Crystal Dynamics set a high bar of quality when they rebooted Tomb Raider in 2013, so naturally its sequel, Rise of the Tomb Raider, needed to up the bar once again; it's done that and more. Built on its solid foundations from the reboot, Lara takes part in an engaging adventure complete with beautiful landscapes, plenty of optional tombs, brain-wracking puzzles, and exciting new combat abilities for a memorable journey that should be had by everyone.
+Improved crafting system
+Numerous optional tombs and collectibles
-Bigger focus on mandatory combat sections
-Predictable plot tropes
-Accidental deaths due to controls
I don't think many people were expecting Tomb Raider to make as big of a return that it did back in the 2013 reboot, save for Crystal Dynamics. I know it took me by surprise with its exciting traversing and combat coupled with an engaging story and believable voice acting. Tomb Raider was a success at becoming relevant once again and two years later we finally have the much anticipated follow-up to continue Lara's journey.
It's clear that Rise of the Tomb Raider is building upon the foundation the reboot laid down two years ago, now allowing for a much grander and convincing world with various sceneries, improved and varied combat, along with a ratcheting up of the excitement and action even further. Expect a massive amount of action, exploring, and even more close calls. Rise of the Tomb Raider improves almost every aspect from its previous entry and is a thrill to play beginning to end.
In Lara's previous adventure, it was a story based upon survival more than anything else. Rise of the Tomb Raider though picks up a year later and Lara has evolved and changed from victim to experienced raider. Lara is much more confident this time around and it shows, not only with her dialogue and attitude. Despite her improved combat and exploration prowess she's clearly been hardened by her previous adventure and shaping her into the legend-to-be.
The broad plot for Rise of the Tomb Raider is that Lara is looking for an artifact, believed to grant immortality, a journey her late father started many years ago but was unable to finish before perishing and being discredited. Lara trusts her father's work, even to a fault, and this devotion plays out during the course of the story showing her obsession and true calling of being an adventurer. While the story itself is filled with predictable tropes and outcomes, it does have some memorable moments including some intriguing plot twists to keep you on your toes somewhat.
The story is truly about the relationship between her father and an evil organization named Trinity who's set out to stop Lara and find the artifact for themselves. I don't want to spoil anything else, and even though you'll see many of the moments coming a mile away, I am excited to see where Crystal Dynamics takes Lara's adventures next as I'm still trying to piece together the ending and how it fits into the Tomb Raider lore.
The main villains are played very well, even if it is a little over the top, and though they are the 'evil' ones you're able to sympathize with them in an odd way despite their actions. Character progression throughout the campaign is done very well, and not just focused on Lara, as almost every character feels as though they have a rich background that you'd want to know more about. All of the voice actors did a fantastic job, especially Camilla Luddington in particular who voices Lara, as you completely believe everything she says with each line and nuance.
If you were a fan of 2013's Tomb Raider, you're going to feel right at home from the get-go as everything controls and feels very familiar in the beginning of Lara's journey. One of the most drastic changes you'll notice early on is how much more vast each locale feels as you progress from area to area. While not completely open world, Rise of the Tomb Raider feels much more explorable with its somewhat-open areas that are free to roam around. There are numerous 'hubs' that house many secret collectibles, caves, crafting components, and tombs, all of which are completely optional and free to explore whenever you desire. Some areas are much larger than others and it's very easy to become distracted from the main path with all of these optional discoveries and explorable areas.
Just like Lara's previous outing, you're able to fast travel from campfire to campfire, allowing you to visit previous areas again once you have a new ability or equipment; allowing you to finally explore what's hidden behind a breakable barricade or traverse higher than you were able to previously with your new gear. Old areas can feel completely new once you're able to go back with your new skillsets and discover a whole new section previously unavailable.
These hub areas also contain numerous special optional objectives, such as shooting a certain amount of targets, cutting down trap lines, delivering supplies, and more. These net you special rewards, experience, and more. You'll also be able to find special NPC's that will give you a specific side quest or two if you accept, allowing for more exploration and rewards to distract you from the main storyline. Even if you're not a completionist, you'll want to spend some time with these optional objectives, as the rewards are generally worth the effort. If you've got a keen eye, you may even find a map which will make finding these collectibles much easier by being able to highlight them on your map, pointing you to the exact location. If you want to spend the time exploring every area and collection every item, your standard 10-12 hour campaign playthrough can easily stretch to 30-40 hours based on how clever you are with the new puzzles and tombs.
Speaking of tombs, one of the gripes some players had from the previous game was that there simply wasn't enough tombs, which is odd for a game titled Tomb Raider. This feedback has clearly been addressed, as there are many more tombs included within Lara's adventure this time around. A change I really appreciated was how more puzzles were incorporated into the main storyline as opposed to being only in optional areas like in the previous game. Tombs are much more plentiful this time around and there are a handful of optional ones that increase in difficulty as you progress in the story. Some of the last tombs and puzzles had me quite perplexed for quite some time, the payoff and satisfaction when you finally complete it though is that much more rewarding once you solve it.
These tombs are much vaster than simple caves and usually involve a large complex puzzle to solve and reach the riches within. The early ones start simple and usually just require some traversing, but eventually you'll need to use all of the tools at Lara's disposal to drain water, balance weights, and more. While clicking in the stick will highlight areas of interest and give some hints of what to needs to be done, you're still going to have to bring your thinking cap to solve some of the more complex puzzles in the latter half of the game. Some of the puzzles are very clever and immensely satisfying once you solve them. Even though there are a handful of optional tombs to explore, I still wish there were more as the exploring and adventuring aspect is easily the highlight of Lara's whole journey.
It could very well be that there are more than enough tombs and caves. Though, in the second half of Lara's adventure, there is a much more combat-centric focus, so maybe that's all I'm remembering. Not that having so much combat is a necessarily a bad thing, however, there's plenty of forced combat scenarios near the end that can't be avoided in any other way. This is probably a deliberate design choice to showcase Lara's new combat prowess and abilities, as she's now able to do more than shoot her bow and guns. Now Lara is able to craft smoke and nail bombs, Molotov cocktails, and special high damaging ammo on the fly to help with these combat sections. These new combat options allow for a much more strategic firefight as simply opening fire with regular ammo isn't going to always do the job, especially not as easy.
The first half of the game definitely focuses on a stealthy approach, allowing you to sneak up on enemies for stealth takedowns or hiding in a bush allowing for snipe shots with your bow and arrow, whereas the last few areas force you to fight in the open requiring you to be more diverse in your combat options. Eventually enemies become armored and a single headshot won't always work forcing you to be more creative when you have waves of enemies rushing your direction.
Just like the previous game, you're able to upgrade your weapons and increase their stats though this time the special ammo you can create with resources you find around the world almost play a more vital role this time around. You can eventually craft fire, exploding, or even poison arrows, all of which are incredibly powerful but require resources that can be scarce to find at times and also only allowing you to carry a few at a time. The same goes for your regular weapons, as you can craft special ammunition that is incredibly powerful but uses precious resources to create, so you need to only use them when absolutely needed.
Just like weapons, Lara can also improve her skills and abilities just like her previous adventure. You still have the separate categories with multiple tiers of abilities that unlock the more skill points you spend, allowing you to cater to your specific playstyle. In the beginning I choosing more exploring and experience based abilities, but by the end I was much more combat focused, allowing me to scavenge more ammo and even gain damage resistance for a short amount of time after a stealth kill or self-heal. There's plenty of options for any kind of playstyle.
Gone is the forgettable and laughably terrible multiplayer mode from the previous game, replaced with the new and somewhat interesting Expedition Mode that allows you to replay certain levels and areas but using cards that enable specific modifiers. I know, odd right? Let me explain.
You first choose which level or area you'd like to replay and aim to hit a high score in. Instead of simply replaying a level with the fastest time or most kills, you earn card packs for playing through the campaign that can be used to modify certain aspects of each Expedition playthrough in crazy and unique ways. Some of these cards can make Lara much stronger or incredibly weaker, allowing for a score multiplier bonus or handicaps. Some cards are also there to simply be funny and create wacky moments, such as shooting chickens instead of arrows or enabling big head mode.
While you get plenty of card packs for simply playing through the game itself, there of course is an option to pay for new packs with real money if you're so inclined, but earning coins by playing Expedition Mode itself is quick enough that I never feel needed to do so (not that I ever would). While I personally didn't find much entertainment in Expedition Mode aside from playing with the wacky cards enabled, it does add a little more longevity for those that like to score attack and top leaderboards, but I don't suspect it will help much in the long run once you've 100% completed the main game itself. The mode itself feels more arcade-like, a stark contrast to how the default game is supposed to be experienced, so maybe that's what turned me off on the mode more than anything else.
Even though there's plenty of more puzzle orientated tombs included, I still wish there were more as they were clearly the highlight of the whole experience for myself. The final chapters feel like they drag on arbitrarily but that could also be because of the frequent mandatory combat firefights. At least once you're done Lara's journey, you can continue on with your game save to reach for that 100% completion, and what surprised me the most was that you interact with characters after the final events have played out, not a 'before the final save' state like the majority of games use.
I've played through every one of Lara's adventures ever since she was introduced in the mid '90s, even the not-so-great ones, but Rise of the Tomb Raider is easily the highlight of the series and the most fun I've had with Lara to date. While the story isn't the strongest, the rest of her adventure more than made up for its shortcomings. The tombs and puzzles are much more varied and plentiful this time around, the locales and environments are much more vast and engaging, and all around I simply had a great time playing as Lara once again, more so than I did the last time with all of the improvements and additions. A great game simply became better and should be explored.
Release Date: November 10th, 2015