I was invited to head to New York City towards the middle of this month by Microsoft, and I was given the opportunity to go hands-on with the upcoming Rise of the Tomb Raider for an exceptionally long session. I started my play right at the beginning of the game from a fresh save file, and Crystal Dynamics let me play for right around three hours.
What I saw was a completely unfiltered version of the game. I wasn’t ushered in any direction or told where not to go or what not to do. Instead, they just let me launch the game and go nuts. As I approached three hours, I got a tap on the shoulder and was told to stop.
What did I see? Well, there’s lots of spoilery stuff that goes down at the onset of the game that I won’t be touching on. The events are story heavy, though, so you can rest assured that we’ll be diving deep into Lara as a character and explorer with this one.
If you think back to the original Tomb Raider reboot from Crystal Dynamics a few years back, the game started in sort of murky waters as Lara was shipwrecked and not yet the rough and tumble adventurer we all know her to be. That was her origin story, of sorts. Rise of the Tomb Raider is the next chapter in her saga. It picks up after the first game, and it takes the Lara we know along with at least one character from the first game and pushes out the notion of the supernatural that the reboot touched on so gently towards its finish.
The most exciting bit of Rise of the Tomb Raider for me during these three hours were the optional temples. That was my biggest complaint with the reboot. It was light on the temple exploration. Sure, it had a few quick puzzles in caverns that sort of stood as temples, but it was nothing like we’d come to expect from Croft and her exploits. Rise of the Tomb Raider, though, has plenty of temples. For the most part, they’re optional, like I said. Over the course of my time with the game, I came across three optional tombs. These are just the ones I found on my own. There were likely more.
Remember, I started the game from the beginning. My three hours covered the intro, the tutorial-ish parts, top-heavy exposition and navigating menus for the first time. The fact that I had a rate of one optional temple per hour during the initial three hours is huge. The three temples scaled in difficulty, and the third took me much longer than the first.
These temples? They’re essentially puzzles. You might be tasked with platforming, managing water levels in order to further your progression or stepping back and working out which way to go. They vary, and they each end with unlocking an ancient skill. These skills appear to be totally different from what Lara learns in her skill tree. The first temple I conquered, for instance, gave me the ability to double fire my bow in rapid succession.
You’ll find the temples simply by walking near them during the more open segments of the campaign. You’ll be alerted that a temple entrance is hidden nearby. It’s then up to you to open your map, find the space where the temple should be located and then track it down. Sometimes these temples are a snap to find, other times they’re placed in really obvious locations.
Like I said, they’re totally optional. Perhaps this is the part where folks might take some issue with Rise of the Tomb Raider. The game, at least during its onset, feels a lot more linear than it really is.
Cutscenes and objectives give you a very straight path, and it’s really, really easy to get sucked into the story and just plow straight ahead. However, you’ll miss things. You can fast travel to previous campsites, but this isn’t a purely open world. You’re in an area for a stretch of the story, and then you move on.
It’s up to you to stop, look for temples, search for relics and hunt out all the nooks and crannies. You’re rewarded with experience and parts in order to further level Lara up, so you certainly won’t be wasting your time. You should stop and explore. The temples were easily the best part of the opening part of the game, and they actually managed to push Rise of the Tomb Raider from the list of games I’ll likely play in 2016 to my pile for the remainder of 2015.
There was a lot of noise made regarding how murderous Lara was during the E3 demo of this game. I played the segment in question during my play, but this is it in case you’re curious. Folks were upset that Lara went all kill, kill, kill, but that’s totally optional. Here’s the stealth run of that segment.
Now, you can’t ghost this game, as far as I can tell. There were moments during the campaign where killing was pretty much forced on the player. This isn’t Splinter Cell, though. Lara totally kills dudes. It happens. It’s not the sole objective, but it happens. My recommendation is that you play how you want to play, but don’t go in hoping to stealth the entire thing. The game simply isn’t set up that way.
What I played was really fun. As my demo wrapped up, I wanted more of the story, more of those awesome temples and more exploration. Exploring is what Tomb Raider is all about. You can do that here, and that’s good news.
We’ll be reviewing Rise of the Tomb Raider on or before release. This is a temporary Xbox exclusive. It will move to the PC early next year, and PlayStation 4 owners will have a crack at it next holiday.