Shadow of the Tomb Raider: The Serpent’s Heart Review

Additional content for Shadow of the Tomb Raider keeps on coming at a rapid pace. It feels like it was only yesterday when I previously jotted down my thoughts of the latest additional tomb for Lara to raid. It’s okay, though, as with the DLC I have a regular reason to pop into my favorite game of the last year. I can’t wait for the time when all seven add-ons have been released and I get to replay the game with all of them as parts of the campaign. But for now, let’s get on with these new tombs one at a time.

The Serpent’s Heart features a mission, Two Graves, that will eventually lead to a new challenge tomb, Slayer’s Gauntlet. The mission kicks off when Lara happens by Hakan, who she rescued from the clutches of cultists in the main story. He’s worried about his brother-in-law A’aron who hasn’t come back from a little expedition Hakan commissioned him to do. Always ready to help, Lara promises to check up on A’aron and moments later finds herself within a cultist stronghold. A’aron has been captured by the cultists and as soon as Lara engages them, the man helps himself free and slips out before she has time to introduce herself (the obligatory Serpent Guard outfit needed to enter the stronghold won’t do any favors in sharing greetings). Baffled, Lara picks up a scroll left behind by A’aron in his hurry and gets immediately intrigued by it. Though she’s a cunning linguist, she can’t read the dialect the scroll is written with.

Lara returns to the two men with her find and it’s revealed that the scroll will lead to… “A hidden cultist nest”, as Hakan chimes, quickly interrupting A’aron. There’s definitely something fishy going on but an ancient mystery that needs to be solved gets better of Lara’s judgement and she agrees to meet up with Hakan in the hidden village near Paititi. The cultists beat her to it, though, as they have captured Hakan. It turns out that the mystery he had originally sent A’aron to solve will lead to a location where a legendary bow, God’s slayer, is hidden. It’s told that one who wields it can challenge the leader of the cult of Kukulkan. Reluctant, Lara strikes a deal with the cultists. In exchange for Hakan’s life, she is to retrieve the bow and hand it over to them.

Heading past the hidden village, Lara comes to ruins that stand out of shallow water, teeming with piranhas. Luckily, an ancient channel through the ruins is still manageable and Lara hops onto a raft for a fun watery ride. Unfortunately, there are several sluice gates blocking the way so Lara has to leave the safety of the raft and hop on sinking platforms to pave the way forward. Wetting the feet also means baits for piranha so Lara has to act quickly. However, opening the sluice gates also stirs up ancient defense mechanisms from their slumber, making the damp trip even more troublesome. Rotating blades that come straight at Lara will surely slice and dice her if she doesn’t do some agile platforming ON the raft. I like how chatty Lara is all the way through, it really does wonders for the atmosphere!

Further into the ruins, Lara comes to a large pool with a pillar shooting up from its deep end. At the base of the pillar seems to be yet another ancient mechanism, and after a few shots at it, an old machinery sets in motion a run the gauntlet of sorts. Once again, Lara hops onto the raft that squeezes through spinning double-blades and deadly flames shooting from archways. There are mechanisms for each fire trap that can be shot at two times to deactivate them. However, I felt that it was unnecessarily fiddly to raise the aim after hopping and squatting on the raft to avoid the blades, so I made Lara’s life a bit easier by avoiding fire. I just jumped into water, swam under flames, caught up with the raft and climbed back to it each time when there was a fire trap ahead. It’s not a video game if you can’t bend the game mechanics a bit to your favor! Reaching the pillar, Lara climbs onto the top of it and… That’s it, the tomb is raided!  Somehow, I had missed the point where the actual tomb had started. I thought there’s still some way to go! Luckily, the mission wasn’t over yet. Grabbing the God’s slayer from a pedestal, Lara hurries back through the jungle to Hakan and sees that A’aron had already come to rescue (slippery, isn’t he!). After fighting off angry Kukulkan devotees, the mission ends with a smart Tempe of Doom reference at a suspension bridge for a grave ending.

The Serpent’s Heart is the usual fare with a new ability for Lara (loot more money from felled enemies), a new weapon (yea, that will be the God’s slayer!) and a new outfit. Dragon Scales, that reduces fire damage, prevents stumbling, and accelerates health regeneration. For the first time since The Forge DLC, the challenge tomb can also be played in co-op. Once again, lavish graphics with dynamically lit jungle and a great attention to detail in environmental and architectural design elevate the adventure head and shoulders above its ilk. Tight controls ensure that the platforming needed to pass the traps and several shootouts throughout the adventure go as you want them to. It took only over an hour to see the mission through, but as a part of the bigger picture, it serves as a nice snack. I still wait the last two add-ons to deliver what I have hoped for from the beginning (meeting up with Crimson Fire, stint as a little Lara, or post-game missions). It remains to see whether there’s an oracle in me or am I just a daydreamer.

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.