Lord Of The Rings: Gollum - "Cast It Into The Fire! Destroy It!"
PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
Unlike the development of The Lord Of The Rings: Gollum, you can be sure that I will see this review through to completion. In a year where games, especially those that have launched on PC, have struggled with performance headaches at launch, leaving fans infuriated given the investment their making into what are ultimately broken products, the The Lord Of The Rings: Gollum is a surprise of sorts. In a world where Redfall launches with issues, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor is in a less than satisfactory state, and The Last of Us Part I does some mystifyingly bad things on PC, this new title from Daedalic Entertainment, makes each of the aforementioned launch day disasters look relatively smooth in comparison. The Lord Of The Rings: Gollum is an absolute trainwreck, layered atop a pretty mediocre game to boot.
Set in a window eight years prior to The Lord Of The Rings, Gollum is a tale of the broken shell of a creature who skulks around the outskirts of Mordor dreaming of his precious ring, and cursing the thieving Hobbit who took the ring from him. While the threat of Mordor has yet to reach Bilbo Baggins and his kin, murmurs of a growing threat are building, and the orc threat is an ever-present one for the frail, yet surprisingly lethal Gollum.
The Lord Of The Rings: Gollum, or what little I was able to experience of it in the way that it was intended due to an obscene number of game crashes, is a stealth game at its core, and a pretty basic one at that. Gollum can sneak through bushes and scramble across climbable terrain to remain out of sight and out of mind for most threats, but once spotted, he’s extremely vulnerable due to a lack of size and strength. Should Gollum be able to get the jump on a target however, and latch onto them from behind, he can fell an opponent through a lengthy strangulation process, called throttling. That same process brings about its own risks with the lengthy kill leaving Gollum vulnerable to others who may witness the murder. Gollum will also get some time to explore the environment around him, though there isn’t much to see, whether that be in the Orc encampment where he finds himself based through portions of the game. Mission and quest design often amounts to little more than repeating the same activity a few times before the narrative steers you towards further mundane stealth or mission types that do little to inspire interest or motivation to progress further through the game’s ten chapters.
The game attempts to present some character depth through some dialogue options that tend to see players presented with a choice to speak and act as either Gollum or the deeply repressed Smeargol. While it’s certainly interesting to see how either side of the ego reacts to certain situations, I never felt as though my choices had any impactful result on the narrative.
The environments, as sparse as they are for things to engage with, are equally lacking in detailing. There have been dozens of times where textures have not rendered properly leaving an unattractive blurry effect, something that plagues both the environment, and even Gollum himself. The hair effects on Gollum look horrific, and his face, which already looks deformed and monstrous, looks even worse due to the poor rendering at play, meanwhile a dedicated hair physics option arguably makes everything look worse, and is unbelivably the source behind many of the game’s crashing issues. The visual design of Gollum, while flawed technically, is artistically aligned with what we’ve seen from the Peter Jackson trilogy of films, however other key figures, such as Gandalf look laughably bad. The audio is all over the place, from stilted voice acting, to basic sound effects and poor implementation of both.
Every time Lord Of The Rings: Gollum looks like its turning a corner, a lacklustre narrative beat, ugly texture, or boring mission suddenly emerges like Shelob in a dark cave. Sadly, Lord Of The Rings: Gollum belongs at the bottom of Mount Doom, never to be seen again. The franchise, which has seen some excellent game adaptations in recent years, from Lord Of The Rings Online, to War In The North, and Shadow Of Mordor, has been severely let down by the launch of this game, and, plentiful bugs and crashes (which can hopefully be fixed) aside, is an instantly forgettable chapter in an otherwise incredible universe. Go back to the shadow.
Lord Of The Rings: Gollum was reviewed on PS5 with a code kindly provided by Daedalic Entertainment.