Sneaky stealth game The Lord of the Rings: Gollum will release on 1st September for PC, PlayStation 4/5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S, developer Daedalic has announced. A Nintendo Switch launch will follow later this year, although there's no exact date for this as yet.
"The Lord of the Rings: Gollum, based on the legendary The Lord of the Rings trilogy of books by JRR Tolkien, tells of Gollum's experiences from behind-the-scenes in the first chapters of The Fellowship of the Ring," writes Daedalic. "After losing his precious ring to Bilbo Baggins, Gollum decides to leave the Misty Mountains and embark on a perilous journey that leads him from the dungeons of Barad-dûr to the realm of the Wood-elves in Mirkwood.
"In order to survive the dangers of his journey through Middle-earth, Gollum has to sneak and climb and use all his cunning." As part of a hands-off preview last week, I got to see some of this cunning in action.
Gollum is certainly an agile creature, with the ability to scale walls with ease (he has had 500 years to hone his skills by this point, after all). However, he is much weaker in combat than your typical hero, and as such players must account for and adjust for this weakness in order to prevail against the adversaries in Middle Earth - including some boss fights.
That said, don't go into the game expecting Gollum to get stronger as the story progresses. Rather, the abilities Gollum has at its start are the same abilities he will have when it concludes. "This makes sense in the context of the lore of the game," said Daedalic. "The events that happen during the game happen in a pretty compressed amount of time compared to Gollum's overall lifespan, so it didn't seem very logical that he would gain new abilities [throughout]."
This has inherently turned The Lord of the Rings: Gollum into one big puzzle. Rather than taking on orcs and such head-to-head, Gollum must use the environment and his "Gollum Vision" to bypass encounters and gain the advantage.
This was shown off in the preview I saw with Gollum throwing a rock at a nearby light to plunge a patrolling orc into darkness. In their confusion, the orc soon fell to their death without Gollum ever laying his fingers on them.
In short, The Lord of the Rings: Gollum isn't going to be an expansive action game, but in fairness, it was never intended to be. As well as seeing more of the stealth gameplay, I got to see the split personality mechanic in action.
"Players will be the protagonist and antagonist at the same time, unified in one person," the preview's narrator stated.
"[Gollum] has to deal with his Hobbit-self - Sméagol. It's up to the players if they want Gollum to have the upper hand when it comes to making important decisions, or if they prefer to allow Sméagol to take over."
During the preview, I saw both sides of Gollum's personality argue over whether or not a beetle could be trusted. Gollum wanted to eat the beetle, suspecting it was a spy from Mordor. On the other hand, Sméagol wanted to watch the beetle and felt it was simply an innocent creature.
During this example, the game presented no hard and fast push towards one personality over the other. Instead, numerous options came up for the player to choose from before they were finally able to settle on which personality would win through (which, in this case, turned out to be Sméagol).
This mechanic will be used throughout the game and will ultimately lead to The Lord of the Rings: Gollum finishing with one of two scenarios. However, both of these endings will lead to the same epilogue. This is because, while the game's developers are telling a unique story set within Tolkien's world, they cannot change the overall events that happen in his Middle Earth (and how Frodo and his adventures ultimately join up with this one).
In addition to affecting narrative beats, Gollum's two conflicting personalities will also act as a guide for players.
In games with only one main character, this can sometimes be a tad awkward - as it feels as though the hero is only vocalising their inner thoughts in order to connect with the player. This can break the overall immersion in a game.
However, because we will be playing as both Gollum and Sméagol at the same time, we will hear one personality reminding the other of things, such as to be quiet when enemies are close by. In terms of the game's narrative, this makes sense, and I did like this inclusion from Daedalic.
Finally, I got to meet some of the other characters that will feature. I got see, and hear, Gandalf and the elven king Thranduil conversing about Gollum within Thranduil's royal chamber, while Gollum hid out of sight. More interestingly though, I was also introduced to a new character - an imprisoned elf named Mell.
Gollum met Mell prior to the footage shown, and together the two formed an alliance in order to escape Thranduil's confinement. While Mell was not shown in the flesh, as it were, a little bit of her backstory was revealed.
Mell has a magical ability that allows her to communicate through water, which was demonstrated by her conversing with Gollum despite her not being with him in person. However, she misused this power in the past, and this resulted in her becoming an outcast among the elves. The preview ended before we got to see if Mell will become a reliable ally for Gollum, or if she will ultimately betray him further down the line.
For more on The Lord of the Rings: Gollum, you can take a closer look at how characters like Gandalf and the Mouth of Sauron will be shown in the game here.