Skip to main content

The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is unintentionally delightful

One does not simply walk into Mordor; instead, one might opt to climb up a wall of vines or jump from platform to platform. That’s the crux of what The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is all about.

The game positions the player as the classic Lord of the Rings villain, shining light on his previously unexplored backstory, which includes his capture and subsequent escape from the clutches of evil. It’s a novel concept that I wasn’t exactly sure would work before trying it out for myself. Given all that, I knew I needed to play The Lord of the Rings: Gollum at PAX East, and after going hands-on with it, I came away with mixed thoughts that lean positive, with more than a few caveats.

lord of the rings gollum stealth gameplay

An evolution of Lord of the Rings games

I grew up playing games like The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, and The Lord of the Rings Online, all of which are legendary games that reinforced my love of Tolkien’s world in broad strokes across each of their respective genres. Going into my demo, I really wasn’t sure how well the rather unconventional The Lord of the Rings: Gollum would fit into all of that and sit with me. Of any of the Lord of the Rings video game adaptations I’ve played, it’s most similar to the opening sequences of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring for the PlayStation 2, which has its players sneaking out of The Shire as Frodo and company. But that comparison is only at a very rudimentary level.

Gollum is a platformer at heart, combining the world scale of the aforementioned The Fellowship of the Ring with Assassin’s Creed-inspired stealth sequences and some Tomb Raider-esque ledge-to-ledge platforming. Instead of exploring ancient ruins, though, you’re following linear, obstacle-riddled passages as Gollum. It doesn’t always work. The demo build suffered from frame rate issues – at least on the computer I was provided – that muddied its animations and made its moment-to-moment action feel somewhat disjointed. Thankfully, this is something the developers can polish up before its release in May. What has me more concerned is the game’s balance between its humor and gameplay.

This game’s sillier tone might turn off quite a few hardcore Tolkien fans, but this actually made it a more enjoyable experience for me. Unfortunately, the platforming and punishing stealth sections sometimes felt at odds with its character-driven storytelling.

What is it, my precious?

Daedalic Entertainment’s intention with this game was to expand Gollum’s story and give players a new lens through which to view Middle-earth itself. Gollum makes for an unconventional, but interesting video game protagonist who has a unique stature. He can sneak, climb, jump, and wall-run, but he can’t attack enemies directly. This forces you to come up with alternative ways to avert danger by sneaking behind them before taking them down. This is where things can get annoying, as Gollum’s controls weren’t as responsive as I’d hoped, and you get an instant “Game Over” screen when the player is spotted, even from a distance.

Such moments are poorly telegraphed. There’s an awareness bar that appears above an enemy’s head when you’re in danger of being spotted, but it can be unpredictable. This issue was frustrating, and there’s a clear dissonance between that gameplay and significantly more entertaining moments, like when I hid behind a bush and listened to two patrolling orcs talk about which of them was going to single-handedly take on the giant spider queen Shelob. Meat is clearly back on the menu, and Mordor’s corporate ladder has never been livelier.

A close-up of Gollum.

Gollum’s character model also takes some getting used to. His big green eyes and baby face are definitely not what fans might expect, and this version of Gollum certainly misses out on drawing from the phenomenal look that performance actor Andy Serkis gave Peter Jackson’s interpretation of the same character in his genre-defining live-action adaptations. Still, I do appreciate The Lord of the Rings: Gollum’s clear nod to Ralph Bakshi’s 1978 animated adaptation here, as Gollum’s eyes are bright green, and are the only thing you’ll see glinting out from behind foliage when hw’s hiding.

Gollum’s look can also lead to some unintentionally funny moments, like when I missed a jump and caused Gollum to land headfirst into a rock and watched his body crumble as a “Game Over” message appeared on the screen. This caused some guy standing behind me to joke that this is how Gollum canonically dies in this universe and was even funnier because it happened during one of the titular character’s monologues, of which there are many.

Getting Gollum’s perspective

This story is competently told through Gollum’s perspective as he narrates the events of his escape from Sauron’s clutches to Gandalf in an elven prison. But I’m not sure how strong The Lord of the Rings: Gollum’s narrative is ultimately going to be in its final version, given how little time I was granted to get a feel for the characterizations of its major characters. A handful of classic Tolkien characters did show up during the cutscene at the beginning of my demo.

The perpetually serious-faced Elven king Thranduil made an appearance, and Gandalf retained his signature wizardly presence, even though some admittedly minor alterations to both characters’ appearances may upset longtime fans. My favorite bits of storytelling happened when I found some interesting spots where I could observe different items in the world. Gollum would give his thoughts on what he was looking at in these moments, providing a perspective on this world I haven’t really experienced before.

lord of the rings gollum stealth

The occasional neat lore bits aside, I can’t help but be worried that the defining moment of my 30-minute demo was when that guy joked about how Gollum died in a funny way as I was struggling to climb and carry out the game’s platforming. Still, I couldn’t help but smile at how it all came together.

The Lord of the Rings: Gollum still feels a little too undercooked for its slated May 25 release date, but even when it doesn’t work as intended, it’s still fun to play. I’m definitely excited to play more when it launches on Xbox, PlayStation, Switch, and PC.

Editors' Recommendations

Gabriel Moss
Gabriel is a freelance writer with a keen interest in gaming and technology. He has written at several sites including IGN…
You can still get a Thunder Shotgun in Fortnite Chapter 4 Season 2. Here’s how
Fortnite characters in a city.

Fortnite has received plenty of exciting new weapons in Chapter 4 Season 2, and in typical fashion, Epic has also vaulted some of last season's weapons to clean up the loot pool. Among the weapons vaulted for Season 2 is the Thunder Shotgun -- but weirdly, it can still be obtained, as it appears Epic possibly overlooked one NPC who drops it.

Anyone who wants to score the Thunder Shotgun in Season 2 can head over to Frenzy Fields and look for the NPC named Sunflower who walks around the farm. Simply eliminate her and pick up the weapon she drops. It's unclear if this is actually something Epic missed, or if the team just simply didn't want to bother changing up Sunflower's loot drops. Either way, it's currently the only way to obtain the Thunder Shotgun.

Read more
The Finals is the shake-up the competitive first-person shooter scene needs
A player stands up against a wall in a The Finals screenshot.

While I enjoy playing first-person shooters occasionally, it's a genre I've struggled to become a hardcore fan of. To me, it has stagnated, with recent Call of Duty and Battlefield games feeling like little more than rehashes of the same quick-kill-focused gameplay on maps that all blend together after a while. That's why The Finals' longer time-to-kill, unique match objectives, and focus on level destruction all feel like a breath of fresh air.
THE FINALS Closed Beta Trailer
Developed by Embark Studios, the new multiplayer shooter is a notable change of pace for a stagnating genre. Because it takes a lot of effort to defeat an opponent, and the map is continuously changing as you do so, no two matches feel quite the same. I can attest to that, as I recently went hands-on with it and had that exact experience. Lots of thrilling, emergent moments organically happened during each match, leading to some of the most memorable matches I've had playing a first-person shooter in years.
If you've always enjoyed destructible environments in your FPS games and enjoy inventive competitive shooters that aren't just trying to chase what is popular, then you'll want to check out The Finals.
Map mayhem
The Finals' primary mode, Extraction, is framed as a game show where four teams compete to earn the most money during a match. Players do this by locating vaults on a map, obtaining cash boxes, and delivering them to a cash-out station. Extra money is rewarded for kills and a team's total is halved if they are completely wiped. The basics of the FPS gameplay are approachable enough for anyone who has played a game in this genre before. That said, its longer time-to-kill also helps that mission and gives players time to appreciate just how reactive its world is.
In the Closed Beta preview build, I played on two maps based on Monaco and Seoul. Each contains points of interest connected by some indoor arenas and long outdoor corridors that you'd come to expect from an FPS map. But it only stays that way for a short time. As soon as explosives get involved, the map transforms as buildings crumble and the environment reacts to the players. It stays that way too, as developer Embark Studios' server-side technology tracks and accommodates any changes to the map.
Last year, the developers at Embark Studios told Digital Trends that they hope this technology would make other developers panic. While we don't think The Finals will go that far, it certainly handles destruction better than other games that have tried to boast similar strengths, like Crackdown 3 or Battlefield 2042. It's not only a neat technical feat, but it also opens up many organic situations you don't get in other FPS games.

For example, a building was crumbling as I retrieved a cash box and headed to a cash-out station. I was under fire, and an opponent's rocket completely destroyed the pathway to get me to the building my teammates were in. I knew I didn't want the team chasing me to get ahold of the cash box, so I sacrificed myself by throwing the vault across that gap to my teammate before proceeding to hold enemies off as they delivered it to a station.
Even the greenery reacts to the player, especially when they have a flamethrower or flame grenade. At one moment, the station my team was delivering to was out in the open in a park. Other teams were coming at us from all angles, so I threw several fire grenades, and my teammate used a flamethrower. Doing this, we set most of the park aflame, forcing our opponents into pathways where we could pick them off more easily. Floors can crumble beneath you, staircases that get you to objectives can be destroyed, and a lot of map mayhem helps define each match of The Finals.
Leaving your mark
The Finals' destruction creates some compelling dynamics, making the player feel like they are shaping the world that each match takes place in. Players can customize their characters with outfits and special loadouts ahead of matches, and some of these options allow them to set down jump pads and ziplines or use a grappling hook to improve mobility. Turrets, barriers, and mines are also equippable, which can be used to direct the flow of battle and herd opponents into certain sections of the map. One particularly memorable moment saw my team calling two elevators in Seoul, only to find that another team had put a turret in one and all of themselves in another.

Read more
PlayStation Plus just set a new first-party precedent with Horizon Forbidden West
Horizon: Forbidden West

Sony revealed the games coming to PlayStation Plus Premium and PlayStation Plus Extra this month on February 21, and it's the best month that the service has had since it launched in the summer of 2022. Not only are some great PS1 classics like The Legend of Dragoon and Wild Arms 2 coming to the service, but Horizon Forbbiden West is getting added as well.
Horizon Forbidden West coming to the service one year after launch is a big deal because Sony has been resistant to putting recent first-party PS5 games on its subscription service. While it's still not adding first-party titles on day one like Xbox Game Pass does, this is possibly our first indication of how Sony will handle adding its own games to the subscription. It's not the only PS4 and PS5 title coming to the service this month either, as the following strong lineup of games was also confirmed to be coming on February 21.

The Quarry (PS4, PS5)
Resident Evil VII Biohazard (PS4)
Outriders (PS4, PS5)
Scarlet Nexus (PS4, PS5)
Borderlands 3 (PS4, PS5) 
Tekken 7 (PS4, PS5)
Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown (PS4)
Earth Defense Force 5 (PS4)
Oninaki (PS4)
Lost Sphear (PS4)
I Am Setsuna (PS4) 
The Forgotten City (PS4, PS5) 
Destroy All Humans! (PS4)

Read more