Rise of the Tomb Raider
While 2013’s Tomb Raider reboot was heralded as a triumph for a franchise that had gotten stale, some long-time fans weren’t entirely satisfied. Lara was certainly a more relatable character, but her adventure was far more combat-oriented than past outings.
That hasn’t entirely changed in Rise of the Tomb Raider, but Crystal Dynamics seems to be making a concerted effort to bring back elements of classic games. The story opens by setting the tone with compelling environments and exploration.
Our three-hour preview started us at the beginning of the game, which begins on the icy slopes of treacherous Siberian mountains. Lara and her friend Jonah push onward as their expedition party balks at the dangerous conditions.
The entire prologue is a subtle tutorial that involves using the climbing axe to traverse sheer, ice-covered mountains. That opens up into exploration as Lara travels to Syria in search of an artifact (which we’ll keep vague in the interest of keeping the plot unspoiled).
Combat remains light through the first hour and a half, though Lara is forced early into an encounter with a large, angry bear. This is a gateway to another piece of the tutorial, this time introducing special ammunition. Poison arrows, for example, can be crafted from mushrooms and used to create area of effect damage that can harm large animals or kill clusters of guards.
As you make your way through the exploration segments, you’ll be prompted to find your first challenge tomb. This one is a gimme, as the game calls out what it is and makes the entrance easy to find. The purpose is to show off the rewards, which are now unique skills. Completing this first tomb awards the ability to quickly nock two arrows in succession.
While the challenge tombs are still short diversions, it seems like Crystal Dynamics is making them feel more organically part of the environment. The first, an ancient ship frozen in ice, is a beautiful setpiece with light traversal puzzles.
It’s after this point that Lara begins taking on armed soldiers. Without giving anything significant away, the story in the first three hours reminded me of older Assassin’s Creed games. Just like in the last Tomb Raider, Lara is pitted against dedicated foes on a mission that’s cross-purposes to her own.
Except when forced into it for narrative purposes, combat is a choice. Players can choose to approach things stealthily with quiet takedowns, go loud with gunfire, or avoid guards entirely. For the record, I still prefer headshots with the bow, but watching a group of three guards suffocate on mushroom poison is pretty satisfying, too.
When not murdering murderers, it’s a good idea to search the environment for collectibles. Exploration hubs still have challenges tied to them, like shooting down all the incense hangers. Other items include weapon parts, resources for crafting and upgrading weapons, coins to spend at supply shacks, and monoliths.
The monoliths are part of the new language system. Lara will improve her skill with Greek, Russian, Mongolian, and other tongues throughout the game. These enable her to read monoliths, in turn flagging important items on the map. At the root, it’s just another collectible, but one that has more thematic flavor.
Across its core components (exploration, combat, and story), Rise of the Tomb Raider feels like a bigger, more ambitious evolution of the 2013 reboot in the first three hours. While it doesn’t seem to do anything innovative based on what I played, side missions offered by potential allies spice up the area-based challenges, larger exploration hubs create more opportunity for traversal puzzles, and combat seems to work just as well as it did last time.
Based on what I played, Rise of the Tomb Raider is a step toward the more classic gameplay some fans wanted. Whether that trend carries through the entire game or reverts back to the more combat-oriented play of the 2013 reboot is something we’ll have to wait until November 10 to determine.