The 2013 reboot brought Tomb Raider back with a bang, although some might argue a few too many bangs. The reboot dropped the classic Tomb Raider sense of mystery and exploration for more of a summer action-blockbuster vibe, opting to turn Lara Croft into a Nathan Drake wannabe. Rise of the Tomb Raider is much more successful at balancing the high-octane set-piece action with what we’ve come to expect from Lara: raiding tombs.
The premise for Rise is something straight out of an Indiana Jones movie, but they handle the story and characters well enough that it’s hard to care that it’s all pretty unoriginal. A bolder, more experienced Lara heads to the mountains of Siberia in search of The Divine Source, an object of immense power supposedly able to grant the user immortality. Trinity, an evil, modern-military adaptation of an ancient sect, are, however, also seeking The Divine Source. Lara’s father, the late and distinguished Lord Croft, died in pursuit of the Source, all of which is told through flashbacks and conversations between Lara and her father. Her father’s inability to locate the Divine Source ultimately ruined his reputation, something which Lara sees as her duty to set right.
The broad strokes of the narrative are all largely done-before stuff, but Rise does an effective job of introducing characters and elements to the story that make it feel more unique. Namely, the character of Jacob and his village tribe, who are native to the area. Without getting too deep into spoiler-territory, Lara ultimately ends up caught between a war raging between Jacob’s tribe and Trinity, who will stop at nothing to find the Source. Although most of the game’s story is a load of supernatural nonsense combined with Uncharted-levels of action and destruction, it still manages to be engrossing enough to pull you through the rollercoaster they present.
As for the game’s actual changes, and the aforementioned revival of the classic Tomb Raider spirit, Rise does a great job of simply offering more to do. The first game had a small amount of tomb raiding, but ultimately it equated to less than an hour of the whole game. Rise features a number of large, open-hub areas full of optional tombs to raid, side quests, challenges, and more; a feature that the reboot critically needed. Although most of the side quests are fetch-questy and are never especially complicated, they’re still a nice change from the main storyline, and the rewards of weapon attachments and experience that feeds into your skill tree make them well-worth doing.
The optional tombs, on the other hand, are possibly the single best addition Rise has to offer. These numerous tombs range anywhere between 10 to 30 minutes in length and offer significant rewards. Along with whatever gold-plated goodies you may loot on your way through the tomb, reaching the end will reward you with a major character upgrade, all of which are fully unique to the tombs. The upgrades and potential rewards inside make the tombs unmissable (not that you’d want to skip them, since they make up some of the best moments in the game).
The tombs themselves require correct usage of various ancient levers, pulleys and whatsits in order to raise water, open doors, create pathways, etc. They never got hard enough to where I had to leave and come back later but some of the later tombs can certainly get pretty tricky. The lack of combat in these areas is also a refreshing change from the rest of the game. It’s something of a relief that developers Crystal Dynamics were able to see what the reboot was missing, instead of venturing further in the direction of just another third-person shooter.
When there is combat, however, it’s handled a lot better this time round. There are far more options when it comes to approaching enemies and there’s a much greater emphasis on improvisation on the battlefield. A number of craftable explosives, firebombs and arrows that can poison, explode, or set people on fire present far more ways to defeat foes than simply hiding behind cover and popping up to shoot. Of course, if that’s what you want to do then you totally can. Lara is equipped with four weapon types: bow, pistol, rifle, and shotgun, all of which have four unique variations and are all equippable with various attachments and gadgets. You could opt for a more stealthy approach, if you prefer. Sneaking around bushes and treelines, stealth-killing people from up high or from down below.
Ultimately, Rise does a good job of making any playstyle viable and rewarding in its own since. Killing enemies with crafted items, or simply getting headshots, unique kills etc. are offer their own unique experience rewards, whilst your skill tree is effective at accommodating for the each approach. Options. In the end that’s what Rise does a much better job at offering. More options in the content, more options in the combat, more options in the environments.
It’s also a truly a gorgeous game that expertly creates these large, impressive ruins and ancient structures alongside beautiful natural landscapes. The game’s effective use of dramatic lighting in large, sweeping environments, as well as Lara’s impressive animations that see her realistically climb, jump, run and clamber around a number of exotic environments. The Xbox One version, the only one available at launch, is generally a perfectly fine place to play Rise. Save for a couple of unfortunate frame rate drops, this version is mostly stable and looks fantastic. If you’re looking to play this now, then the Xbox One version is a solid option, but Rise will undoubtedly look incredible on a powerful enough PC in just a few months (here’s hoping it’s a good port).
In the end, Rise of the Tomb Raider is a huge improvement from the original reboot. A gorgeous game that offers a much better merge of gameplay styles, tells a better story with better characters, and leaves Lara in a rather promising place when it comes to the future of the series.