Gollum Feature
Image via Daedalic Entertainment.

The Lord of the Rings: Gollum Review – Not so Juicy Sweet

What's fun precious?

When The Lord of the Rings: Gollum was initially announced, gamers were wondering how a game could possibly make good use of Smeagol as the main protagonist. Well, Gollum’s full adventure is in full view now, and I can tell you exactly how the concept works. Spoilers ahead: It doesn’t work at all.

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Some glimpses of the game, especially during initial previews, make The Lord of the Rings Gollum seem like a sandbox stealth game with a Tolkien gift wrap. That’s really only a tiny sliver of the game though, and what we really get is a broken slice of life in Mordor for the first half of the game. I would like to say that the odd concept of Gollum as a protagonist worked out, but the full game proves why gamers were so skeptical, and it falls short in nearly every way possible.

What’s Fun Precious? – The Gameplay Aspect of Gollum Falls Flat

Before even getting into the technical issues or the extra content in the store, I just want to focus on the most basic aspect of any video game: Fun. The concept of fun is always subjective and typically too broad for a decent review of a game. However, I have no problem using “fun” here, because the game simply lacks almost any of it.

Within the first four chapters of the game alone, Gollum spends much of his time following on-rail pathways that lead to slave chores. Feeding the beasts, collecting tags, hatching a bird, and the list goes on. Tons of the gameplay is based around simple fetch quests that would be used to grind in an MMO.

Stealth was supposed to be the main feature of The Lord of the Rings Gollum, and there aren’t nearly enough stealth sequences throughout any chapter. I went an hour at a time simply climbing from one area to another, completing tasks like a life simulator, and then watching an odd cutscene.

When there are large stealth areas with enemies and multiple routes, there is a sliver of fun to be had in the game, and I could tell that sandbox stealth was a skeleton within this final product. But it was only a glimpse, and even in those areas, the experience is still fairly on rails with stiff AI and linear paths.

Boil it, Mash it, Stick the Story in a Stew

One of the best parts of the game is the simple nods to the books and classic lore. Even in a bad wrap, it’s always great to revisit a decent recreation of Middle Earth, and that sentiment remains the same here. Many of us know and love the lore, which is always fun to see in slightly new interpretations. But it really only goes as far as the sightseeing and character cameos.

The main story itself falls flat, just like the basic gameplay. Plenty of gamers were skeptical of Gollum as a protagonist that is compelling enough to carry a narrative, and now I know why. Not only are the voice performances stiff in almost every scene, but the central plot just isn’t worth telling. The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is another case of a franchise choosing an odd blip in the lore that can try to be squeezed for content.

We pick up Gollum’s story shortly after he decides to pursue the ring in Mordor and is captured. That places the game just before the start of the Fellowship of the Ring. We all know that Gollum escapes eventually, so this story has to somehow make those years between slavery and interrogation compelling.

Unfortunately, all of the side characters are entirely bland and essentially just serve as a way for Smeagol to further his schemes. My interest would be grabbed for a moment when the story was linked back to the main Lord of the Rings plot, but that was rare and shouldn’t be the central idea for an entire game.

The Lord of the Rings: Gollum Seems as Old as the Movies

There are tons of comparisons to a PlayStation 2-era game for Gollum and they aren’t wrong. Right away, I could see just how muddy all of the textures were. There is a ton of clipping that occurs. Characters look like robots when they speak and the models themselves don’t look right.

On top of the general appearance of the game, the technical issues are game-breaking. Climbing feels unresponsive half the time, and I fell to my death multiple times because Gollum would clip through platforms. One time I descended onto a crate and simply fell into it where I couldn’t escape, and I had to restart.

Even worse was the time I had to use the companion mode, which is an entirely half-baked way to control another NPC for more menial slave tasks. Aside from this mechanic being entirely frustrating and boring, it’s also just broken. I opened and closed a gate with my companion at the wrong time, so the AI didn’t react well and the game was stuck. I figured I could reload to the checkpoint, but it just brought me back to the same broken gate. I had to restart the entire level.

These aren’t small bugs. They are constant and will absolutely detract from your experience playing the game. The frame rate was at least steady in my experience, so I didn’t have to worry about stutters. But the gameplay itself needs some serious tuning to remain smooth.

The Lore is the Best Part and That Was Monetized

Familiar locations and lore are the best aspects of Gollum, and if you were so inclined to try the game out, this would be at least one reason. However, the Lore Compendium in the game is set behind a paywall. So is the option to have the elves in the game speak Sindarin.

Usually, I wouldn’t add a DLC topic to a review, but just like the “fun” discussion, this is ridiculous. This game is already $50 and then you are asked to spend around $10 for lore and elvish. That’s a basic feature in any game, not DLC, and I can’t believe this was even pushed.

Lore and creative retelling were the best parts of The Lord of the Rings Gollum, and even that was spoiled to a degree. Hopefully, further updates can save the technical aspect of the game in the future, but not even Mount Doom can reforge the base game formula.

THE LORD OF THE RINGS: GOLLUM

PROS:
● Lore and environments are enjoyable
● Huge LOTR fans will have fun with familiar characters
● Some rare aspects of the game offer compelling choices

CONS:
● Technical issues run rampant
● The narrative and characters are bland
● Gameplay feels unresponsive and more like a chore


A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review. Reviewed on PlayStation 5.


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Author
Daniel Wenerowicz
Dan has been writing gaming guides, news, and features for three years after graduating with a BA in writing . You can find him covering Call of Duty for eternity, action-adventure games, and nearly any other major release.