The game takes place in the 60-year gap between the events of Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings. It is a story of revenge, slaughter, and mystery set entirely in Mordor, the Land of Shadows. At its center is Talion, an ordinary man who loses everything, including his mortal life.
The game is set in a fully open world, and features various role-playing game elements such as experience points and skills. There are various ways the player can complete their main objective. Aside from the main storyline, there are various side quests and random events the player can complete within Mordor.
The melee system is inspired by that of the Batman Arkham series. Getting into a good fighting rhythm, using both regular attacks and counter-attacks will improve the player's combo multiplier.
A unique feature of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is the Nemesis system. Every enemy in the game has their own name, rank, and memory. These enemies will continue to do their own jobs and tasks even when they're off screen. If the player does not kill an enemy in an encounter, this enemy will remember the player and change their tactics and conversations based on the encounter.