While The Lord of the Rings: Gollum may be one of the worst games of 2023 so far, even bad games can be fun to speedrun. In fact, sometimes the very things that make a game so frustrating for normal players — things like bugs and busted controls — can create exciting opportunities for glitches, level skips, and other ways for runners to shave time off a run. And in any case, Gollum’s horrible reputation hasn’t stopped two speedrunners from setting world records for Daedalic Entertainment’s stealth-action platformer.
Read More: Review: 2023’s Worst Game, Gollum, Has Entered The Chat
Gollum has been making headlines ever since its May 25 launch. It’s been dragged online by critics and gamers alike for everything from its atrocious controls to its bland user interface. This is not a good game, y’all, as I state in my review. Despite its shittiness, streamers EZScape and WrldWideWasteland have recently set world-record speedruns for the game.
A casual’s approach to speedrunning
Ian “WrldWideWasteland” Slater is a member of YouTuber Ethan Klein’s comedy podcast The H3 Podcast and a Twitch streamer with nearly 20,000 followers. He’s primarily known for his reaction content in the Just Chatting category, but he occasionally streams himself playing video games, as was the case with his June 10 Gollum livestream. This broadcast also happened to be a world record for the game, since WrldWideWasteland was the first person on record to beat it in a little under eight hours. (For comparison, How Long To Beat says it takes about 13-15.5 hours to finish the game. I completed Gollum in 24 hours.)
The run itself wasn’t all that remarkable. WrldWideWasteland was just trying to get through the game as quickly as possible, not using advanced speedrunning techniques, so he didn’t perform any wild level skips or anything like that, instead just following the designated path the game telegraphs with white and yellow markings. He skipped most of the cutscenes, which shaved off a few seconds here and there, and spent much of the run jumping and sprinting to increase Gollum’s dismal movement speed. But between the long periods of waiting for things to happen — enemy pathing, loading screens, environmental puzzle movement, etc. — and repeatedly dying due to its cumbersome controls, it’s a miracle he finished the game at all.
“Fun game?” WrldWideWasteland said, repeating a question from chat. “I am not having a bad time playing this [game]. Surprisingly, I am enjoying myself.”
Hilariously, he died not long after saying this. At any rate, after suffering through the rest of Gollum, he rolled credits at 7 hours and 55 minutes, putting him at the top of Speedrun.com’s leaderboard. This was only temporary, though, as he tweeted on June 29 that the site sent him an email stating his sub-8-hour speedrun was toppled by Twitch streamer EZScape. “The worst email I’ve ever received,” he deadpanned, above Speedrun.com’s notification that his record had been bested by no less than 4 hours and 39 minutes.
The speedrunning pro has stepped up
EZScape is a full-time speedrunning YouTuber who mostly focuses on PS2-era console games such as The Simpsons: Hit & Run and Spyro the Dragon. He’s set world records in various categories for a number of games, including Dragon Ball Z: Sagas, Full Metal Alchemist 3: The Girl Who Succeeds God, and Super Smash Bros. For Wii U, with Gollum being his latest first-place feat as he set a new world record for the game with a completion time of just under three hours.
No tea, no shade, as again, WrldWideWasteland didn’t set out to pull off a particularly high-level speedrun of Gollum, but EZScape’s run was much more skillful. While doing many of the same things as WrldWideWasteland — like jumping and sprinting to get around faster — EZScape also employed a handful of full-level skips by glitching through walls and performing tricky platforming to bypass some of the designated pathways to set a much faster speedrun time. He died quite a bit, either through incorrect button presses or unfortunate bug occurrences, but it was still an entertaining accomplishment, particularly considering how miserable Gollum is to play.
“This is such a shit game, bro,” EZScape said about halfway through his speedrun, immediately after falling to his death. “Like, I don’t know how else to approach that [wall run]. Jesus. The fuck else am I supposed to do?”
While WrldWideWasteland was sitting pretty at the top of Speedrun.com’s Gollum leaderboard for a hot minute, EZScape came through with a record time of 2 hours and 53 minutes, shattering the existing record. The best part here is this time was EZScape’s second attempt at speedrunning Gollum, in which he shaved off nearly 25 minutes from his original 3-hour and 16-minute run.
Even ‘bad’ games deserve speedrunning love
In Twitter DMs with Kotaku, WrldWideWasteland, who described himself as a professional time-waster, said he thought speedrunning Gollum was a good idea because the game seemed like “possibly the biggest waste of time yet.” As such, he didn’t expect anyone else to finish Gollum, let alone beat his world record.
“I was blissfully unaware of EZScape, basking in my world record glory until he appeared out of the shadows haunting me like the wolf from Puss In Boots,” he said. “I can’t say his name three times or else he will climb out of my PC monitor like Candyman and I’ll be speedrunning to my doom. The guy is no joke. I don’t want any Sméagol smoke from [EZScape].”
While Gollum is arguably 2023’s worst game so far, WrldWideWasteland felt otherwise by the time he beat it. Sure, he said it seemed miserable at first, but after a while, he found a “relaxing quality” to Gollum’s gameplay loop. He even went so far as to call it a “work of art,” applauding the developers for the “visual magic” of making Gollum climb and jump for hours without showing any dick.
“The way he scuttles on the ground in a low frame rate with his little bulging grapefruit eyes and Bosley Hair Restoration greased-up skull is mesmerising,” he said. “[You] grab some useless object, get stomped out by an orc, grab another thing, get smacked, jump somewhere, glitch out, get stomped out again — it’s a soothing hypnotic experience. Like listening to a meditation playlist of calming ocean sounds, except instead of ocean sounds it’s the screams of lost souls trapped in Hellfire and eternal damnation.”
WrldWideWasteland may be done with Gollum, though he jokingly suggested he “can’t wait for Gollum 2: Sméagol Strikes Back.” Although a sequel is probably not in the cards for this emo take on J.R.R. Tolkien’s hobbit, he certainly has no intention of speedrunning the game again or attempting to dethrone EZScape.
“Defeating EzScape’s Gollum speedrun would be like challenging the devil to a fiddle duel,” he said. “With every new playthrough, a piece of you dies. The game file becomes a horcrux. I don’t think I can go back to it.”
EZScape told Kotaku over email that because his forte is PS2-era games, particularly licensed ones, speedrunning Gollum seemed appropriate. When researching the game to prepare for the speedrun, he said he stumbled upon WrldWideWasteland’s sub-8-hour run and had to rectify the record real quick.
“I wasn’t trolling WrldWideWasteland,” EZScape said. “I spent weeks routing and glitch-hunting Gollum before doing the speedrun (about 125 hours spent researching and practicing). I have a lot of experience in speedrunning games and have a general standard and vision for what I want a run to be before I ever begin a run. Usually, I don’t even submit my runs, but I saw his run on the leaderboard and didn’t want people who were thinking about speedrunning the game to think it was 8 hours long. So, I submitted for that reason and to maybe inspire some other speedrunners to pick it up and find new stuff.”
While EZScape has already crushed his previous Gollum world record of 3 hours and 16 minutes, his next goal with the game is to finish it in 2 hours and 40 minutes. But that’s difficult, EZScape said, because you can’t reliably “gauge [the distance] between where you’re standing and the destination and make an educated jump that will probably work out fine” in this game. And by his estimation, Gollum has “bad gameplay, a bad story, and bad performance.”
But when asked what makes Gollum a difficult speedrun, he said that, more than anything else, it’s “just due to the janky nature of the controls.” EZScape said. In terms of more specific challenges a runner tackling the game will have to contend with, he offered that “Gollum can get glitched just by swinging off a pole or he can randomly stumble when jumping up cliffs and if you mash jump (which you do very often in the run) when that occurs he can just let go. There are so many edge cases and nuances with the mechanics, it just takes a while to get a feeling for them.”
The game may be bad, but that’s no reason it doesn’t deserve a solid speedrun in his eyes. Just another day at the office, as EZScape put it. Speedrunning is not just a challenge for him, but a means to showcase his skills. It’s like solving a puzzle in an unorthodox way, which he finds both gratifying and satisfying. He’s got his eyes set on Pokémon Emerald after finishing up Gollum once and for all.
The Lord of the Rings: Gollum just ain’t the one in my eyes. For me, the game’s shittiness — in its enemy AI, controls, and puzzle design — would strip away any enjoyment there is in breaking it apart to look for exciting glitches and impressive level skips. But I appreciate the efforts of folks like EZScape, who dedicate hundreds of hours to even the worst games to find beauty and fascination in their awfulness.
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