The Lord of the Rings is one of those IPs people are very divided on. While we want to see more of a universe that has engrossed us for decades, some want it left alone. I can’t blame anyone, for every LOTR original trilogy you get a The Hobbit after all. But, not exploring the possibilities means we also don’t get the greats. After all, I loved the Middle-Earth series, and I’m sad we aren’t seeing more of those (especially the Nemesis system). Of all the characters in Middle-Earth to follow however, I didn’t expect Gollum.
The Lord of the Rings: Gollum follows the titular character in an exploration of his time captured by Sauron’s forces before his escape. We know from the movies he was in Mordor for a while, but beyond “Sauron tortured him”, we don’t know much more. Here is where we find that out, along with some time with the elves leading to his appearance in the movies.
As you’d think, narrative in this game is paramount to its success. This is where Gollum tends to be at its finest, providing the schizophrenic hobbit some additional depth we haven’t seen. You tend to feel for Gollum at least a tad by the end of Return of the King, but he’s never fully explored past the means to an end he is.
After an extremely slow start (the first chapter is a tutorial and the first three a slog), everything picks up as you become a bit of a personal favorite of the warden. Here you find different motivations, for Gollum as well as others, and it livens up the foreground of this background character’s life. That doesn’t mean Gollum is lacking however, with plenty to say in any situation, along with manipulating people to his will. People severely underestimate him, which is what leads to many of the circumstances you’ll find yourself in. It all culminates in a very interesting narrative that keeps you engaged with each morsel that comes your way.
If I could give one piece of advice, it’s to stick around through the rough opening. It’s not just in being slow, it’s that there’s a lot of repetition in what you’re doing, along with very dull sections of chapters. Some feel like they shouldn’t even be there, feeling a bit like padding and long in the tooth. If you can handle these as they occur, it usually pays off with some meaty story for you to enjoy.
I like the idea put in place by Daedalic Entertainment in having the inner dialogues between Gollum and Smeagol, but I do wonder what makes them impactful. There are some moments where it’s clear you’re just going for a different character’s take on a line, but other times it’s more than that. In these, you have to either convince Gollum or Smeagol to do something, and while appreciated, I don’t know that they add the dynamic that was hoped for. It’s great to see the choices being made, but I never felt a Telltale-like consequence of “this person will remember that”. Maybe I just missed the point, but if it’s well constructed, I shouldn’t. Even so, listening to the battle of the psyches of Gollum and Smeagol is excellent, and wonderfully portrayed here.
As for the gameplay itself, I could do without the repetitive nature of the platforming. It makes sense why it’s here, Gollum is practically made for this style, but it tends to feel too samey after a while. Climbing to ledges, shimmying across them, running up a wall, jumping to the next wall and grasping vines to climb up, all blend together and make the different areas of the world feel like the same game you’ve already played. It’s standard platforming, and that’s about it. Also, the controls are ridiculously touchy, often leading me to a quick death from overshooting a jump or missing a ledge altogether. For instance, running along walls can be very inconsistent, working only when you have the perfect angle at times.
The stealth however works pretty well. Most areas you’ll come across with stealth in mind starts with a quick overview of where you’re trying to go and the route to take, which I love. That being said, you can still do your own thing, with multiple paths to take. The levels aren’t huge mind you, and it’s usually best to take the non-scenic route, but figuring out your way through these locations is definitely worth the extra time investment. One thing to not take lightly ia the AI, which can hear or see you if you wander too close. You can sneak up and kill some enemies, but it’s an afterthought in this game. Stealth is always the preferred option.
Another feature that is in LOTR: Gollum is a companion system. This has a pretty specific tutorial moment in the game, but the function is just not there all that much. It’s not super important beyond a couple of moments, so I’m not even sure why it’s in the game besides to enforce certain story elements. While that makes sense, you could have as easily made it a cutscene.
Whereas Gollum is a Lord of the Rings game, you can expect a lot of Middle-Earth in the background, and it’s amazing. Visiting these different locations like the Barad-dur Tower in Mordor or the Elven dwellings of Mirkwood is just magical, breathing additional life into the game. It’s very pretty in some of these sections, really telling a story in and of itself. The good thing is you can get the best of it, with the Quality mode working to perfection. While there is a performance mode available, I found it less appealing, with the textures reduced dramatically and the 60fps adding to the touchy feel of the controls.
Even though the game can look and perform to par, I have run into quite a few bugs and glitches. Some have been simple, like textures deciding not to load or a floating stack of skulls from the environment. I did have a pretty major one during a cutscene, with the two Elven characters Gollum is conversing with not appearing both when I arrived to trigger the scene and throughout. They did come back after the cutscene finished at least. I also spawned into my death after restarting from a checkpoint in one platforming section, as well as in horrible spots in others. It doesn’t help the platforming to be less frustrating when these kinds of issues occur, so hopefully these can be fixed through future patches.
The Lord of the Rings: Gollum
Just like Gollum, I'm a bit split. The Lord of the Rings: Gollum features a great story that adds to the lore, along with a terrific stealth system, but it misses the mark in other areas. A finicky and redundant platforming system, mixed with a dialogue system that lacks bite makes for a combination that drags the rest down. Gollum is always so close to The Ring, but ever so far.
- Intriguing narrative
- Great stealth sections
- The world of LOTR
- Good quality mode
- Awkward performance mode
- Repetitive platforming
- Bugs and glitches