The Lord of the Rings: Gollum
Image: Daedalic Entertainment / Nacon

The Lord of the Rings: Gollum has naturally generated quite a bit of interest as its May initial release date for other platforms approaches, with a Switch release slated for later this year. Fans of LotR and JRR Tolkien have been anxiously awaiting developer Daedalic Entertainment to create a game based on such a beloved character, with lines to test the demo at PAX East lasting hours leading up to the weekend.

We had a chance to play a roughly 30-minute demo of the PC build gameplay, and it’s a classic “mixed bag” — we saw both promising elements and some obvious room for improvement.

When we finally got our hands on it after waiting, we were initially put off by a game-breaking bug that occurred the moment we started playing. A little concerned. As the game progressed, it became clear that significant resources were invested in certain areas, including impressive voice acting, but not so much in other areas.

The game didn’t seem to handle even the smallest tasks like sprinting, and had frequent lags and framerate drops that somewhat detracted from the LotR magic we were hoping for. The game struggled with performance issues throughout the demo, often skipping frames and experiencing a pop-up with the simplest tasks like sprinting or jumping. While the narrative was solid during cutscenes, the character animations were often ill-timed and clunky, and felt dated for a game built on the Unreal Engine.

While we only tested the gameplay from the first chapter, which mostly focused on tutorials and walkthroughs, it took place in a fairly bleak environment, but felt relatively unpolished and lacking in detail. From what we’ve seen before in trailers and promos, the art of the environment as a whole looked quite handsome (watch the latest trailer above for a reminder). Unfortunately, our PAX East demo was very different from the cinematic trailers we’ve seen in terms of performance and graphics quality:

Other chapters were available for demo, and while we didn’t get to play them, from what we saw, the environments seemed to get more immersive and engaging as the game progressed. We hope this will be the case when the full version is released. On the other hand, if the next chapters really up the ante in the environmental department and live up to the visual details seen in the trailers and promotional material, we worry that the performance issues may only get worse in more complex environments.

The plot is definitely interesting, and while the animations had the same performance issues as the rest of the gameplay, we were intrigued by the text and impressed by the strong voice acting, which felt very reminiscent of the movies. Andy Serkis’ performance in the film adaptations, of course, casts a huge shadow over any new interpretation of the character, but this version worked well enough for us.

Overall, Lord of the Rings: Gollum has many things that absolutely could be improved, and we hope they are before it launches. For LotR fans who just want to experience new storylines and beautiful environment art, Gollum might scratch that itch.

But even if you doubt it, and assume that its various problems are ironed out before release, Gollum still feels like small potatoes compared to the vast, immersive fantasy worlds offered by other games in 2023. If this PC build has already had problems with many of the problems that often arise in Switch ports, we are of course curious to know exactly how it will perform when it finally arrives on a Nintendo console. For a game so close to release on other platforms, this demo seemed extremely flawed.

What do you think of Lord of the Rings: Gollum? Were you at PAX East and experienced the game for yourself? Let us know in the comments.