Review: Rise of the Tomb Raider for Xbox One

Back in 2013 Crystal Dynamics brought to the world a new and fresh take on Tomb Raider. Although it had flaws, it was praised by most who played it, including me. Well here we are two and a half years later, and Lara is at it again in Rise of the Tomb Raider. So can Lara right the wrongs from the first game? Let's find out!

The ascension of Lara

Rise of the Tomb Raider is Lara's story of vengeance and it is spoken to players early on. In fact, the game begins with flashbacks of Lara when she was a child, enamored with her father's work. The game then switches to Lara making her way through a tomb in the middle of the blisteringly hot Syrian mountains. It is here Lara realizes that the Divine Source that her father continually searched for may actually be real.

In the wake of this discovery, she runs into the game's antagonist, Konstantin, a leader within a group called Trinity who is on the search for the Divine Source as well. As we can all presume, Trinity isn't looking into this ancient myth for good reasons. So now Lara is on a race to find this the Divine Source before it ends up in the wrong hands.

The search for the Divine Source

The biggest thing that stood out to me in The Rise of the Tomb Raider is its story. Although Lara's supporting cast was subpar in the first game, it managed to keep me interested due to the mysterious force that controlled the island. This time around I found myself engrossed in the plot even when cutscenes focused on other characters besides Lara.

I feel like this is partly due to some stellar voice acting as well as some amazing facial capture. You can actually feel the mood radiating from each character just by looking at their facial cues and animations.

The improved digital acting compliments the already intense cinematic gameplay that will constantly keep you on your toes. Put it this way, anytime you have to descend or ascend to a certain point, you better believe that it won't go the way you expect it to. There is more of these events this time around, but it does feature less quick-time actions that people despised in the first game.

Another thing that Crystal Dynamics addressed this time around is the lack of puzzles. I'm pleased to share that just about every major plot point in the game features varied puzzles that need to be solved to continue in the game. Of course, there are still hidden tombs inside the game but this time around they reward you with special abilities rather than a huge loot.

Another thing that The Rise of The Tomb Raider excels at is the game's pacing. Like any great narrative, it follows the dramatic structure and does so exceptionally. Just as you start to feel as if the game is being a little too laid back, the action begins, and you will find yourself engrossed until you reach the end.

Tomb Raider 2.0

When you walk along your first mountainside or climb your first icy glacier in Rise of the Tomb Raider, you'll find yourself stuck staring into the distance. The game is absolutely gorgeous and in every sense of the word. The new lighting system is all kinds of hot, but it really shines when you're exploring the darkest tombs. But they showcased this potential with the original Tomb Raider.

One of the things that Crystal Dynamics does incredibly well this time around is the ice effects. The snow falls onto Lara and her surroundings just as it would in real life and even makes its distinctive crunch when Lara is walking upon it. And the ice itself? Well, it is easily is some of the best I've ever seen in a video game. It has that milky look just as real ice does and looks alive with its beautiful shimmer.

As for Lara herself, she looks great in her new-gen rendering, especially with the new facial capture that I mentioned above. Her long flowing hair has also been given new glamor thanks to the latest trends in new hair physics.

As we all know, games aren't all about looks, and it is the gameplay that keeps us coming back for more. Rise of the Tomb Raider doesn't stray too far from what helped its predecessor succeed.

The game is still pretty linear, but it allows for some exploration within mission hubs just as the first game did. It is here where you begin to come across animals to hunt and different materials to gather for your crafting needs. That said, it does change up a few things that make a notable difference.

You will find that you can now interact with other humans in these hubs, and some will even send you on special missions. When these missions are completed, you will often be gifted a new weapon or new cosmetic outfit.

One of the biggest changes that you'll notice is the skills and weapons upgrade system. They both have been revamped, giving you a wealth of upgradeable options that cater to how you want to play. For example, by the end of the game I realized I chose options that made me more of a scavenger and a stealth player instead of someone who approaches enemies guns blazing.

Speaking of stealth, Lara no longer just hides behind objects and walls for cover, she can also hide in and take down enemies from bushes and atop trees à la Assassin's Creed. Just like any assassin, Lara's arsenal feels limitless, and she can craft makeshift weapons out of nearby objects thanks to the new crafting system. I like to call this new system 'crafting on-the-fly' as it easily allows you to craft any type of ammo in the middle of conflict from materials that you've gathered in the Siberian wilderness.

Materials range from man-made objects like cloth to raw materials such as poisonous mushrooms. Need to get away from a group of enemies? How about picking up a can and making a smoke grenade out of it or an empty bottle to create a molotov. This crafting system allows the intensity of the fight to continue without having to run and hide just to make a specific item.

The only downfall I saw to this is that you can't blind-fire or draw your arrow before coming out of cover since the crafting button resides on the 'shooting' button whenever you're not aiming.

One other thing I constantly despised about the game's combat is that once you break your stealth, it is nearly impossible to go into hiding once again. This design choice, in my opinion, took away from what Guerilla Warfare is all about and instead lead to more frustration than satisfaction.

Lara the archeologist

Although Lara lives her life on the edge as a daring tomb raider, her true love falls within archeology, and Rise of the Tomb Raider captures this down to the T. During your playthrough you will come across diary excerpts, voice-recorded messages, and ancient artifacts.

The game makes it easy to find these kinds of items by making use of the Survival Instinct button that can be accessed by pressing on the right stick. Once an artifact is found it usually contains a narrated snippet to go along with it, which only enriches the game's already great story.

Once found, these artifacts also increase Lara's language skill XP. Lara can decipher Greek, Russian, or Mongolian. Each piece of history will add to one of these language's XP and will allow you to read certain monuments that require a certain level of efficiency in a specified language. When read, these monuments reveal the location to nearby Byzantine coin caches.

These coins, although at first seem to serve no purpose, actually are one of the most rewarding collectibles in the game. They allow you to buy rare and powerful items from a supply shack within the Soviet Installation hub. Here you can buy things such as a pistol suppressor, a powerful shotgun, or even unique outfits for Lara.

If you are a player that enjoys searching for hidden items as well as 100%-ing a game, Rise of the Tomb Raider will have you searching high and low for hours on end.

Speaking of playing the game for hours on end, Crystal Dynamics has created a new mode called Expeditions which allows you to replay parts of the game with a scoring system and leaderboard for bragging rights. The game type also features playing cards that will affect the gameplay positively or negatively. In a way, you can think of these cards in a similar way to the 'skulls' from Halo, but these cards are far more diverse, and there is a total of 64 of them that can be acquired.

The game also has a neat Twitch integration that allows viewers to select which cards can affect the player by voting on two random cards shows to them. We didn't get a chance to test this out for ourselves, but certainly, we'll try it out sometime in the future.

The Verdict

Crystal Dynamics' first take on the famous Lara left me wanting more. This time around I feel as if my Rise of the Tomb Raider hype has been satisfied, but nothing more. That's not me knocking the game in any way shape or form. Instead, I feel as if it's a result of me knowing what to expect this time around, which wasn't the case when I played the previous game.

Like I said before, Crystal Dynamics found some success with the first game and had little reason to stray from it. So overall the game feels very familiar, but the team has crafted a better overall experience.

The game is well-written and doesn't issue many blunders this time around. Additionally, the motion capture makes an already great story even better. As for the gameplay, it received some well-deserved additions as well as some revamps that everyone will find pleasing.

What you'll like:

  • Great pacing and a better supporting cast
  • Amazing visuals
  • More puzzles/tombs
  • Tons of depth

What you won't like:

  • Stealth mechanics could be better

Overall, Rise of the Tomb Raider is the best swan song for Microsoft's 2015 fall line-up. The game will once again keep you on the edge of your seat, and the story will keep you guessing. If you enjoyed the first game, there is honestly even more to love this time around.

Rise of the Tomb Raider launches on November 11th 2015 for Xbox One, Q1 2016 for PC, and Q4 2016 for PS4.

Jonathan Dollison