Gollum is one of the most memorable characters in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, no question. We all watched those movies. We mimicked his voice: “Sneaky little hobbitses” and “My preciousss” — that’s good stuff. But he’s not exactly a typical video game hero. I mean, this is Gollum we’re talking about. He’s scrawny and unwashed! He wears a loincloth! He kills his friend and bites off Frodo’s finger!
But Daedalic Entertainment isn’t letting little things like that stop them from making a game about him anyway. It’s called The Lord of the Rings: Gollum, and it’s coming to all the major gaming platforms in 2022. And after sitting in on a 20-minute hands-off demo of an early level, I have to say, I may be coming around on Gollum as a star. That’s because, despite how slimy and tragic he is as a character, his limitations could lead to an enjoyable game.
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First, what it’s not. This is not a massive open-world game like Middle-earth: Shadow of War. You won’t lead armies into battle or fight hordes of orcs head on. Gollum just isn’t that kind of guy. He’s more likely to slip through the shadows and try not to be seen by anyone. So it makes sense that The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is all about stealth and platforming.
At the start of the demo, Gollum had just escaped imprisonment in the pits of Barad-dûr. (That’s Sauron’s tower — you know, the one topped with a giant fiery eye. It’s hard to miss.) But you, as Gollum, aren’t out of danger yet, as you’re now faced with having to escape a fortress that’s teeming with orcs.
You do this by sneaking around, sticking to shadows, and climbing all over the place in search of routes that will let you remain undetected. Sneaking, climbing, jumping, and wall-running to avoid enemies — that’s what this game is about, along with some environmental puzzle-solving.
The level I saw was huge, with lots of vertical space to traverse. Lava pits littered the bottom of an underground area, with rock walls reaching up to the base of the tower, and plenty of wooden scaffolding to traverse. The developers say all the levels are similarly expansive, with multiple pathways through each one. Some of the routes are more stealth-oriented, while others emphasize platforming.
The demo mostly featured platforming, with Gollum clambering up walls, shimmying along ledges, swinging from poles, and leaping across pits. The traversal reminded me of an Assassin’s Creed or Uncharted game.
Despite the focus on stealth and platforming, combat isn’t entirely out of the question here. You can manage stealth kills if you’re sneaky. At one point during the demo, Gollum needed to get past a lone orc, so he crept up behind it, leaped on its back and, after a brief struggle, brought it down silently.
Things don’t always go smoothly, though. Everything you do makes some amount of noise, and the enemies are always listening. At one point, an enemy heard Gollum and alerted other nearby orcs to come look for him. He scurried away and hung from a ledge until the trouble blew over (classic Gollum).
To help you stay alive, Gollum has an ability to “see” where sounds are coming from. This “sound vision” wasn’t available in the build used in the demo, but the developers say it will play a prominent role in the final game.
It’s a story-driven game, so reaching various points causes cut scenes to play out. In the level I saw, Gollum meets up with a stocky prisoner named Grashneg and sets him free. Grashneg accompanies you for a while, helping do things our gaunt hero couldn’t do on his own, like break through heavy obstacles to reach new pathways.
Gollum also talks to himself even when he’s alone, outside of cut scenes. When coming upon a room with guards, for instance, he’ll say, “Too many orcses. We hate orcses,” or he’ll call out a distant door you need to reach. His voice sounds similar to Andy Serkis’s performance in the films, though it’s obviously handled by a different actor here.
Just like in the source material, Gollum has a split personality that comes into play during choices the player needs to make. If you want to lean toward the Gollum side, you can make choices that harm others but help you. If you’re feeling more humane, you can side with the Smeagol part of him and choose the moral path.
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While no other familiar characters appeared in the demo, the developers promise you’ll meet some “very known characters” in the full game, including Gandalf “(meddling, of course, like he always does).” If you’re familiar with the source material, the developers hint, you can probably guess some of the other characters you’ll encounter during the journey as well.
Though The Lord of the Rings: Gollum isn’t the sprawling open-world action-RPG you might be expecting, it sure seems suited to the character of Gollum. And come to think of it, sneaking and parkour-ing through Middle-earth has its appeal too.
Chris Reed is a commerce editor for IGN. You can follow him on Twitter @_chrislreed.