Making friends using brain magic in Shadow of Mordor

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In Now Playing PC Gamer writers talk about the game currently dominating their spare time. Today, Sam strikes up some peculiar friendships with Shadow of Mordor's Orcs.

It’s Grublik the Flogger’s first power struggle since I branded him, brainwashed him and corrupted the way of life of his people. He’s the first Uruk-hai I poisoned against his own kind, and as such, I consider him my special little guy. In Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, the Uruk-hai fight each other to determine who moves up and down the orc hierarchy, but this is the first time I’ve sent one of my own guys to do battle.

I perch on some ancient Mordor ruins in the sunshine, waiting for the duel to begin. Grublik has arrived with his cronies. Opposite him is a randomly generated, higher-ranking orc warchief with a name I am no longer able to recall—it’s something like Grimdribble the Manmuncher, so let’s run with that. Grimdribble has his own cronies, and they’re a little fiercer than Grublik’s stumpy and average Uruk-hai pals. They’re all carrying shields, which means they can perform unblockable attacks. Grublik’s guys are, by comparison, orc interns. As the fight kicks off, it’s up to me to help my special little guy win the day. If he loses, I’ll have to start the whole process again.

This battle will determine whether Grublik rises from elite captain to warchief status. Grimdribble has held that post since I arrived in Mordor. Grublik was the first poor mid-ranking bastard I could find. I’ve made him into a somebody by controlling his allegiances with noncanonical brain magic.

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After ludicrously posturing at each other, the two parties charge and meet in battle. Straight away, the Manmuncher batters Grublik and takes off a big slice of his health. Damn it—this could be a drubbing. Time for a highly dubious intervention.

I equip my bow and perfectly headshot seven of Grimdribble’s shield-wielding goons from my vantage point, evening the odds a bit. Grimdribble continues to slug away at my captain, but while he does so I drop down and take out the rest of his goons with a few silent knife kills. If the warchief would just take a break from giving my special little guy a savage beating, he’d turn around to find himself alone on the battlefield.

I equip my bow and perfectly headshot seven of Grimdribble’s shield-wielding goons.

Grublik’s own subservient scrotes are doing little to help as he drops to half health. I’m a bit miffed about their lack of contribution to the battle and vow to punish these friendlies by shanking a few later. For now, it’s up to me to save my guy. I slap Grimdribble with my sword and he turns around, mentioning that he guessed I was behind this political upset. I chip away at his health with a few fancy acrobatic attacks and counters until he’s down to the last nub of health. I run back to the ruins where I was perched at the start of the duel and watch Grublik slay the Manmuncher. He roars, thinking he achieved this victory, and is awarded some extra orc clothes as he moves up to the top in the Mordor power rankings.

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This is the best part of Shadow of Mordor: not resolving grudges with named orcs who remember you in battle, but feeling a sense of ownership over the targets you corrupt in the second half of the game. Sure, he would’ve got ground down into a fine powder were it not for my help, but I still feel proud of Grublik. I’m a tearful helicopter parent sending their child to university—I can’t believe how much he’s grown since I first brainwashed him and undermined his species’ way of life about two hours ago.

He just needed a little course correction from daddy. I’m the parent on the playground who holds the bully’s arms back while my puny kid works the chest. You know, the parent who goes to jail.

Samuel Roberts
Former PC Gamer EIC Samuel has been writing about games since he was 18. He's a generalist, because life is surely about playing as many games as possible before you're put in the cold ground.