No, what makes Shadow of Mordor fun and quite unlike anything I've played in recent memory is the Nemesis System. The game's protagonist, bland ranger person Talion, is killed at the story's outset and bonded to a mysterious wraith that keeps him "banished from death." Basically, whenever he dies, he is resurrected. What is interesting about this mechanic is what happens to the Orc or Uruk who kills him: if a random grunt manages to land the finishing blow, he will be promoted to Captain and take his place in a chess board-y "Sauron's Army" menu in the game, displaying all the current captains, their locations and their battle tactics. If the board is full, the new captain will challenge and incumbent for the position. If they win, they get promoted. If not, they die. What gives this mechanic flavor is that almost every one of these Orcs will be randomly generated from a set list of names, appearances, characteristics and voices, and they all remember their previous encounters with you. If one defeated you, he'll taunt you the next time you meet, referencing how he killed you, if you ran, if he ran or even just generally talk about weird shit and how much he wants to bathe in your blood.
I told you all of this to tell you the story of an Orc named Hoshu the Wrestler, and how he and I came to be the bane of one another's existence. Soon after the story proper began, I decided to start exploring the open-world a bit before diving into story missions. In doing so, I discovered a few captains and, ahem, interrogated their underlings for information about their strengths and weaknesses. In the middle of an interrogated a particularly terrified looking Orc, I was interrupted by a scrawny Orc captain named Hoshu. He barked something unremarkable about killing me. I saw the power level the game ascribed to him: 11. Not a pushover. Still, I wasn't going to take any chances. We started fighting, and I realized that he couldn't be countered. He knocked me down a few times and I fled, confused and unsure of how to best him.
Maybe an hour later, I was doing a side mission to power up my bow, one that I thought was detached from the rest of the open-world, as these sorts of side missions tend to be. Stuck in a ramshackle tent on a plateau between two groups of archers who had my name carved into their arrows, I started my grim work. After a few enemies fell, who should appear RIGHT BEHIND ME but Hoshu, the Wrestler, now sporting a wide-brimmed steel helmet and a cockier attitude. Living up to his name, he grabbed and threw me off the plateau, and before I could escape his throng of underlings, he vaulted from above and crushed me in one blow. It was my first death, and I was confused. Hoshu, the Wrestler was now level 12.
Interested, I used the minimap to look for some hint of Hoshu, finding him in one of the game's larger settlements trying to recruit supporters. I snuck my way through the outpost, finding the highest vantage point I could and fired a few arrows of glorious retribution into Hoshu's face. After a few hits, he noticed me and fled. I gave chase as best I could, avoiding his troops until I finally cornered him just outside of town. Avoiding his powerful melee attacks, I whittled his health down until I was FINALLY able to grab and interrogate him. Just as I was about to probe his mind before destroying it, someone hit me from behind and broke my hold. I turned around and dealt with a few brave underlings before realizing that Hoshu had straight up vanished. Sure enough, after my subsequent death, there he was on the update screen, taunting me and leveling up his power. Now he was level 13.
After reviving and using some of the currency I had earned to buy some upgrade, I set out on the warpath. Using the minimap to pinpoint Hoshu's position, I found him in the midst of an "ambush" side mission, where several jealous underlings attempt to assassinate a superior. Staying out of the fray, I peppered Hoshu's supporters with arrows until he stood alone against a half dozen angry usurpers. I took no small amount of glee in watching him stand alone before he dealt with his assailants. Suddenly, the game updated that in surviving his assassination attempt, Hoshu was now level 15. Then he escaped. Now he was level 16.
We'd had four encounters: one that he ran from, one that I ran from, one that he definitively won and one that he'd scurried away from by the skin of his teeth. I was PISSED. Next time I spawned, I made a beeline for his last position, only to find that he was simply gone. I looked for awhile, then decided to just carry on with the main game as best I could. After doing a mission for Gollum (yes, that Gollum), I was doing a little exploring in my new area and collecting some collectables. A lowly captain attacked me, and was dealt with. Just after I dealt the finishing blow, Hoshu burst onto the scene, snarling revenge and toting a cadre of 10 or so tough-looking dudes with shield. It started raining. It was ON. I tore through Hoshu's men like fire and vapor, flipping and dodging and using my newly acquired ground pound technique to dispatch everyone I saw. After a few exhausting minutes, Hoshu fled again, his health down to the lowest I'd yet seen it. Determined not to let him go again, I vaulted on top of a nearby ruin of sorts and put an arrow through the back of his head from distance. Finally, it was over. I made sure my game had saved, turned off my Xbox and went to sleep.
The next time I played, I was back at that area trying to scavenge the collectibles I'd missed last time, when Olrok the Collector, a sadistic, hedonistic slab or Orc I'd also been having tussles with shuffled his purring visage onto my screen for revenge. Suddenly, in the middle of fighting two captain, Hoshu re-appeared, filled with furious anger and toting a steel plate over one of his eyes, a trophy from our previous encounter. I turned and ran straight at him, ignoring Olrok, who was trying to flee. I fought him again, now level 17 due to his miraculous survival, and again he fled. The tide had turned in our rivalry. He tried to escape, and I put another arrow into his head, only this time, nothing happened. He was immune to ranged attacks now, the game told me. He was learning. Also, he was faster than I was, and he was escaping. Suddenly, as he ran down the craggy slopes, a Caragor, a sort of mounted annoyance that can be tamed, tackled Hoshu. The game updated to inform me of his fear of Caragors, and I the beast tossed him around like a ragdoll, I moved in for the kill. I picked off a couple encroaching Caragors and waited until Hoshu was near death, then intervened, dispatching the hunter and the hunted in mere seconds. I am become death, and Hoshu was dead once more.
Earlier today, when I picked my game back up after not having seen Hoshu for, at this point, several hours of gametime, I was presiding over a duel between two Orc captains. One, a fat bastard named Narug the Mountain, and the other Gorgum the Grim, who had killed me as a lowly grunt. Narug was the higher level, and I like Gorgum, since his grimness always led him to spout pessimistic drivel every time I saw him. He was this game's version of Eeyore. After I helped Gorgum win his duel, he fled at the sight of me, and while I considered letting him go or not, I was attacked from behind by a filthy looking masked Orc. At this point in the game I had unlocked a last stand sort of mode that let me counter my murderer's final strike into a killing blow of my own. As I killed this random usurper, I thought to myself "that guy looked sort of interesting. Too bad he didn't kill me and become the new Hoshu." Having decided to kill poor Gorgum the Grim, I set off after him. He's not too fast and not too good, so catching him would be easy. I didn't make it ten seconds before the masked Orc attacked me again, despite having just been cut down. This second attack did a titanic amount of damage, and as I crumpled down into the grass, I heard the Orcs around me chant a single name, over and over: Hoshu. I couldn't block the final blow this time and after reviving, I went to the Sauron's Army screen, and this is what I found.
Hoshu, the Wrestler. Legendary Captain, Power Level 20. "Seething with hatred for Talion. Eager for a chance to meet him again." The feeling is mutual, buddy.
That motherfucker. I can't wait to fight him again. We've got a score to settle.
UPDATE: Soon after posting this, I got a notification that Hoshu was hosting a feast in his own glory near the beginning area of the game. Remembering how spread out that place could be, I hastened there to plot my revenge. Remembering his fear of Caragors, I captured one, rode it to his feast and hid. After a couple minutes of watching his patrol route, I snuck up behind Hoshu and poisoned his grog. After he and his men were weakened, they began to fight, and though it took awhile, Hoshu eliminated his entire group, though it left him with less than half health. It was then that I struck.
Mounted on my Caragor, I rode after Hoshu like death, he fled in terror, which negated most of the skills that had made him unkillable. I ran him down and let my Caragor tear into him. After barely surviving, I grabbed him, read his mind and broke it. He crumpled to the ground, seemingly dead. I expected him to return. He never did. An anticlimactic ending to our rivalry, perhaps, but one that showed just how far I had ascended above petty conflicts such as the one with Hoshu. Later, near the game's conclusion, I was even more powerful, commanding a brainwashed Uruk army of my own. There had been other Uruks designated as my nemesis since then, but none of them had the lasting power of Hoshu. I had grown far too powerful, capable of felling lesser captains in a single blow. Now, when I defeated one, they never came back.
When I moved on the castle belonging to one of the main bosses of the game, I was stopped at the gate by a small army of opposing Uruks. Leading them, was Hoshu, the Wrestler. Somehow back even after having been dead now longer than he had been alive in the first place. "Defeat your nemesis," the game told me, and I did. Hoshu tore into my own brainwashed captains, eliminating three of my five lieutenants before I could cut my way to him, and when I did, I fell upon him in a righteous fury, finally removing from him both his head and his life, for the final time. There was a short boss fight against one of the storyline antagonists, but it lacked the sense of finality Hoshu's death had finally given me. The game ended not long afterwards, and after it did, I barely did any of the sidequests opened up for me in the open world. My purpose had been fulfilled, as had Hoshu's. Glorious vengeance had been fulfilled.
What a fun game.