New ideas and art for The Lord of the Rings franchise can be tricky. While there’s plenty of source material to work with, new entertainment surrounding Middle-earth is always divisive. That was the case for The Lord of the Rings: Gollum when it was first announced as fans had strong opinions on the concept. Despite a killer preview a few months back, the title didn’t live up to its ambitions. It consistently falls short of expectations between a narrative that can’t decide what it wants to be and gameplay that’s never consistent.
The Lord of the Rings: Gollum takes place between the time Bibo Baggins takes the One Ring and Gollum meets the Fellowship of the Ring in the Mines of Moria. This basically spans from the middle of The Hobbit to the middle of The Fellowship of the Ring. During this time, Gollum is captured by Sauron, escapes Mordor, is held captive by the Elves of Mirkwood, and gets free again.
Players experience Gollum’s journey through parkour, stealth, and puzzles. There’s the illusion of choice at times, but at the end of the day, Gollum has to become the character he is at the start of The Fellowship of the Ring.
A Split Narrative
Gollum, or Smeagol, may be the playable character, but he isn’t a hero. His split personality, which is arguably the result of his status as a victim of the One Ring, rattles his mind and decision-making. Gollum wants to find the One Ring, but Smeagol is ready to let the evil object go. For all intents and purposes, Gollum represents evil while Smeagol represents a naive soul gone astray (almost to the point of being child-like).
This dichotomy between the two is what many expected The Lord of the Rings: Gollum to explore. Instead, much of the game focused on parkour and stealth elements. While there were moments when you had to make a decision as one of the personalities while convincing the other personality to agree with you, it didn’t feel like the focus. The narrative was more about the conflict around Gollum instead of the conflict within Gollum.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing – there’s something to be said about the fact that no matter how you choose to respond to certain events, the result is the same. Gollum has very little control over the story he exists in, and The Lord of the Rings: Gollum emphasizes that. Unfortunately, that was supposed to be one of the most interesting parts of the game, and for most of the story, it doesn’t hold any weight.
The Hot and Cold Gameplay
I really wanted to like the gameplay in The Lord of the Rings: Gollum, but it caused me so much frustration that it was barely enjoyable for the last half of the game. Much of that frustration came down to broken parkour and bugs.
In the beginning, I ran into very few problems. In fact, the parkour felt intuitive, and there’s a bit of leeway the game gave me if I couldn’t control Gollum with pinpoint accuracy (which isn’t exactly easy to do – there are times when the creature feels clunky to maneuver). Even the gameplay meshed well with the narrative, and I felt like I was going about my day just like I would in a game like Hogwarts Legacy.
Unfortunately, once arriving in Mirkwood, this seemed to unravel. I got stuck in spots that I clearly wasn’t meant to reach, Gollum jumped in odd directions he wasn’t facing, and getting around the trees seemed to constantly cause problems. In fact, there were several times when I had to do the same move over and over again to see if Gollum would actually reach his destination.
Bugs also started popping up more frequently. There were several times I had to restart a level because an event wouldn’t trigger correctly. It was difficult to decide to give up on a level and the progress I’d made just to hope the reason I was stuck was because of a bug. In several instances, a scene wouldn’t start, and I’d be stuck wandering around and trying to decide if I was supposed to do something else. There is supposed to be a day-one update to fix some of these issues, but it’s worth noting that it impacted my 15-hour playthrough of the game tremendously.
The gameplay fell prey to the same back-and-forth nature that the narrative did, holding it back quite a bit from feeling like an immersive experience.
The Inconsistencies Keep Going
Just like the rest of The Lord of the Rings: Gollum, the graphics were either outstanding or pretty bad. Some scenes looked like incredible high-budget animated films while others brought me back to the early days of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. This occurred while I ran the game at High settings on PC.
The level design suffered the same fate. While some levels were brilliantly laid out with several ways to go, others left me confused and frustrated (and wondering whether a bug was stopping my progress). At times, I was wrapped up in whatever was going on to the point of feeling fear and sympathy for Gollum. At others, I was hyper-aware that I was playing a game because of what I was asked to do.
Unfortunately, nearly every aspect of The Lord of the Rings: Gollum left me wanting more. Some parts of the game were thoroughly enjoyable, such as the brief great moments of Gollum’s tortured conscience, while others were just as disappointing, such as the inconsistent gameplay. At its best, The Lord of the Rings: Gollum gives players a chance to see Mirkwood and Mordor like never before. Considering the attention to detail from the lore experts brought in, Gollum is now a great way to experience these parts of Middle-earth that people couldn’t visually see before. Unfortunately, that experience is tainted with many pitfalls, and Gollum struggles to figure out what it wants to be.
TechRaptor reviewed The Lord of the Rings: Gollum on PC with a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S.