The interface alone was a thing of beauty, but the best part was that the lineup was constantly evolving and changing based on procedurally generated events. These roles aren't static - the individual captains, lieutenants and war chiefs are constantly backstabbing and front-stabbing each other to get more power. dePlater was inspired by a few scenes in Tolkien's books. "When Sam and Frodo are arriving in Mordor in that scene in Cirith Ungol where the orcs slaughter each other," he mentioned as an example. "And even as Sam and Frodo go further into Mordor, there's another scene, there's a showdown [between orcs] and they stab each other in the back." With those key examples, it's clear that Shadow of Mordor is sticking with the spirit of Tolkien's writing.
It is one thing to be presented with this Nemesis system, but another to actually play with it. Thankfully, I spent the bulk of my hands-on time with Shadow of Mordor killing orcs. The snippet of story we were given - dePlater and co. are being extremely tight-lipped about details - showed an ancient human queen called Marwen telling Talion to take over Sauron's army near the Sea of Nurnen. The mission is to put five orcs in the position of warchief which have been branded - or controlled - by the powers of the Wraith inhabiting Talion.
Here's where the emergent gameplay comes to the forefront. You can put branded orcs in power in several ways. You can defeat the warchief and brand him yourself, which is difficult because they are usually well-defended. You can brand one of his captains, and then orchestrate a coup whereby the branded guy takes over. Or you can just take out his captains, and go after the warchief without any protection. Once you decide what to do, you can put a mark on your target, and head out into the open world and see if the best laid plans of elves and men come true.
The plains around Nurnen are not the broken, jagged lands of Mordor you'd expect - the green fertile lands surrounding the freshwater lake are where the bulk of food is grown to feed the swelling forces of Sauron. The orcs here are slavers, forcing humans to do the dirty work of growing and harvesting crops. There's also new wildlife, such as the "caragor" which is the evilized version of a lion as a warg is to a wolf in Tolkien's lore. You can ride caragors around the world and into battle - some of the orcs have strengths with mounted creatures or are weak against their attacks.
The world is dotted with orc fortress and other ruins which Talion can maneuver around and climb over very easily. Here's where the comparison with games like Assassin's Creed are the most apt, but the action honestly feels very different when controlling Talion. For one, you can leap from any height and not take damage - no more searching for hay stacks.
Combat with Talion's two blades is quite fluid, and countering orc attacks is important but you can't just wait around for the counter symbol to float above their head. It's easy to overwhelmed with a huge number of enemies, and you'll have to use Talion's wraith abilities to quickly dash to avoid clumping. In truth, there were a lot of abilities mapped all over the PS4 controller I was using and I didn't have enough time to master them all. I died quite a bit aiming with my bow, when I should have been fighting in melee.