Gollum review: Lord of the Rings game is far from precious
We hates it forever.
It brings us no great pleasure to say that The Lord of the Rings: Gollum, the new game from Daedalic Entertainment that claims to offer the 'untold story' of everyone's favourite split-personality former Stoor Hobbit, is very bad.
Reviewing a bad game is never easy, unless you're the type of person that thrives on hurling insults, and this reviewer is finding it particularly difficult. That's because, in another life, pre-pandemic, we visited the offices in Hamburg where Gollum was made. We walked through the rows of desks, we saw the computers, we met some of the hard-working developers who have poured their time and effort into this project for years.
But there's no getting around it, sadly. Despite years of work from the team at Daedalic Entertainment, The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is one of the worst games in recent memory. It's hard to pick a least-favourite thing about it when we have so many frustrations.
On paper, the idea must have sounded interesting in its initial pitch meeting. This was designed to be a stealth game that is almost entirely combat-free. It would retell one of the best-loved stories of all time, JRR Tolkien's main Lord of the Rings books, from the perspective of one of the most unique characters in fantasy history.
At some point, though, in between the game's numerous delays, it seems like something went very wrong. The graphics are poor, the levels are overly linear, and overall the Gollum game feels like a cheap knock-off that belongs on a previous generation of hardware. And even if it had come out in the early 2000s or whatever, it wouldn't have been considered good.
Wherever you look, you'll see corners that have been cut, seemingly in the name of just getting this game out the door so that everyone involved can move on. Everything from the generic fonts on the menus (if only Lord of the Rings had a memorable font they could've used) to the unfinished-feeling character animations – not to mention the dull supporting characters and the forgettable music – it feels like a rushed job that was completed with little love for the source material.
On top of that, certain elements are stuck behind a paywall. If you want the Elvish characters to speak in their native Sindarin language, you'd better pay for the more expensive Precious Edition. If you want to collect 'lore compendium' entries as you walk around, you have to pay extra for that as well. Even special 'emotes' for Gollum are locked behind this financial uplift. It's not a good look.
It's hard to think of anyone really enjoying this game and claiming it as one of their favourites. It's not even bad in a funny way like The Room. It's just bland, repetitive and totally uninspired. And given that the core concept hinges on Gollum having zero combat skills (he literally dies the second any enemy finds him), there's not even any fun action to paper over the cracks.
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Why not one star, then? That's the question we asked ourselves. What are the positives that save this game from receiving our lowest possible mark? One thing we will say is that actor Wayne Forester does an admirable job in the role of Smeagol/Gollum, trying his very best to ape Andy Serkis's filmic portrayal despite having a far less enjoyable script to work with. His manic performance manages to make certain scenes interesting, at least, saving your engagement levels from fully plummeting.
Some of the level design is OK, too. The game has lots of verticality, with Gollum climbing up structures, scrambling across walls and swinging over gaps to avoid orcs and other baddies. The game normally uses a little yellow icon to show you which direction to go in, but when you work something out for yourself it does feel momentarily cool.
Another element that feels like it has potential is the dual personality system, with players getting to choose between an angry Gollum response or a vaguely positive Smeagol response. However, these moments are fleeting and sometimes feel like they make little actual different to the experience. If you thought that embracing the dark or light might alter Gollum somehow, perhaps unlocking different abilities for our tiny hero, you'd be wrong. He can move around and he can throw rocks, and that's about it.
Even those scant positive elements can't save this game. It looks bad, it feels half-finished and it does not make a strong case that the 'untold story' of Gollum was actually worth telling. The things the game has you do vary from the mundane (crawling through gaps for various bland reasons) to the downright depressing (collecting the prison tags of numerous dead inmates), making it feel like the developers struggled to find 10 chapters' worth of tasks that were actually worthwhile or interesting.
Even the most hardcore Lord of the Rings fan probably wouldn't have a good time with this game. You might enjoy spotting familiar names and places, picking up tidbits here and there, but the actual experience of playing the game is so unenjoyable that the bad will far outweigh the good.
The game glitches out regularly, sometimes respawning you in utterly useless places – like totally out of shot, or facing the wrong way, or at a checkpoint that feels like ages ago – if you fall off a ledge or walk too close to another character, which will happen regularly.
All in all, this game is about as far from precious as it's possible to get without being the actual worst game of all time. Here's hoping that Amazon's upcoming Lord of the Rings MMO can offer something better. The retailer did a decent job with The Rings of Power, so that's something to cling to if the Gollum reviews have soured your mood. Writing this one hasn't been fun at all, much like the game itself.
The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is out now on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S. A Switch port is coming at a later date. We reviewed on PS5.
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