Over two years ago, Crystal Dynamics rebooted the Tomb Raider franchise. With it, we saw a younger version of Lara Croft, stranded on an island, separated from her team, and forced to learn how to fend for herself. Though flawed in some aspects of its execution, the game was a great starting point for our favorite British archaeologist. Lara’s experience on Yamatai brought out the survivor in her (hence the “Survivor is Born” text at the end of the game), ignited her appetite for knowledge, and perhaps, most importantly, showed her that the stories her father had told her were true. The developer’s newest entry in the series, Rise of the Tomb Raider, takes the knowledge that she gained in the reboot and expands upon it, bringing a much stronger, more experienced hunter to the table. With the engaging plot, gorgeous graphics, the ability to craft on the go, and yes, more tombs, Rise is everything we loved about Crystal’s Tomb Raider and more.
Right off the bat, the plot is much stronger this time around, which probably has a lot to do with our heroine’s motives. The story picks back up about a year after the previous game. Since leaving Yamatai, Lara has become obsessed with her father’s research, and proving that neither she nor Lord Croft are insane for what they claimed to have witnessed during their adventures. Much of her drive to find the truth is spurred by an opposing group called Trinity, who are also on a quest to find Siberia’s lost city of Kitezh and uncover its mysterious link to immortality.
In addition to setting out to clear her name, Lara’s got a chip on her shoulder, but hasn’t lost her moral compass. So, despite being hostile, she’s able to see past her emotions and make the right decision (whatever that may be) at the end of the day. Although it sounds like your typical set up, there were surprising moments that not only pushed Lara, but showed her level of maturity. It’s hard to dive into what those moments actually are without trekking into spoiler territory. Just know that the story does a great job of focusing on Lara’s goals, while staying true to her values at the same time.
There were surprising moments that not only pushed Lara, but showed her level of maturity.
Lara’s friend Jonah is along for the ride again, but that doesn’t last long, as they’re quickly separated. While she spends a vast majority of the game alone, Lady Croft teams up with a native group called the Remnants, who’ve been protecting their land for years. The leader of the group, Jacob, is given his own fleshed out backstory, which adds to the overarching plot. In stark contrast to the previous title, the great thing about the writing in Rise is that it made me care about what happened to the supporting cast. I also felt for Lara even more in this adventure. Her desire to stop Trinity for the good of mankind, and fight for her father’s reputation really resonated with me and made her feel human.
Remnant however, isn’t only around for story purposes. Their addition also brings the new side-mission feature to the game. These extra quests are connected to the story, and offer up some pretty decent rewards (i.e. adding a sight to her rifle etc). Instead of feeling like an annoyance, like they do in most games, I found myself wanting to take on and complete these, because they really do help you out on your journey.
I was also happy to see that tombs are back in the game. Sure, there were a few in the reboot, but not nearly as many as there are now. In fact, one of the first locations you visit in the game is a gorgeous tomb set in Syria. The crumbling ruins and the vistas beyond were awe-inspiring, and a testament to Crystal’s mastery of creating stunning graphics and lighting in the game. Making the Prophet’s tomb the whole reason that pushed her to Kitezh in the first place was a smart move, and a great way to let fans know that they meant business (as far as tombs are concerned) this time around. Much like the side quests, raiding a tomb granted something I found pretty useful. But, instead of getting a new weapon or item, completing one unlocked a new skill (like being able to climb a wall faster), which can’t be found anywhere else.
Tombs are back in the game
But, before you’re able to claim your prize, you must first actually find the tomb’s entrance. Although they do show up on the map at some point, figuring out how to get to the exact location is a different story. They are often hidden behind physics-based environmental puzzles, or locations that you won’t be able to reach until you’ve acquired better gear later on. Thankfully, the puzzles extend to the main campaign. Though there could have been more, the ones that are present are complex enough to get you thinking. They are by no means impossible to figure out, nor are they overly simplistic. Instead, they lie somewhere in between, which renders them a ton of fun as a result.
It’s also evident that Lara has brushed up on her survival skills. The climbing axe is back, and works similarly to how it did in Tomb Raider. Simply reaching a craggy or icy surface and hitting ‘x’ on the controller, allows Lara to scale a surface with ease. Later on in the game, she’s able to use it to grapple to new locations, and attack enemies. Her bow is another useful tool which eventually allows her to interact with objects, create ziplines, and shoot climbing arrows into soft wood. Discovering new traversal techniques is gradual, but once she’s fully upgraded, Lara is unstoppable. Having a variety of ways to quickly switch between mountaineering techniques, complements the game’s escape and action sequences well. During a particular scene, Lara was running and jumping to a nearby ice wall, scaling another with arrows, grappling up a wall and over to another platform, only to ride down a zipline as everything is coming crashing down in the background. It was exhilarating.
Also in her arsenal of weapons she’s got a pistol, rifle, shotgun, and the all new hunting knife–which is useful for cutting rope or killing enemies from above. Combat for the most part is the same, but on-the-go crafting and Lara’s new ability to hide in trees, or under water, makes stealth a more viable option. Though I didn’t spend much time bouncing around the treetops, swimming was a great addition, especially after finding a rebreather, that enables her to stay under water for longer periods of time. Water take downs in particular were a lot of fun to do, especially when you’re able to quickly dodge out of sight under the thick ice, before leaping out of a nearby hole to quickly pull another enemy into the icy depths.
The on-the-go crafting and new ability to hide in trees, or under water, makes stealth a more viable option.
That isn’t to say that stealth is top notch; this still doesn’t hold a candle to something like Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain; but, it has been improved. Much of this becomes evident once you dive deeper into Lara’s skill trees, and upgrade her weapons. While the Brawler category introduces the ability to leap down on her prey for a knife kill, the Hunter skill set allows her to loose up to three arrows at a time, at three different locked targets. Though these were great, the Survivor tree’s “Body Trap” skill, which enables her to craft poisonous traps on dead enemies, was my favorite. There’s nothing quite like peering out from behind a corner and watching an unsuspecting victim investigate the beeping sound on his dead comrade, only to die moments later.
Despite the new focus on stealth, however, the combat system still has it’s flaws. The AI weren’t as responsive as I’d hoped, especially when it came to using an object to distract them, but they remained consistent. On several occasions, enemies didn’t notice when I threw a bottle at a nearby wall. I know it had to do something with range, but gauging it was often difficult. It always worked the same, but it would have been better if the boundaries were clearer.
As I mentioned previously, the on-the-go crafting is another useful feature, and makes a lot more sense than Lara relying on collecting resources from random caches. Want to heal yourself? You’re going to need to find specific ingredients in her environment to do that. The same goes for creating ammo, special arrows, grenades, molotov cocktails and more. The animals in the environment also serve a purpose, allowing Lara to use their skins for ammo capacity upgrades, and increasing the amount of resources she can hold. Some are harder to take down–with wolves only coming out at night–but doing so reaps better benefits.
After learning to survive in the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot, Lara honed her skills, and set out on a mission to become the hero she was destined to be in Rise of the Tomb Raider. As one of the most beautiful games available on the Xbox One at the moment, it demonstrates Crystal Dynamic’s ability to craft realistic lighting and a gorgeous playground worth exploring. Tombs are back, plentiful, and a joy to conquer once located. While it could be better, the combat has been improved, thanks in large part to the ability to craft on-the-go, a couple of news tools, and the abilities that come along with them. But, it isn’t perfect, and is slightly crippled by the flawed AI. Lara’s grown immensely since the first game, and as a result of her experiences, has risen as the Tomb Raider we can’t wait to see more of.
- On-the-go crafting, and improved hunting makes Lara feel like an accomplished adventurer
- Gorgeous scenery, lighting, and detail brings the setting to life
- Plot is great, with Lara’s motives stronger than before
- Tombs are back, harder to find, and grant you useful rewards
- AI enemies not as responsive as they could be
4.5 out of 5 Burritos
This review was completed using an Xbox One copy of Rise of the Tomb Raider. The game hit stores today, November 10, as a timed exclusive on the Xbox One.