Rise of the Tomb Raider Review (XONE)

RotTR1
Rise of the Tomb Raider screen. Square Enix / Microsoft

After all of the controversy of Microsoft's deal to nab Rise of the Tomb Raider as a timed-exclusive (why is it only controversial when Microsoft does it, again?), we can finally stop arguing and actually start playing.  Rise of the Tomb Raider builds on everything established in the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot to create the biggest and best Tomb Raider experience yet.  Everything is ramped up just as you'd expect in a sequel and, even better, there are tons of actual tombs and puzzles everywhere.

  It isn't drastically different from the last game, but it does pretty much everything better.  Rise of the Tomb Raider is one of the best Xbox One games of 2015.

Game Details

  • Publisher:  Microsoft / Square Enix
  • Developer: Crystal Dynamics
  • ESRB Rating: “M" for Mature
  • Genre: Action
  • Pros:  Awesome presentation; great puzzles; actual tombs everywhere!; solid combat; satisfying exploration
  • Cons:  Story is only okay; mostly more of the same

Story

The 2013 Tomb Raider reboot was Lara's origin story.  She wasn't a "tomb raider" yet back then, but was just fighting to survive.  Those events changed her and molded her into the hardened badass raider of tombs who doesn't wring her hands over taking a life when she has to that you play as in Rise of the Tomb Raider.  The story this time around has Lara seeking the Divine Source - an ancient relic that holds even Death at bay - in a tale more along the lines of a classic Tomb Raider experience.

  Personally, I don't find it quite as compelling as Lara's fight for survival last time, but that has more to do with the fact we've seen Nathan Drake and Indiana Jones tread these waters already than anything this game does particularly poorly.  Lara is still a great character, and her progression from the last game to this one is impressive.

 

Gameplay

Rise of the Tomb Raider mostly takes place in a large Russian installation in Siberia.  The area is massive, but it isn't necessarily an open world.  It is instead split into large open hub areas, and to move to the next area you have to find some item or upgrade that grants you access, similar to a Metroidvania-style game.  Each area is filled with hidden items and artifacts and tombs to explore, but you can't always reach them you first time through and have to come back later when you have new abilities.  This is all similar to how TR2013 worked, but there is a lot more "stuff" in RotTR.  Most notably, there are tons of tombs with some truly great puzzles this time around.  Probably the best part is that most of the hidden stuff and tombs are totally optional.  You don't "have" to do any of it, but you'll want to as they grant you weapon upgrades and new abilities.  You can beat the story in 15 hours or so, but to actually collect everything and see every tomb, it takes closer to 30+.

The gameplay is pretty much more of the same as TR2013.  Not that I'm complaining, because it was awesome, but it is a little disappointing to find that the meat of the game has the same pacing and rhythm as last time.

  You run and jump and shimmy around ledges, just as before.  You occasionally have crazy escape sequences as everything crashes down around you.  You kill animals and harvest plants in order to build new weapons.  You loot everything you find to earn XP and level up faster.  And you apply skill points and upgrade your weapons and items at camp fires, just like before.  Likewise, combat is that same combo of stealth and brutal action, but this time Lara can instantly craft items mid-battle (like poison arrows or grenades and other stuff) so you never run out of toys in the middle of a firefight.

It is all very familiar, but that doesn't mean it isn't incredibly enjoyable.  It mixes the oldschool-style tomb exploration with the newschool-style cinematic action to create a total experience that really is the best of both worlds.  The tombs are still generally smaller and more like side content than taking up entire levels like in past games, but they have some great puzzles in them that will really require some creative thinking to solve, so they're satisfying.  The game overall is just a really nice evolution of TR2013.  It is bigger and more polished and they were able to capitalize on the things that worked well while featuring less of the sequences that fell flat.  If you liked TR2013, you'll love Rise of the Tomb Raider. 

Graphics & Sound

Visually, Rise of the Tomb Raider looks fantastic.  Great lighting, great water, amazing fire effects, detailed texture work - all of this and more really makes RotTR pop.  Character models look excellent once again and the animation is top notch.  There is also a decent variety to the environments - it isn't all just snowy mountains - and it all looks very good. 

The sound is also well done with quality performances all around.  Camilla Luddington does a fantastic job with this deeper, more complex, more weary Lara than the innocent younger Lara of TR2013. 

Bottom Line

Rise of the Tomb Raider may be more of the same, but it is more of the same with an extra coat of polish and attention to detail and smart improvements that make it a better experience overall.  The simple addition of more actual tomb raiding and a focus on puzzles on top of the fantastic foundation laid out in TR2013 makes a big difference and means Rise of the Tomb Raider is a better game overall even if the core mechanics are the same.  Rise of the Tomb Raider is the best Tomb Raider of the modern era (say, from Legend to now), and is probably the best Tomb Raider ever.  Xbox One fans are in for a treat.  And a year from now, PS4 fans are too.

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.