In 2013, the Tomb Raider reboot introduced players to a new kind of Lara Croft. We saw her grow from a bright-eyed amateur archaeologist into a changed woman set to follow in her father’s footsteps. Since the events on the island of Yamatai, Lara has grown into a hardened explorer with no fear in the search for a new piece of historical mythology.
Rise of the Tomb Raider propels players into a new adventure without delay. Lara and a skeleton crew, joined by Jonah from the series reboot, are in Siberia and have been tracking Lord Croft’s notes on the secret to immortality. From these freezing mountainous landscapes to the sweltering temperatures of Syria, Lara must tussle with an opposing party called Trinity who are also interested in obtaining the Divine Source.
The game is drop-dead gorgeous – there’s no other way to describe it. The amazing draw distance allows players to have a wonderful scope across the various environments. In Syria, the sun peeps through passing clouds with a blinding light and the accompanying ambience, occasional gusts of wind and distant sirens of scavenger birds, perfectly match the barren location. However, Siberia deals Lara a completely different hand, where the winds are elevated tenfold as you and your crew struggle through the waist-deep snow and bone-chilling temperatures. The brutal conditions on offer are quite immersive, pulling the player right into the action, and are by far one of Rise of the Tomb Raider’s biggest draw-cards; the environments are so reactive.
Lara herself has flourished in this instalment with a newfound confidence in her abilities as both a fighter and a scholar. Despite being an extremely dangerous individual, Crystal Dynamics have not shied away from showing her during times of struggle. In the cold, unrelenting wilderness of Siberia, Lara shakes profusely and breathes heavily – as the player, you feel her distress and pain. Her ability to survive is one of her most enduring strengths she uses in search of the Divine Source.
Though the gameplay hasn’t changed a whole lot, Crystal Dynamics has made a few changes to make Rise of the Tomb Raider a very competent sequel. Firstly, there’s the implementation of the Language mechanic. Throughout the game, you’ll be interacting with monoliths and documents of various dialects holding interesting lore and information about a specific area. But, in order to translate these objects, Lara has to build up her proficiency in Greek and Russian. I found this to be a fantastic addition because not only does it reveal useful items upon translation but the excerpts are very engaging – the latter being a classic case of masterful voice acting.
Secondly, there’s a new crafting system at play for Rise of the Tomb Raider. Where salvage was your main resource in the reboot, here, players must harvest herbs, collect wood and feathers for various items weapon upgrades and hunt wildlife for even more valuable resources. The latter will see players going head-to-head with deer, wolves, bear and ‘exotic’ animals like elk and tigers.
There’s a lot of strategy involved in upgrading your weapons of choice in Siberia, but players are also able to craft ammunition, such as arrows tipped with fire or poison, and other throwable objects on the fly whilst in combat – something borrowed from The Last of Us. In a particularly good move, players can quickly interact with bottles to make molotov cocktails, pick up cans to make ‘splinter grenades’, or grab small ceramic urns for well-placed smoke bombs. It feels right as a game mechanic and, on the whole, is an in-depth, relevant and rewarding gameplay alternative.
But, above all, the best thing Crystal Dynamics has done is thrown lots more puzzles into Rise of the Tomb Raider. While these don’t necessarily translate into stacks of tombs, there are smaller sections called Crypts players can traverse through and explore for additional rewards.
There are more tombs here than in the 2013 reboot and it’s great to explore these intricately detailed areas that are such a big part of the franchise. They are often hidden from view or off the beaten path, having a great effect on the sense of exploration in the game. One of which has Lara traversing over an ancient Byzantine ship hidden beneath an eerie ice shelf. Another tomb has players creeping along wooden handles and eroded footholds in a mountainside with Lara hanging hundreds feet above the ground. There’s never a dull moment on approach to a tomb, as there are still those sudden button prompts from the previous instalment that help Lara maintain a solid grip to surfaces. But despite the tombs holding valuable in-game perks, like faster healing and seeing wildlife weak points while hunting, they just aren’t that challenging. These graphically awesome locations can be passed with surprising ease and most players won’t be troubled with any of the tombs or crypts in Rise of the Tomb Raider.
Of course, you’ll need to advance your skills to get to these points and you’ll feel the effect of every new ability. The skill trees at your disposal are littered with useful abilities suited for Lara’s various talents: Brawler, for melee and healing; Hunter, for engaging with wildlife and resource crafting; and Survivor, for damage resistance and weapons crafting. Whereas players may opt for sheer brute force and in-your-face melee finishers, others may opt for more subtle forms of combat. For instance, the ability to rig dead enemies with proximity poison bombs – very useful.
There may not be a problem when it comes to gunplay, but one of the areas for improvement in Crystal Dynamics’ latest iteration is the melee combat. The heart-pumping return of Lara’s dodge skills are met with awkward camera positioning and sub-standard hand-to-hand encounters. Lara continuously bashes enemies with her trusty ice picks until they either go down or she has to retreat to apply a bandage. Integrating some opportunities for more frequent melee counters would’ve exponentially heightened the functionality and satisfaction of close quarters combat in the game.
When it comes to long range exchanges in Rise of the Tomb Raider, there are objects and environmental weaknesses at your disposal. These become available in greater detail when pressing the right stick – activating Lara’s Survival Instincts ability. Despite how useful it is in heated exchanges, such as highlighting items that can be used for crafting, in the game’s free-roam areas it becomes tedious to use. There are times where you’ll be frequently spamming the right stick to keep track of your chosen objective and it’s implementation outside of combat in future games should be looked at.
In-between story missions you may want to dabble in side missions or seek out collectibles for a bit of downtime. Even though Rise of the Tomb Raider has the bonus of a highly reactive world with varying landscapes, keeping track of points of interest using Survival Instincts becomes an annoyance. A good alternative to constantly using the right stick would’ve been to create a visible ‘path of light’ – similar to Fable – towards your objective. As was in the original reboot, a dedicated crouch mechanic players could have been used to manually sneak up on unsuspecting enemies or facilitate a decent position when hunting wildlife.
But it’s the triggered action sequences that make this title a pleasure to play. Whether you’re helping Lara escape a collapsing ruin, using a zipline to escape Trinity forces, or traversing balance beams in the midst of gale force winds, this game does it all.
The decision to abandon multiplayer this time around was a smart decision by Crystal Dynamics, as the reboot’s online component was plagued by connection issues, glitches and bugs. Instead, Expeditions mode replaces the game’s multiplayer, allowing players to compete against friends in challenges that are customisable through card packs. Certain cards reward score buffs, such as one life only (giving players a x2 score bonus), and you also work against the clock to get the highest total. I unlocked quite a few packs through completing objectives in the campaign but never experimented with it too greatly. However, it’s nice that Expeditions mode offers players more content after the campaign is over.
Even with Rise of the Tomb Raider playing on a cliched story left by series’ like Indiana Jones, it doesn’t diminish the believability of such a story. There may be lot of collectibles here but the diversity and immersion of the locations isn’t an issue. This is a well balanced game anchored by an atmospheric soundtrack, jaw-dropping visuals and expert voice acting. Several minor hitches slightly impact on the game, but it’s a gradual improvement on a commendable reboot and has re-positioned Tomb Raider as a marquee AAA video game franchise.
Hayden’s most memorable moments in free-roam included taking down a bear with only melee strikes and lighting up chickens with some fire arrows after throwing them.
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