The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is releasing on the 1st of September. The 1st of September is the day before Amazon's upcoming TV series, clearly designed to pounce on the hype. It's interesting, to say the least; developers Daedalic Entertainment - recently purchased by Nacon; thus, their inclusion in the Big Ben Week - aren't the biggest, so it was a surprise when Daedalic announced Gollum three years ago. Now, years later and close to release, how does the game look?
Gollum and Smeagol are conflicting personalities. Anybody who has read the works of Tolkien, or watched The Lord of the Rings, will know this. Much like its titular character, The Lord of the Rings: Gollum, based on the book license, also looks to be somewhat conflicting in the gameplay styles on offer. During my time at Nacon's Big Ben Week, Daedalic Entertainment showed me two parts of the game, both very different from the other.
The tutorial highlights the stealth aspects that we will find within the game. Gollum isn't a fighter; we know that. However, he is tricksy. Set around Cirith Ungol, this is Gollum escaping Mordor after his capture by Sauron, where he reveals that it was a hobbit from The Shire called Baggins who had the one ring. You can't face an Orc head-on, so the trick is to be sneaky. You can hide in long grass, use shadows to your advantage, and throw stones to distract or knock out light sources - to either get past the orcs or split them up to jump on the back of one and take it down.
I enjoy stealth games, so this immediately caught my attention. You can still find me playing older stealth-focused titles like Hitman: Blood Money, Thief 2, and even games that put too much action in their stealth, like Splinter Cell. You'll always find me in the shadows, prowling for my next victim. Sometimes in games too. So the stealth focus of The Lord of the Rings: Gollum caught my eye, even though it's very similar to a myriad of games from the Batman and Assassin's lineup. Gollum has his own Batsense here called "Gollum Vision".
After the stealth tutorial, Daedalic revealed the duality aspect of the game, showing that you will have moments where you have to pick between Gollum and Smeagol. In the tutorial, this is a simple one; do you smash the ever-loving hell out of a bug and kill it (Gollum)? Or, do you watch the bug and play with the bug (Smeagol)? These choices are said to be more important and even more difficult as the game progresses and will impact the story beats.
That's the first part of The Lord of the Rings: Gollum, and possibly one that will turn some people off. Not me, but there you go. The other part Daedalic showed me is all about platforming. Set in the court of Thranduil, Elven king of Mirkwood, you're tasked with reaching the very top of the cavernous building. With aesthetics that wouldn't be out of place in the visual media of The Lord of the Rings we've seen before, something is striking here. Even more striking is the movement to get to the top.
There are no enemies here, which is good because the obstacle course is enough - moving from wall to wall, jumping across gaps to moving platforms which will take you even higher to your eventual goal. Seeing the Daedalic presenter miss a jump and see the fall damage in action - quite simple, with a UI that only shows up when you've got reduced health, or stamina, to help with immersion. I couldn't help but be even more intrigued by The Lord of the Rings: Gollum.
One of the drawbacks from people will always be that this is based on the book license. Characters won't look exactly like those we know from the silver screen. Gandalf won't be Ian McKellen; Gollum/Smeagol won't sound like Andy Serkis; Aragorn won't be Viggo Mortensen. That always has the chance to put people off, but it's understandable and even reasonable here. Where games like Marvel's Avengers wanted you to think of the films, they didn't want to pay for that. The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is all about the books as a source.
As a fan of Lord of the Rings, I'm looking forward to this. As a gamer, I'm hoping that it will be good. A few things make me worry that it will be a very linear progression with few challenges, such as the fact that Gollum doesn't "level up" or essentially develop as the game progresses. This is a Tolkien estate matter, and it's fitting. Gollum is 500+ years old; you can't teach an old dog new tricks.
Still, I've only seen two levels, and in the second, I didn't even get to see the end after the fall. I hope that the aspects I'm liking so far will shine above any concerns because this is a game I'll be playing on release.