Rise of the Tomb Raider Review

By Jonathan Barnes, 1 year ago
When it comes to adventures in archaeology, one can't do much better than Indiana Jones. In his three (don't you dare fact check that number) adventures, Indy went on quests to find the Ark of the Covenant, Sankara Stones, and the Holy Grail, all religious artifacts of unbelievable power. Indy's adventures are so good, in fact, that Crystal Dynamics somehow saw it fit to blend them all together and produce a less interesting version of their own in Rise of the Tomb Raider.

Logo

Picking up where 2013's reboot left off, Rise of the Tomb Raider puts you back in the boots and parka of Lara Croft as she hunts down another artifact, one that her father spent his life searching for without success. Haunted by this failure and her father's untimely death, Lara picks up his quest to find "The Divine Source" and hunts it from Syria all the way to Siberia. Hot on her heels is the shadowy paramilitary group "Trinity" who are out to find the Source for their own nefarious purposes.

For those following along, we've basically checked into the plot of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

To find this Source, you'll have to track down the Atlas, which when powered by the sun in a special room, displays the exact location of the Source.

Raiders of the Lost Ark, anyone?

Later on in the game, you'll infiltrate a sacred temple and have to combat legions of cultish followers who are intent on retaining the Source.

Greetings, Temple of Doom!

While the story is a haphazard distillation of the adventures of Indiana Jones, one can't say the same for Lara Croft. Even though she doesn't have the same cocksure swagger of Indiana Jones, Crystal Dynamics has done a great job of continuing Lara's growth and has made her feel like a real person with real motivations and something close to emotional depth. Gone is the nervous and unsure rookie from the reboot and in her place is a woman growing in confidence, knowledge, and determination. Unfortunately, RotTR doesn't have the same character arc of emotional maturation that made Tomb Raider such a success, but the continued evolution of this new take on Lara continues to give the franchise a solid foundation from which to build.

WWIJD?WWIJD?

Narrative gripes and character kudos aside, the mechanics of RotTR build on those of its predecessor but are held back by the sad trope of "losing all your stuff" at the beginning. Without equipment or skills, the first section of the game all but forces the player to grind to reacquire skills from the previous game as well as find, construct, and upgrade equipment once more. While everyone loves the feel of a slow accumulation of power, the reset to zero feels a bit too gamey for a franchise that did so the last time around with a complete narrative reboot. Seeing as it was her first expedition, it made sense in Tomb Raider for Lara to get caught off guard without her signature firearms and equipment, but to have her venture out on a dangerous second quest without that hard won gear makes zero narrative sense outside of "it's a game and you need to do that."

To rebuild those (forgotten?) skills and lost equipment, you'll be doing quite a bit of exploring, hunting, and scavenging. There are sixteen different resources that you'll be compelled to either find, loot, or kill for. If you're keen on fully upgrading your kit, that means you're going to be hunting a lot of animals and doing a lot of scavenging around the map. In my time with the game, I spent about three hours focused on hunting and gathering and then managed to get enough upgrades and unlocks through natural play to get by with relative ease, but completionists can expect to spend a lot of time poking around the wilds. In addition to side quests that will have you do various, menial tasks around the maps, you'll also have quite a few tombs to "raid".

Clearly hearing the feedback from gamers that there weren't enough of those aforementioned tombs in the 2013 reboot, Crystal Dynamics sprinkled them liberally through RotTR. You won't be able to go far in any of the open map areas without getting the notification that a tomb is near. Unfortunately, tombs are short, one-note affairs that are easily tackled within minutes. In my time raiding, I was never stumped for more than a few minutes before deducing the way forward. At the end of each tomb, you'll be rewarded with a new skill unlock provided by an ancient codex. That's right, each tomb hides knowledge in it, just like a Saturday morning special.

Tombs are plentiful and approachableTombs are plentiful and approachable

By far the biggest positive in RotTR is the platforming. This is an Action-Adventure title that leverages the Adventure over the Action. Crystal Dynamics has done a marvelous job constructing a veritable gymnasium of platforming pleasures for Lara to climb, swing, and jump through. Furthermore, as more skills and gear unlock, going back to older map areas (using the handy fast travel mechanic that lets you pop around base camps) and continuing to explore is a joy that makes hunting down some of those collectibles far less of a pain than it otherwise might be.

On the other side of the coin, the Action half of the game is a bit of a mess. The shooting feels incredibly loose and unforgiving and the cover mechanic is an outright disaster. The game lacks a "sticking" mechanic meaning that it's almost impossible to tell when you're actually in cover or not. Even when you're in cover, most of it is destructable, so you're going to be on the move if you're constantly under fire. That need for constant movement feeds into the scrambling mechanic which also feels loose, incredibly random, and hard to control. Most encounters are an exercise in frustration that will have you making the mad dash from bad cover point to bad cover point while fighting the poor shooting controls. With four different weapon types to choose from, and several different weapons that can be unlocked/discovered, there are a lot of options for customizing to your preferred shooting style, but in the end, it just never feels tight and right.

One deviation from Tomb Raider is the removal of the multiplayer in favor of the new "Expedition Mode". In Expedition Mode, you'll be able to replay various levels in Score Attack, Chapter Replay, and Chapter Replay Elite Modes. Score Attack tasks the player with flying through the selected level quickly while picking up wisps, shooting lanterns, killing enemies, collecting items, and avoiding damage. Doing all of those things and doing so quickly will improve your score. Before starting the level, you'll also be able to to choose challenges and "cards" to modify the level, either setting goals, granting bonuses, or presenting additional challenges that augment your score. Cards are earned by opening card packs (similar to Titanfall's Burn Card system) that can either be earned through campaign play, or purchased using credits (also earned in game or purchased through microtransactions) in the game's marketplace. Chapter Replay and Chapter Replay Elite Modes allow you revisit those same levels with base equipment and skills or your upgraded skills and equipment in the Elite Mode. Finally, RotTR also features Remnant Resistance Mode which allows you to create and modify levels to challenge friends and others for high scores and to earn more coins. Expedition mode is clearly aimed at giving the game longevity, but feels tacked on and inessential. The presence of microtransactions, while not required for success, also feels a little odious.

Pick a card, any card, and buy more!Pick a card, any card, and buy more!

I took the rare step of playing through the game without giving much heed to the achievement list and still managed to pop 25 out of the game's 66 achievements in natural play. Taking a look a the list, there's a good mix of story-based achievements, achievements that will come in natural play, as well as a few oddballs. Completionists will have to spend quite a bit of time with RotTR in order to hit 100% completion as well as invest some time into Expedition Mode. While nothing looks outright ridiculous at this time, getting gold on every Score Attack level will require a good bit of skill, practice, and patience.

Summary

Crystal Dynamics had great success in rebooting Tomb Raider back in 2013. Rise of the Tomb Raider takes another positive step forward and continues the development of Lara Croft while providing another solid adventure. Unfortunately, the combat controls feel clunky and the story stretches an homage to Indiana Jones almost to the breaking point. That being said, there is a good bit of fun to be had in climbing, swinging, and exploring, but in a fall populated by heavy hitters, Rise of the Tomb Raider can probably wait for a more fallow time in your gaming calendar.
4 / 5
Positives
  • More Tomb Raider
  • Fun platforming
  • Lara's continued character growth and development
Negatives
  • Combat feels like an annoying chore
  • Terrible cover controls
  • Predictable and unoriginal story
  • Tombs are underwhelming and easy
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent approximately 20 hours completing the campaign and poking around Expedition Mode. He popped 25 out of 66 achievements along the way. The advance digital copy of this game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
Jonathan Barnes
Written by Jonathan Barnes
Jonathan has been a news/views contributor since 2010. When he's not writing reviews, features, and opinion pieces, he spends his days working as an informal science educator and his nights as an international man of mystery.