In more ways than one, Rise of the Tomb Raider holds various similarities to the Tomb Raider series reboot. There are still large hubs full of collectibles, humans and animals trying to kill you, and of course, the tombs. However, most of the familiar mechanics introduced in the previous title were improved and expanded to make Lara Croft’s latest journey an enjoyable ride.
Instead of crash landing ashore on the island of Yamatai, Rise of the Tomb Raider starts on the mountain ranges of Siberia, returns to Syria for a flashback segment, and then spends the rest of the game in the Siberian wilderness. This time, the prize is the Divine Source, an artifact that grants immortality to its user. With the help of local citizens, Lara has to make her way through the frigid environment and get to the Divine Source before a seemingly evil group called Trinity gets its hands on it.
Story-wise, the focus is more on Lara’s relationship with her father, rather than her friends from Tomb Raider. For Richard Croft, the Divine Source was his life’s work, but he died before he could ever find it. For Lara, the race to find the artifact is a highly personal endeavor. She will fight her way through the harsh elements and a well-equipped enemy that will stop her at all costs, all to finish her father’s work.
Familiarity Before Change
The first hour or so provides the same experience as Tomb Raider, as these are considered to be a tutorial stage for newcomers. Lara winds her way through a narrow passage up a snowy mountain. At various points, disaster strikes, putting her in mortal danger while still pushing forward to the goal. Syria, too, is the same with its cavernous tomb and not-so-difficult puzzle solving.
It’s not until Lara infiltrates her way through the Trinity bases that you can really see the main changes to the game. There’s still a small selection of weapons and equipment as well as the ability to upgrade or craft new items, but the process of collecting supplies has changed. In the past, salvage was the main source of upgrading your weapons. Now, salvage is just one of the many ingredients required to improve the arsenal or create new equipment. Wood, berries, cloth and even animal skins are all required to create various items.
The ridiculous amount of collectibles is back as well. Various mementos litter the land, such as photos, dog tags and even a jeweled crown. The frozen Siberian wasteland once played host to Soviet troops and Greek-speaking refugees, and both groups left behind many letters describing their long journey. As Lara reads each entry, she gains some level of proficiency in the foreign language. This seems to help only in deciphering the game’s monoliths, which uncover more collectibles. These tiny items are obviously optional, but if you’re the type of player that loves to learn more about the game’s backstory, finding these items should give you more insight into the history of the Siberian wilderness.
There’s also a new currency in the form of Byzantine coins. Like collectibles, these are scattered throughout the world. At one point in the game, Lara finds a deserter from the Trinity group who sells guns and other equipment for the coins. In a game where survival is a crucial part of the experience, a storefront is the last thing anyone would expect in the wilderness.
One item worth mentioning from the store is the refinement tool, which unlocks an additional layer of weapon upgrades. In a way, it urges you to find more coins (and therefore spend time finding other collectibles) to buy the expensive items, but it feels like a shortcut to better items in the game.
As if there wasn’t enough to do already, there are numerous side missions available that offer extra gear as a reward. These aren’t too challenging, but it’s an entertaining distraction from the main story.
Fight And Explore
Whether it’s a lone sentry or a large group of soldiers, Lara seems to handle combat with ease. Once again, the cover-based system allows her to move closer to enemies without suffering too much damage. She can still use the environment to her advantage by taking down weak structures with her rope arrow or throwing kerosene lamps to engulf foes in flames.
If she runs out of ammunition for her guns, Lara can restock her supply by looting enemy corpses. However, certain ammo types, such as bows and bombs, can be crafted on the spot and eliminate the need return to a camp. Arrows and bombs might not be as fast or powerful as the assault rifle or pistol, but being able to craft more arrows in the middle of a firefight is really helpful.
Empty cans and bottles of liquor are all over the place in the game, and Lara can easily grab either one and make it into a shrapnel bomb or Molotov cocktail, respectively. This idea of improvisation makes for some interesting enemy encounters, and it gives Lara an upper hand when the odds are stacked against her.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Tomb Raider game without the tombs. When Lara sees the tomb entrance for the first time, the camera zooms out to give you a sense of wonder in these structures. The tombs are magnificent, even more so on PC, with various lighting, water and detail effects. The various environmental puzzles guarding the treasures within aren’t too difficult to solve, but they’re just as enjoyable as the side missions.
Better Than The Last One
With improvements to old features, Rise of the Tomb Raider stands on its own, and it’s considerably better than its predecessor. The large areas provide a reason to explore, with many collectibles and items to find, and you can further go off the beaten path with tombs and side missions. Crafting is a more crucial element in the game, as you need to hunt and gather multiple resources to successfully survive the weather, animals and enemy soldiers. If that doesn’t do it for you, there’s a separate Expeditions mode, which allows you to replay levels with new assignments or even compete against your friends to gain a certain amount of points in stage.
The 2013 Tomb Raider game introduced a Lara Croft that was just getting her feet wet in exploration and survival. The events of that game made her tougher and fearless against whatever comes her way. Rise of the Tomb Raider reflects that sentiment well. With her newfound experiences, she’s a better fighter, explorer and survivor. So far the rebooted franchise seems to be a success, and Crystal Dynamics set the bar even higher for itself for the next chapter of Lara Croft’s journey.