Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor is advertising a different kind of memory.
Not to be confused with the 1987 text-based adventure game Shadows of Mordor also set in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings universe, this action-adventure from Monolith Productions isn’t as concerned with processing capabilities as it is remembering your and your enemies actions. The game’s touted Nemesis system pits the Wraith-possessed ranger Talion against many hierarchical orc forces across Mordor. Actions and approaches taken in combating or avoiding these forces will have incremental effects on each relevant orc’s standing in the armies of Lord Sauron. Even your death, if by the hands of an Orc, will promote all those involved to higher positions within their respective ranks.
Orc names, appearances, specialties, and weaknesses vary with each playthrough. For example, my recent hands-off E3 demo of the game had five Orc war chiefs overseeing a force of a few dozen in the lush land of Nern. One of them was afraid of the dog-like creatures that patrolled parts of the area, one was extremely amiable and able to draw grunts to his aid, and another had six extremely durable bodyguards. All of those facets were reportedly unique to that specific run-through, and would have different values in other players’ games.
The crowd in my demo wanted the suicide route of hitting the war chief with the six bodyguards head on. The developer behind the controls lasted for a relatively long time, slicing through around half a dozen orc grunts before being taken down. His death granted points to every orc that had been in the battle, and each one had a knowledge of Talion’s moveset that would make them harder to take down if met again. The long-term effects of these increases were not shown in the demo, but were promised to be just as vast and dynamic as the orcs themselves.
Talion got over the whole death thing soon. His revival wasn’t explained in the demo, but the best I could assume is that the Wraith possessing him gives him a sort of leeway with the whole rotting corpse thing. Either that or Video Game “Logic”. Any orcs that killed you will remember the details of your death, making for rather vicious taunts down the line should you meet again.
Revenge was on the mind of my rather voracious demo crowd, so we found our killer in a duel for dominance with another orc soldier. Rather than wait to take on the victor, Talion leaped into the fray and focused on the target. Between the ranger and the other orc, our killer went down.
Similar to the grunts that helped in our earlier demise, the orc who was dueling our target rose up considerably in his rank. Makes sense, lying about a kill you made sounds like a rather orc thing to do. The developers spoke about the ability to possess or dominate (not in that way) orcs and have them infiltrate Sauron’s ranks as a spy, but the process wasn’t shown this week.
Memory seems like such a simple thing until you see it in action. The ability to track the effects of your actions across obsessively minute details of your enemy’s forces feels like a mechanic that will be widely emulated in the next few years. We didn’t get too much of a feel for a story, which could be cause for concern if the game’s open narrative structure makes for a weak plot progression overall. But in terms of a gameplay hook, Shadow of Mordor’s is sharp and slick with orc blood.
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor will launch on PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One on October 7th.