Rise of the Tomb Raider Review

November 9, 2015

It was back in 2013 that Crystal Dynamics’ reboot of Tomb Raider was released to both critical and commercial success. Less than 3 years later we see the release of its sequel, Rise of the Tomb Raider, a quick turnaround time in the world of AAA games. Controversially, the game is being partially funded and published by Microsoft, in return for a timed exclusivity. Crystal Dynamics have stated that the support and belief from Microsoft has helped make Rise of the Tomb Raider bigger and better than Tomb Raider. While I can’t tell what is due to Microsoft’s support and what was due to Crystal Dynamics alone, I can tell they weren’t lying about the improvement on Tomb Raider.

One of the few criticisms of 2013’s Tomb Raider was the story and character of Lara Croft herself. Consistently throughout the game she was forced into vulnerable situations, battered and bruised and exclaiming about how she couldn’t do anything, she still gunned down wave upon wave of enemies. Obviously, being a reboot, it was necessary to build Croft’s character into the Tomb Raider we know her to be. Rise of the Tomb Raider, free from those trappings, throws you right into the action. Following on from the events of Tomb Raider, Lara has made it her life’s goal to successfully track down the Divine Source, the failed research project that sullied her late father’s name. Following from her prior experiences, Lara has changed significantly. She no longer baulks at death, and throws herself into the fray with a single minded intensity as she races against Trinity, a shadowy organisation linked to her father’s death, in pursuit of the Divine Source. Lara must battle with what she is willing to sacrifice to reach her end goal, a theme that is present throughout the game. The story is less straightforward than before, with more small twists and turns throughout the game, and is better written and presented than in Tomb Raider. I found myself caring more about the characters and their motivations, including those of the primary antagonists who are particularly well presented. Such was the level of attention and detail given to them, that by the end of the game I even felt that their motivations and actions were somewhat justified. I feel that the true measure of a story is one that makes you think and feel, and Rise of the Tomb Raider does both.

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However, as strong the story might be, a game will always be measured on how it plays, and being a sequel, on how it evolves on the systems introduced in the original game. Traversal was a large part of Tomb Raider, as you made your way through caverns, mountains and forests, and that’s no different in Rise of the Tomb Raider. This time around, you start the game with more gear than previously, which makes sense considering the difference in setting. You’re not quite as mobile as you were at the end of Tomb Raider, but you start with more than you previously did. You quickly gain gear that makes you much more agile and able to traverse in ways that you couldn’t previously. My personal favourite is the grappling axe. By adding wire to your pickaxe you’re able to fling it at ledges to pull yourself across a gap, as well as hooks to swing yourself across large distances. Your arrows also gain some new tricks, including new broadhead arrows that can be used to climb soft walls. By the end of Rise of the Tomb Raider you feel significantly more agile and capable than you did at any point during Tomb Raider and have a lot more fun traversing the levels.

Because of these additions, level design is also more varied than in Tomb Raider. Platforming doesn’t feel stale at any point, because there are so many different mechanics that can be leveraged. A few sections also let you traverse the level the way you want to while still getting you to the same point. These options let you traverse a number of levels the way you want to, which almost always led to me channelling Batman and Rico Rodriguez and using the grapple axe wherever possible.

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There are also some new additions in Lara’s arsenal of weapons as well. You’ll need to play through the game to get back to the basic arsenal you had in Tomb Raider, which makes sense considering you initially start out on an expedition and not a war, however you’ll quickly end up with more options than ever before. Unlike Tomb Raider, where weapon parts resulted in a weapon effectively evolving, in Rise of the Tomb Raider they result in you gaining a new weapon with its own strengths and weaknesses. This leads to a lot more load out customisation being possible than previously. For example, I went with the standard assault rifle, however I could have changed it to an SMG or bolt action rifle if I wanted. This allows you to go through combat the way you want to, as opposed to having to use a set of weapons imposed on you. It’s a small thing, but it makes the game more enjoyable. Stealth also has a larger focus than previously, with more encounters being set up to allow for stealth. To assist with this, the Survival Instinct system introduced in Tomb Raider allows you to see when an enemy is in view of one of their comrades. This means that, if you decide to use that system, you can see which enemies you can easily pick off without them being seen. It adds an extra element to the game, and helps make stealth a more viable option.

Rise of the Tomb Raider also brings a new a new crafting system, allowing for on the fly ammo and explosives crafting. Tying in with the new resource collection system, you can use these resources and containers found on the battle field to craft explosives on the fly. Finally, those bottles and cans that you previously used to distract enemies can be crafted into Molotov cocktails and shrapnel grenades to really bring the pain. Fire arrows are no longer just your regular arrows being lit on fire, they’re now a separate form of ammo that you need to craft and maintain. As well as fire arrows, you can also create poison arrows, which cause a cloud of poisonous gas to engulf enemies, and grenade arrows, which do exactly what you would expect them to. Using your skill system, you can also upgrade these arrows so they have a more devastating effect, as well as unlocking new kinds of bullets for your guns. All of these types of ammo can be swapped between on the fly, and can be used using the right bumper instead of the trigger. It means you always have an extra trick up your sleeve during enemy encounters, and adds another level of customisation to combat during the game.

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The focus on one console during development can potentially be seen best in how Rise of the Tomb Raider looks. Which is to say that it looks great. The environments look wonderful, with lots of detail and population, as well as density where appropriate. In particular, the snow is amazing. As you trudge through deep snow, it moves with your motions leaving a trail behind you that perfectly matches the path you took. The skyboxes are as vast as you would expect, with some particularly wonderful views being seen as you stand atop cliffs. Character models are well detailed, with eyes that actually look lively and hair that is well detailed. The animations are great as well, with movement flowing well and characters reacting appropriately to hits. The wildlife specifically, is extremely well animated, with the tigers in particular being wonderful to watch. As you try and stay away from them, of course. Rise of the Tomb Raider is one of the best looking games so far this generation.

There were a lot of expectations for Rise of the Tomb Raider, from the hype and emotion surrounding the release of Tomb Raider and then the announcement of the timed exclusivity deal with Microsoft, and it’s safe to say that it has easily managed to meet them. It looks and plays wonderfully, and tells an engrossing tale of sacrifice and perseverance. Xbox One owners should definitely add this to their list of games to buy this holiday season, and PC and PlayStation 4 owners should look forward to the ports on those respective platforms. Rise of the Tomb Raider is a must have title, and everybody that is even faintly interested in it should look at buying it as soon as possible.


Great story
Lots of customisation
Excellent graphics


Some clipping and physics bugs

Overall Score: