Shadow of Mordor is already a pretty game, but adding the HD texture pack and playing it on "Ultra" settings really takes it to the next level. Digital Foundry recently did a comparison that shows how brightly the game shines on a maxed-out PC. Only thing is: getting there will cost you an arm and a leg.
The video comparison above might not do it full justice for some viewers, so keep in mind that this is a (compressed) YouTube video showing a small selection of individual scenes pulled from an expansive open-world game. So if the footage isn't doing it for you, make sure to read the thorough explanation of what you're seeing that Eurogamer's Richard Leadbetter provided alongside the visuals.
I can speak from personal experience with Shadow of Mordor as well. I first played through the game on my PS4 for our review. Since then, I've spent some time with the PC version on my newly-minted (and very, very beefy) gaming rig. I can assure you: the difference is real, and playing the game on its highest possible settings is a special treat. I don't have the level of technical expertise that Leadbetter does, but the main improvement I saw was in the clarity of all of the tiny details in Mordor's world. Viewed up-close and on a small, individual scale, these improvements seem pretty granular. When they all add up to the final experience of just walking through Mordor's open world, though, the extra boost in visual quality goes a long way. After sinking 25-30 hours into the PS4 version, stepping into the maxed out PC one felt like I'd just put on a new pair of glasses for the first time.
That said, there's another concern that comes into play for Shadow of Mordor's graphics comparison. Even the game's base-level requirements to run well on a PC are pretty astounding: 40 gigabytes of space on your hard-drive, 4GB of RAM. Jumping to Ultra bumps the RAM requirement up to 6GB—at least, in Monolith's official recommendations. The HD texture pack, meanwhile, adds another 3.7GB. I'm not much of a gearhead when it comes to PC gaming. But even I can tell that running this game in its maxed-out form requires a setup that's approximately as powerful as a team of Autobots. In full force. With Optimus Prime alive and in good health. Maybe even riding a Dinobot, too.
Building a PC that can bring out Mordor's full potential, visually speaking, is a much more expensive investment than just getting a PS4 or Xbox One. And as I noted in my original review, the game already looks gorgeous on the PS4. This raises an important question: Is spending a lot more money to get a machine capable of running this game on its maxed-out settings worth the degree of improvement it brings?
Every gamer has a unique set of values when it comes to prioritizing their time and money, so there's no right answer to this question. Plus, I'd already built my PC before getting Mordor, so I didn't have to make that exact calculation either. But I also think it looks good enough on the PS4 and less powerful PCs that beefing up your gaming rig just for Mordor purposes strikes me as a tad...excessive. Unnecessary, even.
I don't mean to dismiss the value of high-end PC gaming, of course. If you're already the kind of person who likes to push PC gaming to the limits, then hey: more power to you. Console gamers can also feel safe in knowing that they're not getting a product that's inferior, however. Similar to Ryse, Mordor's PC version does look better—as is to be predicted more often than not. But unlike previous console generations, the Xbox One and PS4 versions of these games are really starting to hold their own against the mighty PC gaming rig.
Read Digital Foundry's breakdown of Shadow of Mordor's graphics here. If you think your PC is up for it, download the game's HD texture pack on Steam. And if you're planning to play any version of Mordor this weekend, make sure to check out our handy gameplay tips too.