Sháka Rabble Rouser isn't much of a talker. More the insane wheezy giggler, which is actually quite impressive when you look at the size of him. He's also completely unique to me and my Shadows Of Mordor playthough.
He sent me a message.
Like I said: not much of a talker but it's the fact that he's my enemy and no one else's that makes Mordor so interesting. I took the path that brought us together. I fought the battles that gave him those specific abilities and weakness, and I let him kill me: leveling up his character and promoting him to a nemesis within the orc army. In the small region I played there were 25 of these 'nemesis' level enemies; gaining strength, losing power struggles and constantly changing as I explored.
If that sounds impressive it's just the start of the game's ambitious scale according to design director Michael de Plater: "That’s the second region and there’s a hierarchy like that per region. If you travel back and forth between the world the hierarchy will continue to evolve and grow over time". It means at any given moment a huge powerplay is unfolding around you, relayed via an army screen showing relationships, conflicts and deaths. Sometimes resulting from your actions, and other times because of your nemesis' movements.
The possibilities and combinations this generates has taken a while to perfect via an "astronomical amount of playtesting" de Plater explains. "There’s a very close relationship between what’s the right number of enemies [and] the density of these guys in the world. How often are you going to encounter them? What’s the right total number? Anyone who kills you is going to advance. Someone kills you, he upgrades, he becomes a revenge target, you hunt him, he survives, you keep hunting him, he levels up, he goes all the way to a war chief. That individual story can becomes a thing in its own right. If there’s too many, players don't remember them, they lose track of them being individuals. If there’s not enough, players move through them too quickly. We’ve been through a lot of that to hit a sweet spot".
Importantly the nemesis enemies aren't just there for getting revenge on. They're tools to use via your character's wraith abilities controlling and influencing individuals within each hierarchy. "They don’t do anything autonomously like an RTS but you can certainly manipulate things without directly having to intervene in the action," say de Plater. You can just set a minion a task and leave them to it - adding your instructions to the ongoing churn of the army screen. However, once I discovered you could pin people's feet to the ground with arrows I set up and then stealthily sabotaged a lot of duels.
(Honestly, loads. It was a bit of a problem if I'm honest.)
It means there's loads to discover in a world that constantly changes and throws up opportunities. One of the more interesting comparisons de Plater makes is to, of all things, Dug The Dog from Up. "Our game is all about seeing a squirrel over there and then having something happen. Players get lost exploring the world for a long time". Now, that's great from a gameplay point of view - who doesn't want a huge ever-changing environment to get lost in? But it's created a unique problem for the studio. "We had a lot of trouble getting people to advance the story at all, " admits de Plater. "This is more behind the scenes than I should say but we had a second story mission, we thought, ‘it’s a second story mission they’ll get there quick’. It was, like, eight hours and they weren’t at it because they were totally lost in their own world of exploring and making their own stories". As a result the studio's been trying to, "weave the story and the living world together more organically so people naturally go back and forth between the two". That said, when I played I forgot there even was a 'main mission' so maybe a way to go there (in a good way).