Between Amazon’s recent Rings of Power series and no less than five games on the way to Embracer, there is a multitude of things about Lord of the Rings for fans. But then, is Tolkien really out of fashion?
This includes The Lord of the Rings: Gollum from German studio Daedalic. It’s been in development for a while and is due out later this year – I recently visited the Hamburg studio to familiarize myself with the game.
Although it inspired countless video games, only a couple based directly on Tolkien’s work really stood out. After playing the game, I’m not sure if Gollum will reach the heights of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor and its innovative Nemesis system, but it certainly looks like an authentic version of the original source material that enthusiasts of traditions will explore. on.
The Lord of the Rings: Gollum | Story Trailer
This is largely thanks to the game’s co-author Damiri Knapheide, the studio’s resident Tolkien expert who is in the process of writing a doctorate on the author. And he’s not so worried about competition from other upcoming games and media.
“As a fan, I like to see more,” he said. “We’re definitely coming out this year, but now it’s getting polished. The other games and movies? I don’t care that much, because we’re really in this tunnel, we have to do our job and we have to bring it to market .
“I’m glad it’s still something people are interested in. I love Lord of the Rings, so obviously I’d love for other people to show their interest and be inspired by it too.”
So why Gollum? After all, compared to skilled warriors and powerful wizards, his weak physique apparently doesn’t immediately lend itself to game design.
In fact, a Gollum game prototype was created by a small studio that Daedalic supported. “We noticed it was a good choice because we have this time frame where we have space where we can do our own interpretation,” Knapheide said.
“We have this little creature… Gollum, experiencing the world of magic, wonder, evil, good, from a small point of view. He doesn’t know everything, he’s not the big hero, the great fighter.
“He has a lot of issues and he’s not a very friendly creature, so we made him a little cuter,” jokes Knapheide. “He’s in pain and Gandalf has a lot of pity for him and there’s a reason for that because he was just a tortured being and he wasn’t a good guy. So basically we tried to make him a little nicer, to show him his good side too.”
Gollum is almost childlike, but also intriguing
The gameplay is mainly divided into three areas: platforming, stealth and confusing.
The platforming, or parkour as Daedalic calls it, has an almost Tomb Raider or Prince of Persia feel to it. Gollum can climb walls and along them too, and jumping between platforms is methodical and intentional rather than a nervous speed test. The stealth sections are a bit basic – throw rocks to distract enemies, dive underwater to avoid their gaze – but they make just as confusing sense.
And then there are the puzzles themselves. An elaborate sequence saw Gollum raising a specific type of bird, which led me to check the wall art for clues to the correct order of events: the correct egg color, the correct temperature, the correct place. Overall, the game has a pleasantly thoughtful, slow pace in line with Gollum’s character and abilities.
Unfortunately, this is marred by constant death. Miss a jump or fall off a wall? Death. Get spotted by a googly-eyed elf? Fail. I never felt like I got into the rhythm of the game or was let go to explore its sometimes beautiful world. There are often branching paths giving the illusion of choice – the stealth approach or the platforming approach – but in all cases the gameplay is restrictive and almost scripted. Daedalic is so – dare I say – valuable about Gollum, to providing a specific experience, that it seems afraid to let players enjoy the world.
Stealth is unfortunately a bit rudimentary
There is still choice thanks to the character of Gollum. Or should it be Smeagol? Protagonist duality has been cleverly used in places to provide multiple options for how to proceed. Sometimes it’s a quick decision on how to deal with an enemy, but other times players not only have to side with Gollum or Smeagol, they will only succeed if they convince the enemy. the other side of the plan, which results in a short series of dialogue choices that don’t always have the desired outcome.
In the short term, the result is alternate dialogue, but Daedalic promises wider implications for player choice. I just couldn’t witness it myself during the short preview period.
“People will die or live,” Knapheide said. And players will be able to define the story for themselves. “You can have allies, you can mistreat people, you can lie, you can manipulate. That’s what Gollum does.”
It’s really the authenticity of the game within the world of Tolkien’s book that impresses the most. The art style is fresh yet familiar, whether it’s the lush, verdant elven palaces or the dark interiors of Barad-dûr in Mordor where eye-shaped architecture suggests Gollum is perpetually guarded. This is despite Gollum himself looking like his Peter Jackson counterpart, even with his eyes crossed.
As Knapheide said, although the studio was keen to reach fans of the books and films, their hands were tied for legal reasons – the rights to Jackson’s films are separate from Tolkien’s books.
“We chose to develop our own art style which is more or less Gollum’s way of looking at Middle-earth,” Knapheide said. “So you don’t necessarily see the deluxe version of Middle-earth, but you see the deluxe version of Gollum’s version of Middle-earth.
“Then our artists went with that kind of style, which is – I think – a more artistic approach that would be more suitable for a book.”
The almost painterly style is beautiful, with great contrast between the Elven and Orc lands
In terms of lore, the story of The Lord of the Rings: Gollum sits between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. And that both provides a framework for the plot and allows the space to play out.
“Although high-profile people talk about [this timeframe]like Gandalf, he may not know exactly what [happened]“, said Knapheide. “At this time, Gollum travels and has a lot of experiences and revitalization.
“And of course we dig deeper – as deep as possible.”
He continued: “But of course we tried to stick as much as possible to [the lore]. For me, this is a very, very sensitive subject.
“We have to deliver Gollum to the door and say ‘ok, now the main Lord of the Rings story takes over’ because you know he will follow the company later. So we have a beginning and an end. Let’s say that’s the definition of the barriers that we have. And within that, we can create the story. But it’s a sad story, a bit melancholic, and at times very touching.
Knapheide admits it’s fun to delve into for someone writing a doctoral thesis on Tolkien. “It’s about imagination, the function of language to create images to open up imaginary worlds and centered on The Lord of the Rings,” Knapheide said. “Well, if I ever manage to finish it!”
The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is set to release on May 25 on PC, PlayStation and Xbox, and Switch consoles.
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