If you just glanced at it, Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor looked like an average game. Some pretty CGI cinematics, a liberal dose of references to the world that J.R.R Tolkien had created and some decent combat on top of that. But peer further beneath the veil, and you’d have found the selling point of a game that was anything but a Middling-Earth tie-in: The Nemesis system.
This was a gameplay mechanic that added value to the grunts that you were murdering, crafting stories and tales of Orc chieftains who actually had a decent reason to want you dead. It’s a defining idea, that’s making a return later this year in Middle-Earth: Shadow of War. With some deep tinkering of course. “I think the biggest one was looking at people’s stories, whether it was Reddit or YouTube,” Monolith’s VP of creative Michael de Plater said to Gamespot of the new design focus in the Nemesis System.
We wanted to make the whole system smarter
What were the most emotional? The strongest emotions are the most resonant stories; what do people remember or what do they identify with and how could we really double down on that? What were the things that make those stories stronger and also ensure that everybody had a really good experience? Some people had these amazing Orcs that they remember, they build these relationships with them, and they just love to hate them.
And then they get up and they kill this Orc and then they feel sad because they’ve developed this relationship and now that was lost. But then other people, especially people who are very skilled and didn’t die, basically didn’t get to experience that at all. Or players that were more casual and who died a lot would have their enemies grow too powerful, and they’d drop out.
We wanted to make the whole system smarter to ensure that everybody gets these memorable, personal stories so. The other focus was to create a lot more variety. Ultimately, we had a few things that bubbled up, like poison weapons or Orcs who were immune to everything, but we wanted to create more variety in terms of how they behaved and how they fought and what abilities they had.
The Nemesis System in Shadow of War isn’t just a setup for creating personal vendettas. It’s also a feature that ties into a bigger picture, of waging war on your enemies and sending armies forth to battle the Orcish hordes. And all of these small features needed to tie in together to create something unique. “That’s very much a small part, and that’s something we build up to,” de Plater explained.
We definitely ramp up to that, and have this very fully featured, open-world action game. I think that’s why the first act, where the game begins, where Sauron’s returned–Sauron’s grown in power; the Nazgul have returned–we start on this human city under siege. It gives us this great context to ramp up, set the stakes, and get to know our abilities and so on.
Because the game, of course, has to be approachable for someone who loved Shadow of Mordor and is ready to jump in. But also for someone who’s never played it before and wants to start, and get introduced to it. Because it is a massive game in terms of the combat systems and the nemesis systems and RPGs. We need that growth.
Then as people get their heads around that on the action side of the game, then we can get into Mordor, and then we can introduce the domination and the manipulation and the nemesis system, and grow to this level where we can start conquering the forts and defending them and so on.
And that sounds promising. And much better than my current Nemesis System whenever I get invited to a track day at Kyalami.