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First Look – The Lord of the Rings: Gollum gameplay isn’t just about stealth

Daedalic is lifting the lid on its Gollum game, and we took an early look at some gameplay footage.

The Lord of the Rings: Gollum will give you a new perspective on the story.

It’s been two years since the German game-developers at Daedalic Entertainment first announced The Lord of the Rings: Gollum, a bold new video-game retelling of JRR Tolkien’s iconic fantasy yarn.

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This game will put players in the shoes of Gollum himself (not that Gollum wears shoes), as the ring-obsessed former Stoor Hobbit sneaks around Middle Earth and tries his best to survive.

In mid-March 2021, RadioTimes.com popped along to a virtual event where the team from Daedalic lifted the lid on The Lord of the Rings: Gollum and various other projects in their portfolio as developers and publishers. A few off-the-wall titles piqued our interest, like Glitchpunk (a cyberpunk spin on the gameplay loop of GTA 2) and Fling to the Finish (a co-op party game with colourful chaos that reminded us of Fall Guys), but the biggest topic of the day was definitely Gollum.

Towards the end of the event, press in attendance were treated to a 20-minute video of gameplay footage from the Gollum project, with narration from one of the developers. And now we’re allowed to talk about it! Read on for some things that we’ve learned.

The Lord of the Rings: Gollum gameplay isn’t just about stealth

Much of the chat around The Lord of the Rings: Gollum has focused on the fact it will have stealthy elements to its gameplay, and there’s no denying that sneakiness will be a big part of the experience. That being said, however, we came away from this presentation feeling that there’s a lot more going on beyond that.

The gameplay chunk that we saw did indeed include Gollum sneaking around an environment rich in Orcs. Gollum’s hearing is so well adjusted to caves that he can sometimes ‘see’ sounds, kind of like the Detective Mode you might remember from the Batman: Arkham franchise. This comes in handy as Gollum works his way through the world, creeping behind his enemies and taking them out when he has to.

But Gollum has other skills, too, so you won’t be lurking in the shadows the whole time you play. The developers are keen to point out that Gollum has been free-climbing through caves and across mountains for hundreds of years. This means he can clamber up steep surfaces, swing and jump with precision, and even run across walls. This means your gameplay experience will have a lot of verticality and space for creativity, with Gollum able to traverse environments in ways that other characters can’t.

In those environments, you will sometimes have puzzles to solve, so Gollum’s cunning will surely have to come into play as well. You’ll also have to think about sound, because all the enemies in the game can react to noises that you make. Even taking down enemies stealthily has a noise attached to it, which means you’ll have to think carefully about every attack that you make. You’ll want to avoid hand-to-hand combat where you can – for all the skills he does have, Gollum isn’t the best fighter.

Stealth is important, then, but it’s only one of the tools you’ll have in your arsenal in the game. Climbing, exploring and using your noggin to solve puzzles will also be important. The gameplay we saw was running on a 10-month-old build of the game – the graphics weren’t complete and a lot has changed in that time, but it still looked like an engaging experience that’s very unlike any previous LotR games.

Key art from The Lord of the Rings: Gollum.
Key art from The Lord of the Rings: Gollum.
Daedalic

There is deep affection for Tolkien on the team

Another thing that stood out during the presentation is that the team at Daedalic clearly know their stuff when it comes to Middle Earth lore, and they’ve taken a lot of Tolkien’s work into account here. It feels like a deep adaptation of the text, rather than just a surface-level rehash of the series’ most famous elements.

For example, right near the beginning of the presentation, the developer hosting the stream casually mentioned the fact that Gollum is attempting to escape enslavement at Barad-dûr during this gameplay segment. If you’re not a super-fan of The Lord of the Rings, you might need reminding that ‘Barad-dûr’ is the name given to Sauron’s Dark Tower where Gollum was held captive in the Third Age – it’s where he was tortured into revealing that Bilbo Baggins has taken ownership of the One Ring. In The Lord of the Rings films, it’s a fleeting moment. But here, it looks to be a significant section of the story.

The team’s appreciation for Tolkien does a lot more than simply informing the story, as well. The developers are keen to point out that they’re following Tolkien’s original cues when it comes to designing the world – there’s a lot of verticality to the structures of Tolkien’s Middle Earth, with ominous pillars dominating the landscape, and Daedalic has factored those descriptions into this new video-game version of the world.

Towards the end of the video, the developers promised to deliver spectacular vistas and cinematic moments within the world that Tolkien created. Their affection for this world is admirable, and it could make this a very exciting experience for lifelong fans of Middle Earth.

We might even see a “loveable” side to Gollum

Gollum is a unique character, of course, and Daedalic seem to have a firm handle on how they want to portray him. He offers a unique perspective on the stories of The Lord of the Rings, not least because he’s a character with real flaws and weaknesses, far removed from the heroic figures you’ll find elsewhere in the world.

Daedalic’s developers see beyond the flaws, though, keen to mention that Gollum also has a loveable side, which you see smatterings of when the friendly Smeagol persona breaks through. This isn’t his dominant side, of course, but it should provide some moments of lightheartedness along the way.

You’ll even have the choice to play in a positive fashion at times, channelling Smeagol rather than Gollum, which sounds like it has some interesting consequences. Nice guys do finish last, after all, and you might find that the nastier decisions are sometimes the ones have better outcomes.

It feels like this is shaping up to be a very interesting take on The Lord of the Rings, and a fresh way for fans to relive its iconic stories from a fresh perspective. As the gameplay footage came to an end, Gollum succeeds in escaping Sauron’s stronghold. And what’s next for him? Well, he’ll want to find his precious. Obviously.

Lord of the Rings: Gollum teaser trailer

Last night, Daedalic shared a brand-new teaser trailer for The Lord of the Rings: Gollum. You can watch this short-but-sweet promo video here…

The Lord of the Rings: Gollum will launch in the first quarter of 2022 for PC, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch. We’ll be sure to bring you more news on the game as we hear it. Check out some of the best subscription and membership deals around at the moment:

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