Nobody wants to play a bad game. Nobody wants to make a bad game. But there are certainly times and circumstances that birth such creations, leaving everyone disappointed in their wake. There is no pleasure in saying The Lord of the Rings: Gollum has turned out to be a very bad game. Not only a bad game, but one of the worst-reviewed games of 2023 so far.
Ahead of the game’s release, the game currently has a score of 40 on Metacritic, the aggregate website that compiles review scores from critics worldwide. It’s extremely rare that video games fall to the ‘red’ part of the score meter, as Metacritic includes a wide range of voices, from mainstream press to niche, specialist publications.
But it seems that the majority of critics are struggling to conjure any enthusiasm for the game, thanks to a range of issues – game-breaking bugs, confusing level design, extremely poor controls, bad stealth mechanics, muddy environments, terrible AI, and a gameplay loop that relies on plodding, menial tasks.
Here’s what the critics had to say about The Lord of the Rings: Gollum.
GameSpot – 2/10
Over on GameSpot, reviewer Sam Pape labelled Gollum ‘unlikeable and tragic’, lamenting the lost potential of this adventure – which is also harshly described as an ‘unbridled disaster’.
‘Much like Gollum’s quest for the One Ring, my quest to complete The Lord of the Rings: Gollum was full of endless setbacks, impossible odds, and ever-increasing levels of madness. And, like Gollum, my journey was doomed from the start. So if the developers’ main goal was to really put you in the shoes of such a pitiful, unloveable character faced with constant pain and suffering at every turn, they were at least successful at that.’
The Guardian – 1 Star
Writing for The Guardian, Nic Reuben called The Lord of the Rings: Gollum a ‘derivative, uninteresting and fundamentally broken stealth action adventure that fails to capture anything interesting about Tolkien’s fiction’. Reuben took particular issue with the technical performance of the game, which reportedly led to a frustrating and janky experience:
‘It’s a technical disaster, at least on PC, and even when it does work, it feels like an extended forced stealth section from a game where stealth is just one of 50,000 other systems. It’s watery, janky, broken, alternately frustrating and frictionless, completely without tension or pathos, and squanders a great concept.’
IGN – 4/10
IGN‘s Justin Koreis was slightly more generous towards Gollum than other reviewers, but still questioned who exactly the game was for, why it was made, and whether its chore-like gameplay was uninteresting and plain bad for a reason.
‘The Lord of the Rings: Gollum fails to provide a satisfying answer to the big Why’s. Why, of all the interesting characters in The Lord of the Rings lore, would anyone want to play an entire game as Gollum? Why would one trade the solid action of prior games in this universe for busywork, uninspired and frustrating platforming, and bad stealth? It’s not clear who this is for, or what it was intended to achieve.’
Press Start Australia – 3/10
Press Start Australia‘s Steven Impson began his review with a very good pun about Grond, the giant battering ram used to breach the walls of Minas Tirith but from there, it’s all downhill. In his review, Impson calls the game a major disappointment that fails to achieve technical or aesthetic success.
‘Gollum is a compelling character and the world of Middle-Earth has so many interesting possible places to explore, but instead we spend most of our time enclosed in mines and woodland cities. Environments are devoid of life and full of unpolished, sharp edges. It looks like an average game from another era, and learns none of the gameplay lessons from then either.’
WellPlayed – 3/10
Writing for WellPlayed, Zach Jackson claimed The Lord of the Rings: Gollum should be cast into the fire and destroyed, largely thanks to its dated game design and ‘half-baked’ game mechanics.
‘[Gollum] just doesn’t have the gameplay legs to sustain that length, and it isn’t helped by some dated design – you’d be forgiven for thinking this is a remaster of a game from the PS2 or PS3 generation. It is a game where the gameplay revels in frustrating repetition and is devoid of creativity. It’s a stain on the legacy of The Lord of the Rings IP.’
Eurogamer – 1 Star
Christian Donlan over at Eurogamer rounds out our review roundup, with an abysmal one star rating. Gollum reportedly earned this fate with bad controls, finicky mechanics, and an array of bugs that dampens every part of the experience:
‘It’s heart-breaking. Gollum has lovely design moments and a real sense of pluck to it – of a team reaching to do justice to something they love. But it has too many problems, and only some of them can be sorted with patches. It’s too often a well-intentioned mess, and one which I can tell talented people have poured their lives into.’
Our thoughts are with the developers at Daedalic Entertainment.
The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is out now for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and Windows PC.