The 2013 reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise, simply titled “Tomb Raider”, was surprisingly my favorite game released that year. I didn’t expect much from it seeing as I never was a big Tomb Raider fan and only dabbled in the series in the past, but I have faith that Crystal Dynamics (one of my favorite developers) would do a decent job. Little did I know that the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot was a game that seemed like it was tailor-made for me, ticking all of the boxes of things I love about video games. It had exploration, collectibles and super fun combat. Naturally, I was excited when the sequel, “Rise of the Tomb Raider” was announced which instantly shot up high on my list of anticipated video games. Now that I have played through Rise of the Tomb Raider, I’m happy to say that the game totally lives up to the previous game in terms of quality yet also loses a bit of grit in the process.
Let’s start with the most important part of any video game — the gameplay. Rise of the Tomb Raider plays almost identically to the 2013 reboot but with a few more bells and whistles. Lara Croft gains a few new tools and abilities such as a cool grappling hook that’s thrilling to use in set pieces, the ability to create grab-able ledges using arrows stuck in soft wood surfaces, and many new crafting abilities such as making molotovs and gas bombs on-the-fly similar to Naughty Dog’s “The Last of Us”. The platforming and climbing elements in the game are as strong as ever, making Lara very agile and quick when moving from ledge to ledge. The seamless nature of the climbing mechanics make Rise of the Tomb Raider a joy to play when these elements are required in the campaign.
The combat hasn’t changed much in Rise of the Tomb Raider with the same shooting mechanics in place. Most will notice the change in the crafting elements mentioned above. If the player spots a bottle on the battlefield, Lara can quickly grab the bottle and craft it into a molotov cocktail so long as she possesses the needed materials to do so. Many of the combat situations that require the player to take down a large group of enemies will usually contain items that can be crafted to quickly dispatch of your enemies.
In addition to the crafting, the combat seems to allow the player to tackle the situation multiple way more so than the previous game did. Rather go the stealthy route? Climb to the trees and pick your enemies off one-by-one. Want to go full Rambo and mow through your enemies? You can totally do that if you want but you will have to be quick on your feet to avoid getting flanked and outnumbered. The beauty of Tomb Raider’s combat is that no enemy encounter felt cheap or annoying and Rise of the Tomb Raider is no different, aside from a boss encounter that ground my gears towards the end. I still find it a little jarring that the game doesn’t have a dedicated button to attach Lara to cover during shootouts, which is done automatically once the player approaches a piece of cover, but it works fine overall.
One thing I didn’t expect from Rise of the Tomb Raider was its lack of combat early into the game. I believe I spent the first hour and a half or so without getting into any major combat scenarios. The whole beginning sequence is spent inside of a massive set piece involving a lot of actual tomb raiding that sets up the narrative of the game. After this point, Lara will find herself exploring, climbing and solving puzzles before she actually engages in any combat. I found this approach to be quite refreshing since it eases the player into the best parts of the game before throwing them into the typical shoot shoot bang bang moments.
Rise of the Tomb Raider’s environments are set up the same way as 2013’s reboot. The game is semi open world as in it lets the player explore wide environments but with small sections filled with spelunking, shoot outs or set pieces that connect each area together. Bonfires are still the primary checkpoint system here that allows Lara to sit, reflect on her situation with internal dialog, and allows the player to upgrade weapons and abilities. The game does auto save frequently so don’t expect to have to reach one of these bonfires ala Dark Souls in order to save your progress; bonfires are simply resting points between areas. Scattered throughout the game’s world are a plethora of collectibles and crafting elements that can be sought out to enhance the game. Lara will still crack open cases with her pickaxe, hunt animals for pelts and loot bushes and trees for supplies. All of these elements will allow the player to upgrade Lara’s weapons and gear to make her more efficient in combat and in exploration.
The same leveling system returns to Rise of the Tomb Raider that grants experience points with successful kills, stealth opportunities, hunting and collecting hidden items. Once the experience bar fills, the player will earn skill points to upgrade Lara’s abilities in one of three categories — Brawling, Survival and Hunting. The experience system still feels a little automated, but the more skillful you play the game, the more quickly you will level up and gain new abilities. Also, the game rewards the player for exploration in experience points too, so the more the player explores, the quicker they will level up.
If you’re a player who loves collectibles, Rise of the Tomb Raider is for you. Within the game’s environments, players can find hidden audio tapes (a new trope in gaming), messages, lore and artifacts. The hidden lore will contain information regarding the current area in three specific languages — Mongolian, Russian and Greek. Collecting lore pieces will upgrade Lara’s understanding of those languages and gives her the ability to read obelisks scattered around the world that reveal hidden goodies on the player’s in-game map. Everything else is simply hidden in the game for experience and achievement purposes. Collecting all of this digital junk is more cumbersome than the previous game due to the fact that the game’s environments are larger and there are many more objects to collect, which makes earning that 100% completion goal a little obtuse since the player has to spend much more time scouring larger maps.
One of the biggest complaints about the 2013 Tomb Raider was the narrative. Many people felt like Lara Croft was a killing machine who tried to pretend that she was a soft puppy dog. Well that hasn’t really changed here. Early into the game Lara will reflect on the hardships she encountered during the last game and the things she’s dealing with emotionally, but as soon as a bad guy appears on the screen, Lara kills without hesitation. Even though none of this bothered me personally since… you know… is this a video game, the folks who thought this aspect of the game was hokey will not change their mind in Rise of the Tomb Raider.
This time around, Lara is searching for a relic that her father died attempting to seek out that is said to give eternal life to those who possess it. Along the way, an organization known by the name of Trinity, lead by a man named Constantine, seeks the same relic for the purposes of creating an unstoppable army. The whole game becomes a race between Lara and Trinity to retrieve this object hidden within the Siberian wilderness. Along the way, a group of natives aid Lara in protecting the artifact who also fights Trinity alongside her. The narrative, while fairly basic, works well since Constantine is a fairly effective villain and the environments that the story leads you to are quite breathtaking. The game stops and pauses the action to introduce cutscenes that shows Lara dealing with her daddy issues too, which ties itself into the story at several points within the narrative. There will be a few twists and betrayals along the way that creates an overall enjoyable story but nothing overly groundbreaking.
Microsoft secured the exclusive rights to Rise of the Tomb Raider, so the current generation version is only available on Xbox One at the moment. Thankfully, the game looks and performs very well with little hiccups in the framerate and mild load times. The environments look absolutely stunning with some rather impressive effects such as the snow collecting in Lara’s hair and the lighting inside of caves and wooded areas. Textures could have used some improvements on the player models which can look a little less detailed close up but thankfully isn’t anything too unpleasant to the eyes. The game has some fantastic lip sync animations during cutscene conversions as well. Crystal Dynamics has crafted a nice looking title that does a great job at immersing players into its world.
I do have one complaint about the game that bothered me a little but may actually be a positive change to many. Rise of the Tomb Raider, while still being a very violent game, isn’t quite as brutal as the last game was. Many moments in the 2013 reboot had players gasping, squirming and jumping out of their seats at the excessive amounts of shocking deaths that occurred throughout the game. Rise of the Tomb Raider tones the brutality down quite a bit, so no more will you find Lara failing a QTE event (which are almost non-existent this time around) only to find a massive wooden spear lodged into the side of her head. No longer will Lara be impaled by objects with a sequence asking the player to mash a button while she slowly pulls the object out in pain. As sadistic as this may sound, I actually enjoyed those moments of shock value in the last game as opposed to the lighter approach that Rise of the Tomb Raider takes.
I found myself finishing Rise of the Tomb Raider at 11 hours by merely trekking through the main story with only a little side tracking here and there. The game includes many more tomb puzzles than the previous game did but they’re still only seen as a side attraction instead of a main part of the campaign. Luckily a good number of these tombs are very challenging and made me scratch my head for awhile before I figured out the solution. Several of the tombs will require the player to return after they picked up a specific tool before they can conquer it, much like other sections of the game too, making Rise of the Tomb Raider have a Metroidvania feel to it.
All of the tombs combined with the collectibles amounts to a pretty hefty single player experience for those of you who want a solid game to play solo that doesn’t segregate challenges and achievements to a shoddy multiplayer component unlike the last game. An included Expedition mode allows players to tackle challenges in specific portions of the game as a nice diversion once the main game is completed. Players can also earn cards that can be purchased with in-game currency or real money that boost the player’s stats and abilities to make this mode a little more interesting too.
Rise of the Tomb Raider had some big shoes to fill for me. Since the previous game was one of my favorite titles out of the last generation, I had high hopes for Rise of the Tomb Raider. The good news is that the game totally lives up to my expectations, creating a very solid action adventure title with a lot of content to keep players happy. The only downfall is that the game is so large and contains so many collectibles that many of them are too much of a chore to seek out. Toning down the brutality also takes away from the experience in my opinion, something that made the survival aspect of the previous game so visceral and memorable; however, many players may disagree with me in that regard and come to prefer the lighter approach.
In a holiday season crammed with so many great releases, I’m really hoping Rise of the Tomb Raider will not fall off of the radar of many gamers this year. Crystal Dynamics crafted yet again another compelling adventure that puts Lara Croft back on the map as one of the most iconic gaming characters ever. Aside from how you may feel about super Rambo killing machine Lara, Rise of the Tomb Raider is absolutely worth experiencing from start to finish and deserves to be in your Xbox One library.