The Tomb Raider franchise has come a very long way since the pointy-chested, round-rimmed glasses Lara Croft of the 1990s to where we are today. Lara has evolved, not only in appearance but also in attitude, graphics and game mechanics.
Rise of the Tomb Raider continues that evolution, and takes the franchise just that one step further to becoming the Tomb Raider game that gamers have been wanting all these years. It might have already arrived at that point, for some, but for others, there is still some work for the devs to do before it truly gets there.
The story so far…
ROTTR semi-attaches itself to 2013’s reboot of the franchise by starring the same Lara from that game, just with a new chapter in her story. This time around, the game features a fairly typical plot point where her father discovered something, was ridiculed in the community, and now it is up to Lara to set things right.
The premise for the game’s adventure could actually have been anything (e.g. Lara read about a legendary artefact in a book), but this one involving her father works rather well, in the sense that it gives returning players a feeling of continuation if they tackled the last one.
With that said, Lara is searching for the lost city of Kitezh and the Divine Source, which is said to grant immortality to whoever discovers it. It might seem a bit out of character for Lara to be after such an artefact, and there were a couple of occasions where her motives seemed self-centred, but nonetheless, Lara presses on to find it.
Naturally, there is an evil organisation that is also trying to get their hands on it (for nefarious purposes, of course), and just as predictably, it is up to Lara to stop that from happening.
Out of interest, Kitezh was a real place (sort of), a mythical city beneath the waters of Lake Svetloyar in the Voskresensky District of the Nizhny Novgorod Oblast in central Russia.
Drawing on legends of yore, developer Crystal Dynamics has worked in a story that includes most of the parties that have over the years (and according to legend) searched for and made their way to the city, such as the Mongols in the 11th Century.
Since it is only legend, the plot does take a number of liberties is recounting what and where the city is, including what it holds. But, with that said, some true-to-life elements were included, giving the game a much-appreciated hint of credibility.
Get my adventure on
Being a Tomb Raider game, Lara gets around the world in a way anyone who’s played a Tomb Raider game will be immediately comfortable with – by jumping, sliding, grappling and running around.
Here the game’s mechanics haven’t changed one bit, and if you played the 2013 title you will be right at home. At the start, Lara has a limited set of abilities and equipment for traversal at her disposal, but as the game progresses, she unlocks perks and equipment that allow for reaching higher places.
The levelling up process is identical to the previous one, where after a certain amount of XP gained, Lara will have one skill point to spend. Oh, and levelling up can also only be done at the various base camps that are unlock as the game goes on.
The skill tree is divided into three categories: Brawler, Hunter, and Survival. It’s a bit tedious to level up enough to completely max out a tree, but luckily some of the skills available aren’t at all necessary to progress.
As an example, there is a skill that allows for faster melee take-downs using the bow. If you are anything like me, enemies hit the floor long before they are close enough for any sort of melee combat, making the skill all but useless, but it should provide some help to people who prefer a more up close and personal approach to combat.
Come to think of it, the skills are almost identical to the previous game, making Rise more of a Tomb Raider 1.5 than anything truly revolutionary. But then as the saying goes, if it ain’t broke…
Time to raid some tombs
A big part of the game is (surprise!) that Lara really likes to raid tombs. Here, the game delivers, and each of the raidable areas have at least two tombs or caves that can be looted. Cave are much smaller and usually don’t involve puzzle solving, whereas Challenge Tombs are the real deal.
The reward for completing Challenge Tombs are also much higher, as they dish out weapons parts for crafting better gear – making them essential to the game if you don’t want to struggle.
While they are great, sadly they don’t compete with the complexity of the previous game. It seems that the citizen of Kitezh were great warriors, but they sucked at designing and implementing puzzles.
Thinking back, there was only one puzzle that had me stumped, but once I realised that the simplest solution was the one that was going to work, it became fairly easy. For the record, I was trying to row a boat to a place where it wasn’t supposed to go, and completely missed the actual spot where it needed to be docked.
Most of the puzzles in the tombs are also timing-based, as with many of them you know immediate what the end goal is, and it is just a matter of timing before solving it. It also helps (or hinders) the puzzle progress if you put Lara in Survival Instincts (the default ability that highlights animals, enemies and puzzle pieces) as she will talk you through what needs to be done.
On that note, Survival Instincts now lets you know if an enemy is in view of others. If he is and you take him out, 90% of the time it will alert them and they will come after you.
Guide me, oh captain
With a game of this nature (and free-running games in general like Assassin’s Creed), there is a level of frustration that creeps into it.
While Lara mostly responds rather well to control inputs, there will be a number of times that she will either carry on with her action when you wanted her to stop, or she will miss a hand-hold altogether.
This is largely attributed to some of the weird camera angle that come into play when she is hugging a wall. In tight spaces, it becomes a bit difficult to properly see where she needs to go, and although Crystal Dynamics has made some effort at preventing it, it does still happen.
On a number of occasions I was shouting at the television as she went in the opposite direction as my intentions. But on the whole, inputs were smooth and responsive.
As I have said before, movement and combat is almost identical to the previous game.
This is the end
Rise of the Tomb Raider builds on the legacy of the entire franchise, but I have to wonder where it all is going.
Sure the plot has changed a bit, and the ending leaves the franchise wide open to future games, but where is Tomb Raider going as a whole? The combat, mechanics and graphics have largely stayed the same over the previous game with no real progress made, and Lara seems to be less angry this time around.
But, that said, if you loved the 2013 game then you will love this one as well. At the heart of it, it is more of the same with subtle differences here and there. If it is going to go the route of games like Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty where only the plot changes and one or two new abilities are added, though, it might be in trouble.
ROTTR is a very good game in the sense that it delivered on all of its promises, but more needs to be done with future titles to ensure that the franchise doesn’t get stale.
Beginning to end, it should take you just over 24 hours to complete (including the side missions and some mopping up/grinding), which is great value for a full-priced game.
Is it good enough to complete with Fallout 4 on launch day, though? I’m not so sure.