Lord of the Rings: Gollum has naturally garnered quite a bit of interest as its initial release date approaches on other platforms in May, with a planned Switch release later this year. Fans of LotR and J.R.R. Tolkien's work have been eager to see how developer Daedalic Entertainment would craft a game based around such a beloved character, and lines to test the demo at PAX East were hours long by the weekend.
We had an opportunity to play a roughly 30-minute gameplay demo of a PC build, and it's a classic 'mixed bag' — we saw both some very promising elements, as well as some obvious opportunities for improvement.
Once we finally got our hands on it after waiting, we were initially stopped by a game-breaking bug that occurred the moment we began to play. Slightly concerning. As the game went on, it was clear that resources had been heavily invested in certain areas, including some impressive voice acting, but not so much in other areas.
The game seemed to struggle with even the smallest of tasks, such as sprinting, and had frequent lag and frame rate drops that broke a bit of the LotR magic we were hoping for. The game struggled with performance issues throughout the demo, frequently dropping frames and experiencing pop-in with the simplest of tasks such as sprinting or jumping. While the narrative was solid during the cutscenes, the character animations were often ill-timed and awkward, and felt outdated for a game built using Unreal Engine.
While we only tested gameplay from the first chapter — which largely focused on tutorials and walkthroughs — it took place in a fairly drab environment, while feeling relatively unpolished and lacking in detail. From what we'd seen previously in trailers and promotions, the environment art at large appeared quite beautiful (check out the most recent trailer above for a reminder). Unfortunately, our PAX East demo looked very different from the cinematic trailers we'd seen in terms of performance and graphical quality:
Other chapters were available to demo, and while we didn't have time to get to them, from what we've seen, the environments appear to become more engaging and appealing as the game goes on. We're hopeful this proves to be the case once the full version releases. On the other hand, if subsequent chapters do indeed up the ante in the environmental department and are true to the visual detail seen in the trailers and promotional materials, we worry performance issues may only worsen in more complex environments.
The storyline is definitely interesting, and while the cutscene animations experienced similar performance issues to the rest of the gameplay, we were intrigued by the writing and impressed by the strong voice acting throughout that was highly reminiscent of the films. Andy Serkis' performance from the film adaptations casts a huge shadow on any new interpretation of the character, of course, but the version here worked well enough for us.
All in all, Lord of the Rings: Gollum has many things that could absolutely be improved upon, and we hope that's the case prior to its launch. For LotR fans simply looking to experience some new storylines and beautiful environment art, Gollum might scratch that itch.
But even giving it the benefit of the doubt and assuming that its various problems will be solved before release, Gollum still feels like small potatoes compared to the vast, engrossing fantasy worlds other games offer in 2023. If this PC build was already struggling with many of the issues that frequently occur in Switch ports, we're certainly curious to see exactly how it will run when and if it finally arrives on a Nintendo console. For a game so close to release on other platforms, this demo felt remarkably unpolished.
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What do you think of The Lord of the Rings: Gollum? Have you been at PAX East and tried the game out for yourselves? Let us know in the comments.