Rise of the Tomb Raider Review

When Rise of the Tomb Raider was announced with the Xbox exclusive tag, fans of the series went ballistic and rightfully so. Not only had 2013’s Tomb Raider been multiplatform but it had also been visually enhanced for both next gen consoles.  It was finally revealed that the exclusivity was a timed deal, it became clear that this move was more about Xbox offering an alternative to the blockbuster Uncharted series. But can Rise of the Tomb Raider showcase the Xbox Ones true power or will it struggle to keep up?

Rise of the Tomb Raider takes place following the last game with Lara attempting to piece together the location of the hidden city of Kitezh, a mission that her father obsessed over for years ruining his credibility and his health.  It is this unfinished legacy that leads Lara to Siberia in search of the city which is told to contain the secret to immortality, all while being hunted by a mysterious PMC named Trinity lead by the psychopathic Konstantin

The core of the story is Lara’s journey to restore her family’s name, with the relationship between her and her father being explored through spaced out flashbacks. While Lara’s story does hold up and helps show growth in her character, the supporting cast is not as lucky. The game often makes the side characters important to the overall narrative but fail to give them enough screen time or background to justify caring. There is one major scene regarding the main antagonist that becomes so obvious the moment you get put in the situation that it essentially ruins the moment. A moment that with a little backstory and more than 2 minutes screen time could have had much greater impact. This is true for all of the side characters even Konstantin comes across as nothing more than your typical religious zealot even though he is given a decent motivation. I’m not saying this ruins the experience but for it to truly excel every character must matter.

From the opening scene on the peaks of Siberia’s Mountains the game bombards you with a visual feast. The greens, blues and yellows of crystal dynamics vibrant world take the rustic brown and dark areas of the last game and add to them, instead focusing on the natural beauty of the region. There are still areas of the game where the dilapidated shells of a soviet base bring the visuals back to brown and grey but it’s balanced well with the snow and beautiful looking fire effects striking a balance.

The tech behind the game is great but it has a few small flaws. The game runs at a smooth 30 fps with no noticeable drops in frames and the resolution is a crisp 1080p, however I noticed during cut scenes the resolution takes a bit of a dive, when the game does end up transitioning to gameplay the picture becomes much clearer. That doesn’t mean the game isn’t a fantastic visual showcase for the Xbox One. Not only are the fire effects fantastic as mentioned above but the amount of detail and care put into the environments is staggering. I rarely felt like I was entering the same dark corridor or forest. There were one or two areas I felt where just too bland but overall a stunning visual experience. It’s exciting to see games finally take hold of the Xbox One’s hardware and showcase its potential.

The gameplay by and large remains almost identical to the original with the focus on stealth, gunfights and climbing making up the core experience of the game with the occasional epic escape scene also being used. Included is a new scavenging system that makes the search for useable items central to the experience. Each item in the world is used to craft either weapon mods, ammo types or inventory upgrades and almost each action you perform grants you XP to unlock one of the many fleshed out skills in the games new skill tree.

The new improvements to the scavenging system and skill trees come together really well with the added depth personalising the way you play. It’s unlikely that you and I will have the same experience as the customisation trees require at least 100% completion to max out. After completing the campaign, I had mastered one of the three areas and chipped away at the other two but the with the progress I had made in weapon upgrades, I had barely scratched the surface. Another new feature is the ability to craft grenades and smoke bombs from items lying around. Cans turn into deadly frags, bottles turn into Molotov’s and mason jars become smoke bombs all useful for evening the odds in a firefight. These improvements aren’t ground breaking but they do add to the experience in a positive way

It took me around 10 hours to play through the games story, collecting the various forms of collectables scattered around. However much like the last entry in the series most of these require you to back track through the various locations and use your newly gained skills to open up areas that were previously blocked. Add to this the new tombs to explore and the games 4 difficulty modes, the game is sure to keep you busy for a large amount of time. An interesting new addition is the levelling up system for languages; each area of the game has a specific language that can be levelled by collecting letters and recordings. These levels are used to translate pillars that contain the location of special collectables, meaning you will have to backtrack to find the locations of some of the harder to find collectables.

When the main game is 100% complete there is one more mode to try. Expedition is a new challenge game mode similar to Hitman: Absolution’s contracts mode, where you complete objectives or attempt to get the highest score on a section of the campaign to compete on the leader boards and earn points. The main innovation behind this is the use of expedition cards, cards that add modifiers and starting load out options to increase or decrease your score depending on how beneficial it is to you. These cards must be purchased with points earned by playing through the story and completing missions in the mode, or alternatively can be purchased with real cash.

If you’re asking yourself why would they add a micro transaction based game mode into a single player game, you’re probably as baffled as I am. In the 8 matches I played of the mode it never became interesting enough to merit more than a glance at going for high scores or experiencing some of the more interesting cards (one had me fire explosive chickens from my bow). If that doesn’t sink the mode the micro transactions surely will with points being scarce and hard to come by, with no system in place to stop you from getting the same card more than once. One pack even had me pull 3 of the same card… in a pack of 5. I can understand why developers are attempting to shoehorn these modes in with the success of Ultimate Team in EA’s annual sports games, but for every game that does it good (see Halo 5’s REQ packs) there are at least 10 that get it horribly wrong. It doesn’t ruin the whole experience but it is an unwelcome addition.

While Rise of the Tomb Raider struggles in some areas, namely parts of the storytelling and the expeditions mode, the experience largely remains the same from 2013’s Tomb Raider, solid action adventure gameplay with a fast paced campaign that always keeps you on your toes. There is plenty here to participate in, with hundreds of collectables, numerous tombs and area specific challenges all to keep you playing until long after the story has been told. Rise of the Tomb Raider is more of the same but that is far from a bad thing.


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