Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Lord of the Rings: Gollum sheds light on unlikely hero

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Gollum is one of the most memorable characters from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, without a doubt. We’ve all watched these movies. We imitated 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 skinny and unwashed! He’s wearing a loincloth! He kills his friend and bites Frodo’s finger! But Daedalic Entertainment doesn’t let little things like that stop them from making a play on him anyway. It’s called The Lord of the Rings: Gollum, and that will happen on all major gaming platforms in 2022. And after seeing a 20 minute hands-on demo of an early level, I have to say that maybe I will come to Gollum as a star. That’s because, despite how gooey and tragic he is as a character, his limitations could make for an enjoyable game.

Lord of the Rings: Gollum Screenshots

First, what it is not. It’s 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 is more likely to walk through the shadows and try not to be seen by anyone. So it makes sense for The Lord of the Rings: Gollum to be all about stealth and platforming, and at the start of the demo, Gollum had just escaped imprisonment in the Pits of Barad-DUR. (It’s the Tower of Sauron – you know, the one topped with a giant fiery eye. It’s hard to miss.) But you, as Gollum, are not yet out of harm’s way, for you are now faced with having to escape a fortress teeming with orcs.

You do this by sneaking around, standing in the shade, and climbing all over the place in search of routes that will keep you going unnoticed. Sneak, climb, jump and run on walls to avoid enemies – this is the goal of this game, as well as solving environmental puzzles.The level I saw was huge, with a lot of vertical space to walk through. Lava pits littered the bottom of an underground area, with rock faces reaching to the base of the tower and plenty of wooden scaffolding to traverse. The developers say all levels are equally expansive, with multiple paths through each. Some routes focus more on stealth, while others focus on platform.

The demo featured mostly platforms, with Gollum climbing up walls, sliding down ledges, swinging from poles, and jumping through pits. The crossing reminded me of an Assassin’s Creed or Uncharted game.

Despite the emphasis on stealth and platforming, combat isn’t entirely out of the question here. You can handle stealth attacks if you’re sneaky. At one point during the demo, Gollum needed to get past a lone orc, so he slipped behind him, jumped onto his back and, after a brief struggle, silently knocked him down.Things don’t always go smoothly, however. Everything you do makes noise, and enemies are always listening. At one point, an enemy overheard Gollum and alerted other orcs nearby to come and get him. He rushed over and latched onto a ledge until the problem cleared up (Classic Gollum).

To help keep you alive, Gollum has the ability to “see” where sounds are coming from. This “sound vision” was not available in the version 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 hitting various points causes cut scenes to unfold. In the level I saw, Gollum meets a stocky prisoner named Grashneg and sets him free. Grashneg is with you for a while, helping you do things our skinny hero couldn’t do on his own, like smashing heavy obstacles to reach new paths.Gollum also talks to himself even when he’s alone, outside of cutscenes. When he arrives in a room with guards, for example, he will say, “Too many orcs. We hate orcs, ”or he will summon a distant gate for you to reach. Her voice sounds like Andy Serkis’ performance in the movies, although it’s obviously handled by a different actor here.

Much like in the source material, Gollum has a split personality that comes into play when making choices the player must make. If you want to lean towards the Gollum, you can make choices that hurt others but help you. If you are feeling more human, you can side with Smeagol and choose the moral path.

Despite the emphasis on stealth and platforming, combat isn’t entirely out of the question here. You can handle stealth attacks if you’re sneaky …

While no other familiar characters appear in the demo, the developers promise that you will meet “very well-known characters” in the full game, including Gandalf “(interference, of course, as he always does).” If you’re familiar with the source material, the developers suggest, you can probably guess some of the other characters you’ll encounter on the trip as well.

While The Lord of the Rings: Gollum isn’t the expansive open-world action RPG you’d expect, it certainly seems suited to the character of Gollum. And come to think of it, sneaking and parking through Middle-earth also has its appeal.

Chris Reed is a Commerce Editor for IGN. You can follow him on Twitter @_chrislreed.


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