Difficulty is always a thorny issue in video games. One gamer's crushing slog through a dungeon is another's mindless loot grind. People are particularly divided about Shadow of Mordor's difficulty right now: some find it too hard, many others too easy. The latter group has begun some interesting experiments.

I am not in the "too easy" camp, so I only became aware of the attempts to intensify the game after noticing a lot of ongoing chatter about Mordor's difficulty. It's hard not to if you pay attention to the game's online community. Players have been going back and forth about the subject on forums like GameFAQs, the always-colorful Shadow of Mordor subreddit, and the game's Wikia page. On Wednesday, one player even quipped about how prolific these discussions have become in a post on the game's Steam forum, saying: "Let's not turn this thread into a too easy/too hard discussion - plenty of other threads for that." Taking that gamer's point, I'm going to avoid critiquing Mordor's difficulty curve. Instead, I'll highlight some of the best ideas I've come across for how to sidestep the issue entirely by making the game more interesting.

Handicap Yourself

Like a lot of open world games, the scale of Shadow of Mordor's setting and the scope of its story don't always mesh perfectly with players' personal tastes, difficulty-wise. Or tolerance, depending on how you look at it. Whether you're the kind of person who hundred percents a game like Mordor or one who plays through the main story and messes around for a bit afterwards, you'll probably hit a point when Talion starts to feel overpowered in comparison to his opponents. Some players have adapted to this by limiting Talion's power in a few ways.

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Most of these focus on cutting Talion off from his higher-level abilities and upgrades. One GameFAQs poster recommends opting out of any moves that "afford you one hit without breaking your combo or the one that allows 2 executions in a row." Another player on Reddit proposed playing with a combination of these factors turned on in response to a query about "hardcore challenges":

  • Turn off combat prompts.
  • Don't upgrade health, arrows or focus.
  • Only take 2 runes per weapon (no poison immunity).
  • Take Execution, Strike From Above, Death Threat, Detonate, Elven Swiftness, all story-required skills + 7 more of your choice (not allowed to take Critical Strike II, Blade Master or Double Charge)
  • Don't brand captains / warchiefs unless for story, instead promote the Uruks that are promoted to captain pre-branded.

Groom Your Nemesis Orcs

Another clever idea I came across was to attack the difficulty issue from the other side. Instead of making Talion arbitrarily weaker, this approach massages Mordor's nemesis system to produce stronger orc captains and warchiefs than it does on its own. Reddit user mammothfriend has this to say after someone asked how players can "produce the ultimate nemesis":

You have to choose a low level orc that has ideal starting weaknesses and strengths. If you see one that has combat master and a bunch of damage buffs and his only weakness is to stealth that's a good place to start(since other Uruks can't take advantage of the stealth vulnerability) then death threat them so they have a squad of goons following them. Then die and your Uruk will get to level 20 and gain some more abilities along the way. However it is the luck of the draw without being able to force a perk.

Generally Defenders are the best because the other Uruks can't land attacks because of that big ass shield. as well as their attacks being somewhat indefensible.

Or, Do Both At Once

What's that? The game is still too easy for you? Tough crowd! Well, since both of the methods I mentioned are customizable at a very granular level, you can mix and match until you find your ideal set up. Or, ya know, just turn all of them on at the same time. It sounds like that's what the most intense Mordor players are doing anyways, which leads me to the coolest challenge one I've come across so far...

And Then Add Permadeath

Earlier this month, Anthony Burch, a writer at Gearbox best known for his work on the Borderlands series, posted about a "permadeath no-upgrades run" he had a lot of fun with on No Wrong Way To Play, an amusing Tumblr he maintains that collects "unusual ways to play videogames." Here's the gist:

Basically, just try to get through the entire game without dying, and only snagging the basically mandatory tier 1 upgrades (execute people from stealth, shoot fires and barrels to make them explode). You can also upgrade the rune slots on your weapons, because killing orcs to get powerful runes is one of the most fun parts of the game.

Burch said that these limits encourage "stealthier, more manipulative play." Choosing whether to brand or kill an orc captain becomes a much more fraught decision, for instance, because you have to ask yourself: "Does he have a horrifying strength, like 'doesn't give you a Second Chance when your health gets low'? Maybe it's not worth putting yourself in the extra danger that branding requires." Only having four arrows at any given time, meanwhile, makes it so "you have to play a little bit slower."

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My favorite part of Burch's run, however, is the way it alters a player's relationship with the nemesis orcs who manage to come back from the dead:

In Shadow of Mordor (which is one of my favorite games of the year, by the way), certain orcs you kill can come back from the dead with scars from your last encounter. When you play the game regularly, these are cute little moments. You're fighting one captain, and then a captain you thought dead shows up to make your life harder. And you're all, "oh, hey, he's back!"

When you play permadeath, your reaction is less, "aw, neat" and more "ffffffuck fuck fuck fuck fuck". You have to run away from more situations and rethink your approach. I had an orc who was susceptible to stealth kills come back from the dead and ambush me during my fight with a really strong, poison-using orc chieftain. I had to run and hide until everyone tried to go back to what they were doing…at which point I walked out and stealth-killed the undying orc. For the second time in our relationship.

Since Mordor players have had trouble figuring out how to permanently kill their orcs already, this playthrough turns these potentially immortal bad guys into terrifying supervillains. Granted, the eerily invulnerable orcs already are terrifying for players at the other end of difficulty curve. Just last night, I found this cry for help from one Shadow of Mordor player who said ze was being "tormented and stalked by one ridiculously overpowered Captain." Thank god this is just a video game, because otherwise this plea would sound much less endearing in its desperation (emphasis added):

Ever since I started playing there is a Captain who hunts me down wherever I go. He's now level 15 and keeps showing up right in the middle of my other fights. His list of strengths extends down the entire screen and encompasses just about every aspect of my abilities.

He is invulnerable to everything (ranged, stealth, finishers, mounted, etc), he rallies troops, he applies poison, the list goes on.

He has one weakness...he's afraid of fire...

It is unbelievably frustrating to constantly die to this guy even when I'm half way around the map from his stronghold and in the middle of fighting another captain and he only gets stronger.

I have zero hope of ever killing him because of his ridiculous strengths. I guess at some point I may be strong enough to try fighting him? Idk....idk if I'll persevere to that point.

I've tried some beginner's "help I keep dying" guides. I try just getting to the story missions, but there he is...waiting for me.

Is this par for course in this game? Am I doing something wrong? Any advice?

As I've noted in my ongoing coverage of this perplexing facet of Shadow of Mordor's nemesis system, the prospect of enemies that can't actually be killed shifts from "irritating" to "disturbing" once you encounter an orc like the one the player is describing here. He's the enemy who's so difficult to kill in the first place that seeing them come back from the dead to challenge you anew makes you want to drop everything and book it in the other direction as fast as humanly (or half-elvenly, I guess?) possible. And it's even more frightening when the orc comes at you giggling like a crazy person or gnashing his teeth to mimic how he's going to chew the flesh off your bones once he's done killing you. If he even has the decency to wait that long. And, let's face it: someone named "Okoth the Massive" proooobably doesn't.

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Shadow of Mordor creator Monolith told me earlier this month that while the studio is aware of players reporting un-killable orcs, the developers haven't been able to replicate the problem internally. Regardless of Monolith's take, I think part of the reason this gap in gamers' collective knowledge about the nemesis system stems from the fact that many players are finding the game easy enough that they don't mind seeing orcs come back from the dead. They may appreciate it, even, since it offers up an extra challenge of its own by essentially telling players that no matter how powerful Talion gets, he can never truly wipe out Mordor's orcs for good. Burch's permadeath approach is especially valuable in this light because it casts a spotlight on the game's most, erm, durable orcs.

If All Else Fails, Speedrun It

One extra challenge Shadow of Mordor developer Monolith has put into the official game is a series of fun timed modes to do things like, say, kill all the nemesis orcs in one of the game's map in 30 minutes or less. These are fun Pikmin-style tests that impose similar limitations to the ones above simply because you don't have enough time to beef up Talion's skill set and chip away at Mordor's orcs—at least in a drawn-out, methodical sort of way that I fall into without an imminent deadline. But also: 30 minutes?!?! Come on, people, we can totally do better than that.

As I said at the outset, I haven't found Shadow of Mordor's difficulty too easy yet. Though we'll see if that's still the case when I've fully maxed out Talion's abilities. If you're closer to my end of the pool, make sure to check out our tips post help get your footing in Mordor.

I'm going to start toying around with the amped up Mordor playthroughs once I'm done beefing up Talion, and will follow-up on this story if I find anything particularly exciting out there in the wild. In the meantime, let me know if you've come up with a cool new way to play the game.

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To contact the author of this post, write to yannick.lejacq@kotaku.com or find him on Twitter at @YannickLeJacq.