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Every Game Should Have Shadow Of Mordor’s Nemesis System

Name a game that wouldn’t be improved by the Nemesis System. You can’t. You think saying Stardew Valley or Animal Crossing is clever? You’re wrong. They’d both be vastly improved by Shadow of Mordor’s innovative enemy mechanic, and I’ll explain why a bit later. But first, some housekeeping.

I know that Warner Bros. copyrighted the Nemesis System, so only its own games can use it. That sucks big time, not least because it would be great to mod into Skyrim without fear of being sued to oblivion (get it?). It’s anti-consumer and anti-collaboration, and from now on nobody will be able to implement the Nemesis System into their games, iterate on it, or push the medium’s bad guys to new heights.

If you don’t even know what the Nemesis System is, then I’m not entirely sure why you clicked on this article in the first place. I don’t judge, you’re about to learn about the best revelation in the past decade of gaming. No, I’m not joking. The Nemesis System was created for Warner Bros.’ Lord of the Rings game, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor and reprised in the sequel, Shadow of War. In the games, you fight Orc bosses of various levels and ranks to try to stop the Dark Lord from returning to power. However, when you die, the Orcs level up. They get new skills, they get promotions. And crucially, they remember what you’ve done. An Orc that you defeated in battle – but didn’t execute – may return immune to the bow that shot him last time around. Other bosses may become immune to your stealth attacks if you killed them from the shadows. They live and learn, and the voice lines tie it all nicely together as some cockney bastard called Spleen yells “I remember you!” in your face.

The system makes the game feel personal, and it makes vendettas actually mean something. At one point on my first playthrough, I got completely stuck because an Orc Warlord had become immune to practically everything I could throw at it, thanks to him besting me in battle time and time again and getting stronger each time. Yeah, losing makes your foes better, too – it hardly feels fair, right? If that wasn’t bad enough, they fight each other in your absence, making the winners stronger even if you’ve never met them. The Nemesis System creates a living world where bad guys have their own motivations and hierarchies, and it should be in every single video game. All of them. Yes, even Animal Crossing.

But how would this work in other games? Well imagine a Pokemon game where your rival brings direct counters to your ace that swept him last time. You pressed Swords Dance with Garchomp and then Earthquake, Earthquake, Earthquake, Dragon Tail? Oh no, your rival now has an Ice-type and a Fairy-type. Good luck. In the next Call of Duty, enemy forces could learn from your tactics as each level passes. You got a bunch of kills with shotguns in the last level? Your foes now have sniper rifles and avoid getting too close. Making the AI camp on rooftops doesn’t sound amazing, granted, but I’m not a game designer, I’m just a man who wants more nemeses.

It would work in games that don’t revolve around fighting, too. I’m sure you’ve been waiting for the Animal Crossing explanation, so here it is: Tom Nook gets progressively angrier at you for not paying your debts. I’m joking, but I think the Nemesis System could work with villagers. If you kick someone off your island, Barold for instance, he might return with some of the traits of the villager who replaced him. Perhaps villagers who dislike you – maybe because you’ve let your island get completely overgrown with weeds by not playing for the last fourteen months — would passive aggressively plant trees that you don’t like or flowers that you always dig up. They know what hurts you, and, due to the fact that they aren’t aware you’re never going to return to the game, they would act on it.

The Nemesis System would work twice as well in Stardew Valley, as different folk may get jealous of gifts you give to others, or even take each other out while you’re off running some errand or milking a cow. Okay, that’s more Cult of the Lamb than Stardew sweetness, but you get the picture. Villagers interacting with each other without your presence would make the game feel even more alive.

My colleague Andy Kelly suggested racing games as a good vehicle (eh?) for the Nemesis System, with your rivals souping up their cars and AI getting more aggressive as time goes on. I’d take it a step further, and have opposing racers begin to learn your style and racing lines, and directly counter it. You’re opting for a lightweight vehicle designed for speed? They go heavy and knock you off the track. You keep making mistakes on the sharp corners and heading off the track? They wait until then to make their advantages count. You get the picture.

The system makes complete sense in strategy games, and could even work in platformers if they went for a less bespoke approach. You’re breezing through the underwater levels? Suddenly there’s a higher concentration of Cheep Cheeps. You take out Bowser Jr. with Fire Mario? Next time, he’s immune.

The Nemesis System is a great way of making worlds come alive, and helps players to forge real and engaging rivalries with otherwise generic enemies. It could work in so many situations in any genre, especially if developers were allowed to adapt it and iterate on it. Instead, Warner Bros. copyrighted the system, meaning we have to wait for a Wonder Woman game to see it again. Maybe that alone will get me to play a game I have no interest in, but this corporate greed is severely limiting the medium. Gamers deserve better, and the Nemesis System itself deserves better.

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