Rise of the Tomb Raider – Sorta Review
Boy, the Xbox One exclusivity was dropped fast, huh? A little over two months? Well, okay, the PS4 still has to wait for a while, but the PC release is out! And I have played it.
According to Steam, it took me about 35 hours to get up to 100% completion of the game. I got 100% in the previous one too. Thankfully this only applies to collectibles, because if I also had to get all the weapon upgrades and perks, I would have just gone “fuck that”.
Side-note: I didn’t bother with the DLC. 1) There was still plenty of game here. 2) I have other things to play. 3) I’ve heard it’s not that great anyway.
Before we get into the game proper, I want to bring up the name. Rise of the Tomb Raider. I mean, that sounds like the title of an origin story. But the last one was an origin story. And this… isn’t. Not really. I wouldn’t even say it counts as her rise to fame or notability. Whatever. My bigger problem is that it’s just so long to type it out. Saying it is not so bad, but typing it is annoying, especially in relation to Twitter’s character limit. I typically went with Tomb Riseder. Someone pointed out Tomb Riser is simpler, but I’m sticking to my guns on this one!
Now as this is a PC port, let us also be boring for a minute and talk about performance. My graphics card is a few years old, but I did recently upgrade to 16GB of system memory, so I actually had very few problems running the game on high settings. The game looks absolutely gorgeous, and the animations flow really well. I also like how HUD elements are mostly hidden. Let’s you appreciate the visuals more, and I think it helps immersion.
I’d still only call the actual performance “mostly fine” though. While for the most part I was able to run at 60 FPS without any drops, I did run into the issue some people talked about where the game would suddenly and inexplicably drop to an abysmal framerate for a while until it suddenly decided it was fine again. These sections were really rare, but extremely bothersome when they did happen.
At which point I remembered I had yet to install NVidia’s new “best for Tomb Riseder” drivers. So I did. This resulted in both pros and cons. Pro: no more extended sections of abysmal framerate. Con: the game now stuttered at random intervals, which did get me killed a few times when it happened just before I was going to make a jump. On the whole I’d say the experience was worse with the new drivers. PC gaming, everyone!
I am fully open to the option that this might in part be blamed on my not-up-to-date graphics card, but speaking with others with newer cards, some of them also reported the same issues. Gaming on the PC has always been a grab-bag of fun and misery.
I can also report that the mouse and keyboard controls are just fine. They work well. I went with that for the whole game, and didn’t really feel impeded by it. I really hate aiming with a controller.
Enough of that, you’re probably wondering “but how is the game?!” In summary, I’d say it’s quite good. The short version is that it plays the same as the last one, just more polished. Or at least: How I remember the last one playing. That could be a key distinction, since it’s been like 2 years, and my memory can be quite selective and flawed. I don’t even fully remember that the previous game had any tombs. I think I can barely recall one, so I figured it had maybe two. So when people said the last game had several tombs that were more interesting and challenging, I was genuinely bewildered for a while.
Tomb Riseder has many tombs. Nine of them, in fact! Ten if you count the level in Syria as one big tomb, which it technically is, it just doesn’t count as a “Challenge Tomb”. They’re not that long really, but I still had fun with them. Even got stumped for a while on a couple, as I was trying to figure out what I was supposed to do, and personally I felt the “a-ha” moment of discovery was worth it. “Haha, I did a clever,” and all that. In addition there’s a lot of variation between them, so it’s worth it just for the sightseeing aspect. The rewards for completion also make more sense now within the world. You find an ancient text that teaches Lara something, which is then represented in gaining a new perk.
Speaking of teaching! There’s now a neat system where Lara brushes up on her language skills by studying murals and documents, so she can gradually translate more and more complicated things! It is a little silly represented in videogame logic: “Your Ancient Greek skill is now level 3!” But it did help with that “yeah, I’m a proper archaeologist” feeling.
I mentioned perks, and yes, that system is back. Gaining experience grants you skill points that you can use to unlock perks spread across three categories: Brawler, Hunter, and Survivor. And like before you have to rest at a campfire to spend the skill points. Some perks are locked off until you acquire a certain piece of equipment, and there’s a three-tier system where you have to spend a certain amount of points total before the next tier unlocks.
I do feel like the perks vary in how useful they are, but that comes in part from my preferred playstyle being more stealthy and favouring the bow, and in part from playing on the lowest difficulty. Look, I don’t really care about the combat in this game being a challenge, any more than I cared for it in the last one. I was there for the story and the sights.
As for the story… it seems like Crystal Dynamics have fallen into the same hole that Bioware have been digging. They’re really good at writing lore, but actually putting together a well-written story with understandable character motivations and actions, that falls a bit short. It starts out good, I’ll give it that. Sure, Lara’s motivation for going to Siberia to begin with feels a little “because plot”, but it’s far from nonsense, and it sets the scene well when you get there. I think I got at least halfway through before I started to notice that it was kinda falling apart.
Yet once I had started noticing, it became even more obvious. It feels like they did a pretty poor job of showing Lara’s character arc through the story, because she doesn’t quite seem to have one. She is just as much “I want to be helpful” and “I am really fixated on my goal” towards the end as she was at the start. Cutting them some slack, I believe I can see what they were going for, with her gradually realising what is truly important and all that, I just don’t think they communicated it well. She will occasionally say something that sounds remorseful and reflective, but it goes away as quickly as it came, never dwelled or expanded on.
It doesn’t quite come across the way I think they intended it to, is my point. Very good lore, though. The texts you find around the place talking of places and events in the past, I thought those were really well-written and interesting. I didn’t skip a single one.
For the completionists wondering, the game never permanently locks off any area that contains collectibles and challenges, with the exception of the Syria level. They probably felt that fast-travelling all the way back there was too much of a stretch, so make sure you get everything there before you complete that level if you want to 100% the game. While it doesn’t allow for much backtracking in that level, it does keep an autosave called the Backup Save that takes you back to the start of the level if you missed anything. It’s not a very long level to get through, especially once you know what you’re doing and can skip any cutscenes.
For everything after that you can always go back and look for any collectibles you missed and/or challenges you didn’t complete. Any sections which become inaccessible later because you have to escape from something destructive do not contain any collectibles needed for the completion rate. There will always be some way to get back to the areas that have collectibles, so you can put it off until the post-game roaming if you’d like.
All right, I guess I should talk about the combat a bit too. Even if it’s only from the perspective of the lowest difficulty. Difficulty only affects combat, as far as I am aware.
You can carry up to four weapons. One bow, one pistol, one rifle, and one shotgun. The bow works really well on unarmoured opponents, and you get a lot of really nice upgrades and perks for it, like a lock-on multi-arrow shot that can be upgraded to auto-lock on heads. I ended up picking the Grim Whisper bow, solely on the basis that it was the one that took the most work to unlock, but in hindsight I maybe should have gone with a composite bow instead. Still, even in active combat it was quite useful so long as opponents didn’t have helmets, because then I had to knock that off first.
The real strength of the bow comes from all the special arrows. The grenade arrow in particular is really over-powered and broken. And you can craft more on the go! You don’t have to go back to the campfire to craft special arrows. I honestly don’t remember if you could do that in the previous one. Special ammo for other weapon types can also be crafted on the go, though they’re typically less useful than the special arrows.
For the pistol I went with a heavy type. I felt it had a nice balance of speed and power. The shotgun I really didn’t use much. The rifles are typically automatic or semi-automatic, but then I unlocked a bolt action rifle. I really like bolt action rifles. It is tricky to use though. Even if you upgrade the reload as much as possible, it still takes a moment between shots, and you have to aim right. I was determined though. I was going to get a handle on this, and I feel like I got there before the end of the game. It turns out a fully upgraded bolt action rifle is really good at punching straight through armour. So helmets weren’t an issue any longer, and there are a lot of helmets towards the end.
Functionally it’s just another third-person shooter. So long as she’s not detected, Lara will automatically hide in any available bushes, and so long as enemies are around she will automatically take cover, and you can pop out to fire at them. Active combat can get a bit frantic. Some enemies will charge at you, some will try to flank you, some throw grenades, and so on. The heavily armoured ones will often just stride confidently towards you and shield their allies.
It functions pretty much exactly as I remember from the previous game, and you can always use your mobility to try to get a better vantage point or do some flanking yourself. In stealth mode you can hide in trees and bushes and pounce on anyone who gets close enough. I do like that hunting aspect of it, that you can hunt humans as well as animals.
Lara is essentially a one-woman army. A superhero. Or supervillain depending on your perspective. She can take out an army and only feel a little winded afterwards.
For all the words I just typed, you can still basically sum up the game as “like the previous one, but improved a bit”. I had a fun time with it, even though I don’t feel any particular desire to do it again. Once was enough.
So I guess what I’m saying is: If you liked the last one, you will likely like this one. If you didn’t, I can’t imagine this one is going to change your mind.
My final note: Look at that facial detail!