In all honesty I was of two minds when I accepted a chance to see The Lord of the Rings: Gollum at PAX East. On one hand I am a mega Lord of the Rings fan – books, RPGs and other games and especially the movies. On the other I really wasn’t sure what a game centered around Gollum could be like.
Thankfully, after getting my hands on the title I am leaning more towards this being a quality LOTR experience and less a subpar The Hobbit one.
What Is It, My Precious?
Taking control of the titular Gollum, I started my journey with a developer from Daedalic Entertainment on hand to give me some insight on the ideas behind the game. Unlike the recent action-packed Mordor games, LOTR: Gollum is more of a narrative-based journey, with a gameplay focused on stealth and exploration.
This is not to say the slippery Gollum never gets his hands dirty. The occasional enemy orc or creature is dispatched with a choke or rock smash. But generally he avoids direct conflict. Instead, as I progressed through the few levels available in the demo, the task was to sneak past patrols, ambush them, or lead them into traps or the not-so-tender mercies of Shelob.
One of the things that impressed me right away was the art direction. It has a cartoony realism that frankly works great with the subject matter. It allows the experience to reflect the light and dark aspects of the game, and in fact the inner conflicts between Sméagol and Gollum, in a really striking way.
That was a key focus of the game, Daedalic told me – to highlight the constant battle waging in Gollum’s head as he veers toward who he was as Sméagol and who he is now. At many points in the game there are moments of inner dialogue about whether he will make a brave or helpful choice as Sméagol or a cowardly, evil or selfish choice as Gollum.
I could see these choices in action, and they were tough to make, as they could lead to very different outcomes for Gollum that could be helpful or backfire. I found the system very effective and added a nice touch to the duality we saw represented via dialogue in the movies.
How Does It Play, My Precious?
Gameplay-wise The Lord of the Rings: Gollum plays like an efficient but standard stealth action game. Traverse walls, jump to locations, hide in bushes, follow people and eavesdrop. There is a large amount of freedom in many areas in how to navigate the scene as well as a ton of lore available to discover in the form of books, items and locations.
There are also a lot of characters from the greater LOTR universe, with Gandalf making an appearance to interrogate Gollum, which triggers the flashbacks leading to the game proper. During the demo I saw elves, dwarves, orcs, Shelob, the Mouth of Sauron, the Candleman and many others.
Overall I was incredibly intrigued by what I saw of the game. The stealth and traversal sequences were nothing special but the story elements and internal conflict really hit home and made me want to see more as my demo ended.
The Lord of the Rings: Gollum has been in development for a long time and it is finally almost ready for release. It is expected to come out May 25 for PC via Steam and Epic Games Store as well as PlayStation 4|5, Xbox One, Series X|S and Nintendo Switch.