There was an idea to The Lord of the Rings: Gollum that could have been great. Gollum as a concept had the potential to make a thrilling game set in Middle-earth where players can assume the role of Tolkien’s most bizarre and fascinating character.
Unfortunately due to innumerable circumstances and maybe a little incompetence, Gollum failed to deliver on all fronts. Daedalic had one of the most fertile and unique premises to work with and bungled the concept and also released it in a hopelessly buggy and busted state.
How could a game with Gollum as the protagonist work? Where does everything go wrong? Was this a story worth telling and how can it be salvaged? Find out in The Lord of the Rings: Gollum review!
This is a review coupled with a supplemental video review. You can watch the video review or read the full review of the below:
The Lord of the Rings: Gollum™
Developer: Daedalic Entertainment, Daedalic Entertainment GmbH
Publisher: Daedalic Entertainment, Nacon
Platforms: Windows PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S (reviewed), PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch
Release Date: May 25, 2023
Price: $49.99 USD
When I compare my time with The Lord of the Rings: Gollum at PAX East 2023 to the final product, it feels almost like night and day. During the demo, the gameplay was smooth whether you loaded the game up at the demo start point or at the beginning of the game. Two months later, that positive experience we had with the demo has been completely annihilated by a game that feels unfinished; saying it feels unfinished is too kind to it. Over the last three weeks, I have attempted to give The Lord of the Rings: Gollum multiple chances, and it has continued to say “You Shall Not Pass.”
That phrase is an easy explanation of just some of the uphill battles I have had to deal with when playing this unfinished buggy game. Prior to the game’s release, we were told that there might be some issues with loading between chapters, issues with Gollum’s hair, and some textural issues, but that those issues would be fixed before launch; additionally, we were informed that the update to fix these issues could corrupt the save. All of these issues turned out to be true, but the last one surprised us.
Despite being warned, we ventured out to see what Daedalic Entertainment had created with The Lord of the Rings: Gollum. What we found was a buggy mess that the darkest of wizards couldn’t put back together. Before launch, I encountered over 50 crashes, 20 invisible walls that stopped progress, and 7 loading errors; this does not even discuss the horrendous hair on Gollum’s head. Just this week, I decided to try and play Gollum yet again and encountered the same issues that were supposed to be fixed with the launch day patch. Yes, these issues were less frequent, but they made the game almost unplayable. During the most recent attempt, the game crashed 8 times within the first chapter; yes, it was less than before but is still an unacceptable amount. Upon finishing Chapter 1, the game attempted to start Chapter 2, instead, it loaded us into an unrendered world where all you could do was fall to your doom.
With the sheer amount of bugs and invisible walls, playing The Lord of the Rings: Gollum or at least trying to is not worth your time or money. So much time and effort is needed to jump or move in precise ways in order to survive and with the game’s issues, that feels next to impossible. If you are able to move correctly, you still have to deal with the game’s bad rendering of objects and its poor hit detection system.
On numerous occasions, the lighting wouldn’t show objects properly, objects would spawn randomly, and we’d get hit from across the way leaving us questioning whether we were going insane. The lighting and rendering within the game are so bad that objects will have spawn circles still around the object as it comes into existence. The lighting shifts can cause a strobing effect that can very easily harm those with photosensitivity issues.
The Lord of the Rings: Gollum‘s potential was sorely fumbled and dropped like a baby at the top of Mt. Niesen, bumping his head and snapping his little squishy bones with every step, only to roll off into a crack in the Earth and plummeting into a cavernous abyss. There is never a moment where this game is pleasant and not in the way the designers would have intended.
At its core, Gollum should have players assume the role of a wretched little degenerate who has bouts of schizophrenic ranting and fumbles around in dank caves while eating rats and fish. Basically, he has no character flaws. This could have been fun and there was an opportunity to allow players to embrace their inner monster because there are not enough games where gamers can play as a little gremlin.
It could have worked. Styx: Master of Shadows shows how fun a stealth action game where gamers play as a little goblin can realize the dream of a theoretical Gollum game. Regretfully, Daeldalic delivers something that even the actual Gollum would find revolting because not only is it a hopelessly unplayable health hazard, but it grossly mischaracterizes Tolkien’s most insane character.
Gollum is a simple adventure game with some stealth and a few gimmicky set-pieces involving NPCs. There is not much depth to it since Smeagol/Gollum can’t fight and there are no RPG elements. The platforming is also very weak and Smeagol/Gollum is only able to clamber up highlighted surfaces or comically wall-run like he’s some kind of Prince of Persia.
Aside from the unimaginative design, The Lord of the Rings: Gollum‘s gameplay is horribly executed and stands as one of the most unpolished games released on current platforms. Smeagol/Gollum feels horrible to control and he has to be specifically positioned in order for actions to connect properly, otherwise the game breaks. If you are lucky, he will instantly snap into position.
The experience is plodding and every step of the way, Gollum will be falling apart at the seams. Expect frequent crashes, soft locks, and sound bytes stuck on an infinite loop. It also runs very poorly on Xbox Series S; the frame rate is often a jittery and strobing sputter that causes headaches for some and seizures for others.
If the boys at Daedalic ever address the all-you-can-eat buffet of technical issues, there is no salvaging the foundation of this turkey. The entire premise is a mistake and wastes the potential of what a good Gollum game could be.
Having set the story after when Bilbo acquires the ring, there is nothing to look forward to because Gollum’s only motivation is to get the ring back.
In the meantime, Smeagol/Gollum has to do extremely boring and menial tasks or act completely out of character. He is put into really bizarre situations that don’t feel natural to his disposition.
The Lord of the Rings: Gollum should have been set when Smeagol first gets the ring from Deagol and players can get to actually use it. As Gollum begins to manifest, Smeagol would take on the characteristics we know him for. Gameplay should be like Thief meets Ocarina of Time, but everyone hates you. With the one ring, gamers could enjoy all kinds of weird powers and experience wide-awake nightmares; the possibilities would’ve been endless.
Alas, the game we got lacks vision or imagination. The best Daedalic could do is moments where players can push Smeagol/Gollum’s alignment toward a direction, but good luck trying to muster interest after a game-ending bug and then having to restart the entire chapter over again.
For all its many faults and egregious technical problems, The Lord of the Rings: Gollum does manage some decent visuals from some angles. Usually, it looks really muddy and poorly modeled, but there are some picturesque vistas in the distance.
The only other kind words that can be levied at The Lord of the Rings: Gollum, is that it does have a decent soundtrack. It manages to capture the vile tone and ambiance that fans would want from a game about this character. The voice actor for Gollum/Smeagol also does a decent performance as a schizophrenic gremlin and does sound consistent with how most fans expect.
If the team behind The Lord of the Rings: Gollum manages to get it in an acceptable state, the foundation of this game is still hopelessly rotten at its core. No amount of polish can undo the miscalculated story and game design. Daedalic would effectively have to restart the entire development process and start over to salvage it.
The Lord of the Rings: Gollum was reviewed on Xbox Series S using a code provided by Nacon. Additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy can be found here. The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is now available for Windows PC (via Steam), Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5.