The Compelling Story Within a Story in Shadow of Mordor

Fulbert

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There's a little game called Crusader Kings 2 that is practically made of this sort of emergent storytelling. You're given a map of Medieval Europe, North Africa and India, crawling with thousands of characters living out their procedural lives, marrying, bearing children, feuding, warring, scheming, rising to prominence and descending into obscurity, reshaping borders and dying of syphilis. You choose one character of this huge roster and start participating in this enormous emulation.
There's no clearly stated goal, you find one for yourself and try to reach it. Be it to unite the Irish lands under one crest or rise through the ranks of the Byzantine Empire, break off of the Holy Roman Empire and form the independent Bohemian kingdom or make Zoroastrianism a major world religion, it's up to you.

It's not about the goal but the journey. You might be an aspiring Irish warlord on the quest of uniting all of Ireland, but you are so cynical and lustful that the Pope himself, disgusted with your God-awful ways, excommunicates you and gives every Catholic noble a carte-blanch to attack you and force you to abdicate in favour of your drooling imbecile son who's then quietly smothered in his sleep by his Regent. Your fledgling kingdom then falls apart as your numerous former vassals fight for power and the island is invaded by an opportunistic Castillian duke who has a claim on the Irish throne because his mother married you uncle or something. All seems lost for Ireland but the Castillian usurper receives a serious blow on the head during a minor clash in Connacht and dies while in coma several days later, causing a succession crisis in his homeland.
None of that concerns you, however, as the loss of your son has shaken you so much you've received a Possessed trait and are to preoccupied with instituting turnips as currency in the little county you still own. Your subjects, unhappy with the reform, decide to get rid of the crazyman on the throne and slip a poisonous snake into your bed at night.
So you die. But not all is lost as long as there are landed members in your dynasty, so you now play as your distant cousin who, through some intricate marriages and alliances, had inherited a county on the Baltic coast. Uniting Ireland might be impossible for you now, but what about uniting Lithuania..?

All this is very much possible in this game. The combination of big politics, small-scale personal interactions and random events creates a gripping narrative that is never the same however many times you play. The only problem with CK2 is that it is a global strategy game that is reserved for unwashed nerds who'd rather stare at a map rather than stab their way to victory like any normal gamer would.
 

ZZoMBiE13

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Oct 10, 2007
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I had a similar experience.

Early on, my first fall was at the hands of Skum (which the game would later pronounce "skoom", but I remain steadfast in assuming it was "scum"). Skum was the first orc to cease my advance through the orc hierarchy. He was a ranged captain already though, he didn't gain his prominence from killing me. But he did get a huge power boost from my death.

Later, I ran into Skum again. Now brimming with arrogance, I decided to try and sneak him. With fresh intel on him, I knew it would work if I could get close enough. Sadly, He turned to face me as I was trying to sneak up behind him (literally the only time I've failed at the stealth) and he started taunting me then firing bolts that were really knocking down my underdeveloped health which only had the first upgrade bought at that point. He also had the Orc ability to call in forces and while I was trying to finish off the smallish crowd that gathered after he spotted me, he called in a few more Orcs and I fell once again. As luck would have it, he'd fired the bolt that halted my attack once again, and was moved up to power level 16 (which was higher than the War Chiefs at this point).

After this he was very powerful for my lower level character. Every time I would fall, Skum would gain power from a Feast or a Hunt or just from killing me again until he was the only power 20 character in the first act of the game. He started showing up to foil my other attempts at taking down Captains and War Chiefs. All told, he took me out 5 or 6 times. Skum survived to the third act of the game. When finally, after powering up my Talion to the maximum level, I managed to get the better of Skum. I had considered killing him for the sheer visceral sense of catharsis it would bring. But instead I decided a more fitting end was to fall under my power. I wanted to see him as a tool in my plans to undermine all that he knew and cared about.

Cheers to you, Skum. You really made the opening bits of ME:SoM more than memorable. I hate you, you miserable Orc bastard!

Sniper Team 4 said:
Next month I get a PS4, and this will be one of three games that I get with it
What are the other two games?
 

Gretha Unterberg

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Bedinsis said:
Gretha Unterberg said:
Pretty much the reason why I love the Civ series .

A random seed, a fistfull of good mechanics/rules and you got story evolves around you.
Problem is that its requires a hell lot more efford then hard-coding/scripting "dramatic events".
I prefer Crusader Kings II. It gets more relatable when the individual actors in the game are actually meant to simulate people rather then more abstract concepts such as "nations".
fair enough,but the point stays the same.
to me CK2 lifes from your personal storytelling :)

There is litte to nothing scripted in it.
it just simulates persons/families .
All the drama that puts a song of ice and fire
to shame is this system reacting to your
machiavellian plots.
And you fill out the blanks with your headcannon ;)
 

The Rogue Wolf

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Everything I'm hearing about this whole Nemesis system is making me wish that game developers would learn a powerful lesson: Putting in systems that encourage organic, self-propelling mini-stories will do your game far better than hyper-complex QTEs or expensive voice acting.

Unfortunately, it seems more likely that the lesson they'll take away is "shove your game into a well-known but completely incongruous [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/video-games/columns/experienced-points/12479-Shadow-of-Mordor-is-Tawdry-Tolkien-Fanfiction] license and rake in the cash".
 

McGuinty1

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I remember the first time I lost one of my branded captains at the hands of a warchief he was attempting to usurp, I actually cried out "No!" loud enough to bring my roommate running asking me what happened. As it turned out, that was also the last time I let that happen to one of my wretched beautiful babies. Thanks game for making me have feelings for an Orc other than hatred and disgust.
 

Darth_Payn

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Charcharo said:
What I see is that this is finally a game that uses some of STALKER's tricks ? I must play it then...

IS it not time for you Yahtzee to make a STALKER Call of Pripyat review? During a low period?
Nah, you wont.... you casual :D ...
Yahtzee reviewed S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Sky a few years ago, but that may have been enough for him. Although it would be worth it to bring back the "spell-out-each-individual-letter-in-S.T.A.L.K.E.R." gag.

OT: Now I HAVE to get this game, if only to brainwash my own little spy network of brainwashed Orcs. The last time I felt things for NPC's that much was in C&C:Red Alert 2 and C&C:GENERALS, when I got any nameless unit promoted all the way up to ELITE rank.
 

Xenominim

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For the game's faults, I'm willing to give it some leeway for being the first of a series. Honestly if they just punch up the enemy variety and expand the Nemesis system with more traits/appearances I'd probably be content to buy a sequel regardless of the attached story/characters though I'd certainly LIKE to see those get a major overhaul. Mounted orcs, climber orcs, enemy wraiths, Fell beasts, some other baddies that can keep up with Talion so running away isn't so easy along with some other harder enemy types like trolls or Nazgul. But Talion is also going to need to come back a bit weaker too no matter what, the ability to insta-mount Caragors and Graug lategame makes them inconsequential as enemies, and even just the basic bow with a Focus recharging rune becomes an army-killer by the end.

Someone else mentioned the end boss battles as well and, those were pretty unforgivable. Both The Tower and the Black Hand back to back practically were absolutely wretched 'boss' fights if they can be called as such with The Tower consisting of using the game's broken stealth system to easily grab him a few times with almost zero chance of him ever seeing you, while the final fight is literally just a big QTE. It's pretty-looking and I understand the developers wanted it to be a big moment, but everything up till then was handled so poorly in making you care that the whole thing fell flat on its face. Not to mention if you're going to have this Nemesis system, USE IT in the story. You only ever see your mind-controlled orcs during a single story cutscene and they're just generic models. Have my personal Warchiefs show up during that final cutscene to fight for me and get cut down one by one. I guarantee I'd be more upset about Ghura the Massive getting cut down than I did my son I had 30 seconds of banter with.
 

Haru17

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I love Shadow of Mordor, but it's main quest is the only actually good story in it (sans the ending). See, an equivalent amount of effort will always produce a better written story than it will a randomly generated one.

Not that I'm against the concept, I'd be quite interested to see the nemesis system combined with the radiant quests from Skyrim in the next elder scrolls game. Something like you hunt down a bandit captain with randomly assigned traits and he begs for mercy as he is about to die. If you let him live he'll reveal that the only reason he was banditing was because X other bandit captain was holding his sister hostage and forcing her brother to steal for him. You then get a quest to take care of the second bandit captain, etc, etc, etc. It's take a lot of variables and work to be interesting, and would require more options that kill or dominate, the NPCs involved would have to feel like real people to an extent.

That said, the same amount of effort could be used to write a ton more side quests for an elder scrolls game or any RPG. Perhaps something for a new IP or the next Middle Earth: game to explore (it'd have to use humans, dwarves, or elves, not orcs, as they're not very relatable).
 

Vault101

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Xsjadoblayde said:
State of decay has this oft self generated storytelling, aside the whole 'teh zombies again?' thing. Very intriguing. I would imagine the healthier the imagination, the deeper the story, no? The only issue is not all gamers like to squeeze their imaginatory glands.
Haru17 said:
I love Shadow of Mordor, but it's main quest is the only actually good story in it (sans the ending). See, an equivalent amount of effort will always produce a better written story than it will a randomly generated one.
I think it depends...compare XCOM and Skyrim

in XCOM my actions affect the game, Sarah "skippy" Brown my favourite solder who performs like a champ and turns out to be "the special" is the hero of my game,my actions affect the game, which solders live and die, their abilities... in skyrim I can craft the most engaging and awesome backstory but the game doesn't care
 

Zydrate

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I have a rather troublesome "Buth the Poet" that has come back SEVERAL times and I cannot get a beheading on him at all. All my kills with him are arrows or simple sword strikes so he keeps popping up again.
That is the very soul of the "Nemesis" system.
 

UrinalDook

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Jandau said:
The big problem with the Nemesis system (which I generally consider to be an awesome thing) is that it "punishes" people for being good at the game. You need to fail for it to really kick in. If you are too efficient and hunting down high ranking orcs you can easily end up pretty much amputating one of the game's major mechanics. And when I find myself saying "Alright then, let's get killed a few times to shake things up!", that kinda takes me out of it...

Again, I do think that Nemesis is a great concept and the implementation isn't bad, just that it (or other similar systems) need more work in the future.
As much as I love the game, I have to agree with this. Even more frustrating is that it's such an easy fix: as it is, the Nemesis system only progresses when you are killed, or if you specifically hit the 'fast forward time' button - which requires you to willingly forego whatever missions you have on the map, and no one wants to lose out on XP and content if they don't have to. The fix to this is to simply have time progress independently of your actions, a la Skyrim, or even just after you complete a set number of actions - with more actions available than you have time to complete.

That way, it doesn't take you dying for the Orcs to have one of their offscreen power struggles. Personally, I'd prefer a Skyrim style day and night cycle as it would reward efficiency - if you're quick in resolving a power struggle, you can use that time to interfere in some other orc's business. Conversely, it would really amp up the frustration (in a good way if you had a list of 'red' missions you'd prioritised to get down in that day, only to find one of them difficult and time consuming. You may eventually kill that incredibly tough uruk during his feast, but if he's delayed you sufficiently you no longer have time to assist your thrall in his duel with the captain above him, you're really going to hate that uruk. If he then comes back, well you've got another reason to call him your nemesis.

Such a simple change to the system, but I think it would open up so many more paths to crafting your own narrative.

To be honest, I thought that's how the system was going to be when I checked out their gameplay videos before release. I was a little disappointed when I realised the (awesome) weather effects and night cycle only seemed to change when I died, or entered a story mission.

I would also have happily accepted them placing certain captains on the map who simply can't be beaten until you acquire a certain skill, and having them there right from the start. I feel having to frantically escape when a captain you simply aren't good enough to beat shows up unexpectedly would add a much needed fear component to the Nemesis system - it's much easier to hate Pash Life-Drinker when you're scared he could show up anytime and wreck your plans. You'd then have that much more drive to boost your own power, working towards the satisfaction of one day finally besting him.

In most games, invincible enemies suck. In a game where you dying is allowed in and furthers the plot, I think they'd have been awesome. Especially when that game is open world, giving you chance to escape - and chance for them to track you down organically.

There's tons of room for expansion with the intel/strengths and weakness system too, but this post's already getting into TL;DR territory.
 

Saidan

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Even with its flaws, the Nemesis System is a great foundation for the obvious sequel this game will have, or even for other games to take similar paths. I'm sure it can be improved in tons of ways. One thing I would have changed, is that the Brand mechanic should have some form of time limit, or a % chance element that would alove an Uruk to snap out of it and ruin your plans. And it would also stop you from branding every single fella out there, which happened to me in the second map, turning it pretty boring :(
 

Gethsemani_v1legacy

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Jandau said:
The big problem with the Nemesis system (which I generally consider to be an awesome thing) is that it "punishes" people for being good at the game. You need to fail for it to really kick in. If you are too efficient and hunting down high ranking orcs you can easily end up pretty much amputating one of the game's major mechanics. And when I find myself saying "Alright then, let's get killed a few times to shake things up!", that kinda takes me out of it...

Again, I do think that Nemesis is a great concept and the implementation isn't bad, just that it (or other similar systems) need more work in the future.
This pretty much. As someone who played the arena modes of Arkham City extensively I found the combat in Shadow of Mordor quite easy to get into. After maybe two deaths to a captain in the first hour I didn't suffer another death for the reminder of the game. This in turn meant that the supposedly climactic "Nemesis battle" in the end was me being pitted against that same level 9 Captain that had killed me twice in the first hour and had been completely gone ever since.

To me, the Nemesis system was a disappointment because of that. I slaughtered most everyone in the hierarchy of the first area and had dominated those I had two in the second area. Whatever procedural stories might have evolved from the Nemesis system was lost because I was too good at the game and instead of getting lots of cool stories about "that captain that kept killing me" all I have to tell is a bunch of stories about me killing or branding every captain I came across with only the occasional captain managing to escape.
 

Evonisia

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Jun 24, 2013
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So game developers can probably learn from this, sod the main story and just have one built like this Orc system in SoM. Well, I think it would be interesting to see the results of.
 

CelestDaer

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Kinda strange to see this article right below Experienced Points' "Shadow of Mordor is nothing but revenge fantasy porn" title...
 

Haru17

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Vault101 said:
Xsjadoblayde said:
State of decay has this oft self generated storytelling, aside the whole 'teh zombies again?' thing. Very intriguing. I would imagine the healthier the imagination, the deeper the story, no? The only issue is not all gamers like to squeeze their imaginatory glands.
Haru17 said:
I love Shadow of Mordor, but it's main quest is the only actually good story in it (sans the ending). See, an equivalent amount of effort will always produce a better written story than it will a randomly generated one.
I think it depends...compare XCOM and Skyrim

in XCOM my actions affect the game, Sarah "skippy" Brown my favourite solder who performs like a champ and turns out to be "the special" is the hero of my game,my actions affect the game, which solders live and die, their abilities... in skyrim I can craft the most engaging and awesome backstory but the game doesn't care
Creating a story for your character isn't the same as a randomly generated one. I would assert that written stories are still of better quality than randomly generated stories made with an equivalent amount of effort. Sure, written stories are finite, but so are games, lives, and the matter itself. We can hardly expect game stories to be the exception to that rule.
 

Darmy647

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I wont lie...while the orcs are supposed to be the villains and were supposed to be fairly happy they die..this story brought a tear to my eye.
 

Tom Galbally

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Jandau said:
The big problem with the Nemesis system (which I generally consider to be an awesome thing) is that it "punishes" people for being good at the game. You need to fail for it to really kick in. If you are too efficient and hunting down high ranking orcs you can easily end up pretty much amputating one of the game's major mechanics. And when I find myself saying "Alright then, let's get killed a few times to shake things up!", that kinda takes me out of it...

Again, I do think that Nemesis is a great concept and the implementation isn't bad, just that it (or other similar systems) need more work in the future.
You can just advance time at the towers, still a little bit of a dent for immersion but better than a few suicides.