The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is the latest game to dive into the brilliant fantasy universe created by J.R.R. Tolkien. Developed by Daedalic Entertainment and published in association with Nacon, this adventure shines the spotlight on one of the franchise’s most memorable side characters. While it proves to be a fascinating dive into the series’ lore, mechanical and technical shortcomings keep it from being something precious.
One ring to rule them all
The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is set parallel to the early events of the series, allowing Daedalic Entertainment to fill in the blanks in regard to what the character was up to while he wasn’t on-screen (or page). Gollum is in search of a valuable item that was stolen from him, and his journey will take him across the treacherous lands of Mordor, coming face-to-face with great dangers and meeting some of the iconic characters from The Lord of the Rings.
The world of LotR is rich with lore, and it's clear that the developers had a good time diving into Tolkien’s world and adding new color to the backstory of Gollum and other familiar characters and locations. Even as someone who isn’t a superfan of the series, I was quickly pulled in by the narrative and found the pacing to be solid enough to keep me engaged throughout multiple chapters.
Gollum also captures the essence of Lord of the Rings with some solid music and sound design. Gollum is an often timid creature in way over his head, and the tense score really drives home that sense of danger when fleeing from orcs and evading captors. It also cleverly compliments the warring personas inside of the protagonist.
Gollum’s dual personalities made for excellent material to be explored in a narrative adventure. You’re often given the chance to speak and respond to other characters as either Gollum or Smeagol, leading to minor changes in dialogue and radical shifts in the story. This aspect of the character is also factored into the gameplay.
Mordor, more problems
When faced with major story decisions, players will be asked to act as either Gollum or Smeagol. While Smeagol’s behavior is usually optimistic and kind, Gollum is bitter and hateful. Whichever side you choose, you’ll have to convince the other in a brief conversational puzzle. Gollum and Smeagol will have an internal debate as you steer the conversation by selecting from available dialogue options. It highlights the most interesting part of the character in a way that feels interactive and engaging.
The game also tracks the overall battle between Gollum and Smeagol. An icon in the HUD displays which personality is in the drivers seat, and other characters will approach and interact with Gollum differently depending on who is in control. It’s neat that your choices have passive ramifications, even when you’re not actively making a binary decision.
Unfortunately, the Gollum vs Smeagol mechanic is the only engaging part of LotR: Gollum. The moment-to-moment gameplay primarily revolves around 3D platforming and stealth, both of which feel incredibly paint-by-numbers. There’s a lot of Assassin’s Creed-style ledge-hopping and bush-hiding, and instances where you have to toss a rock to make an enemy look a certain way. There’s no spin on it that makes it feel unique to this game, and I found myself growing bored pretty quickly.
While Gollum is an action-adventure game, there isn’t really any straightforward combat. The creature is wise enough to know that he wouldn’t last in a fight against your average orc, so he resorts to ambushing enemies in order to get the physical upper hand. It’s pretty fun the first handful of times, but eventually becomes another monotonous gameplay task that feels more like a bridge to the next cutscene or story beat.
It also doesn’t help that the game overall feels rough around the edges. The visuals are fine enough, but movement often felt clunky, and my camera was constantly jumping or overshooting my desired movement
I also experienced some consistent performance issues while playing on PC. Even on medium settings, there would be regular hitches and frame drops. I did the majority of my playing prior to the release of a day one patch, so it’s quite possible that these issues won’t be present once the game is in your hands. Still, it’s something to keep in mind if you plan on picking the game up on PC.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Lord of the Rings fans will appreciate a lot of what Gollum is offering. It’s genuinely cool seeing such a fascinating side character step into the protagonist role in a story that further expands on a universe teeming with secrets to discover. It’s a bummer that there isn’t much else to write home about. A dull gameplay experience and technical hiccups make The Lord of the Rings: Gollum just as much of a polarizing experience as its main character.
This review is based on a digital Steam code provided by the publisher. The Lord of the Rings: Gollum launches on May 25, 2023, for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and PC.
- Interesting dive into Lord of the Rings lore
- Gollum's dual personalities make for a great story and gameplay mechanic
- Solid score and sound design
- Platforming and stealth elements are quite dull
- Technical hiccups were frequent during the review period
- Movement feels clunky
Donovan Erskine posted a new article, The Lord of the Rings: Gollum review: Two-faced