8 things to do in Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor before you die

Leave your mark on Mordor

If you haven't heard, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is a thoroughly excellent game. By combining the best mechanics of Assassin's Creed and Batman: Arkham with the rich fantasy of The Lord of the Rings, Talion's quest for revenge is sure to delight gamers of all sorts (provided they can stomach profuse amounts of Uruk bloodshed). And while the Nemesis system randomly generates a theoretically infinite number of personal stories, it's not the only way to make your own fun in Mordor.

Talion has a lot of freedom when it comes to roaming the countryside killing Orcs, and his methods of execution are only limited by your imagination. To show you what I mean, here are eight activities you can try at home as you wreak havoc on Sauron's forces. They range from unthinkably cruel to just plain cool, but they're all well worth trying for yourself. You won't find any story spoilers here--but if you don't want to know some of Talion's awesome abilities ahead of time, come back to this article once you've dipped your toes into Mordor.

Dominate and ride a Graug

This is an easy one, provided you've gotten far enough through the plot. That's because one of the coolest abilities Talion can learn is gated by a late-game mission. Then again, it wouldn't feel all that rewarding if you could just ride Graugs right from the start. Once you know the sensation of riding atop a colossal troll-thing, stomping Orcs underfoot and eating slavers to regain health, you won't know how you ever lived without it.

Taming your own pet Graug won't be easy, considering they can turn your bones into a fine white powder with three or fewer hits. Unless, that is, you snag the Shadow Mount ability, which is the quickest way to train your Graug (or Caragor, which comes in handy during the late-game). Shadow Mount gives you the power to shoot a spectral arrow, instantly teleport to it, and dominate the Graug's feeble mind with your Wraith powers all in the blink of an eye. At that point, all that's left to do is enjoy your rampage to the fullest!

Host a (poisonous) kegger

Here's a tip for all you Middle-earth denizens: don't invite Talion to your social gatherings. You'll have to buy all the ale, and all Talion will do to contribute is lace your supply of lager with poisonous herbs. The aptly named Poison ability is also tied to a main story mission, but this one unlocks fairly early in Talion's quest. From that point on, you're free to contaminate strangers' supplies of alcohol to your heart's content.

Like most creatures that actively despise their waking lives, Uruk love to drown the stress of their barbarous lifestyle with copious amounts of grog. Because they're so occupied with yelling at slaves and claiming that they'll kill Talion on sight, you're free to sneak up to vats of grog and add a little flavoring to the brew that'll make Uruk go nuts and beat each other up. Then, sneak away to a vantage point and watch the mutinous shenanigans unfold.

Watch a Warchief get killed by his own bodyguards

Of all the badass things you can do in Shadow of Mordor, this is one of the badassest. The caveat is that it requires a ton of prep: you'll need to scout out some Intel on a Warchief, find out which Captains work for him, then seek out all his bodyguards and brainwash them once you've earned the Brand ability.

But just imagine the payoff. The opposing Warchief rolls up on the scene with his posse of bodyguards, confident that your death is nothing more than a checkmark on his daily task list. He stops to taunt you, chortling at how ridiculously outnumbered you are. Suddenly, all his friends freeze in place, submitting to your will with a flick of your Wraith-empowered wrist. Now, that same overconfident Warchief is being beaten to death by his subordinates, and you didn't even have to unsheathe your sword. Sadistic, yes, but glorious all the same.

Shoot a bat without slow-motion

When you're looking for a distraction from murdering entire brigades of Orcs, Talion can get back in touch with his Ranger training and seek out certain targets for hunting side-missions. These start out pretty tame, with you letting loose arrows at hideously giant spiders, though they can get pretty intense, like when you have to well, I won't spoil the surprise. But here's a challenge the game won't ask of you (not directly, anyway).

One of the earlier assignments asks you to shoot some flying creatures, like the bats that occupy Mordor's many caves. This is made easier by the Wraith's supernatural Focus ability which slows down time, letting you line up precision shots even on a moving target. Thing is, Focus doesn't last forever, and sniping a mid-flight bat becomes insanely difficult when you're aiming in real-time. Pull it off, and you'll feel like an Old West gunslinger who just shot the wings off a horsefly. Or whatever the archer equivalent of that is.

Earn the "Rise and Fall" achievement

This one could be (and often is) the basis for some games' entire plotline but--by Shadow of Mordor's high standards--it's merely an achievement. Here's how it works: every time a random Orc lands the killing blow on you, they're instantly promoted to the rank of Captain, with the promise that they might one day become a Warchief. It's your job to ensure they get there and --once they do--kill them. I know Talion has some vengeful impulses, but damn.

Even though you're a kill-on-sight target, you can still help out your mark by meddling in Power Struggles: events that increase an Uruk's standing in Sauron's Army. Once he's leveled up enough times, you can ensure he gets that promotion by killing one of his Warchief superiors. Then, after hours of effort, all that's left to do is snuff out the Uruk that you worked so hard to develop. The question is, will you have the heart to murder the Orc you raised to maturity as if he were your own son? Achievement junkies: don't answer that.

Make a Captain face his biggest fear

Orcs, like Ogres, have layers. And while they might try to look and act all tough on the outside, some Orcs just put on a front to hide their personal, embarrassing vulnerabilities. For instance, a Caragor hunter who's deathly afraid of the creatures he was born and bred to kill. Or a well-respected Uruk that carves up his enemies like it's nothing, but can't stand the sight of a buzzing Morgai Fly nest.

Talion may be on a mission to slay every Uruk in sight, but that doesn't mean he can't administer a little immersion therapy along the way. What better way to get over a phobia than to completely submit yourself to it, right? All you need is the Pin in Place ability, which lets you lock Uruks in place by shooting arrows through their legs. Then unleash a pack of Caragor or a swarm of Morgai Flies on your unwilling patient, and watch as they're rehabilitated before your very eyes! Or helplessly screaming in terror, as the case may be.

Outfit one of your weapons with all Epic Runes

One of the coolest (and least talked-about) aspects of Shadow of Mordor is the weapon customization, which lets you significantly change the strengths of your blades and bow without ever altering their appearances. That's because each weapon can be fitted with up to five magic runes, which all Captains and Warchiefs leave behind when they die. The stats and effects on these runes can vary, unless you get an Epic Rune, which have some crazy powerful abilities built in.

Want to give your headshots a chance to make your victim's head explode in blue flames? Maybe you prefer to dole out more hurt while riding Caragors, or simply up your sword's damage by a flat 50 percent. Epic runes let you do that and much more and--if you're thorough enough--you just might find five unique effects to all slot into the same weapon. It's not unthinkable: issuing a psychic Death Threat to a target gives you a much higher chance of better rune drops, so go nuts with the intimidation tactics.

Activate all three weapon abilities in a single fight

Similar to Assassin's Creed, picking a fight in one of Mordor's densely populated enemy strongholds will eventually escalate into an all-out war, since nearby Orcs will be joining the tussle faster than you can kill them. But for this self-imposed challenge, the Orcs' tendency to dogpile any threat will work to your advantage. Before you can go on the ultimate killing spree, you'll need to unlock the three high-end weapon abilities: Storm of Urfael, Flame of Azkar, and Shadow of Acharn.

Each of these abilities is like a temporary pass to an all-you-can-kill buffet, with sword, ranged, and dagger kills respectively. And if you activate all three in sequence, it adds up to just under a minute of godlike powers of violence and mutilation. Best of all, you can charge them before a fight actually starts, so you're all but guaranteed to rack up a 100x combo meter. But if you really want some props, try living long enough in the same fight to expend and refill your ability meters multiple times. Pull that off, and you can consider yourself an honorary Gondorian Ranger.

Roleplay as Hodor playing Mordor

Those are a few ways to make your own fun in Mordor, but there's plenty more(dor) where that came from. Do you have any self-imposed challenges or goofy goals of your own that you'd like to share? Tell us all about it in the comments below!

And if you're looking for more video game bucket list material, check out 10 things to do in Destiny before you die and 8 things to do in Watch Dogs before you die.