I picked up Middle Earth : Shadow of Mordor when it launched the first week of October and have been playing here and there over the last couple weeks. I’ve put about 20 hours into the game, taking my time doing main story missions, side quests, finding collectibles, and generally causing mayhem. I’ve been having a hilarious good time, especially with the nemesis system.
If you’ve heard anything about the game, you’ve probably heard about the nemesis system. The game dynamically generates a hierarchy of orc chiefs and captains that inhabit the game world, usually found within different strongholds. The main story missions task you with infiltrating and taking down this organization, ultimately by dominating with your wraith magic the five war chiefs.
Each of the orcs within the organization have different strengths and weaknesses. Some of them cannot be harmed by ranged weapons, or are immune to stealth kills. Some have a fear of fire, or can be one-hit killed by mounted beasts. Others are combat masters, or are heavily armored. You don’t know what abilities each orc has until you gain information about them in a number of ways.
The wonderful thing about this game is that there is no one way you are forced to accomplish your goals. There truly exists an open world that allows you to approach a goal. In the above example, you must dominate the five war chiefs. But the war chiefs aren’t just wandering around, they must be drawn out. And when they appear, they have bodyguards. If you do your homework, you can gain information about those bodyguards, and undermine the hierarchy.
For the first war chief, I decided to directly go after them, no prep work. I simply walked over to their mission start, drew them out, and had a very difficult fight on my hands when he and his three bodyguards showed up. I ran away scared, unable to handle four extremely capable orc commanders. I decided that I couldn’t handle them all together, so I would seek them out and eliminate them one by one.
This strategy has some drawbacks. First, it takes more time, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, it also creates more points of failure, which can have some ramifications. When you die in the game, there’s a chance for new orcs to rise up in the ranks and replace the dead orcs. If you run around taking out each bodyguard by themselves, and you die when taking out the third, you could have one or two more coming back, each with new strengths and weaknesses, because the nemesis system creates them dynamically.
But, I managed to pull it off without dying, and I was able to get the war chief all by himself. The encounter was much easier this time, and I was able to weaken and subsequently dominate him. The first chief was in the bag, and I eventually knocked off the rest of them through various other means.
This system, the open world, and plain old player agency is what makes Shadow of Mordor so much fun. The story isn’t great, the characters are pretty bland (other than the orcs, they are all wonderfully detailed and well-voiced), and the game world isn’t huge or remarkable. But the things you can do in this world! You have ultimate control over what happens to each and every boss and named mob. They become your minions and playthings. You have epic fights and escape close calls every moment. It’s just so much fun to play in this space, and I’ve enjoyed my time in Mordor.