We've seen the Lord of the Rings: Gollum demo and it's almost entirely combat-free
Without his precious, Gollum needs to be sneakier than ever.
One of the more intriguing upcoming games based on a famous character is The Lord of the Rings: Gollum, which will put players in the grubby bare feet of the former Stoor Hobbit.
The game will chart Gollum's journey after he lost the One Ring to Bilbo Baggins. You will see some familiar moments, such as Gollum being tortured into revealing that Bilbo has the ring, but you'll also see new material that has been carefully crafted in collaboration with Middle-earth Enterprises, the holders of the rights to JRR Tolkien's books.
At the recent Bigben Week event in Paris, the game's developers from Daedalic hosted a booth where you could watch a member of staff playing through a short demo of the Gollum game. We couldn't play the demo ourselves, this being strictly a hands-off affair, but we did watch with interest from the sidelines.
Watching with interest from the sidelines, as it turns out, is also what Gollum himself has to do. This game has always been pitched as a stealthy experience, albeit with plenty of puzzles and exploration mixed in as well, but one thing really stood out from this demo: the game appears to be almost entirely combat-free.
The short demo that was shown, which seems to be the opening tutorial of the game, sees Gollum attempting to sneak around Orcs and other foes as he tries to make good an escape. Gollum has a few decent skills at his disposal - for example, because he's so ancient, he as a trait called 'intuition' that helps him sniff out his objectives - but one thing he cannot do is fight. At all.
In the demo, at least, if Gollum runs up to a guard and gets in their face (rather than finding a sneaky way around them), you'll see an instant GAME OVER type screen. Gollum is caught and defeated, and the player is loaded back to their most recent checkpoint. There's no option to clobber the guard with a rock or anything like that, at least not at this early stage of the game.
Instead, the player is encouraged to use the environment to guide Gollum away from danger - you can throw stones to distract the guards, you can clamber up walls to find hidden paths, you can sneak through little gaps that no one else can fit in, and you will also be presented with decisions that play into Gollum's split personality.
Will you embrace the darker Gollum personality or the more innocent Sméagol? Your choices, in some cases, will send you down different paths, although the game does appear to have one set-in-stone story in the overarching sense. It sounds like an interesting experience, and the graphics are looking in quite good shape as well (especially when you manage to put the massively expensive movies out of your mind).
If you thought Gollum struggled against nameless Orcs, just imagine how he'd fare when faced with a larger enemy such as a giant flying creature. This happens in the demo, too, and Gollum's only option is to run away and slide through a tiny gap in a wall to escape. Being both weedy and incredibly old, Gollum certainly isn't about to take part in any massive boss battles, quick-time events or Arkham-style combos.
The only exception to this combat-free mantra, which is certainly an interesting way to build a game, appears to be stealth takedowns. If you sneak up behind a standard foe and get your timing just right, you should be able to knock them out and clear a path for yourself. This is fairly standard in stealthy games, of course, but it sounds like these takedowns will be doubly important in Gollum, seeing as he doesn't have any other combat options to fall back on.
The Lord of the Rings: Gollum will launch on 1st September 2022 for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S, with a Nintendo Switch launch coming later in the year, and you can pre-order your copy from GAME now.
We'll definitely be keen to see how the full experience feels. There aren't many major games these days that don't involve combat in one way or another, so this should be a very interesting experiment. The results could be precious.
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