Intrepid adventurer Lara Croft has undergone several transformations since her 1996 debut. These days, she’s more of an embattled survivalist than a smug, confident explorer who waltzes right into an ancient tomb, guns a-blazing. While 2013’s Tomb Raider reboot focused on reshaping the woman at the center of the franchise and making her more relatable and realistic, Rise of the Tomb Raider is most significant in the ways that developer Crystal Dynamics has tweaked the moment-to-moment gameplay. This time around, Lara won’t simply pull out her flaming bow and arrow and unleash fiery destruction from above when she’s in a pinch – every element is now far more nuanced, and Lara’s adventure has expanded in scope on a tremendous scale.
A Stealthier Lara
This is probably the most welcome change players will find in Rise of the Tomb Raider. During Lara’s coming-of-age tale on the legendary Japanese island of Yamatai in 2013, she could certainly employ stealth tactics to get the drop on enemies. In most cases, however, the fight ultimately came to her – whether she was looking for it or not.
Crystal Dynamics knows that not every player wants Lara to be a stone-cold killer, so they’ve diversified the options with Rise of the Tomb Raider. The increased emphasis on stealth alone allows for a multitude of options, and Lara now has the capability to take out an entire enemy encampment, sight unseen. For example, she can emerge from the water and pull an unsuspecting guard under, sneak through the bushes and take out another sentry with her hunting knife, and finally dispatch the lone remaining foe with a well-placed arrow to the jugular – all without anyone ever detecting her presence. If you’d rather distract foes and slip by unnoticed without resorting to lethal actions, the game also allows for that tactic.
What’s more: Rise of the Tomb Raider’s skill tree accommodates a diverse array of play styles, encouraging players to experiment throughout their adventure to uncover the Invisible City of Kitezh.
The Power of Crafting
Since Rise of the Tomb Raider offers so many more ways to approach combat, it only makes sense that the game provides more ways to prepare for it as well. Lara comes to Rise of the Tomb Raider with a revamped crafting ability that’s far more fleshed out than what players saw in the 2013 game. For one, hunting animals in the wilds of Siberia serves a purpose, and specific flora and fauna play precise roles in building up Lara’s camp, her weapons, and her accessories. She might gather wood to build a fire and use deer antlers to provide a more powerful bow, to give two examples.
The game’s enhanced, improved day-night cycle means that some animals only come out during certain times of the day, which requires careful planning to track down a particular creature and acquire the necessary crafting components. In a way, the beasts of the Siberian wild now serve as a rival equal to that of the humans in Lara’s world.
The best part about crafting, however, might be the fact that Lara can upgrade her gear even if she finds herself in a sticky situation. This gives players every opportunity to wiggle their way out of trouble if they find themselves suddenly surrounded and in desperate need of some on-the-fly improvisation.
Return of the Raid
The 2013 entry might have been called Tomb Raider, but it was surprisingly light on tombs – and that was by design, because the focus was forging the indomitable woman Lara would become. Now, she’s growing into the raiding icon gamers expect, and exploring hidden areas across the game’s open world is a huge part of that experience. In a way, this is an example of something old becoming new – for all the improvements to the nuts-and-bolts gameplay, this element actually takes the game back to its roots, where exploring and uncovering surprises behind every hidden passage was a major reason that we kept playing back in the day.
Inside these tombs, you’ll find the series’ trademark puzzles – but more importantly, you’ll find a sense of wonder, since they provide some of the most spectacular vistas in the game. They serve as an inspiration to keep exploring and keep playing, and since Crystal Dynamics isn’t delivering these areas to players on a platter anymore, they feel special – and earned.
Of course, these are just a few of the ways that Crystal Dynamics has redefined one of gaming’s most enduring icons; there’s a whole lot more to uncover once you take control of Lara Croft yourself, and explore the expansive unknown of Siberia on your own terms. And, of course, don’t forget that you can find the unparalleled adventure of Rise of the Tomb Raider exclusively on Xbox One and Xbox 360 this holiday.