Games

The Lord of the Rings: Gollum looks anything but valuable

Corrupted into the twisted form of Gollum by the One Ring, the stoor-habit Sméagol isn’t the most obvious protagonist for a video game. But there is potential for the dual personalities of The Lord of the Rings most devious character to morph into entertaining gameplay. A battle between cowardice and vengeance waged in the mind of your playable character could turn into challenging choices and unique mechanics. Unfortunately, it looks like developer Daedalic Entertainment’s upcoming The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is struggling to find such an adorable angle.

During a recent hands-off presentation, I was shown just over 20 minutes of beta gameplay footage of The Lord of the Rings: Gollum. This was split between two locations in Middle-earth: Cirith Ungol, the path that cuts through the mountains of Mordor and acts as the stage for the game’s first chapter, and the woodland realm of Thranduil the Elf King. While Gollum is more inspired by the books than the movies, these locations draw more or less from the same palette used for Peter Jackson’s fantasy epic and are therefore instantly recognizable.

The Lord of the Rings: Gollum preview screenshots

Set just a few years before The Fellowship of the Ring, the story sees Gollum desperately searching for his precious ring while trying to stay out of Sauron’s clutches. This scenario sets the framework of a stealth game in which you have to avoid fighting at all costs lest you be captured by the dark lord’s minions.

Gollum is a linear game that, according to the Daedalic, mostly consists of tight environments explored through a combination of sneaking and climbing. While both must be used frequently, there are sequences where you can opt for your preferred approach. For example, a path patrolled by enemies might have a sneak route that you can follow through the shadows, so you can unseen wait for orcs to come by before heading into the nearest hidden bush. But the same path can also have walls covered in grab bars that allow you to climb over and around the same enemies.

Since Gollum is utterly outclassed in strength by even the lowest Orc, fighting is out of the question. Enemies blocking your path must be dealt with using more insidious methods. The example from the presentation showed Gollum throwing a rock at a lamp to distract an orc, causing them to fall into a pit and being eaten by the resident giant arachnid Shelob. This was clearly a scripted tutorial event, but hopefully later levels will allow for inventive and free use of distractions and traps.

Gollum can murder using the time-honored tradition of stealth takedown.


While Gollum cannot fight, he can murder using the time-honored tradition of stealth takedown. But strangling unsuspecting enemies will deplete your stamina meter, and if you don’t have enough stamina to finish the job, it’s game over. Daedalic explains that there is some leeway to evade enemies should they spot you, but if you get very close to alerted enemies they will capture you. This adds significant risk to takedowns, but raises concerns about how widespread instant-fail stealth will be throughout the game.

Thankfully, Gollum doesn’t always have to get close to enemies, as he can sometimes just climb past them. Rather than the “climb anything” design of games like Zelda: Breath of the Wild and the recent Assassin’s Creeds, Gollum uses predetermined paths through the environment. That’s not a bad thing in itself – it’s arguably better suited to the slightly puzzle-adventure vibe that Gollum seems to be aiming for – but the visual design of the paths shown in the demonstration was, quite simply put, ugly.

Between the murky cliffs of the Mordor Mountains were perfect, highly visible lines for Gollum to shimmy along. Vertical routes were covered with climbing vines that hung unnaturally like thick carpets. Rock formations in the woodland realm had strangely flat surfaces and rounded edges instead of naturally rugged surfaces, making the caves look oddly manufactured. This feeling was only reinforced by the many routes that had arrows painted on their surface to indicate the direction of travel, which seems utterly out of place in Tolkien’s world. Couldn’t these have been scribbles in Black Speech, similar to how God of War uses runes on his own climbs? Aside from the War of the Ring, it seems like there is a war between environment and level design.

There’s also a struggle to differentiate the world from the most famous adaptation of Lord of the Rings. Gollum looks and sounds mostly like the Andy Serkis version from the films apart from his mop of black hair, with each side of his dual personality sharing similar voice and movement characteristics. This makes the performance look more like an impression than a reinterpretation of the book.

The two personalities Gollum and Sméagol become game mechanics in “conflict moments”; Scenarios where they argue and you have to choose a side. The example in the demonstration showed Sméagol wanting to befriend a bug while Gollum, mistaking him for Sauron’s spy, insisted on crushing him. It was quite an overwhelming moment, but hopefully these sequences will set the stage for much more dramatic decisions as the story unfolds. Daedalic promises that these decisions will change the outcome of situations, affect how others perceive Gollum, and even dictate the fate of certain characters.

There’s definitely some BioWare-esque potential in these choices, but I’m a little confused as to why The Lord of the Rings: Gollum doesn’t seem more related to the concept. I can imagine a game where opting for Sméagol improves your climbing skills and gives more options to suit this anti-conflict side of the character while focusing on the Gollum personality enhancing your stealth toolkit. But there are no unlockable skills; Daedalic confirmed that Gollum has all of his abilities from the start.

Choices will affect how others perceive Gollum and even dictate the fate of characters.


With no skill-based character development throughout the game, level design needs to be incredibly varied and inventive to continuously provide engaging challenges and a sense of progression. But even the Elvenking’s Halls segment of the presentation, recorded halfway through the game, seemed to consist of little more than scaling ledges and pillars without having to overcome obstacles. Some crags require stamina management to traverse, but that didn’t seem like a significant challenge. I have the impression of a game that simply asks us to move from A to B on linear paths without much opportunity for experimentation or expression.

Hopefully that’s not the case. Hopefully both segments of the game shown in the presentation are just poor examples of what Daedalic created. Or maybe Gollum’s strengths just don’t lie in what was shown; It draws from one of the deepest sources of fantasy lore there is, after all, so perhaps there’s a story with complex choices hiding behind this boring piece of gameplay. But for now I’m left with the overwhelming impression of a simple game that would have landed better when Peter Jackson’s trilogy was still in theaters than in 2022.

We’ll see if that sentiment holds true when The Lord of the Rings: Gollum releases on September 1st on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S.

Matt Purslow is UK News and Features Editor for IGN.

https://www.ign.com/articles/the-lord-of-the-rings-gollum-preview-hands-off The Lord of the Rings: Gollum looks anything but valuable

Fry Electronics Team

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