Author’s note: This article contains spoilers for Tomb Raider (2013) and Rise of the Tomb Raider.
Old-school Lara Croft often seemed to exist in isolation from other women. In the series’ earliest days, it seemed like every secondary character was a man, making Lara seem spectacular only through the absence—the expense—of other women.
I didn’t notice, partly because I was a young girl and was pretty distracted by wanting to be Lara, but as I grew up and became more and more frustrated with the lack of nuanced female relationships in media, the idea that Lara seemed to be the only woman who did what she did became a little disconcerting, not to mention outdated.
There was some attempt to remedy this in Tomb Raider: Legend, where the game’s lady villain was a former friend of Lara’s; Lara also had two male friends. However, since Tomb Raider (2013), the franchise reboot has taken a more nuanced perspective on the life and times of Lara Croft. The 2013 game showcases the relationship between Lara and her friend Sam, and positioned it as an emotional linchpin in the plot.
Since then, the list of female friends, rivals, and enemies has only increased. Lara’s antagonistic relationship with her father’s former fiancée was a major plot point in Rise of the Tomb Raider, as was a rivalry-turned-trusting-partnership with a character named Sofia. Lara’s no longer a one-woman island surrounded by men and the occasional female villain, and this girl-power franchise only feels richer after watching it knock the Bechdel test out of the park.
I was pleased to find that the Rise of the Tomb Raider DLCs, as minimal as they are on new story content, continued this trend.
The inclusion of Nadia, a Remnant teenager that Lara encounters in the first few minutes of Baba Yaga gameplay, was an especially welcome surprise. Lara meets Nadia following a firefight with Trinity soldiers that kicks off the Temple of the Witch: Baba Yaga DLC. Nadia is introduced after Lara pries open the door to the supply cabinet that Nadia is hiding in, and Nadia—injured and nervous—points a gun at her.
It seems like a tense moment, but then we get a rare humor beat from Lara. “Your gun isn’t loaded. I can see the cylinder is empty.” Chagrined, Nadia pulls the gun away and confirms that the firing pin never worked. Thus begins an odd, small friendship.
This dynamic is not something we’ve seen in this new Tomb Raider before—Lara in a position of knowledge and authority to a less-jaded, capable younger woman. Throughout Temple of the Witch, Lara’s interactions with Nadia not only bring some humanity and levity to an otherwise heavy series, they also highlight how far Lara has come since the shipwreck of the Endurance just a year earlier.
Nadia asks Lara if she’s gotten used to people trying to kill her. Lara’s negative reply is weighty with all the trauma she’s experienced since first being stranded on a hostile island. With such long wait times between titles, these additional insights into the person Lara is rapidly becoming are more than welcome.
But it goes further than that: Nadia isn’t a one-off character that shows up once and then never again. When I booted up the Cold Darkness Awakened DLC, I was pleased to see that Nadia is Lara’s radio support. While Lara creeps through a deserted train yard full of soldiers infected with a bizarre biochemical weapon (zombies. They’re zombies), Nadia gives her information and offers an ear for Lara to explain the situation to. She even expresses some of the fear that Lara seems less and less likely to show.
Lara clearly thinks Nadia is capable enough to trust her with such an important job, and it’s neat to see seemingly minor continuity between the different DLCs focused around yet another female character.
Nadia’s another great case study for the idea that secondary characters sometimes need more—not less—attention and careful crafting in order to make the most out of their on-screen time. Nadia’s optimism and naiveté is a great contrast to Lara’s growing intensity. Having a young woman as a foil helped us begin to see Lara in a light we haven’t for many years now—confident, knowledgeable, and assured.
Showing Lara with natural, evolving friendships with other women is one of the things that sets the new series apart from the canon that preceded it. With Nadia’s inclusion in even a seemingly minor role, I’m reassured that the new Tomb Raider approach will continue to push Lara in new and interesting directions, as well as continue prioritizing the ways in which Lara is influenced by, and influences, other women.