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The Lord of the Rings: Gollum PC Review

The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is a story-driven action adventure game by Daedalic Entertainment and co-published by Nacon. It launched on May 25, 2023, on PC, PlayStation and Xbox and this review focuses on the PC version. I was excited to get more of an insight into the titular character Gollum/Sméagol and what he got up to in the selected time period that spans several years. While I enjoyed most of what I played, it didn’t fully satiate my hunger for a rich LOTR game, and I put this down to there being very few familiar characters for me. The platforming aspects started off ok, but I struggled at times with precision control with mouse/keyboard which got frustrating.

We play in a time period between Gollum losing the ring to Bilbo Baggins, getting captured by agents of Sauron and sent to prison in the Tower of Barad-dûr, later working with elves in the lush forests of Mirkwood and reaching the entrance to the Mines of Moria. While I did learn just a couple of extra little tidbits and it was great seeing Gandalf, his scenes were brief. The next 12+ hours was all new experiences for Gollum that left me feeling a little underwhelmed with the story. I must say that the level of detail in the environments to explore was excellent and really helped set the tone for Gollum’s journey ahead.

The character of Gollum is both interesting and uninteresting at the same time, which plays into his split personality. Gollum used to be a Hobbit, hundreds of years old and has become twisted and evil. Finding the one ring was a blessing for Gollum but also an inherent curse, as we know from the books and movies. The developers engaged several Tolkien experts who wrote the story and dialogues for the characters. They also oversaw design of key characters and overall environment design to be as accurate as possible for newcomers and eager Tolkien/LOTR fans alike.

Playing on PC with default high settings performed well most of the time. I never crashed once where I have been crashing in several big AAA games lately, so it was surprisingly stable for my PC. However, when I went around a corner in some expansive areas with a lot of graphic detail, occasionally my system would hitch and jolt. This was enough to throw the camera into a 180-degree swivel, and when I was on the edge of a ledge trying to move around a corner, this often meant falling to my death. An achievement was granted for my first death in Barad-dûr – thanks, but I didn’t expect this graphics hitching to be my undoing many times later.

As you walk through the depths of the Tower of Barad-dûr, you get a sense of the fear that would have been invoked for Gollum, having such a small and seemingly frail frame compared to the hulking Orc guards who put him to task every day. The tower is absolutely huge and so escape seems impossible with nothing but lava pools below. In talking with fellow inmates, they all seem to have accepted their fate, and those that have tried to escape never made it back. However, as each working day passes for Gollum, turning into weeks and months, he feels the pull of the precious one ring constantly, and he must find a way back to it.

I found the gameplay to be comparable to Styx: Master of Shadows but with less depth and very little combat in comparison. The only combat for Gollum is throwing a rock at a guard’s head to make them move from their position, or to choke out the rare guards that weren’t wearing a helmet (you get an achievement for 10 choked foes, so it’s not high on action). Otherwise, it is more focused on avoidance and sneaking than combat. When you are not completing menial fetch quests or hurriedly pulling levers, you are swinging, jumping and sneaking around trying to work on your escape plan.

Sneaking around in the shadows, jumping across gaps, climbing up and along ledges, and even wall running can be done with Gollum. It felt somewhat like the recent Jedi Survivor, though controlling Gollum on the PC felt fairly ‘loose’. He is agile for his age and can jump a fair distance but when I needed more precision in jumping smaller gaps, or to jump backwards from one ledge to another (Gollum prompts us to jump backwards at these points, but not always), I couldn’t always hit the mark and would fall to my death. There were some frustrating sequences as times, particularly the section where you only have limited time before something occurs that will severely deplete Gollum’s health. He can pick up worms and bread to eat and heal up, and sometimes when I got stuck for where to jump to next, I could press R and it activates a sense mode that highlights enemies and pathways to take.

It did get frustrating dying time after time as I made silly mistakes when trying to rush parts, so I often had to slow down even when I felt there were time constraints, like keeping a character in earshot, or beating them up an elevator by climbing and jumping. Thankfully you are not set back too far with the game’s checkpoints, but you cannot manually save your progress. I did have to repeat short sections a few times, but part of the reason was me rushing to get through the task at hand, so it wasn’t always the game’s controls at fault, more my old man reflexes and lack of patience.

Throughout the game we are given dialogue choices as to whether we respond as the evil Gollum or the more innocent Sméagol. Once we make the initial choice, we then need to internally convince Gollum of the decision which he may agree or disagree depending on your monologue choices. It’s an interesting insight into his psyche. When I conversed with the guards, I tended to use Gollum responses to prevent myself getting beaten, so they would throw insults at Gollum as I ran past them. Whereas with fellow inmates, I would side with Sméagol as I wanted to gain allies to learn from them and help plan the escape. At one point, one of the inmates is revealed to be quite an important figure.

There is a point where we blow up a bridge but get caught and then interrogated. In order to save myself, I had to either confess that it was me, or point the finger at fellow inmates I had been working with. It was a tough decision but either way was going to have consequences and punishments delivered. Gollum must live with his decisions and ultimately escape to get back to his precious. Weeks, months and years go by where Gollum seemingly works his way up the food chain and becomes an ally of the Candle Man, able to freely move about command areas, and here he plots his final escape process. I found the time jumps a little disjointed though as one minute the guards will kill on sight, then time jumps and we can walk amongst them, only to have particular guards in particular areas that would spot you. It’s assumed he obviously has worked hard to gain favour with the higher ranked characters, but the stress of trying to avoid the orcs in one sequence becomes null and void in the next.

Finally escaping and rushing through spider-infested caverns and eventually out into the lush green forest of Mirkwood, gave me a respite from the doom of gloomy tone of Mordor. In getting to the forests of Mirkwood, we find ourselves in the dungeons of the Elvenking Thranduil. It seems everyone is out to get Gollum/Sméagol one way or another.

The new characters we meet didn’t leave too much of an impression on me, and after several hours of working with the orcs and the Candle Man, I just wanted to hurry up and escape the Tower to see Mirkwood. I did enjoy some subsequent chapters where we had to command a companion to move to certain spots and perform certain actions. However, those middle-game chapters were more memorable for the thrill of the escape and platforming challenges rather than the story elements, which is unfortunate considering it’s a Tolkien story. What I did find memorable was the environment design, and so to be able to jump, swing and climb higher to gain better viewing angles was a good way to explore each major area and take it all in.

Overall, I enjoyed large parts of The Lord of the Rings: Gollum with excellent voice acting and environment design, but portions of the game felt disjointed, and I struggled with precision and control at times with mouse/keyboard. Some of Gollum’s early tasks were a chore to play through but they helped to set up his mindset and seeing him focus on getting back to the precious. I liked being able to choose responses as Gollum and Sméagol and then seeing them discuss it internally before settling on the decision.

It was great to finally get out of Mordor and into Mirkwood, with the thrill of the escape in the middle segments. As the game finished, all I wanted was to see and possibly interact with the main characters from the Fellowship. My hunger for a new LOTR game was unfortunately not satiated by this one. If you’re a dedicated LOTR/Tolkien fan, you will gain some additional elements from Gollum’s side of the story, but if you’re looking for the next stealth/action game then this may disappoint.

This review utilised a Steam key provided by Renaissance PR and The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is out now on Steam, Epic Games Store, Xbox and PlayStation, with a Nintendo Switch version coming later this year.


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