Rise of the Tomb Raider is a tale of obsession. Survival and exploration maintain a large role in this new outing, but serves as more of a vehicle to move the story forward. From the Syrian Desert to the Siberian Wilderness, the story keeps you moving forward, pushing you for more. Visually and mechanically, this is a solid title to its core.
This game is broken up into a series of hubs that lay brimming with detail and secrets. Animal tracks can been seen in the snow, rusted machinery from former Soviet occupation sit silently as the arctic winds howl around them. Off in the distance, you can see a forest you know conceals caves and tombs that are pleading to be raided. You will spend dozens of hours combing these hubs for coins used to purchase items from a black market dealer. Never mind the amount of time you will devote to the many journal entries and relics that tells the tale of events from long ago. Believe me, you will want to find every one of them with how well each is written and narrated.
Almost every action feeds into a system for leveling up your skills and upgrading weapons. With each upgrade, a new path is opened up for yet another style of play. Paths for both stealth and action are a viable option this time around. This means hunting and scavenging are paramount. Craft what you can, because some enemies can prove extremely difficult even on the easiest settings if caught unprepared.
With such improvements, enemy encounters become almost an art. The combination of stealth and action made each situation an exciting sandbox. A combat crafting system, very similar to what was featured in The Last of Us, was a welcomed addition. Crafting a Molotov cocktail while under attack was always satisfying when used to exit a tight situation. The aiming could be a bit sluggish at times, making for a bit of frustration. The bow makes its return, as useful in traversing the terrain as it is in combat. With the amount of different types of arrows you can craft, it is the true universal tool of the game.
Navigating is incredibly smooth. The Ice Ax extends its usefulness with wire. You can now throw your Ice Ax to ledges and use it to swing across gaps. Getting from point A to point B was never a chore. At times, the camera can take a few questionable angles, making it difficult to see where you need to go or climb.
The Challenge Tombs can go from perplexing to simplistic; I found no consistency across any of them. The more complex tombs were the most enjoyable, giving you a true feeling of achievement in completing them, even though the reward was sometimes not really worth the effort. One of the rewards was the ability to kill an animal with a single blow with your ax, but this perk was something that was never used as I reached completion.
The visuals are a treat. From snowy peaks to the vast valley down below, it’s truly a breathtaking sight to behold. The details of how snow accumulates on Lara’s clothes, or how she wrings out her hair as she exits the water are examples of the attention the artists paid to every facet of this game. There were times I had to stop to look at the gorgeous scenery and how impressive the lighting and shadows would dance against a cave wall. All of this comes together to assist in the already wonderful writing to enhance the story.
The story of Rise of the Tomb Raider is no longer the gruesome tale of the reboot. Gone are the mosaics of pain and dismemberment. The focus is now about obsessions and closure. Lara is trying to repair her father’s reputation as she comes in deadly opposition with a shadowy international group known as Trinity. Along the way, the plot begins to shift in some highly predictable ways, though a few plot twists remain. It’s no longer a survival story, as much as a story of motivations for Lara, Konstantin, Ana and Jacob. While Trinity is into some nefarious activities, it’s more of the clashing of motivations among the individual. The narrative isn’t the story of the year, yet it’s more than enough with the journals to keep me riveted till the end.
For those that have completed the game and wanted more, you can participate in the Expedition mode. Basically, it’s a regurgitation of levels and chapters in a score attack format to play against leader boards. While not a typical multiplayer, it gives you a pragmatic method to compare skill. You are given access to Expedition cards that act as mods to help or hinder your play through. The added wrinkle is, if you choose to stream through Twitch, the viewing audience can actually vote on cards that will activate to alter your play. It’s a twist on a growing media.
In my time with Tomb Raider I learned languages, out right destroyed a tomb, and climbed across the decks of a ship frozen in an ice cave. It was an adventure worthy of the classic Tomb Raider series while remaining fresh. This is a game that everyone with an Xbox One should experience (the game is also available on Xbox 360, and will release for other platforms in the future). This is one of the best games of the year and proves a great future for this heroine. If the 2013 reboot brought Lara Croft back, then Rise of the Tomb Raider is making her a legend.
[Rise of the Tomb Raider was purchased by the reviewer. The reviewer spent 17 hours playing this game across all modes. Rise of the Tomb Raider is published by Square Enix and developed by Crystal Dynamics.]
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