The Lord of the Rings: Gollum's gameplay is as conflicted as Gollum

A close-up of Gollum
(Image credit: Daedalic)

The Lord of the Rings: Gollum seems to share Gollum's conflicted personality. In a 20 minute remote preview, I got to see its Gollum side—contextual stealth takedowns, ledge shimmying, and "Gollum vision"—but also its Smeagol side, an open-ended, combat-free platforming puzzle against a striking fantasy backdrop. Which one will ultimately win out is hard to say after such a short look.

The demo begins in one of the game's two primary locations: Mordor, realm of Sauron, volcanic moonscape, iron orcish keeps, all that jazz. I was a bit uncertain before the demo at how well this grey and red hellscape could carry half of a game, but Daedalic's done a decent job injecting more color, some yellow sulfur and even a bit of greenery that differentiates its Mordor from Peter Jackson's portrayal.

The Mordor segment mostly covers Gollum's tutorial, so it's possible the stealth gameplay could have more tricks up its sleeve, but I'm nonplussed. On approach to an orc fortress, Gollum activates "Gollum Vision" to highlight enemies, a feature familiar to anyone who's played a triple-A game in the past 10 years. Gollum scurries from cover to cover in concealing bushes, climbs up a high ledge to avoid a guardpost, and kills an orcish sentry with a contextual stealth takedown. 

It all gives me an impression of a fully standardized 2010s stealth-action design, and I don't have particularly high hopes for this aspect of the game. Both Batman and Assassin's Creed have trod and re-trod this terrain.

The Mordor portion concludes with the reveal of Gollum vs. Smeagol moral choices. I don't know if there's an explicit Gollum/Smeagol morality meter like something out of Knights of the Old Republic, But LotR: Gollum does track these choices and it will have an effect on story beats.

But to what end? The presenters also confirmed that the main plot points are set in stone, the curse of prequels everywhere raising unfortunate implications on how Gollum justifies existing. I'm not sold on the awful little hobbit's "star power" as it were. As iconic as Andy Serkis' portrayal was, even that interpretation wouldn't make for a compelling lead for an entire videogame, and this isn't Andy Serkis we're talking about here, but a Serkis-esque celebrity impersonation. The presenters cite Gollum and Smeagol's crosstalk as a way to fill silence during gameplay and more organically deliver the sort of "hm, I guess this is where I go next" barks we've come to expect from our chatty videogame protagonists, but the schtick is already wearing on me by the mid-point of the 20-minute presentation.

(Image credit: Daedalic Entertainment)

Silver Linings

The second portion of the demo is a bit more promising. The court of Thranduil in the Mirkwood forms the other primary setting, and I'm pretty taken with its look, something halfway between the elven environments of Peter Jackson's movies and the Dreaming City from Destiny 2.

This portion also doesn't have any enemy characters, instead showing Gollum navigating the elf king's empty bedchamber. It's the sort of open-ended platforming puzzle I really enjoyed in Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time, with the player being left to chart a path through a cavernous fantasy obstacle course. Gollum has to climb to the heights of the massive chamber, jumping from handholds on a moving orrery high above the floor. This part of the Gollum demo stirs something in me, strikes me as a game I might actually want to play.

And then the demo ends. After years of just existing as a name and pre-rendered concept footage, Gollum's first look was divided between visions of an uninspired stealth-action game and an intriguing throwback platformer. It's difficult to tell which way the final game is going to lean, but I come away from its public reveal unenthused by the mix so far. 

The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is scheduled to release on Steam and consoles on September 1.

Associate Editor

Ted has been thinking about PC games and bothering anyone who would listen with his thoughts on them ever since he booted up his sister's copy of Neverwinter Nights on the family computer. He is obsessed with all things CRPG and CRPG-adjacent, but has also covered esports, modding, and rare game collecting. When he's not playing or writing about games, you can find Ted lifting weights on his back porch.