Saturday, November 4, 2017

Rise of the Tomb Raider

Of all the possible days to to have Rise of the Tomb Raider released on, Square Enix chose Nov 10, 2015, which happened to be Fallout 4's release date as well. Surely that cost them at least a few copies sold at full price. The game was also a timed exclusive on the Xbox but I guess Microsoft made that worth it.

It would be a shame if the publisher's poor decisions lead to fewer people playing the game, even more so if the third title in the rebooted series were to be canceled due to Rise's sales falling below Square Enix's expectations. Apparently Crystal Dynamics is working on a new game regardless. And that is a good thing as I liked Rise very much.

Easy combat, deadly wall climbing

I liked the game so much, in fact, that after finishing it on Seasoned Raider difficulty I immediately started a new playthrough on Extreme Survivor. I have to say, though, that unless you are going for the achievement, mere Survivor is quite enough. Extreme Survivor is the same except the game is saved only at campfires. And that can lead to frustration.

Few times in the game there is a long firefight followed by cutscenes and then a platforming section where failing will often lead to an instant death and cause you to do everything all over again. And platforming is what (if anything) kills you in Rise of the Tomb Raider.

Like in Tomb Raider (2013), I found combat to be very easy. It is the kind of a game that really rewards accuracy. Headshots kill enemies very quickly -- instantly even, if you are using any semi-auto gun. I suppose playing on a controller might make things a bit more challenging, especially on the harder difficulties where aim assist is disabled. But with a mouse, I often wished there had been more enemies to kill in encounters.

It also helped that the ludonarrative dissonance that was in the previous game is now gone. Lara is no longer shocked about having to murder hundreds of people. She is just surviving. They are trying to kill you, so you kill them first and that is it. Otherwise the game is very much like the previous one, even surprisingly so.

Improved Tomb Raider

Down to the structure of the story progression, Rise is almost a copy of the first game. All the same features return if only slightly refined or expanded in some areas. Linear story sections take turns with more open areas that again have optional tombs to raid. I do not recall what the tombs rewarded previously but in Rise you get a unique skill perk from each and that is good design.

Playing as completionist, I again maxed out skills just before the final bit of the game. The developers are definitely good at distributing experience gain. Maxing out weapons forced me to do some farming, however, as they added additional weapons to each category with exclusive upgrades. There are just not enough crafting materials to max out everything without doing some resource runs. I think the material carry limit is partly reason for that.

In addition to crafting materials gathering, there is some unnecessary backtracking needed to access places that require an upgrade gained in a story mission. It makes sense for areas such as the Soviet Installation as you cross them multiple times. But something like the single rope arrow requiring, relic-holding cave in the Siberian Wilderness is completely unnecessary.

Or how you have to revisit the Wicked Vale area added in the Baba Yaga DLC just for two documents if you do the mission right away when possible and do not have the wire spool upgrade yet. The DLC's boss fight is great, though. It has maybe some influence from Far Cry 3's silly drug-induced boss fights but instead of QTEs you beat the witch through actual gameplay.

It is quite well designed unlike the main game's. Well, the helicopter part is fine but fighting Konstantin was somewhat contrived after that. He takes away your bow and guns, and you need to do two stealth attacks to beat him. As I found out, he can be stunlocked with correctly timed regular melee attacks. It is dumb that it deals no actual damage to him.

20th Anniversary release

Rise of the Tomb Raider has all kinds of additional content. After playing through the game twice, I did not feel like touching most of the non-campaign stuff but I did beat Lara's Nightmare once and go through the Croft Manor walking simulator. There is also Endurance, Cold Darkness, and score attack mode that uses the campaign's maps.

All of them have a card system to increase or decrease challenge and score. With credits gained from the mode you can buy more cards in random lootboxes. You can also buy them with real money. I am surprised that you cannot buy crafting materials or ancient coins for the campaign. Did Crystal Dynamics stand up to Square Enix and say no for double-monetizing their singleplayer game? Maybe Eidos Montreal should have done that with Deus Ex: Mankind Divided.

The next title in the series is rumored to be called Shadow of the Tomb Raider. It will be interesting to see if they will continue with what is essentially remaking the same game or will they deviate from the succeeding formula to something even better?

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