Shadow of War’s improved Nemesis System gives a new tangible meaning to failure

If no other game is going to steal Shadow of Mordor’s phenomenal Nemesis System, then it seems Monolith are just showing off what could’ve been with their sequel, Shadow of War. The more expansive Lord of the Rings adventure follows Talion and Celebrimbor once again in the region of Mordor and beyond, opening up the dynamic power struggles within the ranks of the Orcs and expanding them into new gameplay corners. And it’s this expansion that once again elevates the gameplay of an otherwise rote action title.

The crux of the changes here culminates in massive Siege Assaults. Talion is free to roam the open-world again, tackling enemy encampments and hijacking the minds of his foes to enforce his own Orc army. Unlike Shadow of Mordor, these hierarchical power struggles are segregated between different strongholds. Each features a central leader and a handful of war chiefs, sub-seeded by several captains that can either make your siege a living nightmare or a walk in the park.

The more you bring over to your side of the field, the less you have to worry about during the actual ensuing battle. Or at least that’s how it is on the surface. Each captain brings their own set of skills and personalities to the table. Some might allow you to summon hordes of spiders to aid the assault on the ground, while others can call in a massive Drake to indiscriminately blanket the stone castle in flames. Analysing the many weaknesses the war chiefs and fortress leaders have influence these decisions, but the interpersonal relationship between your own ranks is sometimes just as important.

Such was made pretty clear to me when I ended up ignoring a key detail during such an attack. I picked to have the fortress overrun with poisonous spiders – a keen choice given the volume of enemies standing between me and victory and the susceptibility of one of the war chiefs to their poisonous bites. The problem was one of my own captains riding into battle with me suffered from a case of arachnophobia. It wasn’t long before their effectiveness in battle was almost reduced to nothing, with the hulking Orc cowering in fear as the eight-legged creates scurried all over his body. An easy kill, and a waste of a resource.

As a result, the siege didn’t exactly work out as planned. With captains falling like flies due to my lack or real understanding, I was soon overrun with an insurmountable number of foes to deal with. All the perfect parries and timely dodges in the word can’t do much against a force that simply gives you hardly any space to move. I soon fell in battle, and the power struggle within the fortress shifted to reflect my failures.

Each failure has an equally dynamic effect on the world around you. Every captain I lost was now open to be replaced by one no longer under my control, for example. It also made grinding out attempts to recapture the fortress neigh impossible. Without the resources that my own army provides, the sheer numbers of the opposing enemies quickly shot down the thought of a quick retaliation. Shadow of War made me really feel the impact of my inadequacies in a tangible sense. A more thoughtful design choice that circumvents a simple game over screen with real consequence, and a burning desire to improve.

It’s a feature that’s really hard to accurately portray in the many trailers the game has already received, which is probably why I’ve struggled to muster any real sense of excitement for the sequel up until this point. Shadow of Mordor was about dynamic behaviours and your own rivalries with the orcs of Mordor, but Shadow of War is much more than that already. This feels like a living, breathing realm that remains in constant flux, and it’s politics are only swayed and shifted by my hands. Or, conversely, my lack of action.

Shadow of War then remains an exciting prospect, if only for the truly unique stories you’ll find it crafting for you as you chop and slice your way through the hordes in front of you. Giving real meaning to failure is such a rarity in video games now, and even more scarce for a game to take it within its stride and alter its world to compensate. The Nemesis System stands still as the most captivating part of this franchise, and its expansion only makes the entire package seem that much more enticing.

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Last Updated: June 15, 2017

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