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The series rises to new heights

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    TKDBoy1889
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    Rise of the Tomb Raider

    Rating: 5.0 – Flawless

    The series rises to new heights

    I’m sure Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix never read my review for Tomb Raider 2013, but it honestly feels like they did. I thought Tomb Raider 2013 was a great game but also felt it had some rather significant issues. Rise of the Tomb Raider seems to have addressed pretty much every problem I had with the first game of the reboot series, making it one of my absolute favorite games of modern gaming. On top of that, it seemed to make everything just a little bit better than it had been.

    Story

    Following the events of the previous game, Lara Croft is no longer a naive and inexperienced woman. After seeing supernatural events and being forced to kill in order to survive she has become a battle-hardened and driven survivor. This leads us right into our story. Lara has come to believe that her father was right in his search for the “Divine Source”, a mythical artifact linked to immortality. A combination of guilt for shunning her father previously and PTSD after being forced to kill others on the island of Yamatai has made her very driven, focused single-handedly on her mission. Lara’s development makes perfect sense, but she also maintains a strong sense of compassion for those around her as she is willing to help others and make sacrifices. I have really come to admire Lara’s character, and continue to find her much better than she was in previous installments. She seems much more personable, still tough-as-nails and even a little sarcastic but at the same time more vulnerable and emotional to the events around her.

    It’s not just Lara, however, that shines. I liked Lara in the 2013 game but found most of the supporting characters bland or annoying. Here, pretty much every character is well written and interesting. Konstantin is the main antagonist, a member of a shadow organization called Trinity that has global influence and has sought the Divine Source for years. His personality is very chilling, and as his motivations are revealed he becomes both intense but also sadly tragic in a way. As Lara searches for the lost city of Kitezh and the remains of the Prophet of Constantinople in her quest, she encounters several characters that are remnants of a long-hidden civilization, each with a distinct personality and made understandable in their actions. Every major character is able to shine, and none of them come across as boring, stupid, or irritating. At worse, they can be somewhat generic, but even then they are written decently. I can feel the emotion carried in nearly every cutscene and conversation. This makes every interaction throughout the game more immersive, keeping the story strong. What starts out as a simple expedition for a mythological artifact gradually becomes much more grandiose as it brings it questions of betrayal, morality, tradition, duty, and basically erupts into a full-fledged battle. By the end, I was really rooting for Lara and her allies. The story was gripping and the characters kept me interested the entire time. The ending was satisfactory, and while there was a cliffhanger of sorts the main story of this game had a nice conclusion that was unaffected by the cliffhanger. It was wrapped up well without too much sequel-baiting.

    Gameplay

    When it comes to gameplay, Rise of the Tomb Raider basically takes the gameplay from the previous installment and adds several improvements as well as deeper mechanics. You now have a lot more options when it comes to combat, allowing you to approach combat in your own way. Stealth has received the biggest improvement. Previously stealth was fun but had limited options. Now you can take cover bushes, killing enemies nearby and hiding them so others aren’t alerted. You can pick objects off the ground and throw them to either lure enemies toward you or distract them. In some cases, you can even avoid fighting altogether. With the refined upgrade system, you can unlock other extremely useful abilities such as the ability to instantly take out enemies from above, quicker stealth kills, and even firing 2 or 3 arrows at once in order to eliminate multiple enemies without alerting others. You can even stealth kill enemies from underwater if they are close enough. I found myself using stealth whenever I could because it was extremely fun and it added a tactical feeling to the game. Enemy AI may not be the most groundbreaking, but it certainly works. Enemies will check for the source of thrown objects or arrows, will try to flank you during a gunfight, and if suspicious of your presence will continuously search for you and force you to keep moving. For those who prefer traditional action there are a plethora of options. Like before, you get access to a bow, pistol, rifle, and shotgun than can be upgraded. However, you are stuck with just one weapon. You can gain access to several variations with different stats. Pick a rapid-fire assault rifle with low damage, or go for the single-shot bolt-action rifle if you like sniping. Decide whether you prefer a pistol with a higher firing rate, better recoil, or higher clip size. You are able to switch any weapon you have access to at any campfire, allowing you to switch up your gear. Aside from your trusty standard weapons. there are options your surroundings will provide you. Craft Molotov cocktails and set enemies are fire with bottles littered about, or craft gas canisters from empty jars to impair enemy visibility. As you scour for materials, you’ll also be able to craft different types of ammo such as flaming arrows, explosive arrows, hollow-point bullets, incendiary shotgun shells, etc. You can even upgrade your melee abilities to perform counter attacks and deadly finishers. This takes us to the next point; crafting and upgrades.

    Crafting has been made much more involved in this game. As opposed to just salvage there are tons of materials, and you’ll find yourself wanting to pick them all up because different materials are needed for different crafting options as well as various upgrades. Like before, you can modify your weapons and your gear for things like better carry capacity or increased damage, but you need to find the right materials, and sometimes you have to make a choice between what to modify… which I actually like. I like having to make a choice like that. It’s not just man-made materials either; sometimes you have to hunt specific types of game in order to get special rare materials such as bear skin or deer antlers. The rarer a material, the better stuff it usually can make. Because of this an upgrade I highly prioritize is the one to carry more material. If this wasn’t enough incentive to search every nook and cranny, you’ll also find that hidden chests sometimes contain weapon or tool upgrade parts to access better gear. If you don’t search everywhere, you’ll be missing out on some cool equipment. Also improved is the upgrade ability system. As previously mentioned, you can obtain cool abilities such as firing multiple arrows, and there are quite a bit. Want to find every item you can? Invest in abilities that show items on the map or in survival instinct. Want to find better animals during hunting? Pick the abilities that highlight animals in survival mode. Want different types of ammo? Unlock when you can spare the upgrade points. Want to take down armored enemies quicker? Upgrade yourself to take them out with timed counter-attacks.

    Like its predecessor, Rise of the Tomb Raider isn’t completely open world but rather has a series of sandbox-style open areas linked by more linear levels. In the 2013 game, there wasn’t much point in backtracking aside from being a completionist. Now, there are other reasons for going back. New enemies will arrive in areas you’ve been too, keeping you on your toes. Sometimes you may want to backtrack to an area with certain types of animals for more crafting materials. In a couple instances there are even some side quests you can go back and pick up in order to get more XP or rewards. The open areas themselves are well designed with many little secrets to find, and navigating them is fun with all kinds of nifty platforming mechanics. This brings us to the next part of gameplay: Puzzle and platforming.

    Platforming is, like most other mechanics, mostly the same but given better and deeper mechanics. You can scale rock walls or ice cliffs, go down zipliners, and fire rope arrows to get from one point to another, etc. In the last game, I thought platforming was a bit too easy. Here, there are more areas where bad timing can be disastrous, and sometimes you may need to observe your environment to figure out how to get from point A to point B. Like before, new ways of traversing the environment are given as you progress through the game. I like because it keeps the game from getting stale; you aren’t using all the same mechanics throughout the whole experience, and that keeps it interesting. Rise of the Tomb Raider also relies less on cinematic gameplay or quick-time events where all you do is time a button press or follow the prompts, which is great. I rarely enjoy cinematic-style gameplay if done more than a couple times. I prefer to have my cutscenes and my gameplay kept separate. There are quite a few times I found platforming and puzzle-solving more enticing than actual combat, which many would say is how a Tomb Raider game should feel. There are new types of gear such as the grappling hook for timed jumps, and a rebreather that lets you breathe underwater. These tools let you go back and find new things, including tombs you previously could not access. Speaking of which, that is the next point.

    One thing many criticized Tomb Raider 2013 for was the… well, lack of tombs to raid. They were optional and sparse. Here, there are a couple more than before. It’s still not a significant amount, but it’s a step in the right direction. There are also a number of crypts to find than yield good rewards. The tombs themselves feel a bit more challenging than before; There were a few tombs that took me some times to figure out, even with using survival instinct. They could be challenging, but never overly frustrating. In fact, many puzzles throughout the game are like that. Puzzles and platforming is what the original Tomb Raider games were all about, and I feel more justice has been given in that department. In the end, every aspect of gameplay is great.

    Graphics

    The graphics of Rise of the Tomb Raider are absolutely stunning. Nowadays most Triple-A releases have good graphics, so I focus on animation, details, and set pieces in my ratings. The environments are breath-taking. From the icy Siberian hills that you first explore to the ruins in Syria, from the underground caverns to the geothermal valley, the levels definitely look alive in their design and detail. It truly feels like a living world you are playing in. Character models and animations are fantastic, with well-done lip-synching and facial expressions that really help convey the emotions during cutscenes. I never noticed any major framerate drops during gameplay, even during an intense battle with several NPCs, explosions, and fire particles all on screen. Not much more to say, other than the game looks fantastic.

    Music/Sound

    There isn’t much focus on music, but I like what is there. When you are near unaware or patrolling enemies, an ominous-style ambience will gradually get louder to reflect the impending danger. Epic music plays during intense chase scenes or key gunfights. Sound effects all fit well, and I particularly like the roars and growls of wildlife. The voice-acting is very impressive, with every actor having delivered their lines in a convincing fashion. Whether it be Lara, Joseph, Konstantin, or just the regular guards having a conversation, almost every bit of dialogue was well delivered.

    Summary

    In the end, Rise of the Tomb Raider delivered in spades. It fixed most of the issues that I had with the previous game, and added onto the parts I thought made it good. The story was engaging, the characters were well-done, combat was fun, platforming was fun, puzzles were challenging without being frustrating, and crafting/upgrade system was made more extensive without being overly complex. It’s really hard for me to find flaws in this games. I will say that a couple of characters, while they had good performances, were a little predictable. Some of the twists in the story could be figured out relatively easily. I would still like to see a few more tombs than what we got, and some of them should be mandatory. Also, multi-player was scrapped, although I do not miss this feature as it let Crystal Dynamics focus more on the single-player experience. None of these drawbacks were that significant, however, and I never found myself disappointed by them while playing the game. The pros far outweigh the cons, and I definitely feel that Crystal Dynamics made a winning formula here. This is a game I recommend to anyone. It’s worth playing.

    Final Score: 10/10

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