2014’s Lord of the Rings action game Shadow of Mordor turned out to be a huge surprise for many. Beneath the fairly banal character-action trappings and the grim predictability of the setting, Monolith’s ground-breaking “Nemesis” AI system breathed a new layer of life into what would otherwise have been another rote open-world collect-em-up with Batman-styled combat.
Nemesis changed everything. No longer were your orc foes simply fodder for the in-game upgrade treadmill, but now they had personality, weaknesses, strengths and a long memory; growing in combat skill with every failed encounter and crushing your spirit with well-voiced and pithy putdowns when you next stumbled on their path. Plotting to take down a particularly annoying orc was a joy; stalking across the map, preying on its weakness and then choosing just the right environment and skillset to finish the job. Monolith’s mouthy foes managed to make enemy encounters personal, and that made them matter.