I played Rise of the Tomb Raider and I have some thoughts

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article reviewing the rebooted Tomb Raider franchise, and praised its progression loops and balancing as one of the best in AAA games today. Let’s go point by point and see if the sequel lived up to my own self-imposed hype.

  • The leveling system has changed. The weapon upgrades no longer draw from the same resource pool. Instead of just collecting “salvage,” you collect multiple different kinds of supplies from the environment, which dictate what you can upgrade. There are also many more upgrades in each category, and paired with the introduction of different kinds of each weapon type, it because a huge mess of menus and pointless upgrades. I rarely felt the difference between weapon upgrades (except for draw speed/reload speed), and the sheer number of them made it feel like an insurmountable challenge to complete them all. The skill tree system remained the same and still made gameplay differences for the most part, but it suffered from the same “more is more” issue that the weapon upgrades did.
  • The new weapon upgrade system requires the increase in collectibles as far as supplies go, which means a lot more busywork. It provides a better reason to hunt the wildlife, but in basically every other way it bogs down the gameplay. The other things like documents, relics, and more suffer a bit from the Assassin’s Creed problem. There are bigger areas to explore with more things to find, but the whole thing just starts to feel a bit too… checklist-y. I stopped feeling like I was an archaeologist exploring an undiscovered mountain range, and started feeling like a Gamer using a virtual map.
  • Fast travel between camps is still there, and there are even more camps than before to make it easier to get around, especially the bigger areas. However, I am loathe to discover that the reason for this is because certain areas are locked after going through them in the story. Tunnels that get covered in rubble, or areas only accessible through a rope that you can never quite find your way back to. Where before I would be happy running through the whole area again, I’m forced to spend more time in the map menu figuring out if the next document is even accessible from where I am. Also, exploring feels a lot less quick because enemies are no longer gone from completed regions. There will be a few remaining bad guys in each spot, even when it makes no story sense for that to be the case. It’s not a lot, but it’s enough to not feel free to run around, and then even more frustrating when you fight the same 4 guys for the 10th time, only to find that the way forward is arbitrarily blocked off.
  • The combat system is about the same. There are some new enemy types introduced, which add an interesting flair. Overall, nothing really different here.
  • The gameplay loop remains the same, except there is a much heavier emphasis on collecting. Unfortunately, it makes the loop feel imbalanced, as I have to spend way more time killing rabbits to get the correct kind of hide to upgrade my weapons. It’s not a huge change, but enough that I started to quit sooner and sooner because I was bored of doing the same things in the same environments over and over again.
  • The platforming is better than ever, and all they had to do was add a grappling hook. It makes the environments feel so much more customizable and accessible, and every time I threw my axe out in a desperate attempt to stay alive, I really believed I was exploring. This was by far my favorite addition to the game, and I hope they focus more on the platforming and puzzle solving in the next one.
  • Visuals were great, like the first, but better, as is expected.
  • Finally, the story. It’s standard fare for a game like this. I was too busy crushing on Lara’s main ally to see the objectively obvious twist coming. Also, I found the lore itself significantly less engaging than the first one. Even though the “main story” was pretty interesting, everything that painted the background was so horribly boring that it all just kind of passed me by.

To conclude, while Rise of the Tomb Raider was very fun, I was definitely bummed by the focus it took on combat and collectibles. Everything I’ve heard about the third one, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, is that it focuses on the puzzle solving and much less on the combat, so perhaps that will be more my speed. Until it gets knocked down in price though, we will have to wait and see.

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