The Lord of the Rings: Gollum in Development
In recent years there has been a shift in position of both Middle-earth Enterprises and the Tolkien Estate. Saul Zaentz died in 2014 leading to a relaxing in licensing requirements and Christopher Tolkien stepped down as the director of his father’s estate in late 2017, further contributing to increased commercial use of Tolkien’s intellectual property. Since then we have learned that Athlon Games are developing a new MMORPG set in Middle-earth and that Amazon Prime is producing a major TV show set in the Second Age. It would appear that the firm grip that has prevailed over the last forty years is now waning and that Middle-earth Enterprises and the Tolkien Estate are more disposed towards expanding the reach and financial potential of the Tolkien franchise.
Despite the major canonical deviations made by Monolith Productions with both Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor and its sequel Shadow of War, both games were substantial commercial and critical successes. Perhaps other studios have seen the creative possibilities that the Middle-earth IP can finally offer, now that both controlling parties are being more flexible in their approach to licensing. That is my pet theory, and perhaps it might explain the recently announced Gollum themed role-playing game that is currently in development by German video game studio Daedalic Entertainment. Of all the characters and scenarios they could have picked, the studio have elected to create a narrative driven game based upon the life of Frodo Baggins’s nemesis and former ring bearer, Sméagol. I’m not sure if this is a bold or insane move.
According to Carsten Fichtelmann, CEO and Co-Founder of Daedalic, “The Lord of the Rings is one of the most epic and renowned stories of all time - it's an honour for us to have the opportunity to work on our own contribution to this universe. In Gollum, players will assume the role of one of the most iconic characters in Middle-earth. We tell Gollum's story from a perspective never seen before, in any storytelling medium, all the while staying true to the legendary books of J.R.R. Tolkien. At a time when the games industry is undergoing structural changes and seeing new business models evolve, we are excited to realize a huge new production based on a story that has stayed fresh and relevant for more than 60 years”. As with most soundbites, it tells us very little about the game itself. Den of Geek managed to speak to Carsten Fichtelmann and Jonas Hüsges (Project Manager and Head of Business Development), although there still isn’t much to tell.
Due to the terms of the licensing agreement, Daedalic Entertainment will be creating their own unique Middle-earth aesthetic and are not pursuing photorealism or the visual style established by the film trilogies. Perhaps they will take the same stylised approach they did with their adaptation of Ken Follet’s Pillars of the Earth. I personally would have no issue with such a choice. The game play will potentially involve stealth, as this is an integral part of Gollum’s character (both with and without The One Ring). So maybe we will see a game mechanic similar to that of Sniper Elite or Ghost of a Tale? It has also been indicated by Daedalic Entertainment that there may be further games to follow as their license covers more that just The Lord of the Rings: Gollum. Tentatively, the game is scheduled for a release in 2021. If this title does bear any similarity of Pillars of the Earth, then it could be released on Linux, macOS, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and iOS.
Age has greatly tempered my position on fandom and I look back at my former zealous, lore-based fundamentalism of multiple popular IPs with a degree of embarrassment and mirth. For example, did Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor and Shadow of War take massive liberties with the source material? Yes. Did they ruin my enjoyment of Tolkien’s work? No. Did I have fun and enjoy both games? Again, yes. Therefore, however incongruous a Gollum themed role-playing game may sound, I believe there is scope for it to be of interest. Narratively speaking there’s a lot that can be done with the character with and some noticeable gaps in his back story to explore. As for a video game based around stealth and silent kills, we know that if done right, such a concept can definitely work. So I am happy to extend the benefit of the doubt to Daedalic Entertainment and remain cautiously optimistic for The Lord of the Rings: Gollum.