LOTR: Gollum review – Not so precious

by Lars
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Loathe as I am to add another boot to the Gollum shit-kicking party, I did unfortunately receive a review code, and as a result I must do my duty and deliver an article. This is such an unfortunate circumstance – not just for me having to play a decent chunk of it, but for all the people who’ve spent years of their lives working on this mistake.

Right off the bat, a Lord of the Rings game starring Gollum as the main character is absolutely not a big draw. I don’t understand how it ever came into existence. By making a game out of Gollum’s “untold story”, they’ve essentially Disneyfied a tragic villain and stripped away the things that make him compelling as a character. This version of Gollum is obviously designed to be cuter than the books/movies portray him, with a mop of messy hair and big, soulful eyes.

Gollum by some rocks

They’ve assumed – incorrectly, in my case at least – that nobody wants to play as a gross swamp creature. Playing as a violent, unhinged cave-dwelling half-creature was the only thing that could possibly have redeemed this game in my eyes, and they even managed to miss that mark entirely. This is, in my opinion, a little bit arrogant. They wanted to make a game about Gollum, but a sort of safe-for-work version of the character.

My point is, this is a game with an extremely weak premise, but that could have been redeemed somewhat if the game itself brought something interesting to the table, or at least gave us an interesting look into an unexplored corner of the LOTR universe. Tangentially, just because something is unexplored doesn’t make it interested just by virtue of mystery. We never saw Saruman’s bedroom or found out where Gandalf got his hat, but those aren’t stories begging to be told.

I suppose I should probably crack on with some gameplay critique, but it’s just hard to dig into. There are so few redeeming features, so few systems that don’t just seem half-hearted. I really don’t want to spend this entire article pulling the game apart, not when so many outlets have already done so. There is so much that honestly deserves harsh critique, and so little that deserves praise.

Gollum sneaking around

What Gollum does have going for it is some reasonably nice environmental design. The opening level is particularly strong – the craggy, thunder-lashed mountains Gollum navigates before he gets arrested by Sauron’s forces – and it’s always fun to see more Orc culture, following the Shadow of Mordor/Shadow of War games. They have some fun little bits of dialogue, undermined by some slightly janky design. They manage to look like regular guys wearing Orc costumes, which I doubt is a meta joke about the movie trilogy.

Gollum is quickly captured by the forces of evil and put to work in a prison camp, which introduces a bird-raising mini game, a dodgy companion system, and heavy-handed political intrigue which just has no place in a game about this character. There are stealth elements, as rudimentary and rough as they come, and Gollum gets to kill the occasional Orc with a sneak attack. But there’s just no energy behind any of it. If anything this game should have been closer to a Telltale choose-your-own adventure.

Daedalic have released a big apology letter for the current state of the game, but there’s no way that was news to them. The same letter also promises to fix the game, but as it stands the only way you’d be able to fix this game is to completely remake it with Gollum as a heavily-featured side character and some random imprisoned human as the protagonist, maybe someone who has to work heavily with Gollum to escape.

The stealth mechanics are unsatisfying and janky, and the combat within it even more so. Gollum can kill orcs, but only if they’re alone, and not wearing a helmet. The word ‘helmet’ here basically extends to any sort of head-covering. There are also enemies he just can’t kill at all – like Elves, I guess the devs thought they were too pretty – which basically renders half the actual gameplay component of the game redundant. The stealth is not interesting enough to stumble your way through as much as the game wants you to.

LOTR: Gollum overall thoughts

Ultimately, the only riddle Gollum poses to its audience is why it was ever made in the first place. It has a few redeeming features – sound and visual design are both strong at times, and these would both have been very well employed in any other game. However, an already shaky premise forms a fellowship of doom with a lazy, badly made game to create something impossible to recommend to anyone. I have seen other reviewers state that extremely dedicated and curious LOTR fans may enjoy it, but I would have to thoroughly disagree with that.

The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is available now. Check out more reviews here.

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