On paper, at least, Monolith’s Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor appears to be little more than a hybrid of past games wrapped in Tolkienesque packaging.
It oozes Assassin’s Creed from every pore, with our hero using his parkour skills to scale tall towers and subsequently swan-dive off them! And with the combat and stealth, the special vision that reveals enemies, and the map and side missions, there are clearly plenty of other influences too. There’s a little bit of the Batman Arkham games tucked in there and the exceedingly violent executions bring Ryse: Son of Rome to mind, for example.
"Rather than the brainless AI you sometimes find wandering round similar sandbox titles, enemies in Middle Earth actually evolve and grow into really dangerous adversaries during your playthrough."
Shadow of Mordor is a proverbial melting pot of ideas and feels reassuringly familiar as soon as you start playing. And the great thing is, every element links together brilliantly to create a compelling and enjoyable game (check out our official review for more information).
But what makes this game really special, the stand out feature that makes all that good stuff mentioned above pale in comparison, is Monolith’s new Nemesis System. This is an innovation that succeeds in making the game feel truly special and proves to be an absolutely inspired idea.
Rather than the brainless AI you sometimes find wandering round similar sandbox titles, enemies in Middle Earth actually evolve and grow into really dangerous adversaries during your playthrough. They’re unique to every gameplay session!
The plot sees our beardy protagonist, a Gondorian Ranger called Talion, roaming the wastelands of Mordor in search of revenge. The brutal slaying of his family – and himself for that matter – after the return of evil old Sauron sees our hero resurrected and embark on his epic journey. Oh, and he’s accompanied by a ghostly Wraith Spirit too – which proves quite handy, as it happens!
"You’ll stumble upon that same Uruk sometime later, having risen the ranks and bearing the scars of your earlier confrontation."
Hordes of Uruk stand in Talion’s way, all chomping at the bit to beat him into submission. And they will too. When a few of these bad boys get together, they’re really quite deadly. The Nemesis System makes them even more so.
You see, these aren’t your usual type of enemy, sauntering about waiting to be stabbed and slashed into submission. While most can be dispatched easily, should you fall at the hands of one of these critters, they’ll gain experience and reputation. You’ll stumble upon that same Uruk sometime later, having risen the ranks and bearing the scars of your earlier confrontation. He’s become your nemesis, a rival who will grow in strength and stature each and every time they beat you. Woe betide you if you let them slay you too often as they can become very tough to beat.
It’s a fantastic mechanic and makes each opponent so much more real than your typical AI. Their development and progression gives them a unique persona that makes them so much more than faceless cannon fodder. In effect you’re developing a relationship with them, and they’re becoming your arch rival.
President of Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, Martin Tremblay, is rightly quite proud of the mechanic, which helps to “develop an emotional investment between each player and their enemies, which creates a truly memorable gaming experience unlike anything that’s been done before”. Tolkien would certainly be proud.
"Who would bet against the Nemesis System becoming something we see many more times in the future?"
It’s a rare thing when a new game is released that offers a truly new experience. Remember when you first experienced motion control in gaming, or could rewind progress to avoid death, or choose a specific story path or ending, or what about your first experience of a tech tree or dialogue wheel?
And what of those eerily accurate facial animations in LA Noire, the motion tracking and ball physics of FIFA, earning money in Fable II even when your console is switched off, or the mind control of Psycho Mantis in Metal Gear Solid when he reads your memory card and uses his powers to manipulate your controller?
All these examples are in some way now commonplace in mainstream gaming…who would bet against the Nemesis System becoming something we see many more times in the future?
(A copy of this game was provided by the developer/publisher for review purposes)