The right gimmicks can make or break a game — and a great gimmick can make games legendary. Instead of wallowing in the worst, we’re checking out the best gimmicks to ever get into gaming. Sometimes it’s something small, and sometimes it’s the entire game, but these are the gimmicks we want to see a lot more often.
There are tons of gimmicks out there, so I fully admit to missing out on plenty of favorites. Is regenerating shields from Halo a gimmick? It’s got to be one of the most popular, but we’re aiming at some of the more niche ideas — and hopefully explaining just why they’re so great. Either way, you’re free to tell us what we missed.
And if you think we’re being too positive, don’t miss our list of worst gameplay gimmicks that make good games worse.
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The Nemesis System [Shadow of Mordor / Shadow of War]
The Nemesis System made Shadow of Mordor something special. Instead of fighting nameless Orcs, you’re pitted against unique randomly generated Orcs, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. These Orcs can be wildly creative and deadly — some Orcs might wait in ambush to attack your hero from the shadows, or become immune from attacks you’ve used before. One Orc can even become your “Nemesis” and constantly reappear, taunting you and showing signs of their previous defeat.
Shadow of War only multiplies the unique qualities of the Nemesis System, adding more types of orcs, and more insane abilities — you can encounter special Orcs with two heads, or Orcs that know how to counter all of your abilities. By defeating (or helping) Orcs on the Nemesis System menu, you can level them up, or mind-control them and take over the army by helping your ally Orc become a Warlord. There are so many interesting little wrinkles to this system, we all just want to see it ported into more games.
Gravity Gun [Half-Life 2] & Portal Gun [Portal / Portal 2]
This double-dose of gun-based gimmicks changed how we interact in FPS. The Gravity Gun was an impressive piece of technology that allowed you to manipulate the many physics objects in Half-Life 2 — mostly so you could launch stuff at enemies or solve puzzles. It’s so iconic, tons of games have Gravity Gun features, including the new Half-Life: Alyx VR game. For the Gravity Gun to exist, the world needed to be packed with objects with realistic physics, something that was still very early when Half-Life 2 first came around. It was that big change to how games were built that really wowed us.
And the Gravity Gun in-turn inspired the Portal Gun from Portal and Portal 2, some of the best puzzle games of the 2000s. The Portal Gun allowed players to shoot two interlinking portals to solve test chamber puzzles — it’s wildly creative and mind-bendingly fun once you get the hang of using it. The Portal Gun gimmick alone basically created a new genre of FPS puzzler.
Check out more great gimmicks of gaming on the next page.