For those of you who live in a cave-like Gollum but don’t know what exactly his own first game was: it lets us experience a separate story ahead of the events of the books and movies, starting with Gollum’s escape from Mordor, and presents Controversial and ambiguous figures at his center. But it is with this character the first shocking moments in the demo await us.
Gollum’s design was already controversial after the first photo – but at the same time, Daedalic tweaked it further because Gollum looks… let’s say… odd. We’d love to show you screenshots that made us shake our heads and laugh involuntarily, but at this time, we don’t allow any images from the presentation. So let’s try to describe it for you.
Picture a grumpy, sleepless child. He stole his math teacher’s black wig and put it on. That’s squinting. And then there’s everything in the PS3 optics.
That might sound harsh. After all, Daedalic’s entire future as a development studio depends on this expensive project they’ve been working on for a long time. But that seems to be part of the problem. This design has been revised for far too long. Since Daedalic only used the Lord of the Rings book license and not the movie license, Gollum must not resemble the iconic design in the movie. At the same time, he has to do it to act as a puppet for the game. So what would you do?
The movie design was used as a template, estranged beyond recognition for several iterations until Gollum looked like a parody of his movie template.
In doing so, Daedalic exhibits far less clumsiness than other well-known characters like Gandalf and Thranduil. They were developed from scratch based on descriptions in the novel.
In terms of level design, we felt the demo was very contradictory. On the one hand, the first image in the trailer shows a somewhat revered place in Middle-earth – on the other hand, in this showcase, as in previous gameplay videos, we see pretty much nothing but brown, dark caves. So here we have to take the word of the developers. There will still be a lot of different levels.
We are also told that Gollum must always be in the dark because he is afraid of the sun and moon. Nothing beats an actual dark game. Sure, some perfect ones, like the Arkham collection, look great even in complete darkness, but the Gollum can’t match that in terms of ambiance and subtle lighting.
We did get to see the halls of Thranduil, and yes, they look beautiful with their cascades and floating lights, but as a fan of the movie, you’re just used to the visuals that Gollum doesn’t even start to match.
How we ended up getting through those levels also felt pretty trivial. Although Gollum is essentially a stealth game, we barely saw any stealth in the demo. Gollum runs from A to B, jumping and climbing for the most part. Yes, the stamina bar needs to be taken care of when climbing, and yes, he can smother some enemies with sneak attacks from behind, but never really excited – at least when watching. Otherwise, it doesn’t seem to be much of a challenge.
At some point, he met two orcs on a bridge. Gollum threw a pebble at a lamp and, in a farce cutscene, one of them took three steps back and fell into the abyss with a silly cry. Of course, the opponent feels no real threat, and the excitement is minimal.
While there should be boss-like encounters, later on, Gollum doesn’t learn new skills or improve his skills throughout the game. He can’t fight – except for choking attacks and throwing objects. However, according to the developers, this can only be achieved at fixed points in the level, which is also more or less linear. Although now and then, there should be a few routes more focused on sneaking or climbing.
Great idea, problematic execution
So far, the story and the atmosphere are equally contradictory. Even if Gollum can be an engaging game protagonist and is up for debate, the thinking behind it is understandable and exciting. There are two sides to Smeagol and Gollum, and we’re combining the two characters into one, fighting each other for supremacy.
Here we should have the opportunity to shape our own stories by having an inner monologue with the good Smeagol and the evil Gollum. This sounds great in theory – in practice, all we see in the presentation is Gollum trying to eat a bug. That’s probably what Daedalic had in mind when he built the decision-making mechanism for Gollum.
Furthermore, these decisions can only shape the plot to a minimal extent. According to the developers, there will be two slightly different endings, but the story may only have one end, which is logical. The Lord of the Rings: Gollum faces the classic prequel problem here: it needs to go back to the status quo of the main story. A gripping prequel shows us a whole new side of the characters and lets us see their stories in a different light.
We see some excellent approaches here. As Gollum sneaks in and climbs the level, Gandalf interrogates him in the current timeline – essentially playing Gollum’s memories. We occasionally hear his comments and views and snippets from his time as Sméagol. For example, he told Gandalf that his family abused and rejected him. One we’d love to get into more emotional detail here – but unfortunately, in this scene at least, it’s only touched on in subordinate clauses.
And telling a thrilling story is a great strength for Daedalic, who show a lot of heart and humor with hits like Edna and the finishing touches of the Deponia series. Meanwhile, in their Black Eye adventure, they show Satinav’s Chains and Memoria how they can tackle more serious fantasy themes in a gripping way. So far, we haven’t seen any of this in Gollum.
Again, we have to stress that we’ve only seen a beta version here, and it’s only been 22 minutes. A September 1, 2022 release for PC and consoles has been confirmed, but Gollum is still in flux. The developers have repeatedly emphasized that all aspects of the game are still in development and that we shouldn’t be thinking about any result. But that’s part of the problem.
Yes, of course, we may have just seen unfavorable material so far, and the story and gameplay are better on other levels. Graphics may also be adjusted. But after three months, the miracle will no longer happen. Now, Gollum doesn’t feel like a game every Lord of the Rings fan needs to experience.
I’m the perfect target audience for Gollum: I love Lord of the Rings, I love stealth games, and Daedalics Adventures has a very, very special place in my heart. So I want to welcome Gollum with open arms, despite or perhaps because of this unusual premise. But so far, I have been disappointed in every way.
I no longer feel the unique Daedalic storytelling that accompanied my entire youth, and even as a Lord of the Rings fan, I hardly get anything here to get me off my stool. There were no exciting new angles, no places I wanted to go, and no real Middle-earth vibe.
Gollum has never shown any guts or creativity when it comes to gameplay – nothing here beats the basic stealth game I’ve seen hundreds of times before. Somehow, the question remains why you should play Lord of the Rings: Gollum. I very much hope we get an answer posted.