Rise of the Tomb Raider

While there are a number of franchises that have been around since the 1990s, few of them have been rebooted with the critical success of Tomb Raider in 2006 with the release of Tomb Raider Legend. Fewer still have had the chance to be rebooted a second time. Nonetheless, the simply titled Tomb Raider re-relaunched the series in 2013 to nearly universal acclaim. In 2015, the sequel to the reboot of the reboot, Rise of the Tomb Raider, was released on the Xbox One. Now it’s available on PC. But there’s an odd question that lingers in light of Tomb Raider’s unique past: should anyone play the port of the sequel to the reboot of the reboot? And the answer is “Oh my god, yes; a thousands times, yes.”

When Tomb Raider 2013 was released, it diverged greatly from what previously made a Tomb Raider game a Tomb Raider game. Puzzles were out and cover-based shooting was in. Gone was the goofy tone of Legend and in it’s place was Lara Croft's ”gritty” search to find herself. And sadly, there was no real treasure to plunder, just AK-47 salvage in 1,000 year old tombs. Rise of the Tomb Raider attempts to reconcile these difference by combining silky smooth gunplay with meaningful tomb raiding and excellent traversal mechanics.

Rise takes place some time after the 2013 game with it’s supernatural events having convinced Lara of the validity of her late father’s research. Lara treks to Syria and Siberia in search of an ancient prophet, a divine source, an evil organization called Trinity, and the immortal soul. All-in-all, the plot is serviceable but not great. There are some twists that are made obvious early on but it’s solid action-movie stuff. The best and worst part about the plot is how it handles it predecessor’s criticism. It’s better in that it doesn’t fail painfully at trying to show Lara emotionally and psychologically evolve. It’s worse because Lara doesn’t evolve at all. It’s frustrating but somewhat alleviated by the game’s villain, Konstantin. Konstantin is phenomenal, balancing between a being of pure evil and someone pitiable. He’s understandable and insane, with a great character arc if you actually take the time to find his audio logs scattered throughout the world.

That’s right, returning from 2013’s Tomb Raider are the various audio logs and journal collectables you can find. Much like that game, these tidbits of story expound the history of the land and the characters within it. But this time they do a much better job, adding valuable information rather than being either redundant or superfluous. I actually found myself looking forward to the continuation of the smaller plot threads they weave and relished the insight they give on characters and places.

Those places are tied together in a moderately open world this time around. While it’s not a true sandbox, it provides a great sense of place and offers some nice “Metroidvania” style progression. From deep mines and mountain peaks, to sandy deserts and lush valleys, there’s no dearth of varying landscapes or ways to traverse them. And it’s all so pretty! The fine folks at Crystal Dynamics have done an amazing job with the environments. I have not been so compelled to take screenshots while playing a game… ever. And the characters are no slouch either, in fact, they’re fantastic. Few games reach the level of detail and fluidity that Rise of the Tomb Raider does. It’s almost worth the price of admission for the spectacle alone.

The core gameplay remains much the same in Rise of the Tomb Raider as it is in its predecessor.The combat is a relatively standard third-person shooter affair but the ante has been upped as Lara can now craft items like molotov cocktails, smoke grenades, and poison arrows in the heat of battle. There’s are many moments when Rise feels as much like a sequel to The Last of Us and Far Cry as anything else.

Out of combat is where the real change is however. Lara has a plethora of new ways to traverse the world, including swinging from her rope-arrow and using her pickaxe as a grappling hook (it’s almost amazing as it sounds) in addition to a few others. And these options become all the more important in the game’s greatly expanded tomb raiding. If you’re anything like me, discovering that 2013’s Tomb Raider had no actual tomb raiding was very disappointing. If you’re not like me, know that Rise features fourteen completely optional but totally worthwhile tombs and crypts. The difference between the two is that tombs have puzzles and reward you with abilities, while crypts have no puzzles and give you parts of a bow and quiver set. No more rifle parts for you, tombs!

Speaking of rifle parts, Rise of the Tomb Raider features an enhanced upgrade system. No longer are all weapon upgrades bought with one “salvage” currency. Now, different upgrades require different materials, be it wood, metal, cloth, animal skins, etc. Rise also introduces a gold currency that is used to purchase more complicated items such as hi-tech rifles, a laser-site, and a grenade launchers as well as others. In addition to these changes, the weapons themselves are more open. In the previous game, each new version of a weapon replaced the former. In Rise, all versions of these weapons exist adjacently rather than sequentially. Each type of gun offers different advantages and allows for a much more customized combat experience.

Possibly the biggest change to Rise of the Tomb Raider from its predecessor is the removal of any sort of multiplayer. In its place are several leaderboard oriented modes. The first mode is Chapter Replay. In it, you replay whatever chapter you chose. There’s also it’s varient, Chapter Replay Elite, where you get to play with your endgame upgrades. Then there’s Score Attack, which is a speedrun mode. The most interesting mode is Remnant Resistance. In this mode, you can play or create scenarios in the game's’ first open area, Siberian Wilderness.

All of these modes become more interesting with the use of card packs you receive for completing certain objectives or buy with in-game points (or with real money if you so choose, I did not). The way they modify the game ranges from the silly (i.e. Big Head Mode) to the helpful (you do more damage) to the dangerous (i.e. enemies are on fire and are immune to fire). In Remnant Resistance, you actually create your objectives with these cards. The only limitation is the fact that it all takes place in the same area. This could be a truly great addition to Rise of the Tomb Raider if the available locations for it are expounded.

Rise of the Tomb Raider is truly a phenomenal game from top to bottom and it has some of the best visuals around. But graphics alone do not make a game great and Rise does not rely on them. Even on the Xbox 360 Rise is great, but on the PC, it’s better than ever. Rise of the Tomb Raider is the rare sequel that builds not only on its immediate predecessor but improves on all the games in its franchise. Like the 23rd James Bond film Skyfall, Rise of the Tomb Raider succeeds at bringing these two versions of a franchise together in an incredibly satisfying way. Whether this is your 1st Tomb Raider or your 11th, you owe it to yourself to play it. It really is the best Tomb Raider yet.

PC Specs: AMD FX-8350 Vishera, AMD Radeon 7950, 16GB DDR3 RAM, Win 10 OS

Jonathan is the host of the DarkCast, DarkCast Interviews, and Gamers Read. He loves books, video games, and superheroes. If he had to pick favorites, they would be Welcome to the Monkey House, Mass Effect, and Superman respectively.