Shadow of More-dor: Playing With Permadeath In The DLC

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor came out last year to widespread appeal. Sure, the combat’s just a gorier, hyper deadly version of what we’ve already seen in the Batman Arkham games. Yeah, open world icon assassination was clearly lifted from Assassin’s Creed. But this time those icons were orcs, with actual memories and personalities, balanced on a power structure which the player was free to tinker with.

It’s great, but by the end of the game, messing with those systems felt unnecessary. You were powerful enough to just wade into the fortresses and kill your targets willy-nilly. What’s held my attention instead are the extra modes added since launch (one free, the rest paid-for DLC), which allow you to play the game as something approximating a roguelike. The free ‘Test of Defiance’ is the only mode that actually limits you to a single death, but it also doesn’t randomize the enemies or require you to gather intel on them.. Instead, I’m playing the ‘Test of the Wild’, which tasks you with ‘killing all 5 Warchiefs plus all 20 Captains’. I’m only giving myself one life, and to make things more interesting I’ll only use runes which I find as I play, ignoring the haul I gathered while playing the main game. Bring it on, hordes of Sauron.

I spawn on a tower, peering down through the drizzle at the uruks milling around beneath me. I’m looking for the telltale green outline that shows an enemy with intel – with the stakes so high, there’s no way I’m charging into a fortress unprepared. It doesn’t take me long to find and interrogate a couple of orcs. Even without my arsenal of epic runes from the main game, picking off patrols seems easy. Feeling confident, I use the next orc informant I find to send a death threat to one ‘Feldûsh the Merciless’, a war chief I’d identified. Sending a threat warns him I’m coming, making him tougher and increasing his bodyguard of elite captains – but it also greatly increases his chances of dropping an epic rune. I start running towards the fortress.

Before I’ve taken more than a few steps, I’m ambushed by a captain and immediately regret my decision. He tears through me in a few hits. I don’t need to see his stats to know he’s got the poison weapon trait as my health bar turns green and starts ticking scarily down towards empty. I’m quickly coming to realise how much I’ve relied on my runes to heal me mid fight. Playing without them leaves me with only one option: I run away, sighing with relief as the poison wears off just a few ticks away from killing me. After healing up, I decide to continue after the chief I’ve marked for death anyway. I’ll just have to be more careful.

Everything goes fine at first. I sneak through the base, stealth killing Feldûsh’s supporters to draw him out. Sure enough, he comes out with three hefty bodyguards. I charge at him. I’m winning at first, but the fight becomes more and more unmanageable as his henchmen join the fray. I manage to get him down to half health, but I’m still being overwhelmed. Looking around, I see an exploding barrel – and fire at it. The explosion creates disarray, sending the unnamed orcs flailing and killing one of the bodyguards. Unfortunately, Feldûsh’s hate of burning gives him renewed strength and before I’ve managed to whittle his health back down the other orcs have recouperated. On the back foot again, I set off another barrel and use this one to escape empty-handed.

Realising I may have bitten off more than I can chew, I set off in search for help. After a few minutes patrolling on the back of a Caragath, I come across Muggrish the Drooler. He’s perfect. A few execution combos and a branding later, he’s mine to control. Getting Muggrish promoted to Feldûsh’s new bodyguard proves equally simple: I pop along to his trial-by-ordeal and headshot the Caragath he’s fighting, earning him his place by Feldûsh’s side. Grabbing Muggrish once more, I command him to betray his new warchief. I’m lucky. The betrayal event this creates happens to be one of the easiest in the game – a one on one duel between them. That is, until I show up. I smile as Feldûsh laughs in my face, calling me a coward for running away earlier. It only takes about 20 seconds before I’ve beheaded him. My satisfaction is cut short, however, when I notice the ‘Warchiefs killed’ counter hasn’t gone up. It takes me a while to realise why: Muggrish immediately filled his empty position. Sighing, I hold down the dispatch button, which kills my nearby follower. I feel a little bad as his body falls neatly on top of Feldûsh’s, dropping the epic rune I wanted and notching my kill counter up. Thanks Muggrish. Poor Muggrish.

I go back to roaming around on the back of a caragath, killing a bunch of captains and collecting the runes they drop. Caragaths are basically copies of the Caragors from the base game, with the added ability to perform stealth kills. I put this to good use as I stalk across Mordor, building up runes until I feel ready to crash another warchief’s party – this time without issuing a death threat beforehand.

Again, drawing out the warchief goes perfectly. When Shágflak Ghul keeper appears however, things start to look tricky. He’s got two elite captains with him as bodyguards, and I can see at least one more elsewhere in the stronghold. Gritting my teeth for a tough fight, I check his weaknesses – and find I’m in luck. The majority of captains and almost every warchief has the ‘invulnerable to ranged’ trait. This one doesn’t. I sneak around collecting ammo, then set up in position at a central tower and wait for Shágflak to walk into the courtyard below me. I plug him with arrows till he’s on his knees then take a zipline down from my perch, landing perfectly in front of the wounded uruk and finishing him off with my sword. It could have been choreographed by Jackson himself. With their leader dead the rest of the orcs flee in terror, not even trying to fight back. I bag a few more captains, then move on.

I head over to a nearby power struggle where two captains are dueling. It looks easy enough. I take out all the archers, teleporting around the edges of the arena with chained shadow strikes. I fire an arrow at a Morgai fly nest hanging above (the super-bees of Middle Earth) then hop into the fray, taking advantage of the panic. One captain quickly goes down, but as I’m about to take on the guy he was fighting another captain appears. And another. And another. I activate the ability that gives me unlimited executions, which gives me enough breathing room to take out two of them, but yet more have appeared. I have to run.

I get away on a scrap of health, scrambling up a cliff face and finding a flower which heals me up completely. I look back down the cliff I just scaled. The uruks are pretty split up, with only two captains and a few grunts milling around. I leap down onto one of the captains, hoping for a stealth kill – but my luck has ran out. The captain shrugs me off as a message flashes up telling me he’s immune to stealth finishers. I try taking him on but it’s tricky with the other captain, who’s ranged, riddling my exposed flank with crossbow bolts. I have to retreat again. I manage to duck behind a rock and find another flower, microseconds before being mauled by a wild caragath. I mount it and charge back round towards the captains, but the beast instantly gets dispatched – one of them had the monsterslayer trait. Caught between the two, I try and fight my way out, this time focussing on the ranged captain. The melee captain’s sword cuts into my back, bringing me all the way down from two thirds health and taking me into the last chance quicktime event. I hadn’t thought my run would end like this. I hadn’t even bothered to look at their names. I just about manage to pass the quicktime event, batting the orcs’ sword away at the last second. I set off running, but before I can move a few metres a final crossbow bolt drags me to the floor again. Then it’s over.

I’d seriously recommend checking out the Trials of War. They’re much more than a throwaway leaderboard challenge, though its scoring system facilitates that if you’re interested in playing them competitively. If you’re looking for a reason to jump back into Mordor, this is it.


  1. MuscleHorse says:

    Are these all from an ingame shop? I’m not seeing Trials of War or Test Of The Wild on the Steam page for Mordor.

    • DelrueOfDetroit says:

      There is mention of it being including in the Season Pass but other than that I have not been able to find anything.

      • Symbiode says:

        It looks like it’s part of the ‘Lord of the Hunt’ DLC ($10):

        “Unlocks the exclusive Beast-hunter Skin and Test of the Wild Challenge Mode.”

    • jimangi says:

      The one that the writer is playing, which gives perhaps the fullest experience, comes with the Lord of the Hunt DLC (and, to be honest, is the main justification for getting that otherwise lacklustre DLC). Test of Defiance is free and should already appear in the game menu in the Trials of War (I think that’s its name) section. The other trials have names like ‘Test of Wisdom’ and work similarly and are cheaper but aren’t quite as good.

  2. J Arcane says:

    Huh. I’d passed on them thanks to the repetitive and poorly thought-out example offered by “Test of Defiance,” but maybe I should give them another shake. I’m just about running out of anything for the main game to offer.

    I really wish it had combat challenges like the Batman games. You can sorta get the same effect by just diving into one of the arenas in the big strongholds and setting off an alarm, but some proper leaderboard combat challenges would be a lot more fun. There’s a few of the weapon quests that are like this, you’d think it would’ve been trivial to add them as repeatable scored challenges.

  3. AngoraFish says:

    Since when did roguelike and permadeath become synonymous?

    • Fiyenyaa says:

      I think that it’s probably one of the core concepts of it, at least as a general rule. Roguelikes (which is a silly name for a genre really – it’s like how FPSes were called “Doom Clones” for a while) have a few similar broadly similar features and I think permadeath is one of the big touchstones.

      • Captain Joyless says:

        Since always. Rogue had permadeath, as did Moria and Hack after it. Nethack was perhaps the biggest roguelike before the contemporary resurgence, and of course Nethack had permadeath.

    • Phasma Felis says:

      Since every roguelike ever had permadeath?

      • AngoraFish says:

        There’s a term for permadeath already – permadeath.

        Every roguelike also has procedural generation and low-fi graphics. I would think that the absence of prodedural generation alone would normally knock out anything from being called roguelike.

        If you take the argument that sharing any one element of the game Rogue makes any other game roguelike, you may as well say that GRID Autosport is a roguelike since it’s also played on a computer.

        • jrodman says:

          I will agree that people are using ‘roguelike’ rather foolishly to refer to almost anything with permadeath. However, I think almost any sort of roguelike will feature permadeath or something similar.

        • Ed Burst says:

          I get the impression a lot of the SoM content (enemy powers? loot?) is procedurally generated, making it more Rogue-like. Although obviously, it really needs ASCII art.

        • jimangi says:

          It’s justified here because all of the captains, warchiefs and runes are randomly generated and thus you get a different experience every time.

  4. mbthegreat says:

    Not wanting to kill your permadeath idea, but isn’t a central plot point of SoM the fact that you cannot die

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      You die, sure, but whatshisname doesn’t. Or rather he wakes up again after. It’s like, a game. Isn’t it?