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In fantasy, being the heroic wizard or knight is where the action is. But sometimes you get a different perspective by being the cowardly thing that scurries around in the shadows.
We’ll see our players enjoy this latter perspective in the upcoming The Lord of the Rings: Gollum. It’s a new video game based on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, and it’s in the works at developer Daedalic Entertainment and its owner and co-publisher Nacon. They have pledged to deliver a game that honors the vision of Tolkien.
But instead of playing as the valiant Aragorn or wise Gandalf, you play as Gollum, a creature who becomes important only as a kind of middleman courier for one of the greatest treasures of Middle-earth. In The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, we see the perspective of the heroes of the villainous Gollum, who is happy to steal and murder in the darkness. But this game makes you play as the anti-hero Gollum.
I got a brief look at the action-adventure title via a preview demo with Daedalic. Gollum is the same immoral creature that we’ve come to expect from the pathetic character’s backstory. But we learn that it’s through his own agency that Gollum becomes so important a character, struggling between light and darkness, that makes his tale with the epic story so interesting.
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The backstory of the game
I hope we’ll find out soon whether Daedalic can meet the expectations of fans who have been anxiously wanting to play the game in spite of three delays in the launch timing. The title was first slated to debut in 2021, but the pandemic took a toll. Now it for the spring or summer of 2023. The Lord of the Ring: Gollum will be released on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S and Nintendo Switch.
In 2019, Daedalic Entertainment announced its collaboration with Middle-earth Enterprises, a division of The Saul Zaentz Company. The Lord of the Rings: Gollum was slated to be the first video game to be born out of the partnership, with scope for more new experiences in the future.
Then Hamburg, Germany-based Daedlic was acquired by Nacon in February 2022. Meanwhile, the game’s launch was delayed three times. But I’m glad they stuck with it because Gollum story is one that was untold, and the developers have their chance to fill us in on the rest of the tale with a fresh eye.
We first meet Gollum, known earlier in his live as Sméagol, in the novels in the caves of the Misty Mountains, where he tries to deceive hobbit Bilbo Baggins into being Gollum’s next meal. Instead, Baggins finds a ring that belongs to Gollum, and it turns Baggins invisible just in time. This magic ring, which isn’t really Gollum’s, has become Gollum’s obsession and his “Precious,” a source of his corruption. So Gollum dares to leave the darkness of the caves and pursues Baggins to retrieve the ring. But it turns out this is the One Ring, and everyone in Middle-earth wants it.
It helps to know the lore, but you do not need to know it to play. You embark on a perilous journey as Gollum, chasing what is precious to you. I started out in the mountains of Mordor, full of dangerous Orcs. And I had to climb, leap, and sneak my way past dangers or into advantageous spots.
Gollum is skillful and sly, and torn by a split personality. It is up to you to decide whether to yield to the darker side of Gollum or trust the kinder gentler hint of Sméagol. You can choose to be evil or moral. If you are discovered by the evil Orcs, you’re easily dispatched and killed or captured. So you stick to the shadows and strike when necessary. You can hide in the tall weeds and sneak past lazy guards. But you have to watch out for unexpected spies, like ravens that will report back to the Dark Lord.
There are forces of good among the elves, the men and Gandalf, and the forces of evil like the Orcs, the ringwraiths, Sauron and Shelob the spider. But to Gollum, they are all just nasty creatures that mean to harm him or get in his way on his quest for the Precious.
The art style is different from Peter Jackson’s movies, but the artists do a good job capturing Gollum’s expressive, giant eyes. That was perhaps my favorite part of the artistry.
You explore parts of Middle-earth that we haven’t seen before as well as some familiar places. I played in an area that looked like it was a mountain fortress in the realm of Sauron’s Mordor as it prepares to launch the War of the Ring. In one part of the game, Gollum was a captive of the wood elves in Mirkwood forest. At another point, he was being hunted by the Orcs near Cirith Ungol and the giant spider.
I experienced being interrogated by the terrifying (from Gollum’s view) wizard Gandalf and the process told me more about Gollum and how he behaves and makes choices. So you have to get used to the notion that you’re playing with a character whose main object is survive and kill anything that gets in the way of retrieving the ring. It feels a bit like the Grendel novel that shows what it’s like to be the monster slain by the hero Beowulf. That’s a fresh perspective and one I look to seeing more of in the future.