Blithell makes no secret of his admiration for Shadow of Mordor saying, “I bloody loved this game. What it stole, it improved upon, be it [Assassin’s Creed’s] openworld design rhythms, or Batman’s combat system. Crucially, they did a brilliant job of bringing freshness to the game via their Nemesis system and adjoining mission structure, but I think I like it for different reasons to most gamers.”
Blithell then breaks down the Nemesis system and describes how developer Monolith has leveraged a seemingly infinite number of unique enemies and personalities through a small number of assets and hidden systems. “Obviously a random name generator is in effect, which is pretty straightforward to do. What’s clever is the way in which the name generator, art assets from which new Orcs are composed, and audio files for their voice and their allies’ voices are hooked up together to imply way more personality, and emergence, than is actually present.”
While some players have complained that killed captains keep returning to life, Blithell believes it’s a clever mechanic designed to enhance the Nemesis system. “I suspect the reason is that those players weren’t getting killed enough. The system wanted to ensure there were recognisable characters for whom the player could have vendettas, so, until they started to naturally get killed enough to make more, reused the same Orcs,” he writes.
He sees “no reason that an indie game couldn’t do this on a text level” saying that the system is “Pretty damn repeatable.” Writing that he suspects numerous clones of the system to appear in new games in order to add character to NPCs, he states that developers can and should use it more effectively. “If the lesson is ‘make players care about locations, characters and events through randomisation, persistence, reaction to player actions and implied actions off screen’ then one can see similar stat based meta stories occurring far more diversely.”
Blithell’s whole post is well worth reading and can be found on his Tumblr.
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is available now for PC. PS4 and Xbox One. It will launch for last-gen consoles next month.