Gollum perching on a plank over the workings of Mordor

The Lord of the Rings: Gollum Review

The Lord of the Rings: Gollum Review

need to know

what is it? Stealth platform narrative Lord of the Rings adventure.
release date May 25, 2023
expect to pay $50/£43
developer Entertainment
publisher interior, nacon
Reviewed on Nvidia 2080 Ti, Intel i9-9900k @ 4.9ghz, 32GB RAM
multiplayer game No
steam deck not applicable
associate Official website

Although my nature (a sun-shielding hermit hoarding shiny treasure) gives me a certain affinity for Gollum, I’m a bit skeptical of Daedalic’s long-delayed Lord of the Rings game, as the early footage left me uninspired and Not sure if there’s even a coherent game here. Good news is Gollum (Game) Do There are some interesting ideas. Unfortunately, like its fragmented protagonist, its ideas fall into two distinct camps, one far better than the other.

Gollum straddles both action types, but neither stands up to scrutiny. Essentially, it’s a cinematic but basic stealth platformer. Think about halfway between Uncharted’s wall crawling navigation and Splinter Cell crawling. Gollum isn’t the best physical specimen, and is somewhat awkward, both in and out of character.

In front of the platforms, there’s usually only one route through each area, consisting of highlighted grabable ledges, brightly colored ropes or vines to climb over the walls, and the occasional swinging bar. The environments are often gorgeous and very vertical, providing a fun excuse to make a deadly leap. Still, Gollum is vulnerable, and a longer fall would kill him instantly, with the ragdoll surprisingly lasting half a second before snapping back to the final checkpoint.

Roads are generally clear and checkpoints are spacious, although deaths are common. When intuition fails, there’s a button to launch Gollum Vision™ (Sméagogles, perhaps) and see available objects, enemies, and highlighted hint paths. Useful, but unreliable and sometimes only provides helpful hints. Further information comes from Gollum’s use of arguing with himself, spontaneously calling for paths and guidance. I find this an excellent excuse for the theme of a much-criticised feature.

Another action element is stealth, intertwined with jumping. Even more linear than platforming, the game ends instantly if Gollum gets caught by guards, and there’s very little room for error. Luckily, the Sneaky is easy to navigate, with deep shadows and long grass easy to spot, and the guards’ patrol routes are well-marked. There was no fighting either. An orc without a helmet can be strangled if caught alone, but this is rare and you only need ten hits to get the achievement – “Murderer”.

The Legend of Sméagol

(Image credit: Daedalic Entertainment)

About the bug?

While I’ve had a lot of glitches with Gollum (admittedly, it’s a pretty bad game), most have to do with falling inputs and Gollum’s refusal to grab ledges, resulting in sudden death. I’ve apparently been very lucky that other players have reported more serious issues, including frequent crashes and progress-breaking bugs that force rollbacks to earlier saves or worse. Your travel expenses may change. If you’re not as lucky as Frodo, you’re better off waiting a few rounds of patches.

Both halves of the action side were usable but a bit undercooked. Gollum is too dirty and thin to be a convincing Nathan Drake or Sam Fisher, and whether he manages to reach for the ledge or fall to his immediate death feels random at times. Control inputs get lost at times, and while the stealth and platforming sections are generously checkpointed, you either follow the intended path or die. It works, but if that’s all Gollum has to offer, I might give up.

Thankfully, half of the narrative brought the gollum for me. Whenever it’s not a sneaky platformer, Gollum impresses me as a work of interactive Tolkien fan fiction, not unlike 2021’s Guardians of the Galaxy, the way it walks and talks from time to time interspersed with action. Like Guardians, it’s set against some gorgeous backdrops, and while the characters are often bluntly animated (especially in dialogue), the script does a good job of keeping my attention. It dissects Gollum and why, despite the best efforts of himself or potential friends, he remains an outsider.

While it rarely changes much, there are often Telltale-like prompts where you can choose either Gollum or Sméagol to answer in dialogue. I especially enjoyed the tense scenes that required me to pick a side and defend them, convincing the other half to submit. Thematically, the game is also divided into two parts. After Bilbo steals Gollum’s ring, the first half of the game follows Gollum’s survival in the slave pits beneath Mordor (he’s actually a sporadic miner), and his long, impromptu, often Flawed escape plan.

pit stop

(Image credit: Daedalic Entertainment)

Besides mining, Gollum also works on an orc farm, showing us how Sauron’s army farms like warlike sea monkeys.

Mordor here is colder and more brutal than the cartoonish heavy-metal aesthetic of Middle-earth: Shadow of War’s eccentric orcs and sexy Shelob. The scenes of Mordor are incredibly detailed, filled with ornately etched black steel, stretched and bloody hides and lots of slick, fresh blood and black water. While there isn’t a ton of violence on display, there are enough disturbing aftermaths to let the imagination run wild.

The game uses this opportunity to explore the mechanics and politics of Mordor. Besides mining, Gollum also works on an orc farm, showing us how Sauron’s army farms like warlike sea monkeys. Gollum began feeding piranha-like orc larvae a magically enhanced plasma until they matured into the pale humanoids we all know and love to slay. The rival factions of humanity also get some love in Sauron’s employ, with the Candleman – a scheming wizard who uses Gollum as an informant and sycophant – stealing the show.

Orcs is visually distinct from other Lord of the Rings games. Less bulky, with vaguely insect-like circular metal armor held together by patchwork leather and chains. Aside from Gollum’s design and character performances, the game doesn’t particularly owe much to the Peter Jackson films. This becomes clearer in the second half of the 10-12 hour campaign, which takes place in the Land of the Elves. Brighter, less murderous, but still tense, with the feeling that Gollum or the Genie could break down at any moment. The elves here are scruffy, lanky, and commanding, not effeminate and fleeting. An amusingly flawed portrayal, especially of the sullen and feisty elf teenager Gollum being put under surveillance.

(Image credit: Daedalic Entertainment)

Despite the foregone conclusion of the story (Gollum living brought Frodo untold grief), I invested in a personal stake in it.

The two story halves didn’t quite mesh in the middle like I’d hoped, but both held my attention. Despite the foregone conclusion of the story (Gollum living brought Frodo untold grief), I invested in a personal stake in it. Gollum is broken, again wanting to help or backstab depending on the personality in the driver’s seat. He struggles to befriend or trust, and his odd behavior causes characters to question him and deepen those gaps.

While it’s a bit of a stretch as a platformer or stealth game, I’m glad to find such a great story here, one that’s so different from Jackson and Bakshi’s vision of Middle-earth. Like its wide-eyed protagonist, half is pragmatic but prickly, sometimes brutal, and the other half is starry-eyed and eager to please. Thankfully, Gestalt is more than the sum of its parts.

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Bart Thompson
Bart is's List Writer . He is from Houston, Texas, and is currently pursuing a bachelor's degree in creative writing, majoring in non-fiction writing. He likes to play The Elder Scrolls Online and learn everything about The Elder Scrolls series.