Much to my surprise, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, the final game in the rebooted Tomb Raider trilogy, was met with a mixed reception. Maybe trigger-happy people didn’t like the shift from action to exploration of the unknown. There was only about a dozen shoot outs (or stealth outs, if you prefer that way) throughout the main game. In comparison, Tomb Raider and Rise of the Tomb Raider were thick with combat action. I, for one, loved the change in priorities as it took the game back to the series’ exciting and adventurous roots. Others leveled criticism at an “overly serious” story. Newsflash: backed up by Camilla Luddington’s inspired performance, Lara is a serious young lady, not a whimsical wisecracking rascal. Nothing so far has changed the fact that Shadow of the Tomb Raider is still on the track to be my Game of the Year. So, let’s see what the recently released first DLC content, The Forge, brings to the table.
I usually hate DLC stuff to begin with, no matter what game it’s released for. I find it to be redundant garbage that’s been cut out from games for a good reason. I have had my fingers burned a few times when I eagerly purchased “essential” DLC only to find it trivial and ultimately worthless. So, season passes are not high on my list when thinking of ways to extend a game’s life. Instead, I often replay games instead of falling into clutches of greedy publishers. I have already played Shadow of the Tomb Raider through a few times because I just can’t get enough of it. Everything I want is already there, so what more could DLC possibly offer to me?
Well, more of the same, great adventuring, for starters. It turns out that The Forge is a rare exception to my no-DLC policy. I might be biased, I make no secret of how much I love Shadow of the Tomb Raider but still, I didn’t expect the new content to be actually worthwhile or as great as the rest of the game. The Forge is a good sample of everything that made the main game so exceptional. It features a side mission Echoes of the Past, a fully-fledged mini adventure of its own that fits nicely into the post-game context of the main story, and leads up to a new challenge tomb.
If there was a minor gripe in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, there wasn’t enough Abby, a local girl from the shantytown of Kuwaq Yaku, who not only helped our heroine in her quest but also found a common note with Lara’s best friend Jonah. Echoes of the Past focuses on Abby’s past, as told through in-game cut scenes with more of lovely Abby, lively voiced by the lovely Erika Soto. The story begins by talking to village elders who reveal that Abby’s late grandmother had a secret to share with her granddaughter. After a visit to a crypt, needing quite advanced understanding of Lara’s traversal abilities, and digging up another puzzle piece in the nearby jungle, more narrative ensues, eventually taking Lara to the titular challenge tomb, The Forge
There, we get a chance to dig into Abby’s origins as Lara romps the tomb. It represents a nice sampling of manipulating still functioning ancient contraptions that was so prevalent in the main game. Well-placed fire arrow shots (there’s plenty of wood and oil lying around so there’s no fear of running out of ammo) activate gas eruptions to thrust forward pendulums that need well-timed jumps for Lara to reach and grab them to make it across deadly chasms. Here, the tight and suitably weighty controls ensure that navigating the environmental puzzles is challenging for all the right reasons. The Forge culminates in a gas-operated rising platform, requiring a good vertical sense to ascend it, from activating gas-spitting statue heads to jumping off to side passages to further the way up.
Not only does The Forge feature awesome visuals with once again striking environmental lighting (the PC version has a clear advantage over consoles in this department), its challenge sits somewhere between the medium and hard when compared to the challenge tombs of the main game. If you’re feeling a bit lost, however, you can always lower the puzzle difficulty to make Lara blurb out punctual hints as what to do in each situation. Also, combat is almost non-existent. Aside from a fight against a pack of coyotes in a bottom of a well in the starting crypt, there are absolutely no foes to worry about, as the adventure plays to the strengths of the main campaign.
The DLC is bit on a short side, though, as it takes solid two hours to see it through on top of the necessary trial and error (missteps will plummet Lara into a fiery lava pit) and moments spent admiring the scenery. The tomb itself can also be played in score and time attack modes, and with a friend via online co-op. Both players will, of course, play as Lara but see the other player as Abby.
The Forge is a great opening shot for the rest of six DLC adventures to follow, not to mention that it alone is better than the dreary 20th anniversary content released for Rise of the Tomb Raider. It’s a fun way to extend the game’s life beyond New Game+ and is tightly woven into the context of the main story, its people and their history without feeling unattached or forced. I hope that some of the future DLC tombs will find a reason to play alongside Yaaxil priestess Crimson Fire – or as her! That would be simply too awesome, for as agile and supple Lara is, Crimson Fire is a squirrel on steroids in a comparison as seen late in the main game when Lara tries to follow her lead. One can only wish. Meanwhile, The Forge exists to be conquered!
Video game nerd & artist. I've been playing computer and video games since the early 80's so I dare say I have some perspective to them. When I'm not playing, I'm usually at my art board.