In the world of Middle Earth you'll want to master the sword as a priority, but you have some options when doing so.
Like any good RPG, Middle Earth: Shadow of War has a good little skill tree attached for building out exactly how you want Talion to play while you're slaying orcs. The largest skill tree in the game is the one centered about melee combat, with it offering up 23 unique skills that are split into main skill and more minor upgrades beneath them.
If you want to plan ahead or you're unsure of how to spend your points, we've got some tips on this page to help you through that. Here's everything you need to know about Shadow of War's counter-heavy, orc-smashing combat skill tree...
Middle Earth: Shadow of War: Combat Skill Tree - every skill listed
The combat skill tree is all about exactly what you'd expect - getting stuck into orc kind with your sword in one-on-one or one-on-many melee combat. Generally speaking, we'd advise prioritizing some upgrades in this tree first - whatever your intention, you're going to spend a good chunk of time in this game fighting. If you want to know more about all of the skill trees, check out our Shadow of War skill tree and character build guide.
But first, let's answer an important question...
What combat skills and builds are best?
First off, it's vital to note that Shadow of War is built in such a way that there's no optimum answer or best build for Talion in Shadow of War. The game is built to be very open-ended, and that means just about any combination of skill can work. We've listed all of the combat-based skills below, but that doesn't mean we don't have a few favorites we'd advise you pick up sooner or later...
- Execution should be the first skill you buy. Its upgrade Grim Resolve is also a great pick for early on when Talion is weak and you're bound to take a bit of a beating - a well-timed counter followed by an execution can save your bacon.
- Brutal Aggression goes hand-in-hand with the above, and you should work to make executions a staple of your fights and then pick up this skill to feel practically unstoppable. Pick up the Wraith Execution upgrade as soon as possible, too.
- Perfect Counter might not seem that immediately useful, but it has great upgrades. Fatal Counter and Mighty Reversal can really change the game, so consider getting those as soon as Talion is a high enough level to do so.
- Using Ground Finishers is a skill some will master and others will struggle with, but if you fall into the latter camp get the Fury upgrade to make the window of vulnerability much smaller.
Press Triangle & Circle / B & Y when your Might meter is full to instantly kill an enemy. This is an absolutely key ability that lets you take down weaker-level enemies in a single blow.
The execution upgrades are all built around getting Might more quickly, with the purpose being to allow you to use executions more often.
- Execution Skill Upgrades
- Grim Resolve: Gain Might each time you are damaged in combat. This can help you out of a tight spot if you take a lot of damage, letting you unleash an execution to reset the situation.
- Secret Might: Gain Might from stealth kills, allowing you to build might in that pre-fight shanking spree. Available from Level 7 up. Remember that if you're big on stealth, check out our Shadow of War Predator skill guide.
- Fatal Might: Extended, uninterrupted sword combos greatly increase your might gain from damaging and killing enemies. Available from Level 11 onwards.
Perfect Counter Skill
Perfect Counter is pretty simple - when the counter prompt appears asking you to press Y or Triangle, it'll briefly flash blue. If you manage to time your button press to that blue flash, your counters will now knock down enemies, something that's absolutely perfect for following up with a ground finisher.
The skills around the Perfect Counter mostly make this skill more potent, but they can also assist in Might building.
- Perfect Counter Skill Upgrades
- Rain of Arrows: When you time a counter perfectly (with the blue flash above enemies) you'll gain an elf shot.
- Mighty Reversal: This one goes well with the execution skill in this same skill tree, since it rewards you might for each successful counter. Available from level 10.
- Fatal Counter: This is a brilliant upgrade, and makes it so that low-level, grunt style enemies are instantly killed by your counters. Beastly, but only available from level 15 and up.
Critical Strike Skill
This skill is an old RPG staple, and a good one at that - it gives you the chance for any of your melee attacks to turn into critical hits, which gives them a decent little boost to their damage output. The upgrades here increase the chance of you landing a critical strike.
- Critical Strike Skill Upgrades
- Reprisal: Reprisal makes your chance of landing a critical hit increase as your health lowers - the weaker you are, the more likely you'll dish out a crit. You can nab this from level 7.
- Unstoppable: Your chance to critical hit will increase once your combat streak is above 20 with this upgrade you can buy from level 13 on.
- Elven Precision: This ultimate crit upgrade is only available at level 19 and up, but adds a timing element where if you tap Square / X right as your hit lands you'll be very likely to get a critical hit.
Ground Finisher Skill
If you've played the Batman Arkham games you'll know this element of Shadow of War's combat: when an enemy is knocked to the floor with stars around their head, you can press the Right Trigger & X / R2 & Cross to perform an execution move on them. This move is available from the start, but by buying this upgrade you'll speed up the move and ensure you're left vulnerable for less time.
The upgraded skills for the Ground Finisher do what you'd expect, making Ground Finishers more robust and offering more options for grounded enemies.
- Ground Finisher Skill Upgrades
- Ground Drain: This lets you use Wraith Drain on grounded opponents, meaning you can ground someone and then suck the life from them to restore your own - a useful skill. You need to be level 23 to learn this.
- Wraith Shield: Another powerful ability, this lets you counter incoming enemies even while you're mid ground execution. Level 16 and above only, however.
- Fury: Once you hit level 9 you can buy this, a further speed up of ground takedown speed.
Brutal Aggression Skill
Brutal Executions are an upgrade to the earlier execution skill in a sense - it allows your might to be double-charged, and that lets you unleash brutal executions with the same button combination. Brutal executions are so raw that it can cause nearby enemies to drop everything and flee in terror, which is useful for obvious reasons. It has some really powerful upgrades, but only two of them
- Brutal Aggression Skill Upgrades
- Wraith Execution: From level 11 and up this hugely powerful skill allows you to chain executions to multiple enemies with a tap of Square / X at the cost of some Focus.
- Ceaseless Might: This isn't available until level 19, but this skill stops other skills that require Might from consuming that stat at all.
Retaliation is all about those 'Last Stand' moments you can get when you're close to death - with this skill and its upgrades greatly improving the odds for you when you find yourself in a Last Chance situation. This first level makes it so that a perfectly-timed last chance will instantly kill the grunt-level enemy attacking you.
- Retaliation Skill Upgrades
- Adamant: Makes it so that even if you fail, you get a second Last Chance attempt. Available from level 13 and up.
- Vengeful Drain: Upon a well-timed last chance, instantly drain the attacking enemy. From level 22 and up.
- Burst of Might: A perfectly-timed Last Chance will instantly fill your Might meter to the maximum.