The Lord of the Rings: Gollum shows a solitary side to Middle-earth

During a hands-off preview of The Lord of the Rings: Gollum, I first see the infamous protagonist in the depths of the Cirith Ungol mountains in Mordor. After climbing along ledges and slinking through passageways hidden from sight, Gollum finds safety in a dark cave which serves as his hideout. Small in stature and hunched over on all fours, Gollum begins to look at drawings on the walls that paint a picture of his past. When the camera focuses on figures etched out on the stone, I start to hear the echoes of a conversation that takes place during a future interrogation with Gandalf. I can’t physically see the wizard, but his voice fills the silence as Gollum sits in his solitary refuge. 

“You must have had friends once. A family.” The question sounds more like a statement, but the response it earns from Gollum is one of anger and resentment. “They kicked us! Cast us out! Curse them all! Curse them!” This interaction reminds of just how alone Gollum is in Middle-earth, and it’s a thought that seldom leaves me throughout the demo session. There’s a pervasive sense of isolation and seclusion in The Lord of the Rings Gollum, and it’s clear that developer Daedalic Entertainment is trying to deliver a different perspective on Middle-earth – one from the viewpoint of a reclusive, troubled figure who’s driven and torn up by his desire for the ring.     

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The Lord of the Rings: Gollum

(Image credit: Daedalic)

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The solitary nature of Gollum lends itself to the stealthy abilities he’s gained and honed over the last 500 years. Some of the features I see in action include detection vision, which highlights foes and places he can hide. Since Gollum’s nimble form allows him to sneak or climb through paths tucked away from sight, you get to see a behind the scenes kind of view of a location. By putting you in the unique position of a solitary observer, you can also use the environment and even take advantage of a rather fearsome connection to do away with Gollum’s foes. 

As he ventures through the rocky, mountainous terrain of Cirith Ungol, the presence of spider webs indicate that Shelob is nearby. While the very large, nightmarish arachnid is said to enjoy the taste of humans the most (shudder), she is not against snacking on an orc. By throwing a rock to block out the light of a lantern, Gollum helps to send an orc falling right into the spider’s web, which clears his path and gives Shelob some lunch in the process. 

What I can’t stop dwelling on, though, is the way that Gollum’s nature and skillset puts him on the outskirts, concealed from everything and everyone with only himself for company. I’ve always had a great fondness for the Fellowship and the sense of companionship the characters have in The Lord of the Rings, but Gollum presents something of a shift in perspective. As an outcast who all but shuns the company of others, Gollum often expresses fear or contempt for those around him as he ventures through the two locations I get to see. 

The Lord of the Rings: Gollum

(Image credit: Daedalic )

“The two sides of his personality will factor into the decisions you make throughout the adventure, and I’m definitely keen to see whether it will allow the story to take different shapes.”

While he does habitually view others as enemies and seeks the shadows to help him, there are occasions where a yearning for light and companionship shines through. In one instance, for example, Gollum comes across some flowers which stand out against the dark backdrop of the mountains. A little beetle flies around him, and the intriguing duality of his personality comes into play. You can choose to give into his more assertive, resolute Gollum side and smash the beetle, or let him feed into his gentler Sméagol side, who appears to delight in having some company, even if it is just a bug. The two sides of his personality will factor into the decisions you make throughout the adventure, and I’m definitely keen to see whether it will allow the story to take different shapes. 

In spite of his reclusive nature and the internal battle he has with himself, there are occasions where Gollum will have encounters that also demonstrate his desire for friendship. We’re taken to the halfway point of the game, where Gollum is actively trying to aid a young elf by the name of Mell – even if it partly to serve his own motivations in the process. After being captured by Aragorn and taken to Elven king Thranduil in Mirkwood, Gollum makes his way through a level known as the Glittering Grotto to reach the king’s chamber in search of a bell. As narrative designer Tilman Schanen explains, all of the areas are “quite linear”, but there are multiple paths to take, and in this instance a climbing puzzle to solve to progress. As Mell is an outcast, locked away for misusing her powers, Gollum aims to set her free in a bid to escape the realm of the elves. 

While I don’t get to see the initial encounter between the pair, they do communicate with each other throughout the level telepathically. Gollum is still technically on his own and doesn’t like this way of speaking with Mell, but it feels like they’re both unified by their outsider status and it brings about a sense of companionship, however small that may be. The Lord of the Rings: Gollum shows potential, and while I can’t yet speak to how it feels to control the character, I’m certainly intrigued by the prospect of experiencing a world I love from a very different perspective.

The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is coming to PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S on September 1, 2022

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