Lord of the Rings: Gollum is one of the upcoming games of 2021 that we still haven't seen gameplay footage for. Although we've had the first teaser trailer for the game, it's been a little harder to get a grip on what it'll actually be like to play so far. However, we've sat down with Saide Haberstroh, project manager on Lord of the Rings: Gollum to talk about the game, its hero, the enemies you'll face, and what exactly you'll be doing in the game when it arrives next year.
As you'd hope for a game called Lord of the Rings: Gollum, there's been a lot of thought on how Gollum should be as a game hero. This is a character the majority of us are incredibly familiar with, whether from the J.R.R Tolkien books or the Peter Jackson movies after all, and developer Daedelic recognises that. "We wanted to focus on Gollum because first of all, he is one of the most interesting, well-written and fleshed-out characters that Tolkien has come up with," explains Haberstroh. "He may not exactly be everybody’s darling, but despite all of his shortcomings and bad character traits, he is still kind of adorable."
That seems to be a sentiment the entire team has had at Daedalic, as there's no denying the game's version of Tolkien's tormented creature is almost Pixar-like in design, with huge eyes, wispy childlike hair, and cutesy snaggletooth. But, for Daedalic, it is also about the fact that Gollum's physical appearance and capabilities means he is perfect for the type of game they wanted to make. "He is the perfect character for an action-adventure with lots of stealth and climbing. So when you hear Gollum, you can immediately visualize a game," says Haberstroh.
"We are aiming for an experience where gameplay and story go hand in hand to create the ultimate Gollum game," explains Haberstroh. "Sticking to Daedalic tradition of games with a certain ‘human spark’ we immerse players deeply in Gollum's inner conflict, to tell a very personal story in front of the epic world-changing events in Middle-earth, interwoven with this twisted character. We have to keep in mind what Gollum's character traits are. Via dialogue we can express his scheming and manipulation but also this internal struggle."
No matter what medium we've interacted with Gollum in the past, it's clear that his own internal dialogue with his dual personalities had to be a core part of Daedalic's game. Interestingly, this title will seemingly build on the various dialogue-driven experiences currently available by gamifying the traditional dialogue options. Haberstroh calls it the "inner conflict mini-game" where you'll have to decide whether to choose Gollum or Smeagle thoughts as your narrative choice, but it's not as simple as choosing one line of dialogue or another.
"As a player you have to manifest a choice. Instead of just choosing, you have to press a button multiple times to manifest your option, but the [dialogue] options are also flying around the screen so it's not that easy. It can happen that sometimes a player has another outcome than expected if they fail the minigame. But this is also dependent on the choices the player made before, whether the player is more on Gollum or Smeagle's side, making some options easier or harder to get."
Clearly intended to symbolise the mental anguish Gollum feels when dealing with the two sides of his personality, it'll be interesting to see exactly how this kind of narrative choice gameplay plays out. At the moment, it feels like an added complication to the branching dialogue options available in game, but without seeing it in action, it's difficult to tell how much more complicated the gamification makes choosing dialogue - or how frustrating it may be to not get the choice you wanted.
What has it got in its pocketses?
However, Gollum's dialogue isn't just limited to these mini-games, as he will also regularly talk to himself. These moments are not only intended to give the player an insight into Gollum's mental state, but also some clues or hints as to what's going on in the world around him.
"As we already have the split personality of Gollum, it felt very natural for him to talk to himself and even give some hints, or an overview of the situation, as he has to come clean with himself what's going on," explains Haberstroh. "So it does not seem forced, and in this way, it works perfectly for us in this game context."
These hints from Gollum himself, coupled with vertical level design to give you an overview of the area, are to help you understand what's going on around you, because the otherwise very minimal UI isn't going to give you all the answers. In fact, the idea is that each level can be worked through using a huge variety of routes, all depending on the choices you want to make as to your movements as Gollum.
"We do not want to follow a certain style of modern video games where players are sometimes railroaded through the world by 3D markers, linear levels and one-button gameplay. We aim for a minimal UI approach and players can manoeuvre very freely through the environment, jump and climb where they want and choose or even create their own favourite solution for the challenges Gollum will be facing."
As you may have guessed, The Lord of the Rings: Gollum isn't a hack and slash adventure, but rather a stealth adventure where Gollum's goal is to avoid combat at all costs. As Haberstroh outlines, Gollum isn't a fighter, but "he is still agile enough for an action-adventure hero, and cunning enough for putting him in adventure situations that require some thinking".
"Gameplay-wise we have a range between subtle tactical stealth, some environmental puzzles, climbing challenges and fast-paced parkour action. Gollum is not exactly a fighter who charges into battle, players have to weigh their options for every encounter."
Wicked, tricksy, false!
Part of that is working out what kinds of enemies you're in danger of running into as you move through a level. In the exclusive screenshots we received as part of the Future Games Show, we see a small selection of the enemies Gollum will face, including orcs, spiders, and odd-looking boar/cow hybrids. Because Gollum isn't a fighter, you'll need to avoid detection at all times, but there are ways to use the enemies to your advantage. You can use them to distract the guards, but this may create noise that could attract the orcs' attention. You could attempt to crouch under the odd animals, but they could also cause you some damage.
Thankfully, Gollum isn't always alone in his attempts to escape, as sometimes he can enlist the help of other characters he comes across. The Grashneg is just one of these - a brutish fellow with surprisingly soulful eyes. "The Grashneg is a help to Gollum when it comes to tasks where Gollum is not strong enough. As you can see the Grashneg is a guy who has no problem smashing some crates, proceeding through a barrier while destroying it. Grashneg can be very helpful for Gollum, but in return, Gollum also has to help the Grashneg so we face a double-sided relationship here."
Although the stealth action will be a huge part of the game, Daedalic's main focus is to tell this tale of Gollum. Our old pal is getting his own game after all, and Haberstroh is keen to stress the fact that this is his story - a window into his troubled soul."As Daedalic we earned a reputation for compelling storytelling, and here we are telling a very personal story of a very complex character and his personal conflict and inner growth, which altogether brings aspects of Tolkien’s work into the range of modern Lord of the Rings video games that we find underrepresented in other titles."
The Lord of the Rings: Gollum will be coming to current and next-gen Sony and Microsoft consoles, Nintendo Switch and PC in late 2021.