A new Lord of the Rings game centered around the character Gollum sounded strange but promising when it was first announced by Daedalic Entertainment. It is a game concept that could be great, provided the people making it hit upon the correct type of gameplay and character design. I’ve been wanting to see it ever since it was revealed in 2019.
I got a chance to see a sneak preview of the game in development thanks to Daedalic. I’m told what I saw was very early in the game’s development, so I don’t want to judge the final product based on it, but I was left a little baffled by what I saw. I’m not exactly sure, based on this preview, if Lord of the Rings: Gollum knows what kind of a character Gollum is.
The gameplay footage showed Gollum sneaking around a base of some kind and speaking with a human at one point. The environment appeared to be Barad-dur, the fortress where Gollum is at one point kept against his will. Daedalic originally promised large environments, but it doesn’t look like Barad-dur is one of them. Gollum also has some kind of internal banter between his Gollum and Smeagol personas, though I don’t know how much of it will survive to the final version of the game.
The game is supposedly set during the time period after Gollum has acquired the One Ring, somewhere in the hundreds of years it remained with him before passing to Bilbo Baggins. I don’t think there’s much in the Tolkien lore about what Gollum got up to during that time — I assumed he hid in a cave that entire time, but this game wants to show something happening to Gollum in the meantime, which apparently involves being taken to Barad-dur.
I can’t put my finger on why, but something about the game doesn’t seem very “Gollum.” I don’t consider myself a Tolkien purist by any stretch of the imagination, but something in the gameplay or the art style or the dialogue showcased felt strange. Maybe it was the dialogue between Gollum and Smeagol, or maybe it was the fact that Gollum actually spoke to another person in the demo — Gollum doesn’t talk to anyone. That’s why he created a second person in his head, so he’d have someone to talk to.
Either way, I didn’t look at the in-game Gollum and think, “Oh, this pitiable creature, twisted and spiritually destroyed by a powerful evil into whose path he was thrown by chance.” I thought something more along the lines of, “When is Styx going to show up and make a smart remark about this weirdo?”
That’s not an idle reference, either. The game looks similar to Styx: Master of Shadows in art and gameplay. The footage showcased suggested the game is based around stealth and climbing. You, as Gollum, must navigate the in-game world while avoiding the many enemies who might wish to take your Precious away, one presumes. Stealth makes sense as a gameplay style — I don’t expect Gollum to start throwing down with armed orc battalions like Talion did in Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. Instead, Gollum can creep around and behind them and can also slip into parts of the environment his enemies are too big to follow him into. He can take down some enemies with stealth though.
If this is a purely stealth experience — and, again, it’s difficult to tell based upon the footage shown — then it looks like it could be a decent game, in which you play as a nasty little gremlin moving through the shadows. If that’s the game we get, then I will eat my words because that is indeed Gollum in a nutshell.
Daedalic released more gameplay footage at the Future Games Show, which showed a glimpse of the final game. The Lord of the Rings: Gollum has plenty of potential, and I want it to live up to that potential.