May 25, 2023
J. R. R. Tolkien is the greatest fantasy writer of all time, crafting the finest stories and characters to ever exist. The Lord of the Rings is legendary, and the best book I have ever read. The film adaptions were fantastic, and there have been a fair few games that have managed to present the wonders of Middle-Earth in a more than favourable light, specifically Shadow of War. The Lord of the Rings: Gollum, however, is a missed opportunity. While it manages to flesh out the story of the most tragic character in the franchise, it’s filled with too many technical problems to enjoy.
The story told in The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is a faithful one, and when it isn’t hampered by its various issues, I found it interesting how he was able to escape the belly of the beast under the Dark Tower of Sauron to being captured by the elves in Mirkwood. While it’s a constant battle not being put off by the voice actor’s portrayal of Gollum, the acting is strong by all characters. Andy Serkis did such an incredible job in the movies that anyone else is going to have a tough time playing him, and while not based on the films, it was impossible not to wish Serkis was at the helm of the character’s journey.
While that’s more a personal issue with not hearing Serkis, the voice acting is still strong. The constant bickering between Gollum and Sméagol is great, and knowing what we know from the books, Daedalic has been faithful in the source material, managing to tell a strong story featuring potentially the most interesting character in all of Tolkien’s work. It was also cool to see other facets of The Lord of the Rings feature throughout, whether involving particular elves or creatures within the darkness. There’s always a neat reference for the player to enjoy, and I shan’t ruin them for you here.
As Gollum, you’ll climb up huge structures, sneak past those who seek to capture and kill you, command companions, solve the odd puzzle, and more. Moving is sometimes loose and unresponsive, and the animations of certain actions feel off. When climbing, certain areas aren’t visible, and you only know to jump because an option to do so appears in the corner of your screen. While the stealth sections can be fun, I found enemies were just too dumb for their own good. Trying to lure out an orc by throwing a stone right at its feet didn’t illicit a response, and neither did throwing one at a huge metal pot.
When you have to command someone to move, you only get select positions to move them to, and it feels like an arbitrary addition to the gameplay. The controls lack polish and fluidity, and whatever I was doing, I could never put my full trust in the systems at my disposal. There are constant checkpoints so overshooting a jump or falling from too greater height can allow you to jump back in sharpish, so there is a way to mitigate some frustrations. There were times when I enjoyed certain moments of gameplay, especially when trying to climb up high into the Dark Tower and follow my trusty bird to steal some keys.
Sometimes I started floating on something I was trying to jump over and was unable to get off until it was too late, and crawling through small spaces was awkward. The whole concept of constantly battling between the two personalities of Gollum and Sméagol offered some clever breaks in gameplay as you can choose certain responses to those you have to talk to, and I like how you see his familiar traits of sneakiness and guile play into the story. You have to try and convince the other of the right course of action, but again, this could have just taken place organically.
The visuals are another problem at the heart of The Lord of the Rings: Gollum. From the rough animations to texture popping, it doesn’t take advantage of the PlayStation 5 at all, whether in Performance or Quality mode. I had moments where Gollum was speaking yet his mouth didn’t move; cutscenes break suddenly into gameplay moments far too abruptly (although this has been sorted somewhat via a patch), and the same two aspects interchange randomly. There were sound issues, too. I had dialogue just stop halfway through a sentence, and characters talking over each other. The loading screens came out of nowhere and suddenly ended a cutscene without seamlessly transitioning.
I really wanted to love The Lord of the Rings: Gollum. While the story is its strongest feature, the technical issues hound almost every facet of it. From the visual glitches to a lack of polish in its gameplay, it’s hard to recommend this to those looking forward to venturing into Middle-Earth once more. While I’m sure future patches will fix some of the issues, I don’t think it’ll become a title that will stand up against some of the other great Lord of the Rings games we’ve seen over time, and as a lifelong Tolkien fan, I’m upset this wasn’t the game I wanted it to be.
Voice acting is good
Multiple visual issues
Lack of fluidity in gameplay
Weak enemy AI
The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is littered with technical and gameplay issues that dampen the fact that there's a great story at its heart.