Review – The Lord of the Rings: Gollum

Leave Now and Never Come Back

Overview

Developer Daedalic Entertainment
Publisher Nacon
Genre Stealth, Action
Platforms PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 (Reviewed), Xbox One, Xbox X|S, PC
Release Date May 25, 2023

The names Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings are synonymous with deep lore, incredible worldbuilding, and beautifully realized fantasy. I dare say you’d be harder-pressed to find someone with no knowledge of the series than a fan at this point. It’s an interesting proposition, however, to hear Daedalic Entertainment and Nacon wanted to bring us an officially licensed game that focuses on the series’ primary anti-hero. What depths are there left to plumb regarding the twisted, driven character as he searches for his Precious? It turns out a fairly interesting one. It’s just a shame it came in a package the deliveryman kicked down the street before he slammed it on your stoop.

Content Guide

Violence: Gollum strangles some enemies to death with his bare hands. There are scenes of implied torture and death by large animals.

Sexual Content: None.

Drugs and Alcohol: None, unless you consider the pipeweed, Old Toby, which Gandalf smokes in his pipe.

Language/Crude Humor: Gollum has some darker humor as is his nature. There is nothing crude here though.

Dark/Spiritual Content: Gollum is a tormented being. He’s manipulated by dark forces and often uses his own wiles and selfish nature to harm others in order to further his own agenda.

Review

In his lifetime, Mr. Tolkien created an incredibly deep world and lore structure few writers have since achieved. It set the pace for all of modern fantasy. As part of his writings, he conjured the tale of a fellowship of various races that came together to thwart evil on an epic journey. The characters will live in the minds of fans forever. One of the most notable, however, was neither hero nor villain. In Gollum, we saw the twisted, conflicted ravings of someone driven mad by hyper-focused greed and the weaker, good side who tried to overcome his animalistic tendencies. Now, Daedalic Entertainment has given us the opportunity to step into the shoes (or lack thereof) of the tortured river hobbit to get some story leading up to The Lord of the Rings. While the tale is an intriguing one, the game we got is an ugly, broken mess swimming in a sea of misfortune.

Let’s start with the good things about The Lord of the Rings: Gollum. The game’s story actually follows Tolkien’s own work in Unfinished Tales. Not all of the story beats are a must-read, but there’s a lot of backstory and exposition that give you somewhat of an understanding of why Gollum behaved like he did when he eventually ran into Samwise and Frodo. From slave to captive, the creature establishes and tears apart various relationships. We get a better understanding of his various capacities: tenuous working relationships, heartbreak, betrayal, and eventually camaraderie and companionship. Gollum even does a decent job letting the player take part in arguments on behalf of Gollum and Smeagol, his two personalities. The pacing feels a bit slow, but overall the story is enjoyable.

The joy to be had with Gollum unfortunately begins to unravel beyond the narrative. The game’s major mechanics are stealth and platforming a la Uncharted or Tomb Raider. Both have major issues. The stealth, for example, does a poor job of helping the player understand the dangers around them and properly executing a satisfying path to traverse. More often than not, you’ll find yourself trying to sprint through zones simply trying to outrun the guards. The enemies he’s trying to get by instantly catch Gollum if he gets within half a dozen feet of them, too. It feels like the team got it relatively functional then were told to ship it before they could sand off the rough edges.

As bad as the stealth is (and it really is bad), the platforming may actually be worse. The core maneuvering is mostly functional but the experience is plagued by wonky or unresponsive controls and terrible direction. I often found myself trying to climb only to leap twenty feet in the air and fall to my death because I missed the handhold by a foot coming down. There are platforming sections with nothing more than rough suggestions of where to go. I guess the team just expected you to rely on intuition, a desire to push your boundaries, and a healthy dose of luck to figure out where to go.

General user experience feels like an element completely lost with Gollum. There are so many things here that feel like textbook examples of what to avoid in game design: bad checkpointing, escort quests, unskippable exposition where you could be caught and have to relisten to it again. It’s frustrating. Gollum can occasionally use a mechanic to figure out where to go but it only seems to work in specific instances. In some zones, it isn’t functional at all. You just get a yellow dot a few hundred yards in the distance and are told to get there. This can be downright infuriating. At one point, I had to replay a chapter I’d beaten earlier that day. Despite having finished it, figuring out where the game wanted me to go took twenty-five failed attempts and a bit of luck before I noticed a faded painting that showed me the way. Oh, and who thought running toward the screen while trying to escape a giant monster, like a Crash Bandicoot game, was a good idea in 2023?

Speaking of replaying earlier missions, I had to do so because of a progress-stopping bug in a mainline quest. The only solution I could find was to go back two chapters prior and interact with the object in question ad nauseam to exhaust dialog. Somehow it must’ve been missed that not playing with a toy earlier in the game rendered it entirely dysfunctional later. Unfortunately, while game-stopping bugs are rare, bugs, in general, are not. Shoddy, glitchy stealth mechanics, bizarre issues with falling animations after I’d landed, and more were relatively common in my dozen or so hours with the game.

From an aesthetic position, the game looks rough. Humans and elves occasionally feel more normally proportioned while both Gollum and the orcs are hard to look at. A lot of characters feel uncomfortably amateur in their design. Environments ranged from confusing and rudimentary to beautiful and, well, still confusing. From an audio perspective, I think the voice talent actually did a pretty good job and the score is solid. I did initially hate the voice of Gollum, but after so much time with him, the performance grew on me.

I hate to say it but The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is probably my biggest disappointment of the year so far. I’m a longtime Tolkien fan and I was looking forward to spending time with an officially licensed game that told the story of an intriguing character. Between poor visuals, terrible design, lousy stealth, dreadful platforming, infuriating bugs, and a bad user experience, I can’t recommend this to anyone but the patient hardcore Tolkien fan. Even then, I’d strongly urge caution. You can only earn a first impression once and apologizing days after you launch isn’t a great start. “Leave now and never come back!

Review copy generously provided by Daedalic Entertainment and Nacon

The Bottom Line

 

The story of Gollum actually has some interesting lore but bad encounter design, terribly executed stealth and platforming, and a host of bugs make the experience an exercise in frustration.

 

3

Joe Morgan

Husband, gamer, software developer, animal lover. When he's not writing for GeeksUnderGrace, he's probably fishing or working on content with his wife for Coffee and Adventure, their YouTube channel

1 Comments

  1. Amanda Stanstelli on June 10, 2023 at 3:18 pm

    One of the worst game it as a lot of bugs it’s hard to play the game

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