2013’s Tomb Raider reboot boldly revived the franchise by telling Lara Croft’s origin story and recasting her as a gritty action heroine. The breakneck-paced campaign took a lot of cues from Sony’s Uncharted franchise but greatly improved the combat—almost to a fault. Its focus on spectacular set pieces and explosive battles left many fans wondering where the titular tombs were. Rise of the Tomb Raider retains everything that was good about its predecessor, but it features a larger, more varied world that is chock full of tombs, crypts and caverns to explore. It restores the epic scale and sense of wonder largely missing in Lara’s previous adventure to deliver the best Tomb Raider yet.
The story picks up a year after Lara’s traumatic experience in the prequel, where she was forced to kill to survive and got a glimpse of the supernatural. But no one believes her, and she is widely discredited, the same way her late father was, who was searching for the secret to immortality. Determined to prove herself and restore her father’s good name, she sets out to find answers and comes up against a sinister organization called Trinity. This Lara is much more confident and assured than in the last game, and developer Crystal Dynamics is similarly emboldened. They know they crafted a stellar action-adventure template, and they don’t stray far from that formula.
And it only makes sense to build upon that successful foundation. Rise of the Tomb Raider is a huge, sprawling adventure, and though it’s not quite an open world, it does a good job of feigning the illusion of one with plenty of side missions along the way. There’s a fairly linear path to follow, but the game encourages players to explore every nook and cranny of the beautifully realized environments, and each discovery reaps rewards. This sequel uses a similar upgrade system that allows players to augment Lara’s abilities and improve her weapons, and the general gameplay loop remains as satisfying as ever.
The combat is tight and precise, but Rise gives players more choice as to how to approach each scenario. You can still run in guns blazing, but the game encourages stealth and gives Lara the option of sticking to the shadows and picking off enemies with her trademark bow and arrow. Lara is more agile and acrobatic than ever and can climb trees and stalk prey (both animal and human) from above. There’s a greater variety of wildlife roaming the world, including a memorable early encounter with a giant bear, and packs of wolves and lynx can disrupt enemy encounters. The world is staggeringly detailed and feels genuinely alive, as deer, chickens and rabbits scamper about and provide valuable hides that can be used to craft upgrades.
All of this animal activity makes Rise of the Tomb Raider’s dozen or so tombs stand out in stark contrast to the rest of the game. Although they’re once again technically optional endeavors, they’re absolutely essential and provide valuable items and upgrades. But more importantly, they’re bigger, more complex and provide some of the most awe-inspiring parts of the game, making you genuinely feel as if Lara is discovering something long-hidden. They’re also smartly designed, as locating the tombs, exploring them and ultimately solving the clever physics-based puzzles feels immensely rewarding.
Even after finishing the approximately 15-hour campaign, I keep going back to explore more of the world and unearth all of its secrets. Crystal Dynamics has finally put the tombs back in Tomb Raider, and combined with the top-notch combat and action sequences, they’ve crafted a truly stellar sequel. Rise of the Tomb Raider is easily one of the best adventures of the year, and the best Tomb Raider yet.