The remake of Tomb Raider that released a couple of years ago was a refreshing and exciting look at one of the video game characters that defined a generation. It was an origin story in the best way, showing how Lara Croft became who she is, through a storyline full of twists and turns that often left her broken, beaten and defeated, defining her as a fighter and a survivalist. Rise of the Tomb Raider builds on this wonderfully, and is an adventure that’s chock full of tombs to explore, dangerous set-pieces to enjoy and exhilarating moment-to-moment action mixed with gunplay and clever platforming.
Lara Croft takes on a more traditional quest this time around, on the hunt for the Divine Source – a form of eternal life. Her father had searched for it also before he passed, so the mission is deeply personal this time around, and helps to establish the woman that Lara has become since the last time we saw her. Able to hunt and craft and also be strong and fearless in combat, she is now fully aware and able to do whatever is necessary to achieve her goals. While still nuanced and morally conflicted, this Lara is warrior and a fighter, and it’s refreshing to see her become more sure of herself as a person; this is the hardened Lara we love, and the voice acting keeps us feeling engaged with the character throughout her journey.
The gameplay is familiar for anyone who played the last Tomb Raider, exploring each area for a variety of hidden items like artefacts, murals, documents and hidden caches that are collectible and genuinely useful for finding out more about the environment you’re in, with murals in particular enhancing your ability to understand certain languages so that you can uncover more secrets. The map is open, with threatening wildlife and other enemies throughout, along with my absolute favourite part of Rise of the Tomb Raider… challenge tombs!
It seems obvious that a game called Tomb Raider should therefore have tombs to raid, but the ones you experience here that are entirely optional and separate from the main narrative include some of the most memorable gaming moments I’ve experienced this year. Not only are they devilishly clever and satisfying to complete, they also feature some of the most gorgeous and breathtaking vistas in the game; so pretty in fact that it’s surprising they didn’t make these tombs compulsory as a show off point, but then having a secret discovery pay off this way makes them all the more delightful to find in the first place. They cap off the already stunning visuals that really do accentuate every slightly ruined wall, every snow covered tree and every complex facial expression on Lara herself – it really does look amazing.
The balance between solving puzzles in tombs and the scenes where you are shooting a range of baddies has the scales tipped in the direction of the gunplay, but an added element of ongoing crafting throughout Rise of the Tomb Raider enhances things so that they are far more enjoyable this time around. Along with your regular weapon upgrades, Lara can grab a nearby tin can or empty bottle and create an explosive or Molotov cocktail that can then be used instantly if you have the right materials at your disposal. While this is laughable and certainly not the most realistic crafting I’ve seen, it adds a dynamic and fun element to the standard third-person shooter style and is very useful when you’re outnumbered.
In fact, Lara is so useful and effective on the battlefield that the game almost feels a little bit easy after you’ve upgraded your weapons and abilities on the normal difficulty setting; I died more often from falling or mistiming a jump than I did from taking damage from the enemy AI. Higher difficulties definitely do make things more challenging, but for me, I much preferred to not be too overwhelmed by the combat sections so that I could get through them and onto the next tower I had to scale, the next hidden tomb I had to delve into and the next artifact I had to unearth.
You’ll get access to a variety of tools throughout the game and they all get used frequently and provide a valid incentive for backtracking, as certain tasks will only be achievable once you gain access to things like the rope arrow which you can use to pull down obstacles and also to swing from, along with the new wire spool which allows you to latch onto things mid-jump, which means you’ll be able to leap further and even save yourself from a potentially fatal fall. I found juggling the multiple different tools simple and satisfying, and ultimately really enjoyed the versatility it provided throughout the campaign.
The giant action set-pieces are also back and better than ever. For me, traversing high towers while chaos happens around you or balancing on a high beam while ruins fall to the side or sprinting, jumping and climbing as quickly as possible to try and avoid an incoming onslaught of attackers always had my heart pumping. Completing these felt like a mixture of total relief but also an instant need to do it all over again, like I was a kid again after finishing a crazy ride at theme park. I was also pleased that a lot of the annoying ‘instant-death’ quick time events from the first game were barely present here, so I never felt cheated.
Something else I liked about Rise of the Tomb Raider that further advanced it from last time around is the fact that there are actual quest-givers that you will meet throughout the world who serve as allies and will provide you with tasks to complete, such as clearing out a cave of enemies, rescuing prisoners or destroying communication towers. The rewards from these missions are worth it and sometimes crucial, and they are worked into the main story as well so that it doesn’t feel too weird to take a breather from your main goal to take the odd detour. The original Tomb Raider felt almost lonely at times, but this one features other characters, though the ones on the hero side feel more like cardboard cut-outs compared to the dastardly villains who are quite driven by their evil motivations.
My play through hit around the 30 hour mark which is pretty impressive for this type of game, but there is still plenty of collectibles and missions that I have to go back for and previous areas that I know have opened up with more caves and hidden spots due to the additional tools in my arsenal. On top of that, there is an Expedition mode which takes place of the previous multiplayer where you can compete against friends in time and score based challenges on previously completed missions and tombs, and there are modifiers which can make things easier or more difficult that impacts the score based on your choices. In game credits are used to collect these cards and while it’s a pleasant enough distraction, it certainly isn’t a must-play; I’ll much prefer my time spent completing everything else 100%.
The Bottom Line
My time with Rise of the Tomb Raider has – so far – been incredibly memorable. From the thrill of discovering and then solving the variety of stunning challenge tombs to the explosive and exciting set pieces that had me sprinting across shaky platforms, dangling from ledges and narrowly escaping death at every turn, I found every single part of the experience completely captivating and breathtaking. Lara Croft has grown as a character and the franchise has evolved and grown along with her; so much so that it has now turned into one of the best action adventure games I’ve ever played.