The Average Gamer

Hands-on with Shadow of Mordor

Shadow of Mordor - Talion Celebrimbor Gollum
Set immediately after the events of The Hobbit, Shadow of Mordor follows the story of Talion, a Ranger who was killed when Sauron and his army first returned to Mordor. He’s been resurrected by an elf named Celebrimbor, creator of the three rings for elven-kings under the sky. Kind of a big deal.

Being slightly undead, Talion has a few wraith-like powers such as the ability to pass into the shadow world where he can easily spot living beings through solid rock. He can also ride and control animals, from dog-like caragors to the humongous graug that can be seen wandering about the battlefield.

Alongside the main story mode, there’s a section of the game where you must build up an army of your own warchiefs. This is where the Nemesis system comes into play. Over on the War Chiefs screen, you get a grid-like display of all the officers from Sauron’s troops. At the top are the 6(-ish) War Chiefs who run the show.

As you go down the five(-ish) rows of the grid, you see their captains, lieutenants, and lower-ranked officers. If you’ve already know the officers, they’ll be fully-revealed along with a list of their strengths and weaknesses. If not, you’ll just see them as a black silhouette. Here’s an image taken from GameSpot’s E3 video.

Shadow of Mordor - Nemesis Grid

You can learn details of the darkened officers by grabbing a particularly craven orc on the battlefield and torturing it until it gives up the goods.

I believe your goal in the War Chief segment is to turn the war chiefs to your side, getting ready for the final battle against Sauron. Each chief is protected by two bodyguards, so you’ll have to take them out first. To do that, you have a poke about the grid until you find one that you don’t like the look of. Look into his strengths and weaknesses and you’ll find something regenerative health but also a weakness to animal attacks. That was the low-level orc one I chose to try and turn to my cause.

[I’m going to call them all orcs in this preview simply because I didn’t know how to tell an orc from a goblin or any other Sauron-allied grunt. Each enemy I met had practically the same voice, so are probably all uruk-hai. Whatever they really were, all were ugly, festooned with weapons and waiting to be killed.]

The War Chief mode takes place on a dedicated battlefield, rather like a Dynasty Warriors map, only less overpopulated and with more cliffs and towers. As I already knew my chosen nemesis, I also knew that he would be found in the south-east corner of the map. I hadn’t been there yet, so I would have to walk instead of fast-travelling to its wraith tower. Since I knew he was weak to animal attacks, I looked around for a nearby caragor that would get me there faster. Pop into shadow mode, hit the button to ride a creature and I was teleported across the map, onto its back and riding away before the nearby orcs could see me.

Shadow of Mordor - Talion Wraith CombatAstride your beast of burden, you then tootle over to the right map segment and wander about looking for your target. It’s made easier by, again, flipping into shadow mode.

This highlights the orcs in different colours – red for bad-ass, green for potential informants and white for general cannon fodder. I soon found my orc and charged in to weaken him with my fearsome caragor before capturing and turning him to my cause. Within seconds, he was dead.


Turns out that exploiting those weaknesses is pretty gosh-darn effective. What I should have done was beat him to a bloody pulp before grabbing him with my wraith power and converting him into helping me. There’s no namby-pamby dialogue or persuasion when building up your army. This is pure, shadow-powered brainwashing.

There’s a chance that I was playing on Easy difficulty, hence killing him so quickly. They rarely tell you this at shows like gamescom but it makes sense given that teams need to churn you through an entire demo in 10 minutes and have it reset for the next group. Combat was disconcertingly easy at all stages of the demo.

Anyway, the Nemesis system claims to give orcs a memory of what you do in battle. Had I chosen to battle another named orc in the proximity of this one, he would have fled the battlefield from the caragor before I had the chance to kill him. According to Monolith Productions, the next time I met him, he’d remember that I brought caragors to the battle, though they’ve remained non-specific as to what effect that has on the future battles. I do hope that this is more than simply a line of dialogue at the start of each confrontation.

Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor is coming to PC, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PS3 in September 2014.