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The Lord of the Rings Gollum review - far from precious

It's dangerous business making a Tolkien-inspired game and The Lord of the Rings: Gollum sadly is not the good Samwise Gamgee found worth fighting for.

A close-up of Smeagol's face from The Lord of the Rings Gollum game

Our Verdict

The Lord of the Rings: Gollum fails to live up to both the Tolkien name and its own potential. From exhausting, repetitive gameplay to a poorly constructed narrative, this is a piece of Middle-earth you should never explore.

I have always been a massive fan of J. R. R. Tolkien’s creations. From experiencing The Hobbit as a young child with my father to writing up my university dissertation on women in Middle-earth, his writing has had a profound impact on me. Unfortunately, my quest to review The Lord of the Rings: Gollum has proved to be an unexpectedly perilous journey.

Gollum from The Lord of the Rings Gollum squatting

I was hoping for an experience rich in adventure, story, and puzzles, and despite my concerns about the myriad ways it could go wrong, I was curious to dive into a thoughtful exploration of Gollum as a character. Upon starting, however, it quickly became clear that it offers none of these things. Instead, I was stuck in a dreary platformer with weak stealth game mechanics and a deeply uninspired plot.

While it does occasionally draw from Tolkien directly, Daedalic Entertainment is largely content to offer up an inferior mix of ideas and tones from Peter Jackson’s film adaptations. Gollum’s origin story and character as presented here are too familiar, as the developer has not taken the leap of faith required to distinguish its version of Gollum from what we’ve seen before.

I came across the odd unfamiliar face while playing that I wish I could have learned more about. It’s in these moments that the game shows some potential, as it toys with the idea of developing Tolkien’s more obscure characters, but – once again – it never commits.

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Gameplay-wise, Gollum feels like it’s been dragged out of a bygone era, though not in a cozy, nostalgic way. Its janky platforming brings to mind a poor man’s Styx or Crash Bandicoot, which left me wondering why I wouldn’t just play those far more polished games instead.

One thing I did genuinely enjoy, though, was the morality system. You do not play simply as Gollum or Smeagol. Instead, you play as both, either, or neither, really. In some situations, you get the option to respond as Gollum would (usually aggressively) or as Smeagol would (often passively). In theory, this is an interesting approach to exploring the character’s internal battle, but I wish it wasn’t so half-baked. The decision-making process is ultimately never given much punch due to the lack of weighty consequences.

The sections where Smeagol must ‘battle off’ Gollum after choosing to side with the latter personality provide no real challenge. I never lost to the other inner personality, and I’m not sure I needed all of the chances the game gave me. More riddles and extra flavor from the source material also wouldn’t have gone amiss.

A screenshot from The Lord of the Rings Gollum depicting Smeagol having won an argument

I found myself yearning so often for additional plot and fewer tailing sections straight out of 2010, or patience-testing platforming gauntlets that I’d have to run over and over again.

Graphically speaking, I am also disappointed, especially given the Gollum system requirements. The marketing showcased the game’s supposedly impressive visuals, even going so far as to partner up with Nvidia to advertise its DLSS capabilities. While some of the maps are indeed enchanting or whimsical to traverse, it’s all reminiscent of how I remember low-budget, late-noughties releases looking. It’s obviously far from a 1:1 likeness in reality, but that’s certainly the, well, aesthetic.

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Character models are similarly off. The faces in particular make some weird expressions when speaking, and the overall style is surreal, just not in a way that feels intentional or pleasant to spend hours looking at. Gollum himself is the highlight design-wise. He’s a bit creepier than other versions, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

It’s also impossible to ignore the font choices. Yes, you read that right. I would have rather looked at Comic Sans the entire time. Adding salt to the wound, the game also offers almost no real accessibility features or settings. You can make the text bigger, but there are no options for color-blind players, disabled players, deaf players (aside from the subtitles with the atrocious font), or visually impaired players.

A screenshot of The Lord of the Rings Gollum's accesibility settings

I do respect the idea at the game’s core – to explore an often overlooked character – but from a gameplay, narrative, and technical perspective, The Lord of the Ring: Gollum never puts forward a convincing argument for letting this weird little guy carry a whole project.

All in all, The Lord of the Rings: Gollum certainly was… a game. It was not, however, a good game, nor was it a good Tolkien-inspired experience by any means. After years of development and multiple delays, Gollum is downright disappointing. Your time would be better spent on grabbing an old PlayStation 2 and a used copy of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. We can only hope the new Lord of the Rings MMO fares better.