TL;DR – Rise of the Tomb Raider is really bloody excellent. Get excited.
If I did not own an Xbox One already, Rise of the Tomb Raider would be the game I’d buy that system for. I know it’s coming to PC in three months or so, but it’s too good a game for me to wait. I’m not going to dodge spoilers for three months on a game this stellar. If you liked the Tomb Raider reboot a couple of years back, this game could well be a system seller for you. Yes, Rise of the Tomb Raider IS that good.
In many ways, Rise of the Tomb Raider is the same game at its core that we got a few years back. If you didn’t enjoy the movement, shooting or set piece pacing of Lara’s first modern adventure you’re still likely to dislike those elements here. Rise of the Tomb Raider is a game that takes the core of that last entry, and improves on it in key ways that are going to appeal primarily to fans of the last game whose complaints could be fixed with additions to the formula.
In Rise of the Tomb Raider we thankfully see a far more confident version of Lara, setting out into the world on her own in search of ruins, tombs and artifacts written about by her father. Long gone is the sense that Lara needs to be sexually assaulted for personal growth, replaced with a Lara who understands what she did to get where she is and what she will have to do going forward. Lara here feels like a character with a subtle and cohesive narrative arc, rather than an arc that relied on sudden sharp turns to force development onto its cast.
Lara’s villain in this new adventure is also much better fleshed out, leaving an enemy that was not only memorable after my adventure was over, but set up a nice antagonist for the ongoing series. Lara spends her adventure racing a shadowy organisation named Trinity, clearly well funded and well trained, who are after many of the same rumoured locations and artifacts Lara is hunting down. Giving Lara a direct antagonist to race the world for added a sense of urgency to the narrative, and provided some really interesting plot progression points. I really like Trinity and their leader, and can’t wait to see where the series goes from here with them.
Dialogue both from Lara and from Trinity’s leader are superb in both writing and performance, both were quick witted, decisive and generally badass. Seriously, Lara in particular felt freaking awesome to watch in direct confrontations.
In terms of mechanical changes, while the core gameplay loop is largely unchanged, there are some notable improvements to the world design in Rise of the Tomb Raider. Hub areas are larger, more activity dense and more freely explored from moment one, while managing to retain the sense of well paced tight design that made areas in the first game so enjoyable.
The game features a far higher amount of environment variety too, alongside a number of narrative focused tombs and a far higher number of optional tombs scattered through the world to explore. These optional tombs are better signposted, longer and more complex than any in the last game.
Oh, and there’s a lot less outright attempts at Lara Croft torture porn in Rise of the Tomb Raider. Any time Lara is about to walk into a moment of instant, gruesome death time slows and she is given an opportunity to escape. If she does die, the deaths are generally toned down comparatively.
Really, I came away from Rise of the Tomb Raider with nothing but good things to say. As a fan of the first game’s formula this fixed everything I needed fixed, while leaving the core unchanged. I really bloody like this game. Seriously, I think it’s rather amazing.