So, it took me some time to write this post, more than writing the other three concerning Middle-Earth: Shadow of War. The reason? Act IV itself.
There will be NO SPOILERS for the ending, just some tips on how to defend your forts. There will be SPOILERS for Act III.
So. Let’s get to it.
On the defensive
When we left Talion at the end of the epic Act III, he had turned into the Dark Ranger, a ring wraith, or Nazgul, and lord of Minas Morgul. Also, he had gained the ability to raise the dead. Which is awesome enough that I do not miss the Elven Rage-ability, which is lost to Talion thanks to Celebrimbor’s treachery, too much.
Alas, the battle is only just beginning. For Shelob, the Great Spider who herself has a bone or two to pick with Sauron, warns Talion that he will have to keep fighting to keep Middle-Earth safe. The Dark Lord will try to take back the forts from him, yet as long as Talion can keep his troops busy, they won’t have time to stage an attack on, say, Gondor. Great motivation, right?
So this is what Act IV is all about. The forts – except for Minas Morgul – are under constant threat by new captains swarming into the regions occupied by Talion’s followers. These captains are all high-level captains, in my case on levels ranking between 42 and 50. Now, remember that you cannot recruit captains above your own level. You have to either shame them to lower the level and take them on later, or kill them.
How to prepare your troops
Talion has four different armies he has to constantly keep tabs on and improve. Keep tabs on because some captains or war chiefs will betray him, if given the chance, and improve because in the case of a siege, they need to be able to hold their own against the attacking forces.
You can help your recruits level up by aiding them during follower missions. My approach is different, though, and a rather radical one: I weed out the low-level losers by sending them into the fighting pits to die and recruit their executioners. It does not help my reputation, but it gets the job done and all I have to do is prep the army for the next siege and afterwards I’ll have to start from scratch anyway. Usually, I set myself a limit, for example I send everyone below level 30 to the pits, or everyone below level 40. That depends on the enemy assault force, actually. So I will trigger the Siege Mission and see what we are up against then go back and level up everyone I can.
As for the traitors (in the army set-up the color of the rings around their feet betrays them, if it is orange instead of blue), I send them to the pits too. Admittedly, there were a few cases that kept winning, no matter the enemy’s level. This I can respect. I still shamed and banished them, then hunted them down myself.
If it is a war chief who threatens your dominance you cannot send him into the pits. So, if that is the case, exchange the war chief for another, loyal follower with a higher level, if possible. Then either send his predecessor to the pits to die or expel him from the army and hunt him down. Also, be prepared to sacrifice your overlord, if he is not strong enough.
Speaking of strength: Your fort is only as strong as its defenders. In addition to promoting high-level captains and getting rid of traitors and weak overlords it is imperative that you give each of your war chiefs at least two bodyguards. Ideally, they will balance his weaknesses. For example, if he is vulnerable to beasts and ranged attacks, add a beastmaster and a marksman to his guard. Assigning bodyguards will level up your fort, just as the updates you select right before the siege begins. Don’t forget to get yourself an able and loyal bodyguard too. One who isn’t put off by weakness, preferably, in case you are humiliated by an enemy, instead of being outright killed.
How to survive a siege
First, hunt down each and every enemy captain on the map and recruit them. Recruits you can use to bolster your army, while captains you kill will only be replaced by new ones, which does not really help you.
Beware, though, some enemy captains are blood-brothers with some of your followers and that follower will turn on you, if you harm them. Be prepared to lose them, since traitors cannot be recruited again.
Once you are done with eliminating the captains, trigger the Siege Mission, check out the assault forces’ set-up and use their weaknesses to your advantage.
For example, employ hunters if they have caragors, poisonous siege beasts if one or more assault leader is vulnerable to poison, equip the fort with spiked walls to prevent the enemy troops from climbing them and, most important of all, take down the enemy siege beasts yourself once the battle starts. But use them to harry the enemy troops first, by dominating and controlling them. Destroy the banners, if those are in play too. Calling a drake to your aid also helps. It will also keep a wild drake busy, should the enemy use one. And once that one is broken, you can dominate it and use it for your own ends.
Now, the enemy needs to conquer the victory points inside your fort, same you did when you conquered the fort yourself, right? Your war chiefs and their bodyguards will defend those victory points. It is your task to hunt down enemy war chiefs and captains and revive your own followers, should they fall (there is also an Achievment that has you resurrecting a fallen follower thanks to your power to raise the dead).
The most important task of all, though, is not to die, since no matter how many victory points the enemy conquers, the fort is lost only when Talion is defeated. So don’t go all in, use stealth and ranged attacks instead.
What to do if you lose
The Shadow Wars, as Act IV is titled, is comprised into ten stages. Each stage will see two or more forts under siege. Preparing for the sieges is one thing. Sometimes you still lose. If you do, the fort will be taken over by the enemy and your overlord will be captured. The first order of the day after having returned from the grave will then be to free your overlord. Should you succeed, you can express your trust by reinstanting him as overlord once the fort has been won back, but you can also promote someone else. I usually let them keep the fort.
Good to know
Don’t feel too safe inside your fortress, as some enemies will ambush you even there.
Once you have taken out the enemy siege beasts, it is best not to linger outside the fort’s walls, since you need to aid in the defense of the victory points and don’t have any allies by your side anyways.
Expect betrayal at any time. Your captains are fickle and some will turn on you if an enemy humiliates you, because you are attacking a blood-brother, because they feel you do not do enough for your troops or simply because ambition got the better of them.
Unfortunately, Act IV made me remember what I actually disliked about Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor: the last third of the game was repetitive and boring as hell. There are ten stages in total to The Shadow Wars and I am currently on Stage Seven. And I really just want to get to the conclusion of the game, which started so promisingly. Which is why I took a break to play the trash-fest that is Wolfenstein II-The New Collossus and am happy I did.