Gollum is synonymous to the Lord of the Rings brand and integral to its lore, yet he’s hardly the character you’d expect to star in his very own game. Yet, Daedalic Entertainment is taking the difficult task of making a game starring the bane of Samwise. As you might expect, Gollum is not one for combat, but he does have a unique set of skills making him a perfect choice for stealth and platforming. We got a hands-off look at The Lord of the Rings: Gollum and got to see how this springy little creature explores, sneaks, and solves puzzles while traversing the perilous landscapes near Mordor and the lush area of Mirkwood.
A Day in the Eyes of Gollum (or Smeagol)
In terms of narrative, The Lord of the Rings: Gollum takes place within only a small stretch of Gollum’s lifetime, comprising events after The Hobbit and up to a small slice of the first book of the main trilogy. You have a decently large window of a span of years where Gollum’s actions can be portrayed between the books, but you’ll still see familiar faces along the way. Gandolf and Thranduil make an appearance, and though not present, the presenter mentions Aragorn several times. Longtime fans and casual moviegoers will likely find something of interest in The Lord of the Rings: Gollum.
I want to emphasize narrative because the lore of The Lord of the Rings is so cherished — cherished for its characters and rich history. The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is going to focus primarily on the title character, of course, and his portrayal within this gameplay demo was fantastic. Although Andy Serkis isn’t voicing the Stoor this time around, there’s no doubt it sounds like Gollum. I think some individuals will find issues with Gollum’s almost cartoonishly large eyes and mop of dark hair, but we also need to realize The Lord of the Rings’ movies set a precedent for the image of Gollum, but there were multiple and varying depictions of him before his cinematic debut.
However, it’s not the voice or appearance that I liked most about this version of Gollum. You see, he is two characters: Gollum and Smeagol. At one point in the gameplay demo, Gollum sees a beetle fly by him. He’s a curious creature, so he takes an interest to the insect. His two sides start to fight against each other: the nefarious Gollum wants to eat the beetle for food, but the other simply wants to observe it. Players take an active part in his inner monologue and have to pick a side — that choice is up to you. During this sequence, you’ll choose dialogue prompts to argue with the other side. You can give in to Gollum’s more evil nature, or lean on Smeagol’s more innocent side. In the end, you have to convince the other personality that your way is the right one.
Lord of the Rings: Gollum is already offering up some intriguing narrative implications. I was told choices such as this instance with the beetle are simply for fluff, but other parts of Lord of the Rings: Gollum will offer compelling and impactful choices that can alter the course of the story. While I’m not sure if these choices will drastically change the trajectory of Gollum’s adventure, it has a lot of potential to make Gollum flesh out his character in a way the films couldn’t.
Traversing Cirth Ungol and Mirkwood in Lord of the Rings: Gollum
At the end of the day, the narrative is only one element of Lord of the Rings: Gollum. The other half is gameplay, which takes a stealthy, puzzle-platformer approach rather than the exciting combat of previous Lord of the Rings games. The beginning of the demo shows Gollum’s athletic skills in action as he climbs across ledges and jumps lengthy gaps on the cliffs of Cirith Ungol, which is close to Mordor. I was not so impressed with how linear the path forward seemed, and the traversal areas are glaringly obvious within the environment. A wall of vines conveniently winding to a ledge doesn’t quite blend into the environment or look natural of Cirith Ungol by any means, and the vine walls are so perfectly square, it just looks a little goofy.
I also got a look at some stealth elements. Being right by Mordor, it is the home of some orcs, which are found patrolling the area and need to be avoided. Again, Gollum is not a fighter, so he has to rely on his stealth skills and hope for the best. Various plant life can be used to sneak around and avoid orcs, while some areas have you grapple onto ledges to avoid patrols. Gollum can also sense the area around him with his sharp hearing, which handily highlights enemies within the environment, as well as shows hiding areas. While out of sight, Gollum’s body is dark, acting as a notifier that he can’t be seen.
As I’ve said, The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is not an action-packed title, but we’ve seen the ferocity of this little creature in action before. He’s able to choke lone enemies to death, so you can take out patrols and make it easier to sneak around. You can also pickup rocks to serve as a distraction to the orcs.
This is the first sequence of the hands-off preview, which takes place in Cirith Ungol. The other portion is a puzzle-platforming segment in Mirkwood, which is more of the same. While it has some obvious and almost out-of-place areas to grapple onto and move forward in a very linear fashion, the King’s Chambers in the Elvish city are wide open and leave a lot more room for exploration. Gollum is tasked with obtaining a silver bell for an ally, the chamber’s gilded pillars and opulent ceiling make for a more difficult environmental puzzle to move forward. It looks like a lot of fun figuring out the path forward in this area, but I just didn’t seem the same non-linearity in other sections of gameplay. And as a stealth game, it feels a little weird that there aren’t any patrols in the King’s Chambers of all things — it would, to me, add a bit of spice to The Lord of the Rings: Gollum’s gameplay if patrols were positioned around this area.