Interview

New Nemeses and More Mechanics: How Monolith is Expanding Middle-Earth in Shadow of War

Shadow of War

During EGX 2017, OnlySP had the chance to sit down with Monolith’s community manager, Andy Salisbury, to discuss the upcoming Middle Earth: Shadow of War. Salisbury has worked at Monolith since 2011 and has gained an impressive portfolio by working on titles such as Mad Max, Lego Marvel’s Avengers, and Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor.

When Shadow of Mordor was announced in 2013, it boasted the Nemesis System, a new and innovative feature that allowed players to have atailored experience through in-game interactions with the enemy. Sadly, the system left much to be desired in the first title, as many players progressed through the game without encountering many of the features promised by the developers. The mechanic relied on gamers failing to execute foes or dying to a particular enemy who would then return stronger and with a higher military ranking than before. With enemy progression requiring a loss on the player’s part, the more experienced or skilled gamers finished their playthrough without acquiring a nemesis. Fortunately, Monolith has reworked the Nemesis System for Shadow of War to make it a more integral part of the gameplay.

“One of the interesting things we found is that the best players of Shadow of Mordor almost didn’t always have the best time as they could easily dissect the enemy… That was something we really wanted to focus on solving.” 

– Andy Salisbury.

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According to Salisbury, improving the Nemesis System has been a huge focus for the development team. Monolith wanted to build upon the in-game rivalries that gave longevity and an almost separate story experience in the previous title by adding “triple and quadruple” the emphasis on what made the Nemesis System so great. Salisbury mentions several key improvements the team has been able to make for the sequel, such as more diversity in NPC personalities, broader combat opportunities, and how much the orcs can remember about particular mission encounters. By adding more to what each NPC can remember about interactions, Monolith aims to add significance to each moment shared between the player and their enemies.

“[The Nemesis System] was such an important part of the experience that we knew we had to expand from there. There’s a tremendous amount of personalities we’ve added to the Nemesis System that help extenuate the moment to moment interaction but also their combat style or how they react to certain things [the player] ends up doing in the world.”

Not only has Monolith greatly expanded on the Nemesis System, but Shadow of War shows a more in-depth relationship with the protagonist, Talion’s, followers. In the previous game, players could send their followers on missions off-screen, in the sequel, however, the followers will remember each moment they have fighting side-by-side with Talion. During massive fortress assaults first shown off in March 2017, if Talion leaves one of his men for dead or fails to rescue them, they could return and swear vengeance by joining the enemy’s forces. If Talion manages to protect his men, however, players will experience warm moments of friendship and teamwork that culminate in a much more rewarding victory.

The Nemesis System will have lasting effects on the main story as well with some orcs playing key roles in campaign missions. An example of a story-driven nemesis character is a necromancer, whose tribe is attempting to summon a Balrog. The way Talion interacts with the necromancer determines how they will be implemented in the Nemesis System should the player choose to not kill them. While Salisbury did not go into specifics, players can assume they will have the chance to kill or turn the orc after defeating the Balrog.

It’s been really cool to find ways of injecting the Nemesis System and those individual stories [the player] has into the overall gaming experience to make sure there’s a cohesive story that really ties in well with each personal experience.”

In Shadow of War, orcs—such as the necromancer—will now belong to one of seven tribes rather than the previous game’s class system. Each tribe contains a rich and diverse amount of uniquely-generated orcs. Tribes will not only affect the orc’s cosmetic appearance, but also their behaviour and abilities, making combat decisions more strategic, depending on who the player is fighting. Once a fortress is captured, Talion will have to anoint a new captain to rule over that region of Mordor. The tribe of the new stronghold leader will completely change the aesthetic and function of a particular region. The current tribe in charge of a region will also affect the available side missions, such as hunting. Seven tribes will be available at the game’s launch, including the Terror Tribe, Warmonger Tribe, Mystic Tribe, Dark Tribe, Feral Tribe, Machine Tribe, and Marauder Tribe. Two more tribes have also been announced that will be released post-launch: the Slaughter and Outlaw tribes.

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Along with the tribes comes new and more intricate attributes to each orc that highlight their strengths, weaknesses, and fears. As in Shadow of Mordor, these unique personality traits will be key to successfully dissecting the enemy. Monolith has drastically increased the variety of these traits in hopes that they will add a more natural learning curve to the game’s difficulty, rather than simply adjusting the enemies’ damage and health. Shadow of War takes the old enemy classes of warriors, savages, defenders, and crossbowmen and adds a new layer in the form of advanced classes. Advanced classes occur when a particular enemy evolves into one of several versions of a base class. The example Salisbury gave described a warrior-type progressing into the role of a “trickster”, the new abilities of which include smoke bombs and increased chances of dodging incoming attacks. The new Olog species (trolls) has also been included to add diversity to combat, complete with unique fighting styles and techniques. Researching these new foes will be key to achieving victory as Talion adapts his abilities to each specific enemy type.

Talion will also be getting several new upgrades with a completely redesigned skill tree. Players will have a plethora of new base abilities with numerous upgrades per ability. Various augmentations will play a large role in this game, as Talion can adapt his abilities to certain situations. If an enemy is weak to frost or poison, the player can attach an augmentation to an ability to prey on those weaknesses. Alongside Talion, Celebrimbor has a vast array of updated abilities, such as a sweeping heavy attack with an elven glaive used to incapacitate or stagger large groups of enemies. In the previous title, Shadow Strike was an important ability as it was a formidable infiltration tactic capable of closing large distances while remaining in stealth. Now, Shadow Strike will allow Talion to pull enemies towards him rather than just teleporting to them. Where Talion’s abilities were split into wraith and ranger skill trees previously, the updated tree will be split into melee and ranged as Talion and Celebrimbor become more interwoven as The Bright Lord.

Unfortunately, skills acquired during Shadow of Mordor will not carry over into the new game. Salisbury explains that the abilities Talion amassed were tied to Celebrimbor’s old ring of power, but due to the elven lord forging a new ring to counter Sauron’s, those abilities were lost to make way for new and improved skills. Players will, however, have the opportunity to transfer their old nemesis and closest follower into Shadow of War as a way to help players delve deeper into the stories they have already created.

“Everything that he has is pushed into this ring of power so that he can create this weapon of war, by doing that you lose a lot of the abilities and strengths you had the previous time around.” 

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While the last game was centred in two major regions, Shadow of War will have five much larger and more diverse areas in terms of both size and verticality. From jumping between rooftops in dense cities to weaving between heavy lava flows, players will explore much more of Mordor, with each new region vastly different from the last.

As for post-launch content, Monolith already plans on supporting the game with the two previously-mentioned tribes, but also two major story DLC campaigns surrounding supporting characters, much like the story DLC of Shadow of Mordor. One of these content drops will focus on the elven assassin, Eltariel, who is the blade of Galadriel who has been surviving in Mordor for over a millennia hunting down Nazgul. Monolith found Eltariel’s character fascinating to work with as she gave the writers a rich tapestry of lore from which to work. Salisbury also teased more potential campaigns to provide players more views of the Middle-Earth universe they have gotten to know so well over the years.

Shadow of War is sure to delight both new and returning fans of the series and will be released on October 10, 2017 for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. Players who pre-order the game will also receive the ‘Legendary Champions War Party’ and ‘Exclusive Epic Sword of Dominion’ packs.

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