Shadow of Mordor Hands-On Preview: Natural Enemies

A mistimed button press results in a missed counter-attack, and suddenly there’s a vicious orc standing over your slumped body, laughing and savoring his victory.

You’ll return to life, of course, because this is a video game. But in Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor, time passes between your death and your return to life. And in that time, your enemies will grow stronger. The orc lieutenants scattered around Mordor will fight amongst themselves for power, and the survivors will gain strength and experience. New fiends will be elevated to take the places of the slain. And the champion who defeated you will remember what he learned from killing you — and use it to try to kill you again.

Developer Monolith Productions calls this Shadow of Mordor’s “Nemesis” system, and in action, it means the armies of Mordor you constantly fight in the game are a lot deeper than just hordes of faceless green folks you hack apart (although there are still hordes of faceless green folks you hack apart). Director of Design Michael De Plater said Monolith is hoping for a situation in which players feel a real connection to the enemies they fight, creating rivalries and fueling the need for revenge.

A big portion of Shadow of Mordor is the player’s battle to raise an army of orcs to turn against Dark Lord Sauron’s Black Captains, the lieutenants who are attempting to organize and strengthen Mordor’s military might. The story of the game takes places between author J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and the chief goal of protagonist Talion is to disrupt the Mordor war machine being built to attack the rest of the world.

Rather than have Monolith create villains to face down and show players cutscenes or scripted sequences meant to infuse them with emotional significance, however, De Plater said the developers want to let those enemies develop naturally. The devs will even work them into the overall story, he said — expect to see your most hated foes crop up at pivotal boss fights. Literally any enemy can eventually become a boss through the Nemesis system.

Monolith is hoping for a situation in which players feel a real connection to the enemies they fight.

At a preview event ahead of PAX Prime this week, Monolith gave journalists a chance to play with the Nemesis system, and it seems as though it’ll go far to make Shadow of Mordor feel like a reactive, living place as players adventure through the sandbox world of the game. This particular portion of the game required that players work to raise their own armies by taking down local orc warchiefs. To do that, you’ll use some of Talion’s Wraith abilities, which are bestowed on him by the spirit of the long-dead elf Celebrimbor. Fans familiar with deep Tolkien lore will recognize the name as belonging to the greatest smith of the Second Age of Middle-Earth (The Hobbit and LoTR take place in the Third Age), who aided Sauron in creating the dreaded Rings of Power, and it’s through Talion’s bonding with Celebrimbor that the human gains his supernatural powers.

Though there are plenty of Wraith powers that’ll be useful in combat, the chief ability in the game is that of dominating foes’ minds and turning their loyalties. You won’t be facing down orc warchiefs just to kill them — although you certainly can. Your primary goal is to dominate them and turn their allegiances, thereby gaining all the underling orcs that fight with them.

In the hands-on session, players worked to take on five different warchiefs, who can be approached through a number of different means. First off, players have to gain intelligence information about their foes, either through collectibles found throughout the world, or by dominating warchiefs’ captains. These are lesser orcs who are still above the rank-and-file of Mordor’s forces. Like warchiefs, captains have a number of strengths and weaknesses you’ll learn through gaining intel. You might find out that a captain or warchief is immune to ranged attacks, for example, but is deathly afraid of certain monsters. You can dominate the beasts of Mordor as well as soldiers to bolster your forces, and even ride those monsters into battle if you so choose.

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2 Comments on Shadow of Mordor Hands-On Preview: Natural Enemies


On August 29, 2014 at 11:34 pm

The game cannot be true to the movies/books, as major features of the game are totally at odds with defining features of both the movies and books. Below are just two. Remember that this is a unique world, not another generic Dark Fantasy setting, and that’s a big reason why people care about it. Immense numbers of people.

About Talion’s whole strategy. He won’t use the one in the game as he’s a Ranger and so will never dominate anyone or anything. That’s evil magic (mind rape) and the work of soulless things like Sauron. Talion and all his kin have been fighting Sauron and evils like him for at least six and a half thousand years without ever stopping, even thousands of years after their whole kingdom was lost and all their followers slain. It’s not in his character. Nor is any Ranger of the North is stated to be evil in the books or films, at all. Want a Generic Dark Conflicted Hero? Look elsewhere than Middle Earth. Gollum is the only one (if he counts). Oops.

And goodbye special powers for Talion! Celebrimbor isn’t “long dead” as he’s an elf. Elves simply can’t die. That whole race has the Gift of Life given directly by God, and were never even given the Gift of Death (unlike Humans). If an Elf’s body is destroyed they go to Valinor (merely another land in Middle Earth), get a new body, and even keep all memories etc intact. He’s alive, far away from the lands the stories are set in, and unable to return (the world’s Powers won’t anyone to leave Valinor). Racial differences have Serious Consequences in Middle Earth. Also, no elf will willingly touch evil magic like Undeath (the two evil elves that might have, total, both disappear over six thousand years before this story). Finally, Sauron is the only one in all Middle Earth ever called Necromancer, in all history. So no (wraith) powers over Undeath for Celebrimbor or Talion, or indeed any enemy of Sauron. Oh dear.

I’m afraid several major gameplay mechanics- all Talion’s special powers and specifically his means of thwarting Sauron, cannot be used by him, if this is true to Middle Earth in books or films. Middle Earth is unique; it’s not a generic Dark Fantasy setting. It that’s the one they want to use, then they need to strip out all their gameplay and story work, and start again. This setting is interesting, unique and worth exploring. Save dark fantasy for The Witcher, Warhammer, and the endless settings like them, eh?


On August 29, 2014 at 11:38 pm

Typo correction: ‘the world’s powers won’t let anyone *leave* Valinor’.