Linux Gaming: Middle Earth – Shadow of Mordor; Get it to run, and run it fast

Gaming on Linux is a challenge because only a few companies take the time to create native Linux ports of their games. It is even more challenging when those natively ported games do not run at all or do not run well. One of them is Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor. I have bought this game specifically because it has a native Linux version – and because I remember that it was well received by media and players.

This game has two issues:

  • It refuses to start in full-screen mode.
  • The performance is terrible.

Let’s go through these two issues and see how they manifest and how to fix them.

Full-Screen Mode

By the time of writing, I have experienced inconsistent behavior on two different Linux distributions. On Pop!_OS, the game did not properly launch in full-screen mode. Instead, it locked the screen and drew a small Window on the left side of it. After a bit of ALT-TAB-ing, I was able to terminate the app.

On Linux Mint, this issue did not occur. Shadow of Mordor launched without a problem.

As a side note, the windowed mode does not display this behavior, and Shadow of Mordor launches as expected.

Either way, if you find yourself in this situation, it is easily remedied by disabling the Steam Overlay for this game. Open the game’s "Properties" and unselect "Enable the Steam Overlay while in-game".

Bad Performance

I have measured the performance with the built-in benchmark. It is good enough for this discussion. As a baseline, let’s begin with the Windows version of the game. The average framerate is 72 fps with a maximum of 290.

Next up are the numbers of the native Linux port. On average, my computer managed 37 fps with a spike to a maximum of 109 frames per second. That is a terrible result, and you will not have any fun playing the game at this framerate.

"How do I fix this?" I hear you ask? As was the case with the Steam Overlay, you can solve this problem with just a few mouse clicks. Open the game’s "Properties" and navigate to the "Betas" tab. In the drop-down menu, select "linux_vulkan_beta". That will trigger an 80 MB download of what I assume is the game’s new engine.

That is all there is to it, and with this small change, the performance is up to the levels of the Windows variant: 73 fps average and a peak output of 358 fps.

Summary

I applaud the native Linux version of this game, but at the same time, I must wonder why I experienced these problems. Sure, the game is about six years old by now, and Linux has changed a lot since then. But is that the reason for such a horrible performance? I am happy that the fixes are just a few clicks with the mouse instead of dropping to the terminal and performing some CLI magic. It is a poor first impression, though, and launching the game for the first time on Pop!_OS, where it did not start at all, made me go back to Windows.

Anyway, I do not want to start a discussion about this topic. I hope this short guide helps someone out there. In 2020, Shadow of Mordor is an affordable game due to its age. You can also find it on sale from time to time. Also, by today’s standards, the hardware requirements are pretty low.

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