Sponsored By

Core System Analysis of Middle-Earth: Shadow of War

I take a look at the core systems of Middle-Earth: Shadow of War and break down the individual components of the Nemesis System.

Basilio Bazan III, Blogger

May 7, 2020

6 Min Read



Middle-Earth: Shadow of War is the sequel to Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor. You play as Talion, a ranger of the black gate who had been used as a blood sacrifice by the evil Sauron to summon Celebrimbor. Talion and Celebrimbor now share the same body and with their combined unique powers seek to stop Sauron from conquering the land and get their revenge. This game is a 3D Action-RPG set in multiple open worlds across the land of Mordor. I Chose to analyze this game because of its unique game system named ‘The Nemesis System’ which made this game and its predecessor popular and have yet to see it implemented anywhere else at such a grand scale and has made some of my favorite experiences/moments in gaming in recent history.


Core Systems:

I’ll first go over the Nemesis system which intertwines with almost all other systems of the game. The Nemesis system serves as a hierarchy of enemies for the player to face or make into allies. The player first must discover the captain by finding them in the world or interrogating a regular enemy orc. The ranks go from captains to veteran captains and warchiefs and an overlord who manages a Nemesis Fortress. Each warchief will have one or several bodyguards consisting of other captains. When a captain is killed in combat by the player or by encountering rival captains (more on that later) another will take its spot in the hierarchy. 



Within this system there are plenty of smaller systems such as the enemies having their own skill of skills and can level up from 1-60 increasing in skills becoming a more challenging foe. The orcs level up by killing the player or completing random encounters that are spawned throughout the map. If a regular orc kills the player they automatically become a captain. To make each playthrough unique to the player there is a lot of randomness that occurs in forming the orc captains that make up the nemesis system. Each captain is randomly assigned a role, whether warrior, archer, hunter, savage, defender, or olog, (each role has their own set of sub-roles) and each captain is assigned a clan out of eight different clans each with their own unique set of skills and finally each captain has random set of traits from skills, weaknesses, and angers. Aesthetically, each captain is given a random name and set of armour/clothing pieces and even personality. Captains are also randomly placed around the map whether out in the open or carrying out missions or duels which the player can interrupt.



What makes the nemesis system so unique is that each orc captain will remember the player whether from a previous battle or killing their ally. Each orc captain has a chance of coming back to life if killed by the player (unless decapitated) and will visibly show wounds from their previous battle. This also applies to the player’s dominated orc captains (more on that next) when if they die or during a battle they have a chance of coming back and betraying the player turning back into part of Sauron’s forces.


One of the other key systems that ties in heavily with the Nemesis system and is needed to progress the story of the game is the domination system. The player is able to dominate different orcs which mentally forces them to follow the players command. The player can dominate regular orcs, several creatures in the world and even orc captains and warchiefs.

Dominated captains can be used to assist in combat and can be sent to assassinate other captains, and infiltrate positions in the nemesis position to eventually claim the overlord position which transforms the nemesis fortress into your fortress (The little bit of environment manipulation that occurs).



When dominating an orc the player has several options. The player can interrogate which helps unlock hidden information on the nemesis hierarchy, a dominated captain or orc worm (regular orc with captain level of information unlocking) can unlock both a captain and their weaknesses and strengths while a regular orc unlocks just a captain with their traits. Another option for dominating, which only applies to captains, allows the player to send their captain to assassinate another captain or warchief which can help them climb up the ranks and level them up to become stronger.


Finally moving on, the combat system in the game is very in-depth with hack-n-slash elements combined with strategic places moves and dodges. As mentioned earlier, each orc can be a different role out of 6 and requires a different approach in combat. Combat involves anywhere from one to many orcs including captains which makes combat more intense and complicated. Along with their role the captain’s traits play a big role in combat, from the clan specific moves, weaknesses and strengths. The player is equipped with a sword, bow, and knife each with their own benefits to use in combat. The combat abilities of the player can be expanded on in their unlockable skills which their level progression would be a secondary system. The player can also counter basic enemy attacks while some moves have to be dodged to avoid damage. The player is rewarded for constantly landing attacks without getting hit by getting the option to perform combat execution which instantly kills regular orcs and heavily damages captains/warchiefs unless they have the ‘combat master’ trait. Combined with their wraith powers, the player can perform special bullet-time attacks when their ‘wrath’ meter is full and the same applies to their bow shots as long as their ‘might’ meter is full.



The movement system in the game plays a huge role in traversal around the world (obviously) and in combat as well. Within combat, movement plays a big role in that having to dodge attacks that can’t be countered and in a way is a form of combat as well since vaulting over enemies can stun the enemy if of course that ability is unlocked. The player can regularly walk, run, and crouch/sneak throughout the world and with unlocked abilities, can move faster around the open world. The player can hide in bushes to avoid detection and can move vertically along buildings and walls and some terrain. The player can even utilize the creatures of the world for traversal and even combat. Caragors are four legged creatures that can move fast, Graugs which are large beasts that are somewhat slow but with lots of power and damage and finally, drakes which are dragon-like creatures that can fly and breath fire on enemies.



Overall, I really enjoyed analyzing one of my favorite games and the Nemesis System. With how in-depth this game is with it’s systems I’m sure I missed several of the secondary systems or some details of the core systems but I tried my best to cover as much of it as I can. 


Read more about:

Daily news, dev blogs, and stories from Game Developer straight to your inbox

You May Also Like