Rangers of Gondor! Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor is 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 ferociously badass 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.

Remember: Almost Every Death Matters


Talion might be an immortal powerhouse with a host of supernatural abilities. But he still dies. A lot, in my experience. Because of the game's unique web of evolving inter-orc relationships (known as the "nemesis system"), coming back from death isn't simply a matter of reloading and trying again. More often than not, death has consequences for the orc hierarchy in the specific region of Mordor where you die. 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. If you're not careful, individual orc fiefdoms can become exceedingly powerful.

Health Is Hard To Come By. Plan Accordingly.

There are a few ways to recover a slice of health in the heat of battle, but the only things in Mordor that resemble "health potions" 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

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, sure. 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 a currency called "Mirian." 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

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 prioritizing Ranger abilities at first because those directly influence melee combat and swordfighting. 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 far more enjoyable.


When it comes to leveling up and unlocking stuff, Shadow of Mordor has heftier RPG-like systems than the open-world games it was inspired by. But bear in mind that it's still not a full-blown role-playing game like Skyrim. I never found myself stuck because I'd prioritized one ability or skill-set over another the way I often did when trying to start Wasteland 2, for instance. It's very easy to unlock all of the Ranger and Wraith abilities in Shadow of Mordor over the course of the campaign. So in general: be mindful when it comes to choosing abilities, but don't drive yourself crazy every time you get a new one.

When It Comes To Collectibles And Challenges, Focus On Mirian

There are a few different treasure hunt-style challenges in Mordor: hunting and survival challenges, hidden artifacts and "Ithildin" objects, and weapon challenges. If you're just looking for the fastest and easiest way to level up Talion's stats, go for the ones that reward more Mirian than just raw experience points. The two best ways I've found to get Mirian-rich quick are 1) doing the weapon challenges and 2) collecting Ithildin.


Other challenges can be fun if you're a completionist or heavily invested in Lord of the Rings lore. But keep in mind: Mirian is hard to come by when playing through the other parts of Mordor, whereas experience gets doled out pretty much every time you kill an orc. It's also a useful resource to start gathering from the outset because it lets you boost your base-level stats as I mentioned before. But Mirian also lets you upgrade your weapons in a few ways that become increasingly valuable. Getting extra rune slots means you can customize your weapons a bit more and give them an extra punch. The upgrade ladder for each of your three weapons also has a special feature at the very top that requires a good chunk of Mirian to get to. For the sword, for instance, you can gain an ability to do unlimited execution moved for a period of time. These aren't essential (I beat the game without unlocking any of them), but they make combat a lot more fun. Getting a head start on these upgrades will save you the pain of having to go back and comb through the map right before the final missions. Or if you start to run into trouble with the late-stage orcs. Trust me: those guys are tough.

Aim For The Yellow Runes, But Settle For Less

Speaking of weapons, you can augment each of them with special runes throughout the game. You get a rune every time you kill a ranked orc and uruk-hai. Most of these add damage, decrease recharge times—stuff like that. The ones that are truly valuable are "Epic Runes," which stand out because they're bright yellow. They're also much harder to come by, however, so don't stress out about them early in the game. Once you've got your proper footing in Mordor, a good way to increase your chances of finding a solid epic rune is targeting high-level orcs—particularly warchiefs. Eventually you can also unlock an ability to send death threats to particular chiefs the same way you interrogate orcs, which also helps shift the quality loot-finding odds in your favor.


Missions With Red Icons Can Be Very Useful

Any mission that's marked on your map with a red icon is a "power struggle." That means that a ranked orc (or several) in Sauron's army is doing something special—say, executing some slaves, having a feast, challenging another orc to a fight to the death. You know, typical orc stuff. The missions are basically Mordor's way of extending you an invitation to interrupt these events. Doing so successfully doesn't always 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 quarrel over. If you miss one or see an alert pop up while you're focusing on something else, don't worry. There are bound to be several others you can attend to after you finish whatever it is you're trying to do.


Caragors Are Great Allies...

Caragors are the stock lion-like monsters that roam about Mordor, devouring whatever they come across. You can often use these free-roaming deadly elements to your advantage. If you see one locked away in a cage, shooting at the front door sets them free to wreak havoc upon 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. Setting one or two free while you're still sneaking around the rooftops is a great way to cause chaos below, thereby placing your target in a more vulnerable position.

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


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 time, you'll be able to control these beasts as if they're harmless kittens. But at the beginning of Mordor, they have very sharp claws.

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...

Mordor's melee combat is a lot like 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. If you do this correctly and consistently so, you can make it through endless waves of melee-focused bad guys pretty much unscathed. Doing so gives you an amazing feeling of accomplishment.


Make sure to get the hang of blocking as soon as possible. If you don't, Mordor will be a tough slog and a far less enjoyable experience than it should be. Plus, there are always plenty of orcs to practice on!

...And Dodging

Certain attacks by more powerful foes aren't block-able, meanwhile. In these cases, another alert (the "x" button on the PS4) will signal that it's time to hit the dirt. Also, one of Talion's lower-level abilities adds a stun effect to jumping over-orcs. This is a useful trick once you get it, and a fun way to make an orc's head explode thusly:


Poison And Ranged Weapons Will Be The Death Of You

There are two kinds of damage 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. The game gives a subtle hint at the beginning but doesn't hammer it home very well, so let me emphasize a solid bit of advice: If you're going into a stronghold, take the archers out first. Seriously. Doing so will save you a lot of trouble. Unfortunately, there's not as simple a lifehack for dealing with poison.

A Human—Er, Orcish—Shield Can Go A Loooong Way


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 Talion is holding outranks them! Now that's gotta be embarrassing for everyone involved.

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

It's tempting to just rush into a stronghold and start slaughtering orcs left and right once you've selected your target. 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

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 weaknesses is fear. Gathering intel on an orc will tell you if one thing or another terrifies him—fire, caragors, betrayal by a bodyguard. 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

One reason warchiefs are so tough is that they all show up with a few other high-level orcs to help them kill you. Trying to take all of them on at once is like trying to kill three or four bosses at the same time. If you keep dying, trying to thin the herd by targeting specific bodyguards before aiming your sights at the big guy.


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

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. So don't get distracted by side-quests or other missions. And definitely don't die. Once you've assassinated a bodyguard, you should get started on either killing another bodyguard or aiming for the head honcho as soon as you can.


And Finally: Make Sure An Orc Is Actually Dead

UPDATE 10/11/2014: As I explain in a separate article, orc executions have become some of a mystery, so take everything that you read here with a grain of salt.

There are a few different ways to "kill" an orc. Not all of them result in the orc actually staying good and dead, however. The nemesis system leaves open the possibility that orcs are defeated in battle might return to challenge you anew if they're tough enough to survive certain attacks.


To make sure an orc actually dies, you have to perform a proper execution. There are a few different ways to do this, depending on the level of the orc and the situation you find yourself in. Basically, you can, erm, execute an execution by using an attack move that involves using a combo or finisher, rather than just slicing at an orc with your sword or shooting at him with a bow.

This moment I captured, for example, shows me using a chieftain as a fleshy shield. He ends up "dying" because one of his minions wouldn't stop hitting him. Silly orcs. In any case, it is not a proper execution:


This, on the other hand, is 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: "Is that orc's head still in one piece and firmly on his shoulders?" If the answer to the second question is "No," then you should be in good shape. Otherwise, don't be surprised if you see the orc show up again—even just a few minutes later—with some fresh-looking scars.


...Or Don't, Because That Can Be Fun Too

The nemesis system is tricky at first. But once you get the hang of it and unlock Talion's higher-level abilities, the power-structure in Mordor changes in your favor pretty dramatically. If you're confident enough in your abilities, try this out for an extra treat: "defeat" an orc in combat, but let him live by either improperly executing him or simply letting him run away. Like everything else in Mordor, the orcs will remember this. It's a great way to shame them and remind everyone on this side of the black gate who's boss.


I'll be updating these tips as we migrate further away from spoiler territory and other (possibly better) players get their hands on the game, so please chime in with your orc-killing suggestions as well.

Happy hunting!

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