The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is apparently a hot mess. The narrative-driven stealth game set in-between J.R.R. Tolkien’s Hobbit and the War of the Ring trilogy has garnered some of the lowest review scores I’ve ever seen. One website even decided against reviewing it altogether because it was so wonky to play prior to a launch-day update. How did it all go so wrong?
More than a few people scratched their heads when Daedalic Entertainment announced it was making a Lord of the Rings game all about Gollum. The twisted creature turned into a mid-aughts CGI icon thanks to a masterful performance by actor Andy Serkis is not particularly heroic, doesn’t have any cool abilities, and is mostly relegated to a background plot device in the books. But Daedalic and publisher Nacon plunged ahead with a $60 PlayStation and Xbox release anyway. Maybe they shouldn’t have.
I watched snippets of a full playthrough that leaked on YouTube earlier this week which showed graphics that looked markedly worse than what was in some of the promotional images. Most of the action focuses on Gollum platforming around environments while avoiding guards. The second he’s spotted, the screen cuts to black and restarts from a game over. Some of the dialogue and UI fonts, meanwhile, appear to just be Calibri from Microsoft Office.
Gollum currently sits at a 38 on Metacritic for the PS5 version and 43 for the PC version. That puts it just a few points below 2022’s Babylon’s Fall, a live-service loot slasher by Platinum Games that was so disappointing Square Enix shut off the always-online game’s servers just a year later.
“A derivative, uninteresting and fundamentally broken stealth action adventure that fails to capture anything interesting about Tolkien’s fiction,” wrote The Guardian in its review. “Gollum is full of technical problems that make an otherwise unpleasant experience even worse, and the game’s boring story makes it hard to recommend, even to the most hardcore Lord of the Rings fans,” wrote Inverse.
GameSpot gave the game a 2 out of 10, while DigitalTrends refused to even score it. “First time we’ve ever really done this, but the version of Lord of the Rings: Gollum we were given to review on PS5 was so non-functional ahead of its day one patch that we could not dignify it with a scored review in good faith,” tweeted site writer Giovanni Colantonio.
Maybe Gollum will get better in post-launch updates. Maybe it won’t. I’m sure the developers working on the game didn’t want things to go this way. In the meantime, here’s what other reviews are saying about possibly the worst Lord of the Rings game ever:
Though the gameplay is, more often than not, too easy, you are significantly hindered by Gollum’s stats. Your stamina, which is required for running and climbing certain objects, depletes quickly and reloads at a snail’s pace. Your health is similarly fragile; you take fall damage from sometimes hilariously low heights, and resources to replenish HP (worms and mushrooms, mostly) are few and far between. There are no new abilities or upgrades to unlock in the game. While it is a potentially interesting idea to reflect Gollum’s withered nature in the character’s lowly base stats, it ends up playing out more like an annoyance than a meaningful storytelling device.
A better question is: “Why did you make this video game about Gollum?” If you’re gonna make a simulation game about a Wretched Creature in a Wretched Situation, it’s either got to be meaningful and immersive, or it’s gotta have a Heeheehoohoo Factor. Based on trailers and certain hints in the opening hours of Gollum, I know that there’s gameplay on the other side of Mordor in store. But the lack of personality has already sealed my save file’s doom (doom, drums in the deep). I’ve seen these orcs before; I’ve seen this Mordor before. It’s a version of Middle-earth played utterly straight, but without the creativity or flexibility to maintain immersion.
It’s heart-breaking. Gollum has lovely design moments and a real sense of pluck to it - of a team reaching to do justice to something they love. But it has too many problems, and only some of them can be sorted with patches. It’s too often a well-intentioned mess, and one which I can tell talented people have poured their lives into. So in a perverse way I guess it really does have that air of melancholy that so often drifts through Tolkien.
The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is the worst thing I’ve played this year. In fact, it’s the worst thing I’ve played in a long time.
Thankfully, the narrative half carried Gollum for me. Whenever it’s not being a sneaky platformer, Gollum impressed me as a work of interactive Tolkien fanfic, not unlike 2021’s Guardians Of The Galaxy in its walk-and-talk formula punctuated by action. As with Guardians, it’s set against some gorgeous backdrops, and while characters are often animated stiffly (especially in dialogue), the script held my attention well. It dissects Gollum and why he remains an outsider despite any best efforts from himself or potential friends.
Rock Paper Shotgun
But even these moments of spectacle can’t hide what is ultimately a very dull game. It’s also quite janky, and I spotted plenty of canned animation loops, characters getting stuck in scenery, and Gollum clipping or jittering through the environment on several occasions to name just a few. But even if it were technically sound, Gollum is simply a game that fails to expand the world of Middle-earth in any meaningful way. There are glimmers of something here, but like the ring itself, this is best chucked into the bowels of Mount Doom and forgotten about forever.