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Middle-earth: Shadow of War preview: Hands-on with Fort Assaults

Carving a path of revenge through Mordor was a truly satisfying experience in Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. Monolith's follow-up effort, Middle-earth: Shadow of War, looks to contain much of the same formula that made the original such a joy, but there look to be some notable additions this time around to help amplify Talion's orc-killing experience. Shacknews recently got a chance to go hands-on with one of those new gameplay additions: Fort Assaults.

Picture Talion pacing along the outskirts of a village, accompanied by a massive army that he's recruited through the use of his new Ring of Power. In front of him stands a massive enemy fortress, with a giant tower stretching to the sky. The enemy's forces outnumber Talion's by a significant margin and those enemies are led by the fortress's overlord. The orc overlord steps out and bellows taunts towards Talion, while rallying his forces. Meanwhile, Talion is surrounded by his generals, thirsty for blood and aching for violence.

This is the basic setup for Fort Assaults. The idea is for Talion to overthrow the various overlords that rule atop these fortresses, which will allow him to control the surrounding regions. The ruling orc's tribe will have distinct effects on both the forts themselves and the surrounding open world. Experiences will vary for players, depending on the ruling tribes that control these forts.

The premise of the Fort Assault is to lead a massive army into battle, taking the various capture points within the fort that are guarded by powerful war chiefs. Then it's time to head into the tower to take on the overlord. Each of the fortresses are unique in their defenses, whether they're protected by fortified stone walls, poison spouts that prevent climbing, or stronger hunters and beasts. The rush unfolds with the third-person action that Shadow of Mordor players have come to expect, but there's also a heavy amount of strategy involved. It's not just in how Talion individually approaches these forts, either, though whether he rushes straight into enemy forces or stands back and launches arrows at distant archers is a key part of these offensives.

Prior to battle, Talion can bolster his forces in different ways. Upgrades include buffed-up soldiers, sappers that rush the stone walls and kamikaze themselves to create openings, massive siege beasts that flank orc infantry, and even wild drakes that take to the skies and rain down dragonfire on all forces (sometimes even your own). Each of these selections fill their own category and the best choices will often depend on the fortress's own defenses. Players can make their choices with hard counters in mind, but they can also look at the option they feel can simply cause the most damage and run with that.

As the Fort Assault begins and Talion's forces do battle with the enemy, it's important to note that the Nemesis system returns and plays a major role in this aspect of the game. Should Talion fall at any point during the assault, the orc that delivered the killing blow will remember that moment. If any of Talion's forces or generals are bleeding out and Talion fails to save them, they can either die permanently or somehow survive and carry the memory of their leader's failure. Same goes if Talion accidentally sets any of his allies ablaze with a wild drake.

Another key feature of Shadow of Mordor returns with Talion's ability to assert dominance over his enemies. His new Ring of Power can "Dominate" enemies that are in the "Broken" state, which can be induced through superiority in battle or by exploiting any of their deep fears, like spiders or fire. Once in his clutches, Talion can recruit this enemy to his cause, he can shame them to reduce their level and lower their influence with their colleagues, or he can simply kill them and take their gear for himself.

Once Talion enters the tower, it's time to take on the overlord. The overlord will be flanked by minions, but Talion cannot bring backup. At most, summons still work, so Talion can summon a single bodyguard. Depending on the type of ally selected, the bodyguard can cause a lot of damage and wipe out many of the enemy minions. The overlord fights can be tough, particularly because the battlefield is booby-trapped with fire or other hazards. At one point, I had the overlord in my grasp, but just before I could dominate him, an archer sniped me from afar. While I died, the Nemesis system kicked in and this archer started mercilessly taunting me as the screen faded to black.

One thing to note is that any results from Fort Assaults will carry over in the event of death. If the overlord's forces are dead, they'll stay dead. If capture points have been taken, they'll still be taken. That means that most times, a repeat offensive will simply advance straight to the overlord, where players can try to take him down a second time.

Once the fort has been successfully captured, it's time to set up defenses. Talion can name any of his forces as that fort's overlord and his choice will affect the surrounding open world. Fortresses can then be customized for future defenses, because Sauron's minions will be sure to return to try and retake what was once theirs.

Middle-earth: Shadow of War looks to be headed in a faithfully positive direction with the addition of these Lord of the Rings-style large-scale battles. Players will soon get a chance to storm their own fortresses when the game hits PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 on August 22.

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