5 Things I Love About Lord of the Rings: Gollum

Bad, yes. Irredeemable? No.
Bad, yes. Irredeemable? No. Screenshot from Lord of the Rings: Gollum
Let me start out by saying that every negative review of Lord of the Rings: Gollum is 100 percent correct. It is a glitch-ridden, nigh-unplayable mess that is in no way worth $60 and makes a mockery of my PS5’s power. This unfinished, buggy embarrassment has the temerity to already be selling DLC when the game itself is as far from done as The Shire is from Mordor.

And yet, I don’t hate it.

Granted, I have a history of loving both buggy LotR game adaptations and mediocre linear stealth titles. Even though Gollum is very frustrating (I am currently stuck on the fourth chapter because a scene won’t trigger), I can’t stop playing it. Here is what there is to love about this piece of shit.

Gollum is Surprisingly Fun to Control

One of the reasons Stray was such a hit last year is that the game was built around traversal with a non-human protagonist. While Gollum is definitely humanoid, he crawls and creeps along like something very different. I like the way the camera has to leer up at NPCs from his perspective, and the unsettling way he leaps around like a true threat despite being a sniveling creature.

The entire point of The Lord of the Rings is that the little people are stronger than the big people know. Gollum is one of those little people, and the game expertly makes him a powerhouse without losing his broken nature. It’s a weird combination of weakness and strength that few games can pull off.

The Orcs Have Proper Motivations

The orcish race is hard to write around as Tolkien never really settled on their origins or whether they could ever be redeemed. Gollum leans into this by basically making the orcs extreme MAGA cultists. Through cut scenes and background dialogue, the orcs talk about how the weapons of Sauron will finally put their race on top. They are a cruel and bootlicking people, but they still have hopes and dreams of leaving the pits and becoming something better. Their menace and rotten nature is never diminished, but becomes a kind of mirror to Gollum’s own greedy need for the ring.

The level of commitment to personalizing the villains extends into characters like the Candle Man and his daughter and even The Mouth of Sauron. The latter gets a really neat new character design as well that is frankly better than the Peter Jackson reimagining. These are well-written, compelling villains, and they make the game intriguing.

The Level Design is Better Than You Think It Is

The main mechanic of the game is Gollum climbing through the pits. Many times, the path forward is not obvious even with the level marker. However, dying from a badly timed jump usually resets the player at a checkpoint with subtle camera angles that hint at where they should have gone next.

While nowhere near as elegant, the design reminded me of Portal 2, where solutions seem obvious in retrospect but difficult while you’re stuck in the middle of the puzzle. Navigating the world made me feel accomplished, and it had the same easy pace of the criminally underrated Submerged.

The Lore Downloads Are Neat

While I fully stand by the idea that a game of this price and level of polish should not be charging for DLC, I do like what is on offer. There’s a patch to make the elves speak Sindarin, which as someone who is subscribed to three different Tolkien lore YouTube channels I appreciate.

They should be free, though.

The Argue Mechanic is Genius

So many game protagonists talk to themselves out of mechanical necessity, but Gollum is a rare character where that’s actually a major trait. Not only does this allow Gollum to move the player along the path with hints, it comes into play in the game’s morality system.

Occasionally, Gollum will argue with himself over a course of action, and the two sides of his mind will have to decide what to do. This is done with a badly executed dialogue tree, but the idea behind it is genius. As with Gollum’s motions, this is a perfect rendition of an aspect of Gollum’s character in game form. It could be better done, but the idea behind it is solid.

I can’t in good conscience recommend Lord of the Rings: Gollum, but it does have redeeming qualities. I plan to finish this janky spinoff, no matter how many times I have to restart the levels, because buried under all the muck is something special. Tolkien would appreciate that, I think.
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Jef Rouner (not cis, he/him) is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner