One of the most surprising titles released in 2013 was Crystal Dynamics’ reboot of the long running Tomb Raider franchise. Players took control of Lara Croft as she set sail on her first expedition (on a ship aptly named, The Endurance). The reboot re imagined what the franchise was and brought with it a new, razor-sharp focus. Lara became a relatable, vulnerable protagonist (instead of an over-sexualized indulgence), and the game set up a universe the player was ready to continue exploring. Two years later, and the follow-up, Rise of the Tomb Raider is here. So, should you light a torch and wade in? Or, is this one tomb that should be left un-raided.
Rise of the Tomb Raider takes place after the events of 2013’s Tomb Raider. The events of the original game have been covered up by an organization known as Trinity. In order to prove she’s not insane (like her father was presumed to be), Lara becomes obsessed with finding the truth behind myths around the world. Without giving too much of the plot away, Lara will travel to Siberia in search of the ancient city Kitezh, which she believes holds the secret to immortality.
There’s an incredible number of side activities to keep you busy.
I found the story to be the weakest part of Rise of the Tomb Raider. The characters are stereotypical archetypes of the adventure genre. Whether it’s your “I would do anything for you,” sidekick, Jonah, or the mysterious Jacob, whose motives aren’t quite clear when you first meet him; no one really stands out. There’s a few twists and turns throughout the story, but you’ll probably see them coming. All this being said, the story moves along at a brisk pace and is enjoyable in a summer blockbuster movie type of way.
When not partaking in the main story missions, there’s an incredible number of side activities to keep you busy. More so than the first game, Rise of the Tomb Raider is broken up into a series of expansive hub areas. These are open-world environments that you can move freely throughout. This gives you space to explore that 2013’s entry didn’t. Each hub area feels different, and has its own nooks and crannies to explore. These hubs feature everything from characters that hand out side-quests, which award you with better gear, animals to hunt, secret caves to explore, loot to pick up, and finally, more expansive tombs, or Challenge Tombs, to discover. Each are excellently placed points that break up the main campaign, giving you a breather to take stock of supplies, upgrade weapons, and raid some tombs.
The Challenge Tombs are one of Rise of the Tomb Raider’s greatest strengths. These aren’t little caverns that you’ll finish exploring in a couple of minutes. No, these are full-fledged puzzle-platforming sequences that will have you testing your skill. Rise of the Tomb Raider has some of the best puzzle-platforming I’ve seen in a game in a while. Each one of these challenge tombs brings with it a unique puzzle that usually incorporates one of Lara’s many items that she’ll collect throughout her journey. An early tomb has you using Lara’s rope arrow as you pull platforms in specific directions, position mine carts and exploding barrels just the way you want them, all leading up to an explosive finale. Another stand out was a tomb that focused on maneuvering underwater. No matter which Challenge Tomb you decide to raid, the end result is the same. They’re fantastic. Each one is a brilliant marriage between puzzle and platform. There were times when I got frustrated but it wasn’t the games fault. I just had to think a bit more logically. It’s great playing games that give you that “a-ha!” moment. Rise of the Tomb Raider’s challenge tombs offer plenty of those.
When you’re not raiding tombs, you’ll probably be partaking in one of the many side missions that Rise of the Tomb Raider has to offer. These missions are varied and can be completed in a timely manner. One mission had me destroying five radio towers for the local citizens, while another had me hunting down an AWOL carrier crow so I can retrieve the message it was supposed to deliver. These side missions aren’t revolutionary, but they add even more for you to do in Rise of the Tomb Raider. These side missions also offer upgrades to your gear and new outfits (one which I used for the majority of my play through).
It wouldn’t be a Tomb Raider game without collectibles and oh boy, does Rise of the Tomb Raider have collectibles. Instead of going into everything that there is to collect. Scattered throughout the world are manuscripts, murals, and plaques in specific language. If you read one of those, Lara’s skill level in that language goes up. I found this an interesting mechanic where, even though at the end of the day these amount to nothing more than collectibles, I found myself driven to read everything and explore the world so my “Greek Language Skill” would level up. If you have a high enough language level, you can read a specific monolith in each hub area that reveals the location of other collectibles.
Continuing on with collectibles, the game’s crafting system adds onto that feeling. Scattered around the world are trees, metal ore deposits, cloth boxes, bird’s nests, etc. They’re all waiting to be looted so Lara can get the resources she needs to level up her equipment and her weapons. When I first began the game, I thought this was going to be a pain in the neck. Having to stop every five seconds to collect wood from a tree was incredibly annoying. You’re also able to upgrade your equipment which allows you to carry more arrows, bullets, and things of that nature. After seeing some of the weapon upgrade requirements, I thought that it would take a bunch of running around with the sole purpose of collecting resources in order to upgrade my gear. Luckily, the game does a great job at giving you resources from dead enemies and caches laying around that I actually found my resource inventory full for a majority of the game.
On the weapon front, the usual suspects return, like pistols, rifles, and shotguns. Lara’s tried-and-true bow makes a reappearance early on in the game too. The bow feels and plays very well. It’s especially delightful having the haptic feedback in the Xbox One’s triggers rumble as you pull back on the bow string. It controls incredibly precise, and throughout the course of the game, as your acquire upgrades, your bow will become even more powerful.
The enemy design is incredibly weak in Rise of the Tomb Raider.
Using the weapons in Rise of the Tomb Raider felt great. Whenever possible I tried to approach combat as stealthily as I could. It’s great just walking around picking off unsuspecting enemies one-by-one until you clear out an area. Unfortunately, there are a few segments throughout the game where stealth isn’t an option. While I enjoyed the methodical nature of taking down enemies, stealthily, there’s nothing wrong going in guns-blazing and shooting your enemies point blank with a shotgun. Whatever poison you pick, the controls will agree with you. They’re tight and precise. You’ll be pulling off head shots with your bow in no time.
I wish I could say the same with the platforming. Besides the story, my biggest area of concern with Rise of the Tomb Raider was how frequently I had to combat the controls (and the game) in the many platforming sequences throughout it. Throughout the game, there will be jumps you have to make and then you’ll have to press the X button to use your ice axe to clamber onto the side of a wall. There were numerous times where I was pretty sure I hit X with plenty of time to spare, only to fall to my death.
This leads me to another issue I had with the platforming. There are a lot of instances throughout Rise of the Tomb Raider where it’s not made clear exactly which platform/ledge/wall you need to go to. I found myself all to often ready to jump from one platform to another, only to fall to my death. Replaying the section, I realized that I was supposed to climb up, instead of jumping to another platform. The ledges that you’re allowed to climb/hang from have a white, painted look to them. At least, Rise of the Tomb Raider has a very generous checkpoint system. So even if you die during a platforming section (or a fight), you’re usually no more than a minute from where you died.
Another complaint I had with Rise of the Tomb Raider, is that the enemies you face are incredibly mundane and by-the-book. You’ll have your normal bad guys mixed in with a few armored ones. If it’s one of those unavoidable action sequences, you’re usually treated to a fight against a heavy character. These include the ever so popular: Guy with big machine gun, Guy with full body shield, and don’t forget, the staple of any good action game, Guy who has a flamethrower that you have to shoot in the back so he explodes. The enemy design is incredibly weak in Rise of the Tomb Raider.
Rise of the Tomb Raider is easily one of the best looking console games I have ever played. From the opening sequence to the closing credits, the game is full of breathtaking visuals. The beginning set-piece set in the mountains of Siberia is a particular stand out for me. The details are very intricate throughout Rise of the Tomb Raider. Like, when walking in deep snow, Lara is slowed down and you she on her face that she is constantly struggling just to take steps forward.
The music throughout the game is also fantastic. From the sound of thumping drums as you’re in the middle of a dog fight, to the theme playing as you upgrade your equipment at a camp fire. Music really hammers home the sense of isolation and loneliness that Lara faces throughout her adventure, and you often feel that way; alone, in the rain, isolated from others. There’s even a dramatic piece written specifically for Rise of the Tomb Raider written and performed by the Yeah, Yeah, Yeah’s Karen O. It’s something emotional with a dramatic build. It best fits the story at helps reestablish Lara Croft as a Video Game icon. I already have it downloaded.
There aren’t any traditional multiplayer modes in Rise of the Tomb Raider. However, players will be able to extend their single-player campaign with a number of modes they can challenge their friends to. None of these modes are particularly great, and honestly they just serve to add more bullet points to the back of the box. In these modes you’re able to buy and spend expedition card packs to change up a few variables in the game. Some cards are humorous, such as Big Head Mode, while others can increase the challenge or give you special advantages. I don’t see myself spending any time in this mode, but maybe it will add value to other player’s experiences.
I enjoyed the majority of Rise of the Tomb Raider. The world is large, alive, and full of things to do. It’s a freeing experience that gives you the time to explore. It’s a great feeling when you stumble onto a cave with a cache of resources or even one of the many challenge tombs. Although predictable, the story moves at a fast pace and does enough that you want to see it through to its conclusion. You won’t be thinking about it a week later, but it’s enjoyable and sets up mysteries for later games in the series. The platforming throughout the game is hit or miss. While the challenge tombs include some fantastic puzzle-platforming sequences, there was a lot of times (especially during set-piece moments) where the game’s lack of direction lead to a occasional frustrating deaths. Traversing through Rise of the Tomb Raider’s beautiful game world is a joy, despite those slight hiccups. The game will have you stopping and panning the camera around to get a better look at your surroundings. Taking all this into account, Rise of the Tomb Raider is a fantastic game and one that every Xbox One owner should own.
An Xbox One copy of Rise of the Tomb Raider was provided by the publisher. To learn more about our score, read our review policy.