Middle-earth: Shadow of War is built on a lot of the same mechanics as it’s predecessor. And one of the coolest mechanics is the Nemesis System. In both of the Middle-earth games, enemies are not permanently confined to their roles as either leaders or lackeys. They’re unique, procedurally generated individuals. This is not only what makes them such lovable characters (which we mentioned in our review), but it also becomes a behind-the-scenes soap opera that makes every game of Shadow of War you play unique.
The Nemesis System
For all their individuality, your enemies — the orcs, at least — still fall into those two categories of leaders (captains) and lackeys (grunts). Grunts are sword fodder. Sure, some of them get shields or javelins, but they’re still all low-level and (relatively) weak.
If a grunt manages to kill you, however, he’ll get a promotion to captain, gain some experience and level up on his own. And he’ll remember you. Captains are a far more serious enemy, so we’ll give them their own section below. This whole system of procedurally-generated enemies, their hierarchy and the machinations therein is called the Nemesis System.
Think of the Nemesis System as your opponent’s turn in a board game. On your turn, you kill a bunch of the captains in an area’s orc army ranks. Your turn ends when you die (or when you choose to advance time at a fast travel location). On your “opponent’s” turn, new orcs are promoted into those vacated positions and others advance up the hierarchy. These promoted orcs become captains.
Among the captains, there’s also constant infighting happening. Captains challenge each other in events like camp raids and executions. The triumphant orc will increase in power while the loser will usually die (and therefore open up a spot in the ranks for a grunt to be promoted). These power plays show up on your map as orange, head-to-head icons. You can insert yourself into these Nemesis Missions to influence their outcomes, advancing certain captains (like ones you control) or just taking advantage of the distraction to kill two captains at once.
You’ll see a brief cutscene whenever you die that shows you these behind-the-scenes movements and hierarchy changes.
The Nemesis System is a little more complicated in Middle-earth: Shadow of War (just like every other aspect of the game), because now the Nemesis System includes the orcs that Talion controls.
All of the basic functions remain the same, but you can now command orc captains to do things for you like (attempting to) assassinate another captain or infiltrating a warchief’s ranks. You can also add training orders to your captains do things like add a gang of archers that follow him around (Archer Gang) or just increase their level by five (War Training).
Once you take over your first fortress, you can also put your orcs up against opponents in Fight Pit missions — which are pretty much exactly what they sound like. If they win, they’ll earn you loot like gear or skill points.