Tips for Playing Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor

By Yannick LeJacq on at

Rangers of Gondor! Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor is nearly upon us. The time has come to stand up to Sauron's evil forces. But you know what they say about not simply walking into Mordor and so forth. So here are some useful tips to get your and Talion's quest started.

One quick note: I've focused heavily on the beginning of the game in order to avoid potential spoilers and unnecessary confusion. There are some powerful abilities that you can only unlock towards the end of Talion's adventure. These end up shifting the challenge of playing Mordor from a question of "Will I ever be able to kill this orc?" to "What is the most dastardly way I can kill this orc?" Once you're at that point, you should be in good shape. So I'm going to focus on how to get you there.

Sound good? Ok, let's talk orc-killing.

Tips For Playing Middle-Earth: Shadow Of Mordor

Remember: Almost Every Death Matters

Tips For Playing Middle-Earth: Shadow Of Mordor

Talion might be an immortal powerhouse with a host of supernatural abilities. But he still dies. A lot, in my experience. More often than not, death has consequences for the orc hierarchy in the specific region of Mordor where Talion was killed. Unranked orcs will get promoted to captain and thus introduced into the nemesis system, while higher-ranked ones will level up in a few different ways. This doesn't just impact the orc that killed Talion, either: any ranked member of Sauron's army that was participating in the fight will get credit for surviving.

Health Is Hard To Come By. Plan Accordingly.

There are a few ways to recover a slice of your health in the heat of battle, but the only thing that resembles a "health potion" in the game are the herbs and plants that you can find scattered around the map and nosh on. It's easy to get surrounded by a crowd of orcs pretty much anywhere on Mordor's map, so keep this in mind before going into battle. Also: herbs don't really grow in strongholds, so make sure that you're at full health before stepping into any of those bad boys.

There's No Shame In Running Away

Tips For Playing Middle-Earth: Shadow Of Mordor

If your health is precariously low, you can always make a quick exit and sprint over to nearest herb on your mini-map. It might not be your proudest moment, but if you're stuck in the middle of a stronghold getting your ass kicked by a high-powered warchief and his henchmen, stepping out for a breath of fresh air and some medicinal supplements is a much safer way to regroup than just letting yourself die. Because remember: the bad guys only get badder every time they kill you.

Now: the orcs might tease you if you try to run away from a fight, bullies that they are. Don't let it get to you. You'll be back soon. Then they'll all pay.

Upgrade Your Max Health As Soon As You Can

There are two different kinds of upgrades in Mordor. The passive ones give you more health, rune slots, stuff like that. You get these upgrades by collecting experience points and something called "Mirian." Experience is doled out for pretty much everything of consequence in the game—killing orcs, gathering herbs, you name it. The best way to get lots of Mirian is by doing any of the challenge missions marked in white on your map. When it comes to these passive upgrades, you should focus on increasing your max health before anything else for the reasons I outlined above.

Focus On "Ranger" Abilities—At First

Tips For Playing Middle-Earth: Shadow Of Mordor

The other main kind of upgrades in Mordor focus on "Ranger" and "Wraith" abilities, which are divided based on Talion and his spectral elf friend's respective skill sets. I recommend prioritising Ranger abilities at first because those influence melee combat and swordfighting directly. Since that's the bread and butter of Shadow of Mordor, unlocking higher-level abilities makes getting through the early stages of the game much easier and more enjoyable.

Only Search For Artifacts If You Care About Lore

Finding artefacts and "Ithildin collectibles" gives you some extra experience, but don't obsess over these unless you're the kind of person who loves the treasure-hunting part of open-world games. If you're deep into Lord of the Rings lore, however, then these could be neat. But the experience boost isn't usually substantial enough to warrant the time and hassle, especially when there are so many orcs just standing there, waiting to be killed.

Be On The Lookout For Weapon-Specific Challenges

Once you get into the meat of your quest, you'll start to notice icons appear on the map that look like each of your three main weapons—the dagger, sword, and bow. I recommend completing these missions as they pop up, because doing so is one of the fastest and easiest ways to collect Mirian, which is the currency used to unlock more rune slots for each of your weapons as well as higher max health and focus.

Missions With Red Icons Can Be Very Useful

Tips For Playing Middle-Earth: Shadow Of Mordor

Any mission that's marked with a red icon is a "power struggle." That means that at a ranked orc (or two) in Sauron's army is doing something special—say, executing some slaves, or having a friendly dinner, or maybe both at the same time! The missions are basically Mordor's way of extending you an invitation to interrupt these events. Doing so successfully doesn't require you to actually kill an orc captain, so taking on these missions is an easy way to accrue power, which is the currency required to unlock combat abilities in the game. As such, it's a good idea to do power struggles early on in the game so you can unlock higher-level abilities as soon as possible. You don't need to, though, so don't feel obligated to play a part in every single tiff that comes up between Mordor's orcs. Remember: orcs are a grumpy, pugnacious species. They find plenty of things to struggle over. So if you miss one, there are bound to be several others you can attend to after you finish whatever else it is you're trying to do.

Caragors Are Great Allies...

Caragors are the stock lion-like monsters that roam about Mordor, eating anything and everything they come across. You can often use them to your advantage. If you see one locked away in a cage, shooting at the front door sets them free to wreak havoc upon any nearby orcs. Then you can just sit back and enjoy the show—at least until the orcs manage to kill the beast(s). This is especially useful when you see them locked up in strongholds.

...When They're Not Trying To Eat You

Tips For Playing Middle-Earth: Shadow Of Mordor

It's always fun to set a caragor loose on some unsuspecting orcs. But don't let it get to head and plunge headfirst into the fight yourself. The only allegiance caragors have is to their stomachs, so they're just as eager to take a big bite out of Talion as they are to chomp on any of his enemies.

In General, Don't Stress About The Wildlife—At First

You eventually unlock a few high-level abilities that making killing or dominating caragors and graugs much, much easier. But unlike most of Talion's abilities, a few of these can only unlocked by completing specific quests in Mordor's main storyline. Don't give it too much thought if you're frustrated by your seeming inability to master Mordor's wildlife at the outset of the game.

Always Be Countering

Tips For Playing Middle-Earth: Shadow Of Mordor

Mordor's melee combat is a lot like the one in the Batman Arkham games, which means that parrying incoming attacks at the right moment is essential—both for chaining together long combos, and for surviving fights in the first place. Whenever you see a little block alert pop up over an orc's head (triangle on the PS4), that means you should block.

And Dodging

Certain attacks by more powerful foes aren't block-able, however. In these cases, another alert (the "x" button on the PS4) will signal that it's time to hit the dirt.

Poison And Ranged Weapons Will Be The Death Of You

There are two kinds of health-depleting mechanisms that you can't simply brush off: ranged attacks and poisoned ones. Ranged attacks come from archers and spear-throwing orcs, while poison comes from ghuls and certain ranked orcs.

A Human Shield Can Go A Loooong Way

Tips For Playing Middle-Earth: Shadow Of Mordor

This might go without saying, but orcs can be pretty dumb a lot of the time. If you manage to get one in a choke-hold, the rest of the orcs you're fighting will keep whacking away at the poor guy until he's dead. Even if the orc is their captain! See here, for instance:

Tips For Playing Middle-Earth: Shadow Of Mordor

Well, that guy's not getting a raise anytime soon.

If An Orc's Giving You Trouble, Plot Out His Demise

It's tempting to just rush into a stronghold once you've selected your target and start slaughtering orcs left and right. That can be a lot of fun, too. But it's also one of the most surefire ways to get yourself killed over and over (and over) again—especially when it comes to assassinating orcs at the top of the foodchain. Mordor rewards thoughtful planning, so if you keep running into trouble with a particular warchief, consider taking a more tactful approach.

Intel Is Your Best Friend

Tips For Playing Middle-Earth: Shadow Of Mordor

A good place to start is by gathering intel. You can do this by "dominating" any ranked orc or the ones that have green icons over their head once you've got them in a chokehold. Intel gives you two key things: the identity of ranked nemeses you don't know yet, and the specific strengths and weakness of the ones you already know.

Fear Is A Powerful Tool

The most effective tool I've discovered when it comes to orc weakness is fear. Gathering intel on an orc will tell you if one thing or another—fire, caragors, betrayal by a bodyguard—terrifies him. Once you know this, all you have to do is figure out a way to put him face-to-face with whatever freaks him out. In the case of Lugdash Broken-Shield, for instance, all I had to do was shoot a batch of explosive barrels next to him. Once his minions all went up in flames, suddenly all Lugdash wanted to do was get the hell out of there. Scaring orcs like this is a great way to force them out of their stronghold and away from their henchmen.

Go For A Warchief's Bodyguards First

A big part of what makes warchiefs so challenging is that they all come with a few other high-level orcs. Trying to take all of them on at once is like trying to kill three or four bosses at the same time. Thin the herd by targeting specific bodyguards at first.

Once You've Created An Opening In The Ranks, Act FAST

Tips For Playing Middle-Earth: Shadow Of Mordor

The nemesis system is constantly reshuffling itself, though, so killing a bodyguard doesn't mean you can just chill out for a while. If you've assassinated a few key targets and thereby placed a warchief in an isolated, vulnerable position, don't expect him to just stay that way. And definitely don't die.

And Finally: Make Sure An Orc Is Actually Dead

There are a few different ways to "kill" an orc. Not all of them result in the orc actually staying good and dead, however. To make sure he actually dies, you have to perform a proper execution. A good rule of thumb here is to ask yourself: "Did I just decapitate that orc or plunge my sword through his head?" Or, I guess a more general question would be: "Did that orc just suffer several cranial damage?" If the answer is "Yes," then you're good to go. Otherwise, don't be surprised if you see a nemesis show up again—even just a few minutes later—with some fresh-looking scars.