Review: The Lord of the Rings: Gollum – A Disappointing Return to Mordor

This is one of the most difficult reviews that I have ever done because of two reasons. I love The Lord of the Rings and I absolutely hate saying bad things about a video game because people actually worked hard on it but after spending quite a lot of time shuffling words around, and going back into the game to find something good, this is the best that I could do. Another factor that made this review hard for me is the fact that I have played tons of previous releases both by NACON and Daedalic Entertainment and I have seen how much goodness both of these studios can deliver in their titles. This is our review of the PS5 version of The Lord of the Rings: Gollum in which we sneak around some orcs and try not to become the next meal of a beastly spider.

In The Lord of the Rings: Gollum, you will step into the shoes of Gollum, one of the most iconic characters from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings franchise. Corrupted by the power of The One Ring, Gollum was originally called Smeagol and you will get to see both his sides in the game as he tries to battle an inner war while trying to survive in the harsh landscape of Mordor. Throughout the main story of the game, you will be presented with key dialogue choices and game decisions where one choice will be based on Gollum and one choice will be from Smeagol, and depending on your choices, that particular side will eventually take over the body and become more prominent in everything including the voice of the character that you are playing. Gollum is an agile character and the movement is pretty slick as he can jump from wall to wall, outrun enemies with his fast speed and hide in the shadows in plain sight.

Review: The Lord of the Rings: Gollum

All of this might sound very promising but unfortunately the story and narrative of The Lord of Rings: Gollum is pretty underwhelming and it does not really give any sense of character development. You start trapped inside an Elven prison where Gandalf comes to visit Gollum in order to seek answers about his whereabouts and what happened while he was taken to Mordor and this leads you to the past where Gollum details his story to Gandalf and you get to play through the sections where Gollum was kept as a slave inside Barad-dûr. You eventually escape from there and the story continues further but the overall narrative is pretty weak and ultimately does not answer tons of questions that you might have before starting this game. This game could have been the perfect tie-in game between The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring but sadly, this was not the case.

The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is a typical stealth game, and its gameplay represents that as well. Since Gollum is small so he cannot fight any of the enemies in the game unless they are basic-level Orcs without helmets. Even then, Gollum has the upper hand if he sneaks on the enemies and stands no chance in one-to-one combat. You can jump on and throttle enemies that are facing away from you and are not wearing helmets but other than that, stealth is your friend, and you will only survive in the game if you stick to the shadows. Gollum is a master of stealth, and his little body ensures that he is equally agile and can fit through spaces where even a normal human being cannot fit. This gives him a big advantage over the enemies in the game whether they are orcs or humans.

For sticking in the shadows, you will be using every other path than the normal one. The level design of The Lord of Rings: Gollum is designed while keeping this in mind. There are alternate routes, hidden paths, and much more in nearly all of the areas. You will climb ledges, swing from one to another, climb up and down on stone walls, sneak around in shadows, and much more to progress in the game. Depending on the level, each area is filled with different enemies, and you will need to understand their movement paths and work around them to progress in the levels. The enemy AI design is pretty decent and reacts appropriately to your sounds and your presence. They will respond to if you go into their vision and any noises that you make while sneaking around and you can use this to your advantage as well.

You can pick up and store stones and use them as distractions in areas where the guards do not leave their posts and you have to go through them. In certain scenarios, you can also use the stones to take out unarmored enemies but as far as I can remember, there were very few enemies that you could take out by just throwing stones. If you get stuck or want a complete picture of the area you are currently in, you can press L1, and it activates Gollum Sense which marks all of the interactable items on the screen along with enemies as well. You can use this to keep track of the enemies while sneaking around to make sure that you do not run into any enemies. This also helps you analyze the environment if you are stuck and you need to figure out a path. Each level also has multiple collectibles that you can find and collect for your collection. This encourages exploration since each area has a little bit of extra area that you can explore.

Review: The Lord of the Rings: Gollum

Coming to the problems and issues with the game, the most prominent one is probably the visual art style of the characters and how they are designed. Everything in the game, ranging from the character model of Gollum to enemy designs such as the orcs is very badly designed. They are very less detailed and look like something straight out of the PS2 era of video games. Apart from the poor character models, their animations and facial expressions are equally bad as well. The same can be said regarding Gollum’s voice acting. It just feels wrong and nothing like we are used to from the movies or even the previously released Shadow of Mordor titles. The orcs look like humans with bad skin conditions while the elves are somewhat okay to look at. Moving on from the visuals, the game also breaks your progress in different locations due to bad levels of the floor.

While moving around on different levels, you will often get stuck on different surfaces. For example, there was an instance where I was running and had to jump over an obstacle to delay a beast chasing me down but I got stuck in the landing animation above the wooden barrier and it was not until the beast broke the barrier that I got free and landed on my feet. I died because of this glitch. This does not happen just during jumping over obstacles as well because in several other scenarios, I got stuck while running in invisible obstacles on the floor and it made me fail my escape from enemies. Movement is perhaps the hardest bit in the game as you are platforming in the game and the camera angle starts to have its own mind. This causes you to fail jumps and be unable to reach ledges as the camera suddenly changes and gets stuck on its own. There are different other problems with gameplay as well which hindered my progress such as in one bit, the enemy AI just got stuck and would not move despite me throwing stones to distract it. Restarting my game from a previous checkpoint fixed it but it was a gameplay-breaking bug.

Review: The Lord of the Rings: Gollum

Thankfully, all of this runs just fine on the PS5 console and there are no glitches that cause the game to stutter and break in other technical aspects. I do not remember any sequence where the visuals would make the frames drop but then again, the visuals are not that demanding anyway. The game also did not crash on me during my entire playthrough which is yet another positive aspect of the game. I had to restart my game a few times due to different gameplay hindering bugs but never it crashed on me. Apart from this, the sound design of the game is also pretty good and the dialogue and other sound effects are crisp and there is no cracking of any sort. This however is little relief to the overall bad game design.

I was really looking forward to The Lord of the Rings: Gollum because this side of the story where Gollum was captured, and he gave away the information regarding Bilbo Baggins is never seen in detail. Both NACON and Daedalic Entertainment have such amazing titles under their belt, and it baffles me that both managed to create and then deliver this game in such a poor state. I am not sure what sort of pressure the developers were under to release the game in such a condition when it is filled with technical glitches and flaws that would make the game absolutely trash to play. The issues with the game are not something that you can fix with a patch unless a patch arrives and completely redesigns the character art style and the overall code of the game. It is just not possible and I am afraid that we are now stuck with such a poor title representing such an amazing franchise.

Final Verdict:

The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is a missed opportunity to present an otherwise great side of a story that we all wanted to see. The poor animations, equally bad character design, and clunky gameplay are just small bits of this horrendous release. The level design on the other hand is really good and keeps things interesting as you visit some of the areas which have not seen before as well. The level design and the curiosity of a die-hard The Lord of the Rings fan inside me are probably only two things that kept me going and will be probably for you too. The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is not a good game in any way and if you really have to try it out, you should go in with an open mind. It is a shame to see how bad this game really is after all this waiting and delays.

Final Score: 4.5/10

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About the Author: Umair Khalid

Founder of GamesHedge, Umair enjoys a wide variety of video games ranging from RPGs to racing games. Currently busy with The Crew Motorfest and Way of the Hunter.

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