
The Nemesis System expands upon its introduction in Shadow of Mordor to apply to a larger part of the world, including other characters called Followers that have behavior guided by how the player-character has interacted with them. Players will be able to transfer their top Nemesis and their most loyal follower from Shadow of Mordor into Shadow of War. It will include an in-game store from which players can purchase elements to improve their Followers, such as purchasing support of new allies or abilities, or loot chests that contain randomized items of various rarity. The in-game store can use currency earned in game, though players may also purchase such elements with microtransactions. The inclusion of microtransactions in a full-price single-player game has been criticized by game journalists, although later on, it was announced that the game would have multiplayer as well.
The game’s multiplayer features a “Social Conquest mode”, in which players are able to invade other players’ fortresses and attempt to conquer them. This mode has two settings: friendly and ranked. Friendly allows the player to invade someone’s fortress, without the risk of losing your army. Ranked, on the other hand, allows the player to invade, but with a risk of losing some of their Orc Followers permanently.