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Shadow of War skills explained - the best skills, how to get Skill Points, and skill upgrades to unlock early

Everything you need to know about Shadow of War's skill tree.

Shadow of War's skills and their respective resource, Skill Points, are your main system of progression through the game.

You'll pick up plenty of Skill Points as you go, but there are a few key ways you can earn more of them over time, and in the early levels you can make your life singificantly easier by prioritising your choices and unlocking the best skills as soon as you can.

Below we'll take you through everything you need to know about skills and Skill Points, whilst over in our main Shadow of War guide and walkthrough hub you'll find guides and tips for all aspects of the game.

Cover image for YouTube video[4K] Shadow of War: PS4 Pro vs PS4/Xbox One Graphics Comparison + Frame-Rate Analysis
Digital Foundry takes a look at Shadow of War.

Shadow of War skills explained - the best skills from the Shadow of War skill tree

In Shadow of War, all of your skills are unlocked via the skill tree in-game. It works from left to right, and is split into six sections (Combat, Predator, Ranged, Wraith, Mounted, and Story) - so you need to unlock Detonate before Freeze Pin in the Ranged category, for instance.

Here's a quick look at that skill tree:

You unlock skills surprisingly quickly just by playing Quests and the game in general, but there are still some skills you'll want to prioritise, and some you'll do fine leaving until later. Here's a look at some of the best to prioritise (in no particular order), and those that can wait.

The best Shadow of War skills:

  • Execution - An obvious one, but the ability to perform combat executions is essential for clearing out hordes of enemies and chunking away damage from Captains and tougher foes. It's the first in the Combat line, so pick this up very early on to make your life far easier.
  • Shadow Strike + Chain of Shadows upgrade - One of the more memorable skills from Shadow of Mordor, Shadow Strike is just as useful for maneuvering, escaping, and quickly travelling through Mordor as it is for general combat. The Chain of Shadows upgrade takes it to another level, and as it's at the end of the Ranged skill branch you'll unlock some very useful skills along the way, too.
  • Treasure Hunter - This one almost feels like patching out a poor design decision. Normally, you'll need to hit R1/RB to pick up any loot from the environment. This ability lets you just walk over it, which is far less awkward as a system in general, almost as if it just should have been the way it works in the first place... you'll find it at the end of the Wraith skill branch.
  • Perfect Counter + Fatal Counter - Perfect Counter is useful for buying yourself a little space, but it's the Fatal Counter that really makes it stand out. Instantly killing enemies that attack you makes a market difference to your ability to deal with large crowds. Endlessly slapping orcs is a thing of the past.
  • Ice Storm - Another memorable skill from Shadow of Mordor, the ability to freeze enemies and rapidly beat the hell out of them is a great way to buy yourself time, build up your hitstreak and Might, and just generally make combat more enjoyable for yourself. It's a great way to cheese Captains, too - even if they're a Defender class just get behind them, give them a punch, and tear them apart.
Shadow Strike is super useful for relocating, either to catch your breath, shift strategies, or just move around quickly.

The least important Shadow of War skills:

  • Shadow Dominate upgrade - A completely superfluous upgrade to Shadow Strike, avoid wasting a Skill Point on this. You can knock down enemies with a non-lethal Shadow Strike anyway (by pressing Triangle/Y instead of Square/X), and then just immediately Dominate them while they're stunned.
  • Dragon Rider - Yep, it's cool to ride a Drake, but until the late game there really isn't much point in it, with Sieges easy enough to win with ground combat and no other battles necessitating it. Unlock this one for fun, rather then for its usefulness.
  • Deadly Spectre - There's just about no circumstance in which this is any more useful than a regular use of your ability to Stealth Kill enemies. Pick up the prior skill in the tree, Wrath Chain, instead, and clear out multiple enemies with ease.
  • Any Elven Rage upgrades - Elven Rage comes along so infrequently in our experience - even after blowing up a dozen orcs with explosive barrels - that any upgrades to it just aren't worth the Skill Points. It's a nice treat to be reminded of now and then, but it's overpowered enough as it is when you get it, anyway.

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.

How to earn Skill Points in Shadow of War

There are a few ways to earn Skill Points in Shadow of War, but the most obvious is by simply playing through the story quests to level up.

You'll likely have an abundance of them - we had all of the main skills unlocked by level 25, having only played about a third of the story - but you may want to quickly grind out a few to unlock a certain end-of-branch skill like Shadow Strike, so with that in mind here's a quick list of all the ways you can get them.

You'll rake in the Skill Points just by progressing through the story, at least early on.

How to earn Skill Points in Shadow of War

  • Levelling up - You earn one Skill Point every time you level up, and you level up with just about every story mission (they give increasing amounts of XP as you go). If you've completed them and still want grind out a few levels, we have a guide on how to earn XP in Shadow of War that covers exactly that.
  • Complete Fight Pits (Maggots) quests - Each time you unlock the Fight Pights in a region (done by capturing that region's fortress), you'll also unlock the first Fight Pits mission, Maggots. Completing this quest in each region grants you one Skill Point, but note that it's a one-off, so you can only get the Skill Point once per mission.
  • Get Silver or greater in Shadows of the Past - We cover these in more detail in our Ithildin Doors and Shadows of the Past guide, but in brief they're combat challenges that you can earn Bronze, Silver, or Gold ranks in depending on how well you do. For every one you complete at Silver rank or above, you'll get a Skill Point, so there are plenty up for grabs!
  • Complete all Webs of Fate in a region - As with the above, we cover Webs of Fate and Shelob Memories in a separate guide, but each time you get all Sheleb Memories in a region you'll unlock a Skill Point, so they're another handy resource.
  • Collect all Gondorian Artifacts in a region - Much the same as Webs of Fate, if you collect all Gondorian Lost Artifacts in a region you'll get a Skill Point each time. They're marked on your map after capturing Haedir towers, so they're easy enough to find!