Middle Earth: Shadow of War took their iconic Nemesis system and expanded it much to fans delight. By making boss and sub boss characters a kind of randomized loot system that can help and hurt your chances of success in the game, the replayability and custom experience is one that should not be missed.
While fighting against the Armies of Sauron, there is a screen that shows the ranking system of a number of Uruk leaders. The ones closest to the screen are the weakest and those in the far portion of the screen are the strongest. Each are only shown as a silhouette until Talion gains intel from other Uruk as to their name and location on the map. Also, more intel can be gathered by ‘dominating’ specially highlighted Uruk and interrogating them to discover the strengths and weaknesses of each of those leaders. As you begin hunting them, not only are you killing them off, they are battling and struggling against each other in their own selfish attempts to get promoted.
As you knock them off, others will rise to take the empty role in time. The real juicy innovation is that your death at the hands of peons or leaders will cause promotions and the increase in power of other leaders if your assassination attempts fail. These moments are the steak rub seasoning to this Porterhouse steak of a video game meal as they keep the challenge fresh and ever-changing for those who think that simply trying again will be an easy task. There are no do-overs. Time moves on and even the strengths and weaknesses of those promoted can change. Some leaders even acquire enchanted weapons that have effects like poison or explosive arrows that can quickly cause you to retreat and regroup!
Middle Earth: Shadow of War evolved this system by added a siege and defense ‘mode’. This mode allowed you to test the strength of your army against the advances of the game itself as well as online foes. This gave the game a high replayability since the game would always feel like it was testing you or trying to chip away at your defenses and strength.
More game franchises could use a bawse system like this to improve their replayability as well. Let’s take a look at a few.
Far Cry Series
As an open world game that hinges on defeating enemy bases sprawled out over a huge open world, having randomized bosses and sub-bosses would greatly improve the experience. Far Cry’s reliance on player firepower, stealth, and environment to take over a base leaves a lot of room for improvement. While the mechanics of each of the Far Cry games are solid and fun, the masses will get tired of new ‘environments’ soon. The innovative tactic of introducing your own rebel merc crew or a Nemesis system would be perfect.
Imagine this. You are expected to lead a revolution against a government or even just another faction. To do so, you take on these various Far Cry bases that each have a leader or lieutenant to either kill or convince to join your cause. Based on random factors ( that can include choices you’ve made in the game) your efforts to recruit can have success and failure. Kill too many and noble lieutenants may develop hatred toward you. Maybe even have them hunt you down outside of the base. Randomized traits for these bosses like special training their weapon of choice, fear or affinity for local predators (since Far Cry always has animals that can help and harm your cause), affinity for day or night defense, patrols that are more or less susceptible to stealth, and so forth would further the Nemesis influence as well. Either way, the words ‘RECRUIT’ are a lot easier to swallow than ‘DOMINATE’.
In my mind, no genre could benefit from the Nemesis system more than fighting games. You are expected to repeatedly face off against the same foes over and over again. Wouldn’t it be cool if these characters (whether you are facing people or the AI) remembered how they fare against your regular usage of one character?
For example, you could introduce bonus ambush rounds where a character that you lose to more often than not could interrupt the end of a battle against another foe and challenge you. You don’t get a health boost and must fight them off in one round to gain some extra loot. Also, there may be a specific condition that helps or hinders your battle (can’t use a signature move or the like). In PvP combat, lesser foes that use your nemesis may get an extra health boost or some other random benefit to help them beat you.
Darkest Dungeon is a unique dungeon crawler that introduces the effects of mental stress and physical afflictions to complicate your adventuring party’s chance of success. You are constantly healing and tending to the mental state of all of your adventurers as you delve deeper and deeper into the dungeons. Permadeath is a thing that hangs over every encounter so running away is as much of a strategy as throwing the kitchen sink at your foes.
Now personally, this game is already near perfect. The usage of each character’s psyche and the stress they’ve incurred as a game element adds a level of difficulty that ramps up the strategy in this RPG. With that said, how much MORE interesting would things be if the enemies and bosses remembered you if they defeated you and evolved? Regular enemies that defeat you could become roaming sub-bosses that evolve into harder versions of themselves as they defeat you. Of course, rewards for defeating you should be upgraded as well.
Tom Clancy’s Division Series
Tom Clancy’s The Division series is about a government agency called the Strategic Homeland Division activated to restore order when a pandemic ravages the country and causes a chaotic state of lawlessness. Playing as one of these militarized agents, you use highly advanced technology to help you fight against various gangs that have sprung up to terrorize survivors and control the streets.
Now I’ve always thought that this game’s story loses a bit of its flavor after a certain point. Eventually, the game devolves into a bullet sponge shooting gallery filled with pretty colored loot drops. Various points on the map are taken over, but there is never a sense of desperation. ‘Control point’ defenses happen as a structured part of the mission and don’t really make you feel like you are ‘helping survivors defend’. Instead it feels like you and other players are so OP that you could take on hundreds of bots anytime there’s an issue.
As a result, I propose the Nemesis system to introduce a bit of story and decision making. What if some of these encounters could be used to capture and indoctrinate the named yellow bosses into eventual defenders of various points on the map? Also, what if some of these bosses didn’t fight to the death and decided to flee only to return when you least expect them to with reinforcements? Their interactions could personalize your game experience and also counter the gear that you are prone to using to make engagements much harder!
On the flip side, capturing and ‘bringing your foes to the light’ could maybe help you out. How about calling reinforcements in the Dark Zone? So many times I’ve chosen to go to the Dark Zone without a full squad and found that there are OP groups feeding off of weaker and smaller teams. Calling in NPC reinforcement teams could help you get away or even defeat them if strong enough and could provide some much needed balance to the stress of loot hunting in the Dark Zone.
With the dawn of the ‘next generation’ of games upon us, I’m certain we are all looking for reasons for these games to be better than what we’ve seen before. Systems like the Nemesis system seem to be easy playgrounds to build upon to help ‘personalize’ the gamer’s experience. I truly hope that big gaming developers will use tools and systems like this to keep things fresh and interesting!