Tomb Raider’s 2013 hit reboot (and the 2014 remaster Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition, which just so happens to be free right now via Games with Gold) re-introduced the world to Lara Croft through an origin story that pushed Lara far beyond anything she had ever imagined. With Rise of the Tomb Raider, debuting exclusively on Xbox platforms in November, Lara sets out with purpose to answer questions that have gnawed at her since returning from her unexpected experience in Yamatai.
“Rise of the Tomb Raider is her first great tomb raiding expedition,” explained Creative Director Noah Hughes, before turning me loose with the first several hours of Rise of the Tomb Raider – our longest journey with Lara so far.
We’ve seen a fair amount of Rise of the Tomb Raider this year; Lara took on a massive bear in Siberia this spring, we witnessed her surviving a harrowing avalanche with travel companion Jonah at E3, while the Prophet’s Tomb in Syria was first explored at gamescom. If you’ve been concerned that developer Crystal Dynamics has shown too much of their hand, know that all of these scenarios play out in the first two hours of the game – an experience that could exceed 30 hours in total for completionist treasure seekers.
Even during these first few hours, the leap in visual artistry and technical fidelity between games makes itself readily apparent. Lara looks and moves more realistically than ever, allowing for tight close-up shots during cutscenes. Small details add to the presentation, like the way Lara appears to be taking in her surroundings in new areas (just like the player will), or how she wrings the water out of her flowing ponytail after a swim.
After thrillingly escaping the Prophet’s Tomb, Lara connects some clues that lead her to the lost city of Kitezh in Siberia – a connection her father never made. It’s in Siberia that the game begins in earnest; after gathering wood to start a fire, Lara sets up her first camp, gaining access to crafting, upgrading, and skill trees.
Poking through the menu, I spied some abilities new to Tomb Raider. Lara can now craft ammo (even while in battle) and all new equipment as well, including better quivers, ammo pouches and rucksacks. It’s clear that there’s more reason than ever to spend time hunting, scavenging, and exploring.
After surviving the aforementioned bear sequence by what seemed like the thinnest of margins, I happened upon the game’s first optional tomb: a Byzantine war galley, precariously suspended vertically in ice. As Crystal Dynamics has previous stated, optional tombs like this one will prove more challenging than what was seen in the previous game. Based on the rewards I received upon completing this tomb and others (hint: they weren’t just materials or money), it seems like raiding these tombs will be well worth the extra effort.
Shortly thereafter, I made it to a Soviet installation, the first major open world area of the game. The menu of opportunities here sprawls on, including three tombs in the area, as well as dozens of relics, treasures, caches, and other collectables for the taking, plus optional side missions.
Additionally, this hub area offers dangerous new animals to hunt, caves to spelunk, challenges to undertake (example: explore 5 caverns) and tons of supplies to scavenge. After spending over an hour partaking of the opportunities here, I’d upgraded my bow significantly, improved my stolen revolver’s stopping power, and picked up some new skills. In all, there are hours of content in this area alone.
This area is three times larger than the largest explorable area in 2013’s Tomb Raider, and there are two other zones of similar size in the game. Players could spend upwards of ten hours just playing through completely optional content. From what I’ve seen thus far, Rise of the Tomb Raider‘s treasures will beckon you as strongly as they do Lara, nudging you both to explore everything in her world.