Six Things We Learned While Playing Shadow Of The Tomb Raider
Crystal Dynamics' rebooted Tomb Raider series has impressed players and critics alike since it kicked off in 2013. With clever puzzles, fun exploration, and a more human side to Lara Croft, the two prior games offered remarkable experiences. Now, developer Eidos Montreal is taking the reins from Crystal Dynamics to continue with a third and final entry to the trilogy.
Titled Shadow of the Tomb Raider, this closing chapter to Lara Croft's origin story sees her "become the tomb raider." She reaches her full potential and masters all her skills, though the biggest challenges are yet to come as she faces the threat of an apocalypse.
During a recent trip to Montreal, we took a deep dive into the latest Tomb Raider. After interviewing the development team and playing a 45-minute demo, here is what we discovered about Lara's next adventure.
You Journey Through Mexico And Peru
The Tomb Raider reboots have taken us to some fascinating places, including a mysterious island on the coast of Japan and the snowy plains of Siberia. In Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Lara begins her journey briefly in Cozumel, Mexico, and later travels to Peru. An early scene shows Lara and her longtime friend Jonah making plans for their next adventure as Cozumel's citizens celebrate the Day of the Dead.
"The Day of the Dead is important," says creative director Daniel Bisson. "They're venerating their dead. The reason we transition to that is because Lara lost her father." Soon after, a tsunami hits and Lara fails to save a young boy from death. It's traumatic for her, and Bisson believes the scene is effective because we can previously interact with the boy in town. We see a group of jubilant people celebrating, only to then see disaster hit. The team hopes to capture more moments of Lara around others and portrayed in everyday situations outside of adventuring and raiding tombs, to make her more relatable.
After this Mexican excursion, Peru is where the majority of the game takes place. Bisson says Lara "becomes one with the jungle," meaning she uses the environment to her advantage. With Peru's lush and verdant locales, expect to trek through jungles where hostile animals may prey on you if you're not careful. Both hunting and crafting return, though I didn't see any new crafting items during the demo. The jungle acts as a tool for Lara, such as using mud for camouflage.
The Order Of Trinity Returns
Once again, the shadowy organization Order of Trinity is the main villain in Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Now that Lara knows what Trinity has done to her father, she vows to take down the organization with everything she's got.
Dr. Dominguez, a new antagonist and one of Trinity's leaders, is searching for a Mayan artifact. Pleased to find out Lara has set an apocalypse in motion, he tells her that this is a chance to "remake the world without weakness and sin." Eidos Montreal describes Dominguez as "multi-faceted and complex."
"He’s a nuanced antagonist. I don’t like to think of him as a villain because a lot of the time it’s making a lot of sense," says lead writer Jill Murray. "You can kind of almost imagine that somewhere, someone else is making a different game with him as the protagonist. [Laughs] Both he and Lara are strong characters who are going to challenge each other, make each other second guess their beliefs and impulses, and drive the whole thing forward.”
Story Takes Place A Couple Months After Rise Of The Tomb Raider
Shadow of the Tomb Raider continues where Rise of the Tomb Raider left off. After finding out The Order of Trinity was behind her father's death, she sees the organization in a new light. She wants to better understand their motives. However, the story shifts early on following a tsunami. Having triggered an apocalypse by tampering with an ancient Mayan artifact ravages Lara with guilt; she sees innocent people die and takes the blame for it. Much of Shadow of the Tomb Raider is about Lara making mistakes and facing consequences. Rather than just trying to survive, this time she's trying to save the world and better understand her place within it.
"[Lara] is fueled by wanting to take revenge on Trinity," Bisson says. "The game begins with selfish motivations, but as you progress, her motivations become much more selfless.”
Lara Is More Powerful But More Vulnerable Too
Eidos Montreal describes this final entry as Lara's "defining moment," where she's more capable than ever. She's no longer the inexperienced student from the first installment, and she's on her way to being a full-fledged tomb raider. This newfound confidence can be sensed through the gameplay. Although the controls are near identical to what we saw in Rise, small tweaks make the experience feel smoother. She's a better swimmer, and she's more agile. With revamped swimming controls, it's much easier and natural to guide Lara through underwater locations. You can stay underwater for longer periods of time, too, thanks to conveniently placed air pockets.
"We find Lara at the height of her capabilities," Murray says. "In this game, she has to grapple with what is she going to do with the power, strength, and skill that she has."
You also have a new rope mechanic allowing you to rappel downward or swing from the rope in a similar fashion to Nathan Drake in Uncharted 4. The team calls it the "rappel swing," where you swing back and forth to gain momentum as you leap across chasms and cliffs.
Despite mastering her skills, Lara also shows her vulnerabilities and insecurities in this entry. As mentioned earlier, Lara is traumatized by unimaginable guilt. Luckily, Jonah helps keep her in check. "It's not all about you," Jonah reminds her after she suggests the apocalypse is her fault.
“Lara has become more capable, but so has Jonah," says narrative director Jason Dozois. "He is coming into his own and challenging Lara.”
With Jonah helping her stay level-headed, he offers guidance but also nudges Lara in the right direction. She looks to Jonah for validation, but his advice may not always be what she wants to hear. "She needs him, because she doesn't know how to deal with this," Bisson says.
Stealth Gets A Bigger Focus
Though the combat and gunplay feel similar to the previous installment, a notable change is a bigger emphasis on stealth. For the first time, Lara can disengage from the action by losing her enemies' line of sight and returning to the shadows. Foes search around your last known position, and you can use bushes and grass to sneak around. The focus on stealth was a design decision that reflects the game's jungle setting.
"The spaces [in the game] are all built initially for stealth," says lead level designer Arne Oehme. "You can go in guns blazing, but our main focus is stealth. Because you're one with the jungle, we want you to feel like a predator."
Deadlier Tombs And Higher Stakes
Though optional tombs are still prominent, Eidos Montreal plans to include more tombs in the main storyline. A major theme in Shadow of the Tomb Raider is descent; many tombs you discover are underground, with some half submerged underwater.
“In Rise of the Tomb Raider, one of the things we wanted to do was bring awe-inspiring moments to tombs. A sense of wonder," Oehme says. "It was something we kind of lost in Tomb Raider 2013. In Shadow of the Tomb Raider, it’s more about descending. Going below ground into a very dangerous place."
These tombs have compelling puzzles just like previous entries, though they also introduce a new twist: they're deadlier. Oehme says the tombs are less forgiving, and if you approach a puzzle the wrong way, there's a chance it could result in death. The experience on a whole gives a sense that the stakes are higher than ever before, as an apocalypse threatens the existence of mankind.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider releases for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on September 14. Be sure to check out our concept art gallery to learn more about Lara Croft's upcoming adventure.