Ever since Shadow of Mordor came out, many gamers have taken to its unique brand of orc-killing with a gusto. There's just one problem: some of these orcs keep coming back from the dead. And while developer Monolith says this is partly an intentional feature, they haven't given me a straight answer for how it works.

Not just that, actually: the information the studio has given me doesn't seem to be accurate, based on testing out countless orc-killing techniques in my personal games (I've been playing on the PS4 and PC somewhat simultaneously), corresponding with a number of players across all of the game's platforms, and sifting through relevant discussions on gaming forums such as the Mordor subreddit, Steam, and GameFAQs. I've been looking into this peculiar issue for almost two weeks at this point. And despite requesting additional information or clarification from Monolith many times, the studio's public relations representatives haven't provided me with a satisfactory explanation. Or any additional comment from the developers addressing the issue of orc executions since before the game officially launched, despite relaying requests that have come up in Mordor's (admittedly very short) lifespan as a game available to the general public.

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I must admit that I'm more than a little confused as to why getting a straight answer about how a core feature in a new video game works in practice for its many enthusiastic players has proven so difficult. It's all the stranger because Monolith was quick to reply whenever I had a question prior to Mordor's release, when I was preparing my review in relative isolation. And since many people seem to really love the new game, I don't consider the problem of orcs coming back from the dead to be a game-breaking issue. I'm therefore writing this story in part to relay gamers' confusion about the issue, and also to ask our readers if they have any additional tips or suggestions for performing effective executions in the game.

Ok, sorry. I'm getting a little ahead of myself here. Let me start from the beginning.

As I noted in my original review Mordor and a related tips post, one of the most interesting aspects of the game is its "nemesis system"—an admittedly vague term that Monolith used to describe its ambitious infrastructure of ever-evolving orcish enemies. Here's how the IGN Wiki describes it:

The Nemeses (singular: Nemesis) are randomly named enemies in Sauron's Army that are generated uniquely with each playthrough of the game. Each nemesis has their own personality and will rise or fall within their social structure as the game progresses. They are affected by Talion's actions, and each will react differently to Talion's incursion into Mordor, be it fight, flight, or some other reaction. By defeating these notable enemies, the player is rewarded Runes.

Once I got down to playing Shadow of Mordor, I quickly started to notice that nemesis orcs would grow and change in response to my actions. If Talion fell in battle, for instance, the orc who killed him would become more powerful in a few different ways—by increasing his base power level, gaining a promotion in the regional hierarchy, stuff like that. These orcs would also challenge each another, even kill one another, at a hilariously constant rate.

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There was another aspect of the nemesis as well, however—one that took a little bit more time to appreciate because of how wacky and unexpected it was. Sometimes when Talion defeated a nemesis orc in battle, the guy would show up in the game again to challenge him anew. More than once, even. One orc named Dush I described in my review had fallen in battle at least three or four times by the time I filed that article. And every time he returned itching for a new fight, he looked grosser than the last time—decked out with scars and ratty bandages that marked our previous encounters. The last time I ran into him pre-release was one day when I was just strolling through one of Mordor's open fields just a few minutes after I'd swatted him down in battle yet again.

Wait a minute, I remember thinking. Didn't I JUST kill you like five minutes ago? Jesus, this guy is persistent!

What Monolith Told Me...

Perplexed by Dush's stubborn presence in my game, I reached out to Monolith to ask what was going on. Here's the relevant excerpt of our email correspondence:

Me: Regarding the nemesis system, do orcs only change their appearance/dialogue but still reappear if they SURVIVE a fight but still lose? Or do they ever come back to life (so to speak) to fight again the same way Talion does? I have one orc that I thought I killed but he's showed up to challenge me a few times since then, so I want to check if that's actually a possibility.

Monolith: If an Orc is not decapitated he can be scarred but cheat death and return to face you again. He should acknowledge this in his Showdowns and VO. This isn't like Talion where it is supernatural, it is just a result of them being extremely tough. You can decapitate a Captain by either

  • Using a Chord (Triangle + Circle) when your Hit Counter is charged or
  • Dominating him and selecting "Kill"

Keep in mind this was before the game had been released to the general public, so I only had my personal experience with the game to go off of. I thought I remembered chopping Dush's head off in one way or another during one of our fights. But since I didn't fully appreciate all the complexities and nuances of the nemesis system yet, I didn't think to make a specific note of this. You behead a lot of orcs in Mordor, after all. And I had definitively executed enough nemesis orcs that nothing stood out to me. I wrote up a tips post that mentioned the issue of orcs refusing to die, primarily relaying my own experience and Monolith's explanation.

...And What's Actually Happening

Then the game came out. Shortly after other gamers got their hands on Mordor, I started getting emails suggesting that things weren't...quite working out the way they were supposed to. People were decapitating orcs, only to see them return to the game a few moments later. Many provided screenshots and gameplay footage as evidence of orcs refusing to die. This didn't always happen. But it seemed like it was happening enough that I could tell something was up. What was going on in Mordor?

Many tips articles and strategy guides (including the one by yours truly) have explained the issue his way: in order to "kill" an orc in such a way that his death is guaranteed, you must perform a proper execution. Here's how USGamer described effective orc-killing in its strategy guide:

Is there one pesky Uruk Captain who keeps getting in your way and becoming stronger every time you kill it? You've stabbed and shot the same fiend over and over, but they keep resurrecting with a larger list of scars and a bone to pick with you.

Your problem is you're not executing the captain. While stealth or ranged kills are much easier, an Execution finishes an uruk for good. When in combat, Talion has a Hit Streak counter in the top-left corner of the screen. This keeps track of successive attacks without Talion taking damage. When your Hit Streak hits 8 (5, if you pick up a certain skill), Talion's sword glows white and you can perform an Execution on a target. Just hit Y+B (Xbox 360/Xbox One) or Triangle+Circle (PlayStation 3/PlayStation 4) when you're aimed in the direction of your target and Talion will brutally kill them, usually via beheading. You can also use a combo finisher or a stun finisher (Stun the target with Circle/B, thenb do your full attack chain).

Alright, so it sounds like they got the same answer I did. Since it's the same answer, we still have the same problem. No clear solution for how to kill an orc, make sure he's dead, and then make double-sure that he stays that way.

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At the very least, there's a way to check whether or not an orc is likely to get back up off the ground. As the USGamer article points out, the best way to keep track of this is to go into the game's nemesis board after defeating an orc and see what their slot looks like in the aftermath of the fight. If the relevant orc is just lying there, there's a good chance he's not dead yet. If there's a little pile of skull and bones, on the other hand, you can rest assured that the guy's not coming back.

In other words, if you're looking to get rid of an orc for good, you want to see something this:

In comparison to something like this:

As for how to make sure you get there? I honestly can't say with any real measure of confidence that I know how. I've checked in on my personal Mordor game periodically since players started asking me about how to kill orcs, and the more I play it, the less I feel like I actually understand how the game, and the nemesis system specifically, actually work. Last night, for instance, I dropped into the game's first map to test out Monolith's suggestions once again. Here are two videos I captured to show what happened.

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First, here's a bumbling attempt to kill one orc captain by dominating him and pressing the "kill" button (square on the PlayStation 4):

Ok, so that didn't seem to do as much cranial damage as I was hoping. Let's try another route.

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In this second one, I kill an orc using the combo move that Monolith recommended and it doesn't seem to...focus too heavily on the guy's head:

Shadow of Mordor is one of the best games I've played in years, and the nemesis system is a big part of what makes it so great, so I'm not saying that this is a huge issue. If anything, the persistence of some of my orcs has made my experience with the game more fun most of the time. Most of the time, though. Other times, I might run into an insanely powerful orc that's really, really hard to kill. And even if I do, the videos above show how tricky it can be to pull off any sort of execution since I'm usually surrounded by lesser bad guys who won't give me enough of a chance to land a proper decapitating blow. Once I do, it feels incredibly rewarding. Seeing the orc pop up again a few minutes later? Well...that sort of dampens the whole sense of victory, doesn't it?

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Monolith's silence on the matter only exacerbates the sense of frustration, meanwhile. As my colleague Nathan reported this week, Shadow of Mordor has suffered from a ham-fisted promotional campaign—especially when it came to pressuring YouTubers to enter into "brand deals" in exchange for early access to the game. Similar to that situation, preserving an arbitrary air of mystery around orc executions strikes me as unnecessary at best, and actively harmful at worst. I mean: most gamers seem to really, really love the game. I certainly do. Would having more information about how it works as opposed to less diminish our enjoyment?

The lack of effective communication here reminds me of how Nintendo declined to comment about the changes it recently made to Mario Kart 8's online multiplayer. In that instance, the company's silence on the matter made the many problems players were having with the game seem all the more glaring, to the point where its online modes feel strangely empty—as if they were recently abandoned. I don't know if Shadow of Mordor will suffer from any similar issue. But I don't see how leaving its players in the dark about an important aspect of the game can really help it in the long run.

Now, I should admit that I'm not always the most tech-savvy gamer in the world. I've been known to run into problems playing The Sims 4, for instance, where I couldn't figure out how to get one of my Sims to move somewhere or do something in particular, only to find out that I'd placed a bunch of objects too close together and was blocking the character's AI path. As a result, I'm more than willing to accept the possibility that I'm just missing some obvious feature or button-press that effectively executes orcs every single time. But given the amount of queries I've personally received, and the confusion I've seen on a number of big gaming forums, I don't think that's the case. That, and the fact that Monolith hasn't answered any of my follow-up questions.

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So let me turn the question to you, the reader and Shadow of Mordor-playing gamer. Have you found yourself confused about the lives and deaths of your orcs in the game? Is there a technique you've found to be particularly effective?

Remember: we're Rangers of Gondor! That means we're the only thing standing between civilization and Sauron's endless hordes of evil monsters. So let's see if we can get to the bottom of this together.

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