As you know, we had some difficulties with our review of The Lord of the Rings: Gollum due to issues on PS5.
Since then, two patches have been released which have at least enabled us to playthrough and see through the game. They’ve even cleaned up some of the graphical, frame rate and mechanical issues we were having.
As such, my opinion of the game is definitely improved. My suspicions about the story being the driving force are apparent, and the game does get better the further in you go. Sadly, however, the mechanics remain ropey and there remains a general fatigue around its bloated early chapters.
Perhaps it’s the choice of protagonist and story, after all this was never the most attractive untold story to tell in the Tolkeinverse. It’s faithful, I’ll give it that much, as Gollum spends almost half of the game trapped underground in murky, lava ridden cells and grey, malevolant towers.
My main problem is what’s teased early on gets lost so quickly, as more interactions with Gollum and Gandalf could have really made everything a lot more compelling.
The environment is about as soul-destroying for the player as it must be for the creature. And while it does at least stay authentic to what we know, Daedalic would have probably been better served speeding it up, or at least not making several of the tasks repetitive, mundane and frustrating.
But it does at least play up some fun themes, which is something I briefly touched upon in my first impressions. You will make a number of key decisions about your fellow cell-mates, deciding to tell the truth about your plans of escape as Smeagal or pointing the finger at someone else as Gollum.
Despite the bland UI and seemingly limited alterations to the overarching story, it does at least throw up some interesting scenarios and helps to really build the story around the character, which is where the game is at its strongest.
Gollum has always been a conflicting character, his arc across the main trilogy one of the most interesting across all the characters. And the game definitely allows you to twist and manipulate things toward your own gain as the creature’s obsession with the one ring consumes everything he says and does.
To compliment that, there is some intrigue in being able to stick to the shadows as Gollum, listening in to the servants of Sauron as they whisper in their secluded halls about their evil plans and schemes. Skulking and hiding suits this character wonderfully and Daedalic have at least been able to find a way to stay authentic.
Even Gollum’s character animations make for fascinating watching and interesting play as it scampers around on all fours, getting low to the ground like a spider, desperately scurrying around along walls and surfaces. There’s actually a couple of good chase and follow sequences which make good use of the environment.
But here is where mechanics let things down as actions start to feel pre-determined and if you don’t press in the right spot in certain places, you mistime everything. Controls also feel a bit opposite and backward from what you’d expect, like wall runs can’t be executed by jumping into them, rather you run alongside them, and you lose momentum so quickly trying to swing from poles that you often just drop down flat.
That last point, in particular, doesn’t really favour the drawn-out chase sequences, especially when checkpointing isn’t particularly reliable and the game is prone to some random glitches.
The other main issue is the story is made to suit the character, not thrusting the character into a story. We know where Gollum ends up in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, and to be honest, there’s no real development from the character we meet there. It’s like giving the player the chance to play as the character they know, rather than learning more about who he was before then.
As I mentioned, he’s still twisted, he still lies, and is all about self-preservation and taking the ring for himself. Which is fine, but if you’re going to base a story around that, we at least need to see a bit of growth and development toward that point. The inner conflict only ever comes around key decisions and even then, nothing feels particularly difficult to choose between or if you even care too much about the end result.
And the truth is, while Daedalic have promised a bunch more patches for the game to improve the experience, realistically there’s only so much to be done and not a lot that can fundamentally change from what we see here.
Visually, there’s been some improvements via these patches. I can play pretty comfortably in Quality on PS5 now with limited slowdown. Playing any lower and the game looks noticeably rough, whereas the use of lighting and reflections is much improved when closer to 4K.
The soundtrack is suitably sinister and unsettling, an eerie undertone playing throughout, while the game is full of background noise and whispers which create a living breathing nightmare atmosphere that is full of references for Tokein fans. Even the random, blurted out ‘Gollum’ while you sit around and wait raises a smile. Though lines of dialogue often corrupt between cutscenes and sounds occasionally appear out of place.
The game has this early PS1 era flair to it that makes it sort of endearing through the rough textures, shaky controls and monotony. Whether that makes it the worst game to release this year, I somewhat doubt it, but there’s no question some unfortunate design choices have been made here and some things don’t work quite as well as the developers may hope. There are enjoyable components within The Lord of the Rings; Gollum, sadly, though, often they are hard to find.
The Lord of the Rings: Gollum had a rough start prior to launch but despite its followup patches, it’s still not a good game. It plays with some interesting concepts but they are so often overshadowed by its poor controls, loose movement, and overly slow story where everyone feels like a bit part except the titular lead. There is a certain charm that ever so often seeps through, to make it a partly enjoyable platforming and even stealth experience, but just as it builds any kind of momentum the game swiftly reminds you of its drawbacks and frustrations.
+ Gollum acts and is animated well
+ Soundtrack and voice acting is nice
+ You might sometimes catch yourself enjoying it
– Movement is loose and full of designated interaction points
– Game’s most interesting concepts are never explored to the full
– Story takes too long to get going and never lets other characters shine
– Even on highest setting, graphics look rough and flicker
– Regular hiccups, glitches,and sound breakups
The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is now available on PC, Xbox and PlayStation. A Switch version is in development
Code Kindly Provided by Daedalic for review purposes
Played on PlayStation 5
Overview based on latest patch (as of 28/05) Thoughts based on earlier patches can be read here