For most of us, it takes a very long time to figure out who we really are. After surviving the events on Yamatai in the 2013 reboot, Lara Croft’s beliefs have been turned on their head. She’s starting to understand her place in the world, but she’s not quite there yet. That’s same way I felt about Rise of Tomb Raider. This extraordinary game reaches for perfection, but it falls slightly short, like Lara missing that next ledge, while the one she’s standing on crumbles beneath her.
Rise of the Tomb Raider has a more traditional “Tomb Raider” plot. It has Lara visiting two extremes in search of an artifact called the Divine Source, which is reportedly capable of making people immortal. After finding a tomb empty in Syria, she goes to the brutal environment of Siberia. Jonah, one of the other survivors of the first game, is along for the ride. After scaling an icy mountain, Lara discovers the lost city of Kitezh, were the Divine Source is hidden.
The logistics of the story aren’t really as important as the scenes that show us Lara’s slow transformation into the badass explorer that was featured in the early Tomb Raider games. Some cinematics, especially at the beginning, do a great job of showing us Lara’s internal struggle. In the last game, we’re given hints that Lara’s father was a great explorer, but also that he pursued unpopular beliefs, making friends and family, including Lara, think that maybe his final obsession had driven him to madness. But after the supernatural events she witnessed on Yamatai, Lara thinks maybe her dad’s search wasn’t so crazy after all. She takes up the mantle of searching for the immortal artifact herself. She has a small apartment that’s plastered in maps, notes, and drawings. She frantically flips through books looking for more clues. She has become obsessed just like her father. That’s what her friends think. So even in the very beginning Lara realizes that she really is all alone in her quest.
There were a few places where I was expecting the plot to go down certain stereotypical paths, but it never did. That’s probably why it kept me hooked. As the game progresses, many more questions arise that answers. Rhianna Pratchett, the wordsmith who wrote the first game and some of the comic book series, has once again done a terrific job of making her characters human. Even the bad guys have noble beliefs, so it’s a little hard to hate them. That’s all the specifics I’ll give you about the story, because it really is a great one, and you should take the time to experience it yourself.
But enough about the story. This is a game after all. The gameplay is nearly identical to the first game, so if you’ve played that, you’re all set. A few new extras have been added in like swimming, the ability to customize your clothing to best fit the environment you’re in, and some “card packs” that can be purchased with in-game credits to give you a boost in some aspects of the gameplay. NPCs who will give you side quests are also a nice addition. Beyond that it’s mostly fighting through areas to get to your goal, or searching environments for a vast array of collectibles and challenges. Of course all of the fighting means weapons. Lara has the same type of weapons as in the previous game, but some of their modifications are different.
The upgraded weapons end up being the most important thing in the game as you’ll be shooting a lot of people…I mean a lot. Rise of the Tomb Raider felt way more combat-heavy than its predecessor. There were multiple occasions where I wished the game would give me a minute to catch my breath and look around. I tried to collect all of the goodies as I saw them, but it was hard to take the time to go up to a desk while I was being shot in the back. This is where the game missed the mark for me. I feel like combat trumped the environmental traversal and puzzles in the main story gameplay. I think 2013’s Tomb Raider had a better balance of different types of gameplay throughout its story.
The lack of puzzles in the main story were the most poignant for me. I can understand not wanting to have players be stuck in a puzzle and not complete the game. But I think Crystal Dynamics forgot about gamers like me. I got held up and frustrated for a while simply because I am bad at shooting. The game gives you lots of opportunities to take enemies out using stealth. I did those wherever I could, but there were areas where it simply was not possible. And a good number of the areas where bullets are raining from the sky took me many, many tries to get past.
But to say the game completely lacks its puzzles is not fair. There are lots of challenge tombs scattered throughout the world and that’s where you’ll need to go to get your puzzle fix. And these tombs are pretty great. Definitely more fun for me than trying for headshots. And just like its predecessor, the game lets you go back to any location once you’ve finished the story, so you can collect all those goodies and gain achievements without dealing with a ton of enemies. You’ll still face the occasional wild animal that will need to be taken out, but the most of the bad humans are gone. Speaking of going back, make sure you watch all the way through the credits before you do.
I had very, very high expectations for Rise of the Tomb Raider. The previous game is one of my favorites of all time. That’s a lot to live up to. Rise of the Tomb Raider is great and I would definitely recommend it. The story is beautifully written and effectively delivers a lot of Lara’s inner struggle in a subtle way. But the overuse of combat made Rise of the Tomb Raider less fun for me than the last game. Despite that, I’m really looking forward to seeing where Lara will go next. Oh, and playing as a badass, powerful, but still realistic woman is one of the best experiences I can imagine having while gaming.