The Lord of the Rings: Gollum preview – Sméagol shares equal billing in stealth adventure

. 1 month ago
Lord of the Rings Gollum key art

Lord of the Rings: Gollum is still on track for a 2022 launch, and from Dexerto’s recent preview of the game, it could be an impressively faithful adaptation of the original source material.

Movie tie-ins are common enough in video games, but book tie-ins are a little rarer. The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is one such adventure, with developer Daedalic going out of its way to distance the title from Peter Jackson’s cinematic adaptations.

If you’ve ever dreamed of swinging a sword in Middle-earth, lopping off Orc heads at Helm’s Deep, then trust us when we say that Gollum won’t scratch that particular itch on your hairy feet. This is a stealth game, and as part of Nacon’s Bigben Week event in Paris, we came away mightily impressed by what we saw.

Starting in the Middle (Earth)

Lord of the Rings Gollum screenshot

The Lord of the Rings: Gollum takes our familiar protagonist and follows the events that occur between The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The key thing to note is that this is very much Tolkien’s world, with developer Daedalic Entertainment hiring experts on the author to help add details that distinguish it from Jackson’s blockbuster movies.

That means, quite jarringly at first, that Gollum looks a little different from how you may expect — his eyes are bigger, and his brow is more protruding. As it happens, that actually makes his facial animations easier to read, especially since there’s no Andy Serkis here to offer motion capture.

In the game’s initial tutorial, we see Gollum scuttering through huge caves hunting for the One Ring, and it’s here we get our initial glimpse of his almost insect-like animation. The former Hobbit doesn’t run, he scuttles, jittering between darkened areas of the map and throwing rocks to draw attention away from where he’s headed.

The frail Sméagol isn’t one for fighting, but he’s comfortable getting blood on his hands when the opportunity presents itself — strangling one, isolated Orc in a flurry of grasping and clinging, knowing the Orc would kill him in one fell swoop. It’s effective at showcasing Gollum’s tension and desperation, with a stamina bar meaning he can’t just choke the life out of any enemy.

Two for one

Lord of the Rings Gollum screenshot
Gollum’s environments are varied.

Of course, Gollum’s story isn’t just about Gollum, and Sméagol gets his share of the limelight, too. In an early section, the duo deliberates whether to let a small beetle live, or whether to crush it. We opted for the former, and while we didn’t see how that choice played out in our hands-off demo, we’re assured that decisions will have larger ramifications.

That’s exciting because Gollum and Sméagol’s inner turmoil allows for interesting gameplay choices. Do you slay an Orc, or sneak by? With multiple routes to choose, plus the aforementioned gameplay choices, there’s the potential for multiple playthroughs that play out very differently.

While sneaking itself is fairly rudimentary in terms of finding shadows to lurk in and breaking line of sight with enemies, circumnavigating areas also allows Gollum to stretch his legs with some impressive traversal, including climbing and wall-running. After all, he’s been in the mountains for hundreds of years, and seeing him crawl up a wall makes him look less like his former, Hobbit self than ever before.

Speaking of crawling, we did get a glimpse of some other enemies in the game, notably an infamously large spider that fans will recognize as being much more faithful an adaptation than in Shadow of War, and the Nazgûl, complete with terrifying dragon mounts.

Make no mistake, Gollum is shaping up to be a dark fantasy tale just as Tolkien intended, and while we know how the character’s story ends, we can’t wait to see it unfold all over again.

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