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Shadow of War army building explained - how to dominate, recruit, level up your orcs and build the best orc army

Everything you need for building the best army in Mordor.

Building an army in Shadow of War is, alongside your story-based quests, one of the main points of focus you'll have in the game.

Dominating orcs is the way to do it, but there are different rules for different types of enemy, and a variety of other factors to bear in mind when deciding who to dominate and what to do with them once you have.

Below, we'll take you through all you need to know on building your crack team of orcy followers, whilst you can head over to our main Shadow of War guide and walkthrough hub for way, way more guides and tips on the game in general.

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How to dominate orcs in Shadow of War - recruiting followers explained

Dominating orcs is simple enough. You'll pick up the ability to do so after the story mission Ring of Power, at the start of Act 2 - so that means no creating followers or dominating Captains in Act 1 at all, to be clear.

Once the ability is unlocked from your skill tree, you can dominate, and therefore recruit, any broken enemy captain you encounter who isn't an Overlord, with one other caveat: you must be at least the same level as the orc you're trying to dominate.

If the orc out-levels you, you'll need to use the 'Shame' option from the choices that pop up when you try to dominate them. This weakens them by a few levels - annoyingly, if you're only one level below them, for instance, it could take them a good four or five levels below you.

When should you start building your army?

This is the key question, really, as you will, of course, raise your level significantly by playing through the game. Orcs that you encountered at a low level won't level up with you, whilst orcs that you encounter for the first time will be scaled to your level.

That means you might recruit Captain at level 12 who seemed great at the time, but he'll be pretty useless when you're in the level 40s and all the enemies you're encountering are at a similar level.

So should you wait to dominate Captains? Well, not necessarily. Firstly you'll need to dominate enough to overthrow The Etten quite early on, as it's a necessary mission for advancing part of the story. Second, there is a way to level up your orcs as you go - and we'll dive into that just below.

How to level up orcs and build the best army in Shadow of War

To build the best army, you're essentially going to be keeping an eye out for enemy Captains and Warchiefs with desirable traits, dominating them, and then levelling them up.

For desirable traits, look for combat-based immunities and resistances, with as few weaknesses - mortal or otherwise - as possible. The orcs you recruit will be fighting in mostly close-range, densely-packed encounters, either during fortress sieges and the endgame Shadow Wars, or the Fight Pits, so it's combat ability all the way.

There are two ways you can level up your dominated orc Captains and Warchiefs in Shadow of War:

  • Send them on missions - select the Follower in question from the Army menu and from there you can send them on a few types of mission, either in one-on-ones against other enemy Captains, or in ambush missions accompanied by other allied Captains. You can interfere with these missions or leave them to resolve by themselves, as with any other Nemesis mission on the map. In our experience, Followers gained one level if successful, so this can be a bit of a slog.
  • Send them to the Fight Pits - the higher risk, higher reward option is to send them to the Fight Pits. If you have loads of Followers, and are happy to see some go to waste, the best bet here is to have two Followers fight each other. You'll lose the one that dies, but will get an item of loot from their body, and the victor will gain one to five levels.

Alternatively, you can risk them in the Maggot, Warrior, and Champion-tier battles against enemy Captains (their level is higher as you go throught the tiers). If they lose, you can at least dive in and dominate the victor, and if they win they'll go up several levels. This is also a decent way to earn Mirian, but note that you need to capture a region's fortress to gain access to its respective Fight Pits.

Need more help? Our Shadow of War guide and walkthrough gives you an overview of everything you need, but if you need something in particular, we have pages on Shadow of War Fortress Sieges, how to earn Mirian in Shadow of War, a guide for how to import your Nemesis and Follower to Shadow of War, collectibles guides like how to get all Shadow of War Legendary Armour and Weapons sets, a list of Lost Artifacts and Web of Fate locations, and Ithildin Door poem solutions and Shadows of the Past, along with how to grind XP in Shadow of War to power through the tricky Shadow Wars endgame and get the true ending. Finally, there's Shadow of War's army building explained and the best skills and how to earn Skill Points.

You can actually level up orcs by letting them kill you if they're an enemy, too. They'll go up a few levels and even potentially earn a new trait or two in the process, and this is probably a faster, easier way to do it than dominating them first, as long as you can bear the humiliation!

Also, note that they'll need to actually land the killing blow on you to get the kill, otherwise some randomer could pick up the promotion instead. If you engage them in a prearranged Nemesis mission, meanwhile, then running away and letting them win has a similar effect, as if you fixed the Nemesis mission for them to win it anyway - you could also just kill their opponent and have them win that Nemesis mission and level up that way, too.