Every long-running franchise has one defining title by which all entries in the series are measured by. After nearly twenty years of several highs and lows, the new Rise of the Tomb Raider is without a doubt the best Tomb Raider entry to date, and possibly the best third-person adventure since Uncharted. Crystal Dynamics should be applauded for setting a new standard for how to handle sequels. Everything that made the original reboot great has been refined, polished and tweaked to perfection. Moreover, every possible complaint has been addressed, resulting in a beautifully-paced experience with breathtaking environments, strong characters, and most importantly, a ton of puzzle-filled tombs.
Rise of the Tomb Raider hits all the right notes. It balances explosive action scenes with serene moments of quiet exploration and character development. The game knows when to let the action breathe, but doesn’t shy from taking your breath away. One moment you’re gathering supplies to improve your gear, the next you’re zigzagging across cliffs and burning buildings. Pacing in a game hasn’t felt this good since The Last of Us, and I don’t say that lightly. This could have something to do with Nate Wells (TLOU Art Director) joining Crystal Dynamics.
"The new Rise of the Tomb Raider is without a doubt the best Tomb Raider entry to date, and possibly the best third-person adventure since Uncharted."
Rise of the Tomb Raider takes place a year after her last adventure. Lara’s experience in Yamatai has encouraged her to further explore world’s mysteries, the first being her father’s lifelong quest for the secret behind eternal life. In traditional Tomb Raider fashion, the narrative is filled with plot twists, over-the-top villains and exotic locations. Rise of the Tomb Raider take its predecessors more serious approach to storytelling, and presents players with a character-rich journey through some of the most beautiful locations in the series to date.
Without going into too many details, let’s just say that Lara Croft has never felt more real. Camilla Luddington did a great job in the 2012 reboot, but now, she has thoroughly transformed into Lara’s character. Camilla is Lara, and there’s no other person who could’ve been more perfect for the role. Even Earl Baylon, as Jonah, has risen beyond what we’ve seen in the predecessor. Sure, there’s a level of cheesiness amongst the villains, but that’s always been somewhat characteristic of Tomb Raider’s universe.
"Rise of the Tomb Raider take its predecessors more serious approach to storytelling, and presents players with a character-rich journey through some of the most beautiful locations in the series to date."
Structurally, the sequel is relatively similar to the original, but everything has been expanded and improved upon. The semi-sandbox hub levels are notably larger with an absurd amount of hidden secrets and collectibles. Unlike the useless junk scattered across Assassin’s Creed’s maps, the collectibles here are essential to upgrading your weapons and stats. And believe, you’ll want to keep upgrading as the game’s enemies are much tougher than before.
My biggest gripe with 2012’s Tomb Raider was the lack of tombs and challenging puzzles. The developers have certainly listened to their fans this time around as there are tombs everywhere. And I mean everywhere! I’ve spent as much time discovering secret areas as I have going through the main missions. Tombs vary in size and style, and some of them are as devilish as those from the old Tomb Raider Days. Puzzles towards the end of the game are particularly fun and satisfying, and they may very well be the best the series has ever seen.
"Rise of the Tomb Raider’s gameplay never gets dull or repetitive, and you always feel like you’re unlocking new abilities and discovering new ways to play."
All the cool tools and skills from the predecessor return, but it’s all the new gadgets and abilities that make this adventure such a treat to play. With Lara’s new ability to climb trees and hide in bushes, there’s a greater emphasis on stealth, although the game as a whole still emphasizes run-and-gun gameplay over sneaking. New gadgets, like the grappling hook and poison arrows, are a blast to play around with and the experience tree never seems to run out of fun things to unlock and upgrade. As a whole, Rise of the Tomb Raider’s gameplay never gets dull or repetitive, and you always feel like you’re unlocking new abilities and discovering new ways to play.
The artists behind Rise of the Tomb Raider’s level designs and overall animations deserve a big fat raise. The game boasts some of the most stunning environments in recent memory, and the developers have done a nearly flawless job of optimizing the title for the Xbox One. Sure, there’s the occasional frame drop here and there when the entire screen is lit on fire and enveloped in explosions, but for the most part, the game runs smoothly and I didn't experience any crashes or glitches during my 10-12 hours in the campaign. Rise of the Tomb Raider is an absolutely gorgeous game, and as it stands, a serious competitor to Sony’s excellent Uncharted series.
"Expeditions mode aside, Rise of the Tomb Raider is an absolute blast, and an unquestionable must-have if you’re an Xbox One owner."
The game’s biggest flaw, which luckily doesn't impact the main storyline, is the silly Expeditions mode. Here, you can replay chapters, play custom challenge games and earn game-modifying cards. The cards are an absurdly stupid idea, and are completely useless. Want to play a challenge mode with Lara’s head inflated and no weapons? Want to gain extra bow accuracy and power but lose the ability to heal? Yeah, it’s really silly, and provides zero fun. Worst of all, the Expeditions mode comes with microtransactions, which make even less sense. Who in their right mind would actually spend money on these things? It’s way worse than the multiplayer mode of the predecessor, and something I hope the developer completely scraps in the future.
Expeditions mode aside, Rise of the Tomb Raider is an absolute blast, and an unquestionable must-have if you’re an Xbox One owner. Crystal Dynamics has expanded on everything that made the original so much fun, and has delivered what very well may be the best Tomb Raider game ever made.
Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: Xbox One