Gollum and Stealth: A Good Combination?

A trailer for The Lord of the Rings : Gollum has been revealed this week, featuring Gollum crawling out of a cavern near the fiery Mt. Doom. Other than this, and a selection of pictures, no actual gameplay footage has been shown, however, lead game designer, Martin Wilkes, describes the game as a mixture of “stealth” and “vertical-climbing parkour.” 

When it comes to the story, Gollum is a prequel to The Lord of the Rings books, so no impactful changes of source material will take place. Despite Gollum’s pitiful character, the game could be fun as long as redeemable qualities are depicted in Gollum, creating incentive for the player to invest in him. Additionally, interesting stealth mechanics could also make Gollum a satisfying character to play.

Gollum is a warped, weak, scrawny, dirty, and most of all, an extremely depraved swamp hobbit with dual personalities. Most other popular stealth games tend to feature a character with the complete opposite of Gollum’s nature. Sekiro presents a shinobi who is on a mission to save the lord he has promised to protect. Metal Gear Solid features a tactical one-man army, who has been genetically modified based on a war hero. In Hitman, Agent 47, a cloned contract killer eliminates various high profile criminals. These characters, although not perfect, still display admirable traits. In comparison, Gollum’s shoes aren’t ones into which many people have a desire to step. Gollum has even been called the Judas of The Lord of the Rings. 

This year, the highly anticipated The Last of Us 2 released, and divided and polarized the fan base. Many fans were unsettled over the fact they had to play as a character that killed off a fan-favorite. However, as for Gollum, fans already know where his fate leads in the story, so there is no room for him to go and kill off Bilbo Baggins or Gandalf; the end of this river hobbit’s story is already established. 

Lead narrative designer Tilman Schanen explains, “In the end, of course, Gollum’s fate is pretty much determined by the books. But your decisions [in the game] can and will have effects, for example, for other NPCs in the game. Some decisions will have a bigger impact, others very little. Just as in real life.” 

Tilman Schanen says, “We start our story parallel to the first book when Frodo is still in the Shire and knows nothing about anything. Gollum at that time ventures to Mordor still desperately looking for Bilbo Baggins and the Ring. Unfortunately, he gets caught by Sauron’s servants and this is basically where our story begins.

As for his goal, “Gollum wants to escape his captors and retake the Ring. After some time, though, the Sméagol-side causes trouble and distractions and opens up new, conflicting goals that we cannot talk about yet.”

Based on this info, Gollum could act as a story antagonist, with the Sméagol side driving the story as a protagonist, which could be an interesting way to use Gollum’s dual personalities. In this frame of time, Sméagol is far away from the Ring, possibly allowing Sméagol to deal with his Ring-influenced Gollum side better. This could allow for players to get a closer look at the Sméagol side to empathize with him. 

Tilman Schanen further explains players will make choices based on the thoughts and desires of Sméagol, or Gollum. Gollum will do anything in his power to get the Ring, which includes killing and eating others, while Sméagol will most likely have more harmless ways of approaching challenges the player will face. Being able to provide a balanced story that slightly favors Sméagol over Gollum could have players empathize and choose the Sméagol option, while also still allowing for a more gruesome strategy to problems. 

Even if the story’s scenarios and decision-making prove to be interesting, the gameplay will need to be fun enough to bridge these sequences together. Martin Wilkes says, “It is mostly a non-combat game, but Gollum will be able to stealthily take out enemies. However, this will not be easy and always come with big risks. We want players to carefully weigh these encounters. After all, Gollum’s strengths lie in cunning not combat.” 

A game that focuses on being clever in the way obstacles can be tackled to progress could be rewarding. If trying to defeat an enemy directly is too risky, the environment and level geometry can become tools, and the environment itself can be a puzzle to get through, as seen in similar games. Sneaky tactics that are exemplified in The Last of Us, such as throwing objects to create noise and distractions, could be used, as well as bigger environmental puzzles shown in games like Zelda, or Uncharted. However, for games that focus on stealth, options are important to stimulate creativity in the player, and if Gollum can provide such variety close to the level of Hitman and Metal Gear Solid, then Gollum could be a success, especially paired with crazy banter between Sméagol, Gollum, and other characters that make the story go beyond the pitiful side of him.

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