When The Lord of the Rings: Gollum was announced in 2019, some fans wondered why Gollum was chosen as the protagonist of a video game over any other character created by JRR Tolkien. Now that The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is finally here, that question is more apparent than before, as his moment in the spotlight is one punctuated by a miserable gameplay experience alongside endless bugs and performance issues.
The Lord of the Rings: Gollum Key Details
- Developer: Daedalic Entertainment
- Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, & Xbox Series X/S
- Release Date: May 25, 2023
- Price: $49.99
Gollum’s Untold Tales Can Now Be Seen In A Video Game
As the name suggests, The Lord of the Rings: Gollum follows the former Ring-Bearer, who murdered his cousin and took the One Ring for himself. The game is set between the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, during the time period when Gollum wandered Middle-earth in search of Bilbo Baggins to reclaim his precious ring. The story begins with Gollum trapped in Mordor, tortured by Sauron for information, and left to rot in a slave camp. He eventually escapes one prison and falls into another, as he is held by King Thranduil of Mirkwood, where a mysterious wizard comes to him with questions about what he revealed to the Dark Lord.
Gollum is not a mighty warrior nor a wise spellcaster. Instead, he is sneaky and agile, with senses that have been finely tuned due to all the time he spent living in caves. As such, The Lord of the Rings: Gollum’s gameplay loop is broken up into platforming stages and stealth sections, with a few story hubs and puzzles spread throughout. Gollum also has enhanced vision, allowing him to see in the dark and causing contextual items to glow.
Unfortunately, there have been several games in 2023 that have reached launch day bogged down by glitches, including Redfall’s disappointing release that happened not long ago. We all owe Redfall an apology, however, as it looks like a first-party Nintendo title compared to The Lord of the Rings: Gollum. The game is filled with many crashes, game-breaking checkpoint bugs, collision detection problems, and animation issues. These problems, coupled with the overall ugliness of the game’s world and its uninspired characters, make for one of the most unpleasant gaming experiences of the year.
It bears mentioning that the developers have promised a day-one patch that will hopefully address these issues. However, it will be released following the publication of this review.
Gollum Is No Nathan Drake
Despite the major issues the glitches have caused, what kills the experience is the controls in the platforming section. The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is filled with Uncharted-style platforming, where you slide across ledges, jump across platforms, and climb up walls. The controls and animations are so bad that the game has added a magnetic property to Gollum, where he will snap to ledges if he enters their general vicinity – or not, as sometimes the mechanic just won’t work, and you’ll plummet into the abyss. This means a jump isn’t always guaranteed to work, even if you pull it off correctly, which is death for a game like this.
The stealth sections are equally painful but in their unique way. The unresponsive controls come out in force here, with the stealth movement button sometimes not working, and the annoyingly attentive guards quickly exploiting any weakness to nab Gollum. Here, the game’s stamina meter comes into play, as it’s a major annoyance most of the time, only allowing Gollum to run for a few seconds before he needs to slow down again. This makes traversal slower than needed, and it makes it impossible to run away from the guards when spotted in the stealth sections, as you’ll blow your stamina before getting more than a few feet away. Death is often unavoidable due to these problems, and even the death sequences have issues in this game due to how they’re depicted.
Presumably, The Lord of the Rings: Gollum would be especially appealing to fans of the character, so it’s puzzling why he dies in such unsettling ways. While the game never goes so far as to show blood or guts, Gollum’s little ragdoll body will often be crushed against rocks as he falls, or the back of his tiny head will get bashed in by orc guards. There are a few cutaways in Gollum’s death scenes, but the game could have used a few more, as there’s something unsettling about his many point-and-click-era style deaths throughout gameplay.
The Dual Sides Of Gollum’s Personality Are An Afterthought
One reason to feature Gollum as a protagonist is the dual nature of the character’s personality, as it was promised that his two sides, Gollum and Sméagol, will fight to wrest control from the player. In practice, the story will occasionally stop and present Mass Effect-style choices, where the player must pick a side and then convince the other that it’s a good idea. The problem is that the system is underutilized and doesn’t feel like it influences the story. The “convincing” part of the gameplay boils down to obvious dialogue choices, further making its implementation feel pointless.
The Lord of the Rings: Gollum could have put this mechanic to better use, as a large chunk of the game is set in a Mordor prison, where Gollum is at the bottom of the barrel of the criminal hierarchy and must survive by choosing his allies carefully. I’m making it sound much more interesting than it actually is, as it mostly amounts to a boring prison break plot that takes too long to go anywhere, as you endlessly wander boring caves and caverns. Your decisions have little influence over the events in this section, and the escape boils down to linear gameplay sections and false choices.
In addition to the struggles with Gollum’s writing, the writers had the opportunity to add all kinds of characters to Middle-earth. These include the imposing Candle Man, a sorcerer in the service of Sauron and major antagonist who uses Gollum as a Toadie), the mysterious Mell, a blind eld who teams up with Gollum to escape Mirkwood, and the awful Graznhag, who is an idiot that seems designed to be as unlikable as possible, with the player forced to guide him through the game’s incredibly tedious sewer puzzle, as well as protecting him from orc guards in an escort mission, while he endlessly complains.
A few new characters, like Candle Man and Mell, are the game’s highlight, while some famous characters from the original text, like Gandalf and Thranduil, have a more minor role, but they at least match their original characterization from Tolkien’s work.
Mordor Prison Simulator 2023
The Lord of the Rings: Gollum does a great job at emulating the experience of being in Mordor prison, but I’m not sure if anyone would be willing to pay for hours of tedium, unpleasantness, and being yelled at by orcs. The elven parts of the game are a little better, but it’s ultimately just a reskin in terms of gameplay, with the ramshackle Mordor platforms replaced with trees, and the orc guards switched out for elves. It’s just long sections of Gollum acting like a mix between Nathan Drake and Mario as he endlessly misses ledges while the player looks on in vain, trying to spot where to go next among the bland textures of what should be a vibrant Middle-earth.
Gollum isn’t protagonist material, at least not for a video game. He is a wretched creature who only survived the events of The Hobbit because Bilbo took pity on him. If The Lord of the Rings: Gollum can be said to have one achievement, it perfectly emulates the painful experience of being Gollum, as it makes you feel just as sad and wretched as Sméagol himself. This story didn’t need to be told, as the exciting parts of Gollum’s life were displayed in Tolkien’s works, and this game only sullies the characters created by the great author with its terrible… everything.
|+||The Candle Man and Mell are fun additions to Middle-earth.|
|+||There’s one cool scene with the Nazgul early on.|
|–||It proved that Gollum isn’t video game protagonist material.|
|–||Riddled with bugs and performance issues.|
|–||Abysmal control scheme leads to constant player deaths|
|–||Gollum/Sméagoll mechanic is underutilized and feels like an afterthought.|