Remember Gollum? The Game’s 1st Trailer Is Finally Here

I had to dig through my site’s archives to find the first post I wrote about Gollum, but even so I was shocked to discover that it’s been over two years since the first footage from the game was revealed to the public. I can just barely remember feeling disappointed with the titular character’s unexpressive face and janky movements at the time, but it seems I wasn’t the only one who felt that way, because Daedalic Entertainment has spent the last two years reworking the game. I would have probably forgotten about it entirely, were it not for a new full-length trailer for the game released on Thursday that tentatively hints at a 2023 release date and urges gamers to add it to their wish-list now.

Gollum, from the game of the same name, a pale, bony, vaguely humanoid creature with big eyes, wearing tattered trousers. He is glaring over his shoulder at the viewer while etching the symbol of a ring into a rock.
Gollum |

Gollum follows the character’s circuitous journey across Middle-earth in pursuit of Bilbo Baggins during the sixty-year interlude between The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings, a journey that takes him from the Misty Mountains to Mordor, where he is detained in the dungeons of Sauron and tortured until he reveals who took his precious Ring, and then to Mirkwood, where he is detained in the dungeons of Thranduil and tortured until he reveals what he revealed to Sauron, and then back to the Misty Mountains to continue his long-delayed original mission, only to unexpectedly run into the Fellowship of the Ring led by Bilbo’s nephew Frodo Baggins and begin hunting them. The game promises to flesh out these events with new material and original characters to keep Tolkienites and casual gamers alike on their toes, but Gollum’s goal, the player’s goal, is the same – survive, and find the Ring.

With everyone and everything in Middle-earth out to get you, this goal can only be achieved by being strategic about when to lean into the character’s violent tendencies as Gollum and when to unlock their deeply suppressed better qualities as Sméagol, something that is sure to be one of the game’s most interesting and unique features. Reinforcing the idea that Gollum stands in the middle of the rift between Middle-earth’s cosmic forces of light and darkness, the character’s potential allies come from both sides of the conflict, including an Elven woman named Mell who appears to hail from Mirkwood and Shelob, a monstrous demon in spider-form.

Even though many of the game’s characters are recognizable by name to even the most casual Tolkienite, including Shelob, Gandalf, Thranduil, and the Mouth of Sauron, their designs are remarkably…original, borrowing far more heavily from the bizarre, whimsical Rankin/Bass 1977 animated adaptation of The Hobbit and Ralph Bakshi’s borderline-psychedelic 1978 animated adaptation of The Lord Of The Rings than from either of Peter Jackson’s hyper-realistic film trilogies or Amazon’s The Rings Of Power. Gollum‘s Elves, for instance, are sinuous, reed-thin creatures with hooded eyes, drowning in layers upon layers of voluminous fabric and enormous, ornate headdresses. It’s the kind of game where a Tom Bombadil cameo wouldn’t seem entirely out of place, and that’s saying something.

Gandalf and Thranduil from the game Gollum. Gandalf, gray-bearded, wears a heavy fur shawl and pointed hat, and carries a staff. Thranduil, thin with gaunt features, is draped in heavy green robes and wears a crown of branches and dense foliage.
Gandalf and Thranduil |

Whether the gameplay matches the quality of the visuals remains to be seen, but I’ll leave that to professional gamers to determine: for me, as a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien’s works who simply enjoys analyzing new adaptations and debating the thematic consequences, great and small, of making changes to the source material, the main appeal of Gollum is the agency it gives to the player to make choices that will decide Gollum’s ultimate fate. I don’t know yet if the game allows you to go running off in any direction, with alternate endings depending on how you choose to play, or if it eventually forces you back on the path that leads Gollum to his canonical confrontation with the Fellowship of the Ring, but I’m excited to see how the developers at Daedalic have integrated the character’s internal struggles into every aspect of their game from the narrative to the actual gameplay.

Trailer Rating: 7/10

Baizhu And Kaveh Revealed For “Genshin Impact” Version 3.6

If you thought the two-year wait for playable Scaramouche was unbearable, just think of how Baizhu mains (to be) have been suffering since before Genshin Impact was even released, when the green-haired, Dendro Vision-wielding doctor was among the characters first introduced in the game’s early closed beta tests – only for him to be a quest-exclusive NPC upon launch. Now, it’s not uncommon for a future playable character to appear in the game shortly before their release, giving them a chance to develop a fanbase, but few characters have had as long an interval between their introduction and their official release as Baizhu, or disappeared for so long during that interval period. Even Scaramouche became a major antagonist whose story spanned several Events and two Archon Quests. Baizhu, by contrast, has only appeared a few times, and it is still unclear if he’s actually all that relevant.

Baizhu from Genshin Impact, standing against a white and green background. He is pale, with long blue-green hair, spectacles, and a white snake wrapped around his throat.
Baizhu |

But it seems that HoYoverse has finally remembered Baizhu exists, or else he has some role to play in the story yet to come that requires him to be playable, because in Version 3.6 the long wait ends and Baizhu will join Genshin Impact‘s ever-growing roster alongside Kaveh, another Dendro character. We know next to nothing about either character’s kit and playstyle, so today’s post will be brief, focusing exclusively on the characters themselves (of course, there are the usual number of leaks going around, but I won’t be discussing any of that or entertaining discussion of leaked content in my comments section…what I will say, however, is that every leak I’ve seen pertaining to Baizhu has directly contradicted another, so take them all with a grain of salt until the Version 3.6 beta test begins).

Baizhu, from what we currently understand of his backstory, was born frail and sickly, and has spent his entire life working as a doctor in the hopes of one day stumbling across a treatment to his own relentless maladies. At some point, however, he became discontent with surviving and started aspiring to live – forever, that is. I imagine this is about the time when Baizhu received his Dendro Vision, although the green gemstone has probably proved less useful to his pursuit of immortality than the whispered advice of the magical white snake named Changsheng, who remains loosely coiled around his neck, and his study of the undead child Qiqi, who is something like an adopted daughter and apprentice to him now. Baizhu manages Liyue’s Bubu Pharmacy with assistance from Herbalist Gui, and has established a reputation for being one of Teyvat’s greatest doctors – though in early appearances of the character, it was suggested that he might be overcharging or even swindling his patients. I believe HoYoverse abandoned that idea, for there is no trace of Baizhu’s deceitful side in more recent months.

Kaveh, dubbed the “Light of Kshahrewar” by students of that Darshan which studies technology, is Sumeru’s most in-demand architect and interior designer – although you wouldn’t guess it from his current living conditions, which leave much to be desired. Conned by an elusive client out of his fortune, a frantic Kaveh had no other choice but to ask for help from Alhaitham of the Haravatat Darshan, his financially well-off rival. As roommates, the two men do everything in their power to avoid each other during the day, because when they absolutely must interact, one of them always finds something trivial to quarrel about (redecorating Alhaitham’s apartment, in particular, poses a challenge for two people so fundamentally at odds on the matter of interior décor), but that hasn’t stopped players from shipping them – quite the opposite! And you know I don’t even like Alhaitham all that much, but him and Kaveh both being so goddamn irritating is exactly what makes the “frenemies-with-benefits” trope work in this instance.

Kaveh, a character from Genshin Impact, sits at a table with a goblet in his hand, smiling. He is pale, with short blond hair, red eyes, and wears a red-and-brown shawl over a loose white tunic with a plunging neckline.
Kaveh |

Assuming that Baizhu and Kaveh will debut together on the first banner of Version 3.6 (technically, it’s not officially confirmed that Baizhu is a five-star and Kaveh a four-star, but it’s pretty likely), will you be pulling for them or skipping their banner entirely based on what you know of the two characters thus far? In time, we’ll start to see kit leaks, and then there’ll be all the usual discourse about whether you should pull for either one, but which one do you want? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

Everything We Learned From The “Genshin Impact” 3.5 Special Program!

Having spent the last four months dutifully collecting Primogems and stockpiling Intertwined Fates in preparation for the release of Dehya in Version 3.5, I was cautiously optimistic that the 3.5 Special Program would give us new details about her character that would finally put a rest to the pervasive rumors that her kit is one of the worst ever designed by HoYoverse. I was not expecting HoYoverse to instead throw a wrench into my plans for obtaining the five-star Pyro claymore user I’ve been waiting for since Sumeru’s characters were first leaked by announcing without warning that she’s headed to the permanent Standard Banner in Version 3.6, joining such undervalued characters as Diluc, Keqing, Jean, and Qiqi. It’s practically tantamount to an admission that Dehya’s kit is indeed as bad as has been speculated all along, and that HoYoverse doesn’t foresee players spending enough money on her banner to make successive reruns worthwhile. You’d think they would just…improve her kit, but apparently not.

Dehya, a character from Genshin Impact, standing in the desert and swinging a giant black-and-gold claymore. She is wearing ripped black jeans and the upper half of her outfit is comprised of red and black flowy fabric that trails behind her.
Dehya |

As for how this affects me, well, I’ve always intended to get Dehya on her debut banner, and that hasn’t changed. I didn’t pre-farm all of her Ascension Materials for nothing, and I’ve already got a Burgeon team where I think she’ll fit nicely. But my motivation to collect at least one additional copy of her character (the first six of which are referred to as Constellations in Genshin Impact, and provide upgrades that Dehya in particular needs to be viable) has admittedly dwindled somewhat now that I know I’ll probably get her randomly at some point in the near future…though with that said, I’ve been playing Genshin Impact for over a year at this point and I’ve only ever obtained two of the six Standard Banner five-stars currently available (Keqing and Jean). Going after her event-exclusive signature weapon, Beacon of the Reed Sea, might be a better investment.

Fortunately, for those of us who have had never had much luck on the Weapon Banner, Dehya can make use of the new four-star claymore, Mailed Flower, that will be available for free in Version 3.5 as a reward for participating in the Windblume’s Breath Event held annually in Mondstadt to celebrate love and romance. The highly-anticipated Event will feature a minigame based on Pac-Man where players will run amok in the Knights of Favonius Headquarters (yes, even the building’s out-of-bounds upper floors) collecting balloons and evading floating enemies, and a rhythm game in which players can perform pieces of the Genshin Impact original soundtrack on three sonically distinct instruments. The Event’s main storyline will reunite Outrider Amber and Trainee Forest Ranger Collei for the first time since the events of the semi-canonical Genshin Impact manga where Collei visited Mondstadt as a child.

In fact, characters from all across Teyvat will be in attendance, including Cyno and Tighnari from Sumeru (Tighnari’s disgraced English voice-actor, Elliot Gindi, appears to have already recorded his lines for the Event, and will not be recast quickly enough to spare players from having to hear his voice, so consider switching languages or simply muting); Ying’er, a fan-favorite NPC from Liyue (who at first glance seems rather out-of-place in this particular Event, though it seems there’s something going on between her and a Mondstadt NPC, alchemist Timaeus); and of course, practically everyone from Mondstadt (with the possible exception of Kaeya, who is occupied elsewhere).

Paimon, Traveler, Kaeya, and Dainsleif, characters from Genshin Impact, seated around a wooden table outside. Kaeya sits facing the other three, and is the only one whose face is visible. He has brown skin, dark blue hair, and an eyepatch covering his right eye.
Paimon, Traveler, Kaeya, and Dainsleif |

Specifically, players who have completed Requiem Of The Echoing Depths can expect to find Kaeya hanging out in Sumeru, where Genshin Impact‘s overarching story will continue with a new Archon Quest titled Caribert (seemingly a reference to Charibert I, the name of a 6th Century Merovingian king who was the first of his dynasty to be excommunicated – for having four wives simultaneously, but I doubt that’s relevant). Kaeya, the long-lost heir to the even longer-lost throne of Khaenri’ah, and Dainsleif, a morally ambiguous survivor of the Cataclysm that destroyed Khaenri’ah five-hundred years ago, will accompany us on an expedition deep into the bowels of the earth in search of answers to our questions regarding the Abyss Order (of which our protagonist’s sibling is a high-ranking member), whose stated purpose is to resurrect Khaenri’ah and usurp the gods responsible for wiping it off the face of the earth. Unfortunately, that’s everything we know for sure about the Archon Quest so far, but anyone who’s familiar with Kaeya and Dainsleif’s extensive lore knows that these two characters meeting onscreen could have game-changing consequences. When we’ve met them individually in the past, they’ve always avoided saying too much about themselves, shrugging us off when we press them about it, so having Kaeya on our side to help grill Dainsleif (and vice versa!) will hopefully force everyone to be a little more forthright.

The first chapters of Dehya’s Story Quest and Faruzan’s Hangout Event are also set to be released in Version 3.5, and I have a feeling from the brief synopses provided by HoYoverse during the Special Program that I’ll enjoy both – Dehya’s Story Quest in particular, as it will see the return of Dunyarzad, a beloved NPC who had a significant role in the Sumeru Archon Quest and was originally responsible for getting Dehya tangled up in the plot to rescue Lesser Lord Kusanali from the clutches of corrupt scholars at the Akademiya, because even though Dehya might have been hired to be Dunyarzad’s silent and stoic bodyguard, she’s too much of a big softie to turn her back on her friend (or girlfriend, depending on how you interpret their relationship dynamic). Anyway, with Dunyarzad now cured of the debilitating illness that required her family to hire a bodyguard for her in the first place, I’m excited to see how their relationship will evolve, and what new adventures they’ll go on together. Faruzan’s Hangout Event, by contrast, will primarily take place in the heart of the Akademiya, and explore the distinctions between the six Darshans and their conflicting philosophies.

As intriguing as this sounds, I still do not understand why Faruzan, of all the four-star characters from Sumeru, is first-in-line for a Hangout Event while Collei and Candace are still waiting months after their release, and Mika, the new four-star Cryo polearm user being introduced alongside Dehya in Version 3.5, is apparently going to be dropped into the game without any accompanying story content to remind players why they should want to pull for him besides the fact that he buffs ATK Speed and Physical DMG while providing a little bit of healing, making him a good support for characters like Eula (and Xinyan, especially if you’re using her as your Main DPS, the way I do). If only it made sense to run Mika on Eula’s banner, given that she’s canonically his commanding officer…or, you know, rerun Eula in general, seeing as it’s been over a year and there’s a Mondstadt Event in Version 3.5 and the aforementioned reward for participating in said Event is a claymore, Eula’s weapon…nope, definitely the logical choice by HoYoverse to slap Mika on a banner with Kamisato Ayaka and Shenhe, two characters with whom he has no real synergy, making for an inharmonious Mono-Cryo medley in the latter half of Version 3.5.

Mika, from the game Genshin Impact, standing in a wooded landscape surrounded by white stairs and snowflakes. He is short, with shaggy blond hair, and a large book levitates over his hands from which he is reading.
Mika |

Beyond that, a few small adjustments and improvements are being made to the game in Version 3.5, of which the simplest and most popular by far is the new system of rewarding players for completing currently released and upcoming chapters of Genshin Impact‘s main storyline with one Intertwined Fate – exchangeable on any limited-time banner – for every Archon Quest. Whether generous or merely exploitative, I will be taking those Intertwined Fates, thank you very much. Dehya will come home to me, and that’s final. But how about you? Pulling for anyone in Version 3.5, or skipping the patch entirely? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

Cate Blanchett Delivers A Monumental Performance In Todd Field’s “TAR”


Whoever accepts the Academy Award for Best Actress this year, be it Michelle Yeoh or Cate Blanchett, will ascend to the stage knowing that while it could just as easily have been the other making that same victory-march, they themselves deserved it no less. If, in a staggeringly unfortunate turn of events, it’s Andrea Riseborough, Michelle Williams, or Ana de Armas whose name is instead read aloud from that life-changing envelope, well, they ought to be wondering how they even made it to the ceremony when one of them only started her controversial Oscar campaign in the last few weeks before the nominations were announced, one is essentially committing category fraud when she could have easily beat the competition for Best Supporting Actress, and one is nominated for an unspeakably exploitative Marilyn Monroe biopic that should never have been made in the first place. But it won’t be one of them. It will be, it should be, and it must be either Yeoh for Everything Everywhere All At Once or Blanchett for TÁR.

Cate Blanchett as Lydia Tar in the film TAR, sitting at her piano and writing notes on a musical score.
Lydia Tar |

Blanchett’s nomination for TÁR is her fifth in this category, her eighth in total, and her first since 2015’s Carol. And not since she seeped into the cozy fur stoles of Carol‘s enigmatic titular character has Blanchett immersed herself in a role so wholly with only the slightest physical transformation to facilitate her; yet she deliberately holds her cards close to her chest, remaining so curiously plain, unintimidating, and approachable throughout the film’s opening sequence (which takes the shape of a long, deceptively monotonous sit-down interview with The New Yorker‘s Adam Gopnik) that the audience is made to feel embarrassed, even childish, for being at all apprehensive of her quaint sophistication or for detecting a hint of an edge in her voice when the conversation strays in a direction she doesn’t like. She looks like Blanchett, dresses like Blanchett, and perhaps most crucially of all, talks like her, with an eloquence that would probably come across as pretentious if her delivery wasn’t so merry that the listener is left feeling smarter for hearing her speak and eager to hear her again.

It’s only as you inch closer, close enough to discover that her eyes are eerily devoid of any merriness, that it will finally dawn on you, much too late, why Blanchett was cast and why director Todd Field wouldn’t have made the film without her. The very qualities that endear her to her fans, her approachability and mesmerizing manner of speech included, are qualities that continue to be abused by celebrities (and by virtually anyone on or adjacent to the uppermost levels of the hierarchy in their respective industry), and Blanchett demonstrates for us in the first few minutes of TÁR by creating an atmosphere that feels safe, luring an entire audience in within arm’s length of the fictional-yet-familiar monster inhabiting her skin, and waiting until the cameras are no longer recording to drop the act and dig her claws into her prey. From that moment on, Blanchett is gone, subsumed into the character of Lydia Tár.

Tár, a world-renowned conductor and composer preparing to close out a long career throughout which she has accumulated an almost hyperbolic number of prestigious accolades and awards, including the coveted combination of an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Award collectively dubbed the EGOT, is a character who stands stubbornly with one foot on either side of the boundary between blunt Caricature of a subject, and nuanced Commentary on that selfsame subject – the subject in this case being every celebrity who’s been hearing a lot of stuff about “cancel culture” in the news recently and knows they would hate it if it happened to them, but isn’t online enough to know that it’s a complete and utter fabrication of the far-right: an imaginary war being waged against the authors of badly-written children’s books and offensively unfunny comedians, by some hypothetical mob of angry young people indoctrinated by the left. Lydia Tár probably isn’t the type of person to publicly align herself with the far-right voluntarily (she strikes me as a moderate liberal), but the exaggerated threat of “cancel culture” is too great for her to stand idly by, and in acting frantically to defend herself against an invisible foe she accidentally exposes her own “cancelable” offense – her history of coercing her students into trading sex for job opportunities and blacklisting them when they broke up with her, driving at least one woman named Krista Taylor to suicide.

It should come as no shock to anyone that this was the true purpose of “cancel culture” all along – to make vocal right-wing allies out of those in the arts who would otherwise have kept their mouths shut, and to convince the general public that buying their books, their music, their movies, or tickets to their shows, is tantamount to a victory against the online mobs trying to “restrict free speech” and therefore a moral obligation for the consumer. But what the right-wing doesn’t state out loud is that they pick and choose which “victims” of “cancel culture” to throw a lifeline. And Lydia Tár, a married lesbian and a classical musician, is expendable as far as the right-wing is concerned. Which is how she ultimately finds herself conducting an orchestra at a Monster Hunter game convention in the film’s final scene.

Nina Hoss as Sharon Goodnow and Cate Blanchett as Lydia Tar in TAR, hugging each other in a room with pink lighting.
Sharon Goodnow and Lydia Tar |

This stunning moment can be variously interpreted as the first of many humiliating low-points in Tár’s career following her fall from grace or the first necessary step in her scrabble back up the social ladder – and then, of course, there’s the distinct possibility that it is Tár herself who has contrived this bizarre, self-flagellating sequence to cap off the fictional narrative she’s been constructing in her head throughout the film, one in which she’s the victim of vaguely supernatural powers out to get her. It occurred to me that Tár is so desperate for a taste of “cancel culture” that it’s possible she’s been fantasizing about Krista’s accusations jeopardizing her career all along. In fact, prior to the outrageous third act, who else besides Tár’s personal assistant Francesca (Noémie Merlant) even knows the details of her inappropriate relationship with the conductor? Francesca, who disappears without a trace – almost like a specter herself – after being passed over for the job of assistant conductor, perhaps causing the increasingly paranoid Tár to retroactively invent reasons to fear her?

As Tár spirals out of control with dizzying speed, whether literally or all in her imagination, she gradually becomes aware that she has fallen out of the carefully-curated biopic she had hoped TÁR would be, and into a grotesquely claustrophobic dark comedy from which there is no escape. Everywhere she turns, she is confronted by demons mundane from one angle, nightmarish from another under Florian Hoffmeister’s lens – the neighbor in the upstairs apartment who won’t stop banging on her door pleading for assistance with her elderly mother; the monstrous black dog that watches her stagger down dimly-lit underground corridors in panicked pursuit of Olga (Sophie Kauer), the mysterious Russian cellist she begins wooing midway through the film; household objects vanishing and turning up in places they don’t belong, like the work of a poltergeist. This string of events culminates in an incident where Tár storms onstage during the live performance of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 and physically assaults the conductor standing in for her, eliciting gasps. It’s simply too ridiculous to really be happening…right?

There is only one character besides Tár herself who can escape being ushered to the back row or ejected from Lydia Tár’s self-serving autobiography entirely until the final third, and that is Sharon Goodnow (Nina Hoss), Tár’s indispensable wife, whom the composer dejectedly returns home to after Krista abandons her and Olga leaves to party with her own friends, not for any lingering love but for a potent reminder that she controls Sharon (at least in part by deliberately mismanaging her wife’s medications and then feigning concern over her “absent-mindedness”). Her own sense of security, necessary for surviving in an insular world, starts to rely on her wife remaining gaslighted into believing she’d be hopeless on her own, that she needs Tár to keep her safe from herself. But when details of Tár’s infidelity come out, Sharon finally breaks the fraying thread tethering her to the woman she loved once and escapes with the couple’s young daughter.

And in so doing, Sharon deals a fatal blow to Tár’s confidence – not only depriving her of the precious pair of good-luck charms that the conductor would have happily carried around with her from place-to-place until retirement, but forcing her to confront the dark alone for the first time in her life. Like most predatory people, Lydia Tár doesn’t know how to function without someone “weaker” alongside her to reassure her that she’s the strongest person in any room, and she doesn’t enjoy the sensation of being on equal footing with anyone (personally or professionally), yet she also becomes sick to her stomach when she is bluntly offered her choice of sex-workers in a Southeast Asian country toward the end of the film. She runs away, offended at the suggestion that what she’s been doing all her life is anything like that.

Cate Blanchett as Lydia Tar in TAR, standing in a concert hall at the conductor's podium.
Lydia Tar |

But ultimately it doesn’t matter, because in that final scene where Tár once again takes the stage to conduct an orchestra for an enraptured audience, Field forces you to sit with the uncomfortable realization that whether or not this is all really happening, even in Tár’s worst nightmares she is still working. It may not be work she relishes, and she’s probably wincing inside as she hears her distinctive sound swallowed up by Monster Hunter‘s electronic score, but she’s still onstage, bathing in the spotlight, and conducting. Even she must surely recognize then and there that “cancel culture” was and will always be a myth as long as the “canceled” still have a platform from which to complain about it.

Film Rating: 8.9/10