The Lord of the Rings: Gollum Review

Not the one.
Lord of the Rings: Gollum Header

The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is a game I’d been looking forward to for a while now, and while many might have said they weren’t interested in seeing Gollum’s story, I personally felt it had potential to be an interesting and even unique video game. It would have to be focused on stealth, of course, since sneakiness, riddles, and the ring are Gollum’s whole thing, but it could be a great way to explore the way he survived in goblin caves, his presence during The Lord of the Rings, or even escaping from Mordor after being interrogated by Sauron – this final option is what this game explores. It could be good. This game, however, is not good.

It begins well enough. You’re introduced to some platforming and stealth mechanics and the story kicks into gear as you’re quickly captured by the Nazgul in a scene that was reasonably cool at first, but goes on a little too long as you wait for the dramatic moment to pass. Gollum’s interrogation leads to him being told to retrieve the ring by Sauron, but he’s then inexplicably locked in the slave pits below Barad-dûr.

What follows is Gollum surviving with the help of a handful of people until he can leave, years later – he is occasionally questioned about the ring and someone called Baggins by other characters during this. Again, I maintain this could be an interesting game, and at this point it is enjoyable enough. It’s an exploration into the brutal culture of the orcs and uruks, as well as taking in the industrialised, evil, and barren scenery they live in.

Gollum character

One key element to Gollum’s character is that he is also, as we all know, Smeagol, and his two personalities often talk to and argue with each other, and the way this is represented is both rather odd and endearing. Occasionally there will be a decision to make in game and you’ll have to not only pick either Gollum or Smeagol to go with, but then convince the other as well. It’s an intriguing idea that honestly I think could be explored more thoroughly than I’ve seen so far. Imagine a character with multiple different personalities were you have to reach a consensus, and if it goes the wrong way you end up having to do something you don’t want? A game that’s more specifically designed to explore that mechanic could be quite special.

Unfortunately, the game feels rather dated, a little like a PS2 era licensed title. The opening chapters see Gollum handed menial chapters by the orc slavers, such as collecting tags from other, now dead slaves in the mines or luring animals into cages. All of these (and most other) tasks revolve around platforming, sometimes with a modifier. Collecting tags is platforming to find and collect them, luring animals into cages is platforming whilst being chased, and later when you’re sneaking around the world, it’s platforming while making sure you’re not seen.

Gollum generally handles fine, outside of an occasionally finicky bit or some ledges looking like they can be grabbed when they’re not, but we’ve seen all of this being done better elsewhere. Most of the tricks you’ve been taught – such as throwing rocks to distract guards or shutter lanterns – are used sparsely. Well, not before Chapter Five, which is as far as I was able to play.

Gollum Stealth

That’s thanks to some game-breaking progression bugs while reviewing on PS5  that completely derail anything and everything that Gollum is building towards. In one section I was following a character stealthily, only for her to get onto a lift that never went anywhere. As I was following this character, there was no way to complete the level. Eventually after installing the Day One patch and a fresh level restart, a cutscene triggers where the lift takes a while and you climb up ahead, and I was able to continue the game.

But then I reached Chapter Five and the environment wouldn’t load. Gollum fell to his death on top of a large, untextured, gray square in a white void. Restarting the level does the same thing, restarting from a checkpoint leaves Gollum seemingly dead on the floor, just blinking over and over. It’s a game-breaker. Closing the whole game to reload, I find myself about 30 seconds from the end of the previous level, and advancing to the next has the same result. I simply can not finish this game – changing between performance modes doesn’t help, turning off physics on Gollum’s hair (which causes crashes in its own right) doesn’t help either.

I just can’t finish it and I barely got half way. We weren’t sure if this was an isolated issue that would be fixed with a day one update, but have completed our review after seeing other reviewers experience similar problems. Some have got further before encountering a game-breaking issue, but for me playing on PS5, it cannot be completed on launch day. The only possible redemption arc for this game is some major patches, but even that wouldn’t address some of the other weaknesses with its design.

The Lord of the Rings: Gollum was conceptually a game with some promise, but from what I've seen so far, it's a mediocre and messy experience that doesn't really come together into a cohesive whole. That is, of course, before coming to the bugs, the crashes and the game-breaking progression issues that make it impossible to complete at this time. Considering that I was actually looking forward to this, this one really stings.
  • Vaguely entertaining despite itself at first
  • Environments can sometimes look quite nice
  • Game-breaking issues including with day one patch
  • Fumbles its most interesting mechanic
  • Character models look dated, especially Gollum
  • Feels...unfocused
  • Destroys any chance of a good Gollum game in future