STAFF REVIEW of Lord of the Rings: Gollum, The (Xbox One)

Monday, August 14, 2023.
by Peggy Doyle

Lord of the Rings: Gollum, The Box art I’m going to be clear right off the bat here. I wanted this game to be good. I love The Lord of the Rings so much, and the idea of having a game all about Gollum was so appealing to me. I tried avoiding all the poor reviews I saw before playing it, thinking that people just didn’t get it, or they were being too picky, or they weren’t the right demographic. I wanted to prove them wrong. I wanted to, really. I do think some of the reviews were incredibly unfair and harsh. I think people had lofty expectations and, even though the game didn’t live up to them, I don’t believe it’s as bad as some of these reviewers made it out to be. I knew something was definitely wrong when the studio, Daedalic Entertainment, released a statement apologizing for the state of the game.

As I was recovering from surgery, I had a lot of time to think about what I wanted to say here, and in that time a patch also dropped, so I dove back in to see what had changed and to give the game the benefit of reviewing it in the post patch state. My review and comments are based on the game post patch.

Gollum, or Sméagol, is a character from The Lord of the Rings that people recognize even if they’re not fans of the genre. People recognize the raspy voice, the slinky movements, and animal-like nature and the obsession/possession he has about ‘the ring’, his ‘precious’. A lot of credit for this can be given to Andy Serkis’ excellent performance in the Peter Jackson trilogy. Since Gollum is such an iconic and central character to The Lord of the Rings, it completely makes sense that he would eventually get his own game. One that would be his story being told. This game could have been the one game to rule them all.

I won’t go into the history of the character of Gollum, and why he looks the way he does, suffice to say if you are reading this you likely know who he is and were interested in the game. As the game has been out for some time, thank you for reading this review. Better late to the party, than never having shown up. The Lord of the Rings: Gollum takes place between the books of The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring. To give you some perspective on the timeline, it is during this time that Gollum was a prisoner in Mordor. You spend a lot of time in the prison going about your day-to-day activities and tasks assigned to you. This is where you learn your skills like hiding in the shadows, climbing, etc.

The majority of the game is stealth based platforming. You will need to master your stealth skills, something I am openly admitting I am not good at. Besides my lack of stealth skills, staying in the shadows to avoid detection was also more difficult than it needed to be. The camera would often get caught on environmental items, so it’s good that Gollum also has a sort of sixth sense/radar skill that allows him to look around/through these items. The Orc AI was strange too. They moved in really small paths, not giving you much time to move around. Platforming sections also had me guessing if a wall was climbable or if I had a ledge to grab, and often found myself taking a leap of faith and hoping for the best. I am not sure if this was intentional, or if graphically it just wasn’t clear.

As you spend time in the prison, you eventually become a favourite of the Warden after proving yourself during small tasks. As a favourite, you get asked to run missions that aren’t really the hard labour that other prisoners are left to do. You will retrieve items, or plant explosives, etc. Gollum has the ability to talk himself out of situations and often seems to get away with things others wouldn’t. Some tasks seem simple at first glance, but the mechanics of the game make them often overly complicated. I would get to where I needed to be but couldn’t trigger the next step in the story. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. Even following the yellow target dot, I was often stuck as to what I needed to do. So, I’d restart a section, sometimes more than once, and eventually it would trigger, even if I did nothing different. Sometime the trigger point was so specific that if I wasn’t standing in exactly the right spot, it wouldn’t trigger. Frustrating to be sure.

One of the more enjoyable aspects of The Lord of the Rings: Gollum was the dialogue between Gollum and Sméagol personas. These conversations present you with dialogue for both sides that you must choose to sway one side or the other. These really are up to the players choice as they are relatively easy to win by picking the correct options to state your case. Although these choices do make some short-term differences in the game, they don’t really affect the overall arc of the story. It was an interesting mechanic that I enjoyed. The voice acting for Gollum was well done too and I enjoyed the duality of the voices.

There are multiple collectibles hiding in each area, but you seem to basically just add them to your ever increasing back of ‘stuff’. I don’t recall seeing any rewards for picking them up, and there was no skill tree either to upgrade or unlock. This is an unusual choice in a game of this genre but seems to make sense when it comes to the character of Gollum. When we meet him in the movies, he basically has the same skills you see in this game. I guess for the sake on continuity, Daedalic Entertainment seemed to choose this option. You have your basic skills of run, jump and climb. Gollum can also occasionally strangle smaller orcs that don’t have helmets. The sounds in the game are rather well done, and the audio of Gollum’s feet hitting the different types of terrain were realistic and I thought the choice to bring the camera angles down low was a good choice in keeping with how Gollum normally moves low to the ground as well.

The story behind The Lord of the Rings: Gollum wasn’t terrible. I actually found myself caring about what happened to Gollum. Unfortunately, story alone can’t keep me invested in a game when I am constantly fighting the gameplay. I am an ‘older’ gamer, I am sympathetic and understanding to a certain degree when it comes to games and bugs existing since I’ve been playing games for around 40 years, but even I have my limits to what is acceptable. This game needed to be delayed as it wasn’t ready to be released, and I’m not even going to speculate on the decisions as to why it was. It’s not even an issue like Cyberpunk where PC seemed to be running fine, but not console, since I’m seeing the same complaints across all platforms.

Just like the character of Gollum, I’m a bit split on how I feel about the game. I do believe that there is a really great game hidden in The Lord of the Rings: Gollum. It’s clear that the love for the character, lore and the world are there in its DNA. The dialogue between Gollum and Sméagol was enjoyable and well done. Although slightly graphically dated, the world was quite beautiful when you weren’t underground (which was the majority of the game). The issues arise from the mechanics of the platforming and puzzle sections just not being finished. I simply can’t recommend this game at full price. Also speaking about price, an extra cost is associated if you want the lore compendium and elvish voice acting. This is paid DLC and really should have been included in the base game. Sadly, this wasn’t the precious game I was hoping for.

**The Lord of the Rings: Gollum was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 5.5 / 10
Gameplay: 5.0 / 10
Visuals: 5.0 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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