Rise of the Tomb Raider Review – Why Is This So Good?!

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Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Windows, Xbox 360

Developer: Square Enix Holdings, Microsoft Studios

Publisher: Crystal Dynamics, Eidos Montreal

The ridiculous early release for Xbox One was, let’s face it, frustrating at the least if you didn’t own the console. The wait was, somewhat excruciating for big fans like myself, but in end…our patience had paid off. Rise of the Tomb Raider is simply incredible, and it’s not because I got the 20 year celebration edition with the stunning art book! Like my review for the first in the series, I couldn’t find many faults and I’m in the same situation yet again.

The story of Rise of the Tomb Raider is all about finishing off what father’s (Richard) research on the lost city of Kitezh. Ignoring Ana’s warnings (Richard’s partner), Lara heads to Syria in search of the Prophet of Constantinople’s tomb. It’s actually rather interesting as you uncover more about it, and not just as you delve deeper into the main story. Side missions and tombs you may discover will give you a better understanding of the events during and since the time of the Prophet. It’s something I’d implore you to do if you want to get as much as you can out of the game.

Since spoilers are my worst enemy, I’ll say no more about the plot.

Gameplay Has Improved

Story aside, the gameplay is very similar to the first game, apart for some button shuffling and the improvements made to the UI. If you think Tomb Raider (2013) is a solid game, you’ll run out of words to describe the sequel. Rise of the Tomb Raider is basically a refined version of the previous game. 

The usual weapons make their return, along with new ones added. The one weapon that I loved in Tomb Raider (2013) was the bow, which is back and already feels almost as iconic as the dual pistols we’re so familiar with. Combat Rise of the Tomb Raider could do with a bit more work to feel less stiff, but it’s far more responsive than in the previous game. Lara also has a variety of methods to engage in combat as you progress through the game. Having trouble against a group of enemies? Try using a poison cloud arrow, or crafting an explosive out of a tin can to ‘blow shit up’. It’s this and the added open world nature of the game that grants you such freedom to play however you like.

Rise of the Tomb Raider
Rise of the Tomb Raider

Skill ‘trees’ are expanded upon with a lot more to choose from, each of them either improving on the previous skill or giving you something else entirely. What’s good about this is that there are more skills to choose from so you can tailor Lara however you like. If you’d like to focus on hunting animals, you can unlock skills that do that. Or maybe you want to improve your tomb finding skills using your Survival Instincts ability, you can select skills to do so. These add some sort of RPG elements to the game, without it feeling too much like an RPG.

Challenge Tombs and Side Missions Are Great Fun

Speaking of tombs, there are plenty of challenge tombs for Lara to have a go at, and while they resemble the puzzles back in the old games, they’re not quite as ‘challenging’. Although if you’re not that familiar with puzzles, you’ll find some pleasure completing them in this game. These challenges also handsomely reward you with an Ancient Power that unlocks one skill from your Brawler, Hunter or Survivor skill trees, and seeing how you get 1 skill point each time you level up, completing challenge tombs are extremely helpful.

Optional side missions are a lot more interesting as they require you to explore caves, find someone/people, look for objects, artefacts, supplies and so on. The extra XP and knowledge (if you’re a lore nerd like me) gained from these side missions are however, too good to pass up.

Another reason to do side missions is that they encourage open world play, which is far more emphasised compared to the previous game and it’s something that I absolutely adore. If you want a break from the main story, you can do side missions, challenge tombs, explore areas you haven’t been before, hunt animals or have a crack at Expeditions, which I’ll expand on in a bit.

One thing that I absolutely wanted to make sure I did, was to make sure Lara didn’t die often. The reason why is because I can’t stand seeing her impaled, crushed or mauled down. But as expected, I’ve seen my fair share of deaths in Rise of the Tomb Raider. Sorry Lara.

rise of the tomb raider death gif
An actual death in my play through as a result of my controller running out of charge

Lara’s attire is easily changeable, with some granting bonuses. At first you may think the outfits with bonuses may seem like the better option, and they are if you want that extra bit of help, but I haven’t found them to be game changing as the effects themselves either have a very low proc rate or minimal effect. Basically use whatever you like, some pieces of clothing might be useful in certain situations, like when you’re hunting non-predatory animals and would like them to scare less easily as you approach them.

Expeditions Offer Solid Replay Value

The campaign on its own is fantastic and you can also do side missions and exploration. But does the game offer anything outside of that? Certainly! Expedition mode is a great way to extend the life of the game. Within Expeditions, there are individual gameplay modes that you can play around with. Chapter Replay, Score Attack, Remnant Resistance, Endurance Mode, Cold Darkness Awakened, Blood Ties and Lara’s Nightmare.

Each of these modes offer differing gameplay and some of them even allow you to customise them. For example, in Remnant Resistance, you can add or remove Expedition Cards that either affect your gameplay or just change the way Lara looks i.e. outfits! You can make missions mind numbingly easy by adding cards that give Lara a big advantage, such as unlocking an entire skill tree. Alternatively you can make it harder by starting with no ammunition, or mix it up. The reason why Expedition mode works well, is because you have a lot of control and customisation, so much that each play could be different.

Endurance Mode is one of my favourites because you have to manage how cold Lara feels, her hunger use materials to set up fires. This mission is basically a ‘see how long you survive’, while you find as many artefacts as possible. What you need to do though is light a signal fire to finish the mission, which also requires materials to do. Although it’s not the most in-depth survival mode ever, it’s nice to have something like it in a Tomb Raider game.

Expeditions Cards can be bought with real currency, but can also be earned just as easily with in game credits. Also, it might seem like a great thing to buy the big packs over the Bronze pack, the Bronze pack is actually quite efficient.

Here’s an insightful Q&A post on Expedition mode last year from Archaeology of Tomb Raider.

Let’s not forget the extra content you can play with the two bits of DLC for the game. With Blood Ties, Lara will be finding out more about her parents and what happened to them, giving lore nerds like me, a chance to know more the Croft family. It’s a bloody good mission that I really don’t want to spoil for you and I just might if I say anymore about it!

Lara’s Nightmare is the second DLC that is a ‘horde mode’ where you fight waves of undead to protect Croft Manor. It adds a arcade feel to the game where you can upgrade weapons as you progress through this mode.

Impressive Animation and Graphics

I for one am glad that Lara’s face looks little less…puffy. They’ve improved the model, which makes the facial animations a lot more smooth and natural. Not only that, but the hair animation (and animation as a whole) is a lot better as well with its motion and how the behaviour changes when wet.

As seen in Tomb Raider (2013), the environment, weather and art assets are truly outstanding. It’s not just the snowy mountains and frosty winds that never cease to amaze me, it’s the feeling that gives you goosebumps when you see a beautiful monument still standing, despite how long it has been in ruin. Hats off to the visual effects team and of course, Camilla Luddington for playing Lara!

Rise of the Tomb Raider monument setting

Rise of the Tomb Raider is a phenomenal game and at the time of writing this review, I almost ran out words to describe how sensational it is. Sequels aren’t usually better than their prequels, but like Tomb Raider 2Banjo-Tooie, Prince of Persia: The Warrior Within and so on (you get my drift, right?…right!?), Rise of the Tomb Raider is simply an improvement over its prequel, and even THAT is a good game. I just can’t recommend it enough.

What do you think of Rise of the Tomb Raider or the reboot as a whole?

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Excellent action and combat
  • Fine attention to detail on artifacts, items and historical objects that Lara discovers
  •  A more hardened Lara, the one who we’re almost familiar with
  • Impressive CG and animation
  • Compelling story and optional side missions
  • As always, fantastic artwork
  • Provides a good challenge with up to 5 difficulty modes

Cons

  • Combat still feels slightly stiff, but an improvement over the previous game nonetheless
  • I experienced some occasional lip sync issues where mouth movements were out of sync during the introduction. It seemed to fix itself after that

MUST BUY 1

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