Rise of the Tomb Raider Review

This article was originally published at Another-Castle.com

Lara Croft and her next Crusade

Rise of the Tomb Raider
Platform: PC (Steam), Xbox One
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Square Enix

I never really liked the original Tomb Raider games. I played a couple of them briefly but even when they were new, I found the controls horrible and the visuals unappealing while still appreciating the technical advancements those games brought. The first Tomb Raider game I enjoyed was Tomb Raider: Legend which was also the first game developed by Crystal Dynamics. The first series reboot before the most recent one in 2013, was the beginning of my love of the series. Another Castle had quite a lot to say about the 2013’s Tomb Raider. Along with my very critical but ultimately positive review was Adrian’s lengthy criticism. Rise of the Tomb Raider still holds onto the thoroughly empty “survivor” tagline while delivering more of what the first actually was.

If you ultimately enjoyed the first game as I did, then the continuance of this direction will not bother you. While like Adrian, I was very critical of what was delivered and what was promised, I went into Rise of the Tomb Raider (RotTR) resigned to accept it for what it is. Anyone who went away disappointed with the first one, for any reason, may as well stop reading here. RotTR is thematically, mechanically and visually more of the same. Even the plot moves along at a similar pace and with a not at all dissimilar final act.

When I use “the same”, I hope readers aren’t to assume that I consider it identical. It isn’t and there are a number of changes from the 2013 entry, though none that could be considered significant. Lara will once again start the game with limited equipment and slowly build up an arsenal which includes some new equipment. There is an expanded crafting system which can be used make bombs, fire bombs, smoke grenades and special ammunition. As previously with multiplayer, it seems all games must now have crafting systems. Which brings us to the multiplayer or rather; total lack of multiplayer. The completely unnecessary inclusion from the first game makes this an improvement as I observed back in 2013. In its place is a new ‘Expedition’ mode where you can replay areas of the game or other scenarios and compete on an online scoreboard. The less welcome additions to this are a card based unlocks which naturally allow microtransations. Thankfully this mode is not so appealing that anyone is likely to pay and the card packs can be earned through in-game credits as well as being rewarded at certain points in the story mode.

The story itself takes off after the events of the first with Lara embarking on a journey sparked by her father\’s obsessive search for a relic known as “The Divine Source”. Of the rainbow of surviving ethnic stereotypes in the first game, only Jonah makes a return for Lara’s new adventure. Once again Lara has a large group of angry bad dudes to thwart her in the form a religious sect called “Trinity”. Lara does do a little bit more travelling than the first game but the vast majority of the adventure is spent in one area. I was hoping going in that the sequel would see Lara traversing the globe as in the originals. I’m not going to criticise a game for not being how I want it though and the largely alpine setting still sees Lara journeying through a wide variety of beautifully designed environments. Rhianna Pratchett returns as writer and the writing once again remains one of the weakest aspects of the game. The Tomb Raider series has always been openly derivative and I would never hold that against it but I would have thought a professional writer could come up with something better than a Holy Grail/Fountain of Youth trope.

The gameplay itself remains as engaging and fun as its predecessor. The combat again plays a larger part over exploration and puzzle solving and you’ll also spend a good deal of time hunting animals and relics. There are tombs to discover in the environment but this time they have been expanded and are more intricately designed. The reward is also more of a pay off than receiving experience points. There are also more puzzles to be found in the game world generally and while they are never as elaborate as the earlier games in the series, it pleased me to see more of them. The HUD is filled with information including tips and constant notifications for new areas, options and ancient relics marked in plain sight. This takes away from the exploration and I would definitely recommend turning off the “survival instincts” function at least if you want to get more out of this. Characters found in areas also offer side-quests with rewards that make them well worth doing despite being simple errands to destroy or collect things. There is even a shop with extra weapons, equipment and clothing.

Visually, the game does still look very much the same but it is still a beautiful game. I replayed the original again last year after upgrading my computer and RotTR still looks noticeably better, particularly with all the particle effects in blizzards, rock slides and shattering ice. My aging CPU is holding my GPU back somewhat so it could definitely look better, but I found everything pleasing and the gameplay generally smooth. I understand that even the Xbox 360 version is visually impressive.

Rise of the Tomb Raider doesn’t live up to its name as Lara Croft doesn’t grow as a character throughout the game. She remains the groaning, grimy, gymnastic, gun-toting guerrilla she was in the first game. At this point, I’m prepared to accept the new Lara Croft for what she is and not how they want to market her. As with the previous entry, Rise of the Tomb Raider is a competent, pretty and entertaining. If you haven’t played the first one then try that first. If you liked it then I see no reason why you won’t like this. If you didn’t like it, then I see no reason why it will change your mind. Rise of the Tomb Raider is about as safe as a sequel can get and that certainly diminishes my opinion of it overall, but doesn’t make it a bad game.

3.5 Stars

February, 2016

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