The Game Awards featured a number of incredible (and surprising) trailers, but the show may have been stolen by the announcement that Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor developer Monolith Productions is working on an open-world Wonder Woman game that will feature a version of the “Nemesis System” that the studio’s Lord of the Rings games are famous for.
For those who don’t know, the Nemesis System is a unique mechanic that essentially relies on a military-like hierarchy of NPCs that can remember player actions. That system serves the plots of the Shadow games, but it’s best known for enhancing the thrill of those games’ open-world encounters by introducing the possibility that even the lowliest grunt could eventually become a “boss” who remembers their previous battle against you.
Unfortunately, Warner Bros. made the controversial decision to patent the Nemesis System and prevent other developers from utilizing/expanding upon that amazing idea. Fortunately, Monolith may have found the perfect character to “gift” the Nemesis System to.
To be clear, we know next to nothing about how the Nemesis System will actually work in Wonder Woman. While we assume that most of the basic Nemesis System ideas seen in the Mordor games will be retained, it’s not clear how Monolith is going to get past the fact that Mordor‘s protagonist was essentially dead (which explained why he could keep being revived after being defeated) whereas Wonder Woman is typically very much alive. Maybe they’ll find a way to “kill” her off and explore that universe’s afterlife, but the smarter money is on them tweaking the system slightly to avoid the idea that Wonder Woman is constantly dying.
That’s one of the qualities that make the idea of building a Wonder Woman game around the Nemesis System so compelling, though. We’ve previously talked about how Superman’s absurd abilities make it very difficult to build a game around him as the protagonist, and Wonder Woman faces a similar dilemma. How do you make a compelling action game about a hero who shouldn’t be able to be defeated in a fair fight by anything but some galactic-level adversaries?
This is where the Nemesis system could come into play. If Monolith can find a way to make us believe that Wonder Woman can be defeated for just a moment (even if that defeat takes the form of something far less drastic than death), then they may be able to sell the idea that there are lesser forces in the Wonder Woman universe that could be elevated into genuine threats. If a big part of the Superman/Wonder Woman design dilemma involves selling the idea that those heroes can be beaten at any time, what better way to potentially solve that dilemma than with a system designed to promote lesser foes?
More importantly, the Nemesis system has traditionally emphasized the idea of “recruitment” in a way that could help Monolith stay true to the Wonder Woman character. After all, Wonder Woman isn’t exactly known as one of DC’s biggest “killers” (outside of certain adaptations and stories). However, she is incredibly skilled at using her abilities to bend enemies’ wills and change their motivations. She can even use the Lasso of Truth to essentially interrogate lesser evildoers. The basic concept of a video game version of Wonder Woman ultimately needing to recruit an army of foes who can then use subterfuge and other, more direct tactics to help her to work her way to the top of the villain hierarchy is absolutely fascinating. The idea of recruiting a grunt only to have them killed by Ares for trying to help you is a potentially incredible concept that sounds a lot more interesting than “Wonder Woman destroys everyone with relative ease.”
A big part of the reason why it’s such a shame that the Nemesis System is limited to WB is that it’s the kind of system that could allow developers to rethink some of gaming’s most basic concepts. While it’s sad to think that Monolith may be the only studio that really gets to explore that system’s potential, the idea that they could use it to make the major Wonder Woman game that has eluded us for far too long now is certainly exciting.