Rise of the Tomb Raider gameplay
Tech reporter Tim Biggs takes a look at some of the expanded customisation options in the new Lara Croft adventure, and stumbles upon a hidden tomb (light spoiler warning if you want to figure out all the solutions to the tombs yourself).
The original Lara Croft is so impossibly nineties when you look back at her now. A motorcycle-riding aristocrat with infinite wealth, a sex symbol despite (or perhaps partially because of) her showing no real human feeling besides anger, an inaccessible character who never doubted herself even as she backflipped over the top of a T-rex and a 100-foot-deep pit of spikes.
The 2013 reboot of Tomb Raider was an incredibly successful game, not only because it translated the gameplay of the original into something that felt great in the modern day, but because it turned Lara — the least interesting part of the original games — into a relatable character you couldn’t help but become invested in.
This massive and varied game space is a joy to explore with all the tools in Lara’s arsenal.
Rise of the Tomb Raider continues in this direction, doing everything better and smarter than the last time around. It’s an impeccable game filled with secrets to discover, tombs to raid, weapons to build, animals to hunt and an evil military sect to overthrow, and once again this version of Lara Croft makes for a surprising, endearing guide through it all.
At the beginning of Rise of the Tomb Raider, Lara is struggling to get back into normal life after her ordeal.
Last time — as our hero was just starting out, learning how to survive, and coming to grips with the revelation that her father was right and the world isn’t as empirical and clear-cut as she had believed — Lara cut an empathetic figure as she struggled through trial after trial. This time she’s actively looking for trouble, obsessed with convincing the whole world of the supernatural forces she’s seen first hand. She’s hardier and more weary than last time — closer to the traditional risk-taking adventurer — but her frequent monologues, clear mental scars, and obsession with continuing her father’s work keeps her a grounded and interesting character.
The story sees Lara travel to a mountain valley of spiritual significance which bares the scars of multiple invasions over the centuries, including by ancient Mongolians, soviet-era Russians and currently a secretive religious cult. This history bleeds though in the trinkets, buildings, wrecks, and optional tombs (so many tombs!) that make up the environment, and there’s even a new mechanic where Lara becomes more proficient in translating Greek, Russian and Mongol texts as she reads more of them, which goes to show how hard Crystal Dynamics, the developer behind the game, is pushing the idea of Lara as an archaeologist and explorer as well as a gymnast and a fighter.
Of course she’s more capable than ever at those physical things too. This massive and varied game space is a joy to explore with all the tools in Lara’s arsenal, which grows as the game progresses to include ropes, explosives, zip lines and more. Even in the earliest areas, there are nooks that need the most advanced gear to access, meaning every time you go back to retread old ground you’ll find new secrets and challenges.
The in-game faces of Lara Croft, from the original in 1996 to the reboot version in 2013. Photo: Halloweencostumes.com
Lara can collect numerous types of resources — like oil, wood, and paper — and use them on the fly to turn ordinary objects into deadly traps and weapons. Taking cover behind a crate, you can grab an old can, fill it with some magnesite you’ve collected earlier and hurl it at the bad guys as a debilitating nail bomb. Meanwhile, stuffing some cloth in a booze bottle turns it into a Molotov cocktail.
You can craft special ammo for your weapons (like poison, fire, and explosive arrows for your bow) in the same way, whenever you like. Lara is now so resourceful and deadly it’s rarely even a case of “how will I beat these guys”, but more “how do I feel like beating these guys”.
The crafting does inject a bit of strategy into the equation, as too many Molotovs means you might not have enough cloth to make a healing bandage when you really need it, for example. You’ll also want to save more important items like animal hides, as you can use them at campfires to upgrade your weapons and craft game-changing enhancements like item pouches or quivers that Lara actually wears on her body for a nice touch of personalisation. Better items might require you hunt a bear or a big cat, which is as deadly as it sounds.
Exploring caves and tombs makes up a big part of the new game.
Other highlights are the unexpected nature of the native people you find yourself fighting alongside, the new mechanic of taking missions from people in order to unlock powerful upgrades, and the optional tombs and crypts that throw back to the older games with head-scratching puzzles and the promise of legitimately useful new abilities as rewards.
It might sound inconsequential, but the new game’s focus on personalising your experience is probably the most fun addition. You spend so much time exploring, scavenging, and raiding that it’s rewarding to be able to work towards maxing out your favourite weapon and levelling Lara up to be especially deadly with it (for me, it’s hands down the silenced automatic pistol).
It’s equally enjoyable switching out the intricate outfits you unlock as rewards for completing certain actions. For example, I’ll wear a Nathan-Drake-inspired Henley shirt and khakis for caving in more temperate environments, or dress up like an army brat in a black commando vest and a shotgun shell bandolier if I’m assaulting a snowy enemy base. The outfits confer gameplay bonuses, but mostly they’re just fun.
Assault rifles, improvised explosives, incendiary arrows: Lara is more creatively destructive than ever before.
Tomb Raider has come so far as a franchise, breaking all kinds of new ground with its debut in 1996, getting lost a bit in the transition to powerful new consoles before more recently trading inspiration with the Uncharted series and reinventing its main character in step with the more cinematic nature of modern AAA games. Rise of the Tomb Raider is arguably the most fun the series has ever been, and it achieves that while continuing to push the new vision of Lara Croft towards legendary character status, for entirely different reasons than her predecessor.
Rise of the Tomb Raider is out now on Xbox One at an RRP of $99.95 and Xbox 360 at an RRP of $79.95. It’s classified MA15+.