It is not hard to say The Lord of the Rings is one of the most influential high fantasy epics of all time. With massive tomes detailing rich lore and intriguing characters, J.R.R. Tolkien elected his short-statured race, the Hobbit, to play the protagonist in his most famous and massive works.
Daedalic Entertainment followed the legendary writer’s legacy by crafting The Lord of the Rings: Gollum, an adventure with a unique point-of-view in Middle-Earth that also follows the exploits of a Hobbit—albeit a deranged 500-year-old one corrupted by dark magic—in his (their?) undying quest to reclaim his precious.
The Lord of the Rings: Gollum takes place in between the events of The Fellowship of the Ring and The Hobbit, from behind the lens of the ‘small, slimy creature’ Smeagol/Gollum. While the creature is legendarily portrayed by Andy Serkis in the film series and oddly the LEGO Lord of the Rings game, this time around the honour goes to Wayne Forester, who does a superb job bringing Gollum to life as the protagonist.
The Lord of the Rings: Gollum injects the player into Middle-Earth without context or warning, and the first glimpse of our hero is in a dark and dreary cave in the confines of Cirith Ungol, a tunnel named after a gigantic spider—referred to as an ungolian, named Shelob—that leads into Mordor, the territory of Sauron, the LOTR big bad.
“The Lord of the Rings: Gollum takes place in between the events of The Fellowship of the Ring and The Hobbit, from behind the lens of the ‘small, slimy creature’ Smeagol/Gollum.”
It’s noticeable that The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is not a title for those unfamiliar with the Tolkien source material, as it leans on the written works and films so much, that the narrative would be lost on newcomers to the series. This is also not great for those who haven’t brushed up on their lore before playing, as rapid-fire references to the entire series are made as if the player is a scholar, or lives in Middle-Earth themselves.
While the player learns how to control Gollum, context is given in a present-tense conversation between Gollum and Gandalf the Grey, and the chapters are flashbacks of Gollum’s time in Barad-dûr. Again, without reading or knowing the essentials of the books/films, Gandalf is a plain character here, although it couldn’t be further from the truth in the overarching story. The Lord of the Rings: Gollum does insert the player into the Gollum perspective though, so maybe the player is meant to know however much Gollum does, and maybe Gollum sees Gandalf as a plain Wizard. This just feels wasteful though, as LOTR lore is dense, and the title could’ve used extra information.
After the tutorial, Gollum finds himself in Barad-dûr, and the player becomes more acquainted with the Smeagol/Gollum power struggle. Constantly, the schizoid arguments continue between Gollum and Smeagol (they’re the same character) while just wandering throughout the slave quarters and performing tasks for Orc slave drivers. At times, I was given a choice to either side with Gollum or Smeagol and I had to convince the other personality that my choice was the right one. This is a novel idea and lends itself to the nature of the character superbly.
“The Lord of the Rings: Gollum consistently throws the player into tough platforming sequences that feel unfinished with the number of issues spacing and ledge placement have.”
The Lord of the Rings: Gollum shines brightest in the moments where Gollum has a dialogue with secondary characters, as Gollum’s quips during these moments are sharp and show there is far more than meets the eye when it comes to his dual personalities. He loathes the orcs and constantly berates them with the “we” moniker, and the awkwardness of these encounters generates genuinely funny moments. But during these segments, the player must contend with a janky control scheme in tight platforming sequences, which, most of the time, do not work as intended.
There are many parkour tricks Gollum can perform, such as wall-running (only on certain walls), jumping, ledge climbing, crawling, and sneaking around to navigate the hazard-riddled fire pits of Barad-dûr. Many times, poor platform placement blended with bad jumping mechanics will send Gollum to his doom without reason. This is a common theme throughout The Lord of the Rings: Gollum, many of the design choices do not work as intended, leaving the failure on the side of development.
Jumping can sometimes overshoot the mark without reason, and ledges where the character should auto-latch, Gollum just doesn’t do it. This becomes a headache in the early game, but by the time you reach the Elven territory of northern Mirkwood, it becomes too much to bear. The Lord of the Rings: Gollum consistently throws the player into tough platforming sequences that feel unfinished with the number of issues spacing and ledge placement have.
“The Lord of the Rings: Gollum shines brightest in the moments where Gollum has a dialogue with secondary characters…”
The Lord of the Rings: Gollum also implements stealth sequences, chock-full of tedious RPG trope filler. There are fetch quests, follow quests and (groan) escort quests that Gollum must accomplish while maintaining stealth. Stealth with Gollum behind the wheel sounds like a decent idea in theory, but small missteps can set the player back to a previous checkpoint that feels like it was hours earlier, but it was only a couple of minutes.
In the first section of the game, I had Gollum use a rock to make an orc fall to its doom and this happens ONCE. I could not get the game to do it a second time in my playthrough. Without more ways to smartly get around enemies, each sequence felt more of the same. There are only so many times sneak-wait-sneak feels fresh before it just doesn’t. This happens early in Lord of the Rings: Gollum, and we just wished they included more wayses to eliminate the orcses.
However, there are JUST enough notable cameos and relationships from the LOTR universe that drags the player through the frustrating (and long) chapters filled with platforming with an unshakeable grip. Giving the backstory to who Smeagol the Stoor Hobbit was before the One Ring corrupted him, showing the pity Gandalf and the Elves place on Gollum for undergoing Ring Wraith torture, and humanizing Gollum as more than simply a Precious-junkie adds depth to an already complex creature.
The Lord of the Rings: Gollum utilizes a good premise and shows a side of Middle-Earth that hasn’t been explored before from a truly unique point of view. There are a few bright spots to be found in my experience as Gollum and all of them relate to character interaction. Gollum develops a relationship with a hideous bird, the constant inner turmoil on whether Gollum or Smeagol is right in their decision-making, and an unlikely alliance between Smeagol and Mell, a blind elf (possibly the best interactions in the game), are truly compelling experiences.
The problem is that the compelling narrative is less common than poorly paced stealth, poor platforming sequences, and some of the jankiest jump mechanics I’ve experienced. The Lord of the Rings: Gollum tells a compelling bridge story between some of the greatest fiction ever written, but a story trapped in a web of generally bad, frustrating gameplay that is very hard to recommend to Tolkien fans, but impossible to a newcomer.