Lord of the Rings: Gollum was first announced in 2019, and it was a bit of a surprise. Instead of showcasing the noble characters everyone loves, it gives players the control of an evil wretch obsessed with a hobbit’s rings. It’s a mind-blowing and cool idea at the same time. On the one hand, experiencing the universe of Tolkein through a perspective as fascinating as ancient Sméagol seems fantastic. On the other hand, how do you build an entire game around a character who is not generally known for his imposing stature, heroic qualities, or combat finesse? In a recent demo, Daedalic Entertainment showed us what Gollum is capable of and how his unique talents translate into gameplay.
It’s important to note that the footage I looked at is apparently 10 months old, and Daedalic noted that a good chunk of those footage has since changed. Still, it offered a good idea of what the team is striving to accomplish. The Lord of the Rings: Gollum emphasizes the character’s two main strengths: climbing and sneaking. The demo sees Gollum ascend through the orc-infested Barad Dur tower in Mordor where he recently escaped slavery at the hands of Sauron.
Gollum needs to get to the surface and luckily is an excellent climber. After all, he’s had hundreds of years of practice. Gollum can jump on walls, slide on surfaces, swing from poles, jump from wall to wall, and perform other agile feats. An endurance meter dictates how long Gollum can maintain more strenuous acts such as sprinting or hanging. Levels facilitate the creation of platforms with an emphasis on verticality, an architectural element according to Daedalic is in line with Tolkien’s original building designs. Expect to see many spectacular views from the top of tall structures.
As Gollum climbs and pushes his way through hostile territory, he ends up sneaking up on a guard and we see how his two characters come into play. Since Gollum is the dominant personality at all times, Sméagol doesn’t appear tall. -something except in those scenarios where players can choose to either act on Sméagol’s more benevolent nature or give in to Gollum’s penchant for violence. In this case, it means whether or not to kill or spare an unconscious guard.
Despite appearances, Daedalic says just because Sméagol’s options are rated “good” doesn’t mean they are always the right course of action. Gollum didn’t survive that long by being kind, and sometimes a more ruthless approach is needed. Choices matter, however, and whether or not you choose to help or betray the characters you meet will have ramifications down the line. Gollum wins this time, and he jumps around the guard’s neck to perform a stealth kill.
The next area Gollum enters is littered with orcs. Lighting plays an important role in stealth, as staying in the shadows keeps Gollum out of sight. If spotted, players must flee; facing enemies head-on is a disaster for our pathetic friend. Noise is also important. Enemies have a keen sense of hearing, and every action Gollum performs produces some sort of sound. Fortunately, Gollum also has extra-sensory abilities that allow him, as Daedalic puts it, to “see sounds,” which allows players to know how much noise they are making and to detect other characters around them. Gollum also has an inventory for carrying items that can distract characters as well as food for healing.
The levels are large and have multiple paths, giving you plenty of options for choosing how to navigate them. Daedalic hopes this will encourage more games since you can approach the game in different ways.
After successfully sneaking around this orca minefield, Gollum meets a human named Grashneg, whom he encountered earlier in the game. For a character renowned for his volatility, Gollum surprisingly loves Grashneg, and both agree to work together. Cooperation with other characters plays an important role in the game, as allies of the sporting abilities that Gollum lacks, and vice versa. In this case, Grashneg can use his strength to get through obstacles but cannot see in the dark as well as Gollum can, which is where he takes over. The two work together and Gollum soon finds a literal light at the end of the tunnel: a crack in the wall with daylight. As he walks outside, the demo ends.
Daedalic confirms that the game will see Gollum venture out of Mordor (as in the books) where he will meet the monstrous spider, Shelob, and even venture into the land of the elves. Along the way, he will meet some familiar faces, although Daedalic is yet to say who is making appearances. Being a demo of almost a year, the game looked undeniably difficult. The animations felt rather stilted and the cutscenes had an awkward quality to them. But the studio promises that the game is currently in a much better shape than what we were shown. We can only hope that all goes well when The Lord of the Rings: Gollum launches somewhere in 2022.