In the ten years of Expansive, we’d never done pre-reviews for games until Jedi Survivor launched last month.
Just a month later, we’re back here again. And sadly, it’s for similar reasons. We were really fortunate to get an early look at The Lord of the Rings: Gollum, a game I’d personally been very excited about for a long time. I’m a Tolkien buff, so this untold story holds a lot of interest for me.
As you can imagine, when I got access, I immediately hopped on my PS5, got downloading and dived right in. Only to be met with a hard crash about 5 minutes later.
These things happen, more than you might think. Undeterred, I immediately relaunched and went back in. And hit another hard crash. Then another came, and another. After the thirteenth hard crash, each spaced about five minutes apart, I took the hint.
And in addition to the crashes, the game was nigh on unplayable outside of Performance Mode thanks to a chugging framerate. You’ll be pleased to hear this seems much improved on the most recent patch and much smoother, particularly with Ray-Tracing on. But the point still stands.
I’m going to be honest, in all my time playing games pre-launch this is up there with one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had. I couldn’t even get half way through Chapter 1.
So, no, I’m not in a position to give proper thoughts on The Lord of the Rings: Gollum.
As mentioned, the game has since been patched and the experience is MUCH better. I’m deep in Chapter 2 now and am making good progress, but that patch came pretty late in the day yesterday. As a result, I don’t feel like I’ve played enough to give you a proper overview. That, and I’d be basing my impressions on a build you’ll never play.
Interestingly, Gollum’s hair physics might have had a lot to do with this. These were present in the previous patch I played, but are no longer available on PS5. Whether that’s temporary remains to be seen but taking them out is probably for the best, even if it is stripping a feature out of this console release.
Another issue is textures look pretty rough in Performance mode, with draw distance being quite poor and very minor details in everything from walls to character models. When you look at some of the pre-launch materials for the game, including the trailer above, it’s quite the contrast and we all know what PS5 is capable of.
But my experiences haven’t all been bad. As mentioned I’ve been able to play some of the game now and there’s some interesting dynamics at play. For one, Gollum and Smeagal are often in conflict, regularly bouncing conversation between the two, trying to talk each other out of things, and this sometimes leads to gameplay choices.
You can confront some characters as either side of the creature’s personality or make a decision that one or the other would make, influencing the critical path. This is a really clever way of making use of the lead character in the game and could really open things up for some compelling narrative opportunities later on.
Speaking of the story, I love the approach of Gandalf visiting Gollum in a cell, just as he does in the books, and this is how Gollum recounts his story to the Wizard and to the player. This includes his encounter with Bilbo, being captured by Nazgul and life leading toward The Fellowship of the Ring.
Even the ideas around the use of character are quite smart with Gollum being able to get into tight spaces and being distinctly agile
The gameplay did bare some frustrations, though. Enemies are on super high alert despite your stealth and they seem to spot you from random places with ears like a bat. I also found it really hard to wall run, having to position myself just perfectly. Plus jumping from spots is really quite clunky.
Reading this may seem like I’ve made a judgement on the game already, so why don’t we drop the pretense of a pre-review? But the truth is I still haven’t seen enough. I want to see the story unfold as it’s the game’s core component. I want to see what other mechanics are thrown in and how these are used. I also want to see how performance holds up and what environments I’ll get to visit.
My early impressions are disrupted, and there’s no getting around the fact this game is rough, but what I would say is the latest patch has definitely made some big improvements and, so this game deserves a second, proper look, and the chance to be explored properly.
For now, I’d say be cautious on PS5. I’ve not heard about or seen other formats, but I do understand the big issues have been on PlayStation, so maybe wait for a further patch to iron more things out or play elsewhere. The other thing I’d say, while I’ve not watched that leaked footage, it’s very likely based on the older, broken build I’ve played. As such, it’s not best compared to the base experience you’ll get to play on release.
We hope to have a full overview early next week once we’ve got through more of the game’s content, but so far, it’s not a great start even though there’s glimpses of a good time to be found. Despite the numerous delays, we definitely feel like this one needed even more time in the oven.
The Lord of the Rings: Gollum releases today on PC, PlayStation and Xbox
Code kindly provided by Nacon for review purposes.
Played on PlayStation 5 (based on Pre and Post Day One Patch)
Full overview to follow