This Week’s Game: Rise of the Tomb Raider

So, remember how I mentioned a big snowstorm was coming to my area? Guess whose daughter had her school cancelled today? That’s right, this guy. So, this is getting done way later than I anticipated.

But ya know? A snowstorm is not entirely inappropriate for the game this week. The majority of Rise of the Tomb Raider is set on a frozen mountain in the Siberian wilderness, after all. There is snow, there is ice and there is Lara, running around shivering while people try to kill her. Good times.

Rise of the Tomb Raider
I can’t see how this could possibly be dangerous.

Yeah, that was irony. One of the alternate titles for this game could be “Lara Croft’s Sim Torment,” from the amount of abuse that poor girl goes through over the course of the game. So far it hasn’t quite hit the level of abuse she took in the first game, but she ends up falling off mountains, getting dropped into spike traps, savaged by wolves and big cats, and of course, she takes about a billion bullet wounds.

Rise of the Tomb Raider
This is about as intact as Lara gets. Only a little minor head trauma.

I’m getting a bit ahead of myself, though; let me set the scene for you. After the events of the last game (spoiler-free spoiler: lots of supernatural shit happens) Lara Croft has come to reevaluate her father’s obsession with finding the secret of immortality. She has started obsessively tracking down “The Prophet,” a legendary miracle worker from the… 10th century? The Byzantine era, whatever that was. Anyway, her father was labelled as a quack by the scientific community for making claims about the Prophet and the artefact known as the “Divine Source,” and he apparently committed suicide in despair. Now Lara is following the research he left behind, and she thinks that she has tracked down the forgotten city of the Prophet and his followers in Siberia. Only, there is a shadowy organization called “Trinity” following her every move…

Gameplay-wise, the game is solid and fun. Compared to the previous TR, Lara is a much savvier combatant, and she has learned to craft her own arrows and other specialized forms of ammunition (reminding me inexorably of Aloy, of course. 😉 ). As Lara gains experience, you gain skill points to unlock new abilities to expand her options even further. Her skills are organized into three categories: Brawler, for melee combat and stealth skills; Hunter, for ranged combat and hunting skills (duh); and Survival, for… basically everything else. Survival is a mixed bag, seriously.

Anyway, even though the skills are in categories, the categories don’t really matter; higher skills are unlocked by investing in lower tier skills, but it doesn’t matter which category those skills come from. Theoretically, you could invest in no tier 1 Brawler skills, but still get tier 2 skills when they unlock. At least, the ones that don’t have a lower skill as a requirement. …Does that explanation make sense? Long story short, skill categories don’t matter, only their tier. There are no bad skills, so choosing which one to take is absolutely a matter of personal taste.

Hmmm, what else to say? The music is fine; not especially sweeping me away, but it works. I will say that it is very helpful that combat music fades in when hostiles are nearby; I’ve nearly tripped over wolves (literally) just because I didn’t notice them lying on the ground as I was running around, only to hear the music change and warn me that they were near. Helpful.

The visuals are… well.

Rise of the Tomb Raider_9.jpg
They’re pretty good.
Rise of the Tomb Raider
Weird, sometimes. But good.

I’d rate Horizon slightly higher, but only slightly. Yes, that’s a compliment. 😉

If I was to say one thing that bugged me… ok, two things. First, the Dodge Counter/Dodge Kill has returned from the first game, but… it seems to me that it has gotten a lot finickier to actually pull it off. The dodge mechanic itself seems to be slightly broken, often leaving me looking at walls, or alternately getting stuck on obstacles I don’t see. I suppose it’s possible I’m just using it wrong, but… yeah. Much easier to kill things before they close in on you. Although, Trinity mooks seem to like grenade spam… 😛

The other thing that’s bugging me is more or less Aloy’s fault again. I have previously mentioned how bow combat in Legend of Zelda BOTW was irritating me because it put the whole mechanic on one trigger; I felt that Horizon’s mechanic (lifting the bow to aim with the left trigger, pulling back the string with the right trigger, and releasing the right trigger to fire) was much more natural and intuitive.

Well, I’m having a similar but different problem with bow combat in ROTTR. You see, Lara raises her bow to aim with the left trigger like Aloy does. However, she draws back the bow at the same time; you fire a shot by tapping the right trigger instead. Holding the trigger down, like for Aloy, charges the shot instead; and a charged shot can’t be held indefinitely. I have missed a countless number of shots because I went to draw back a shot, and loosed a charged shot by accident instead. Damn you, muscle memory! :\

(Aloy is a better hunter than Lara anyway. Probably a better archaeologist too. Come at me, bro! 😀 )

Oh, I almost forgot. So, to my surprise, the edition of ROTTR I got was effectively a definitive edition, meaning that I had a bunch of DLC content that I didn’t expect. The extra levels and modes were not a problem; the Baba Yaga DLC, which was integrated into the story, was actually very fun, to the point where I burned a whole evening playing through it. (Got a nice bow… and a very “Aloy” outfit. 😉 )

Rise of the Tomb Raider
Her fingers have claws. It’s amazing.

But it also included some extra weapons, which unlocked when I got any other weapon of that type (pistol, rifle, shotgun, bow), and twelve outfits that are unlocked immediately. The weapons are basically reskins of weapons already in the game, but… the weapons in the game are unlocked by collected pieces from strongboxes, which is somewhat less fulfilling if you already have that same weapon, but cooler looking. Not only that, the outfits have various gameplay effects (well, slight effects), so I don’t like using them either. As a personal choice, I’ve basically only been wearing the outfits I’ve earned, like Baba Yaga up there. 😉 Anyway, it annoyed me to be given those things for free in my first playthrough. I would have felt better about it if they unlocked after I beat the game, or at least if the game gave me a choice or not of whether to include them… Ah, never mind.

Ok, so much for gameplay, let’s move on to Story Spoilers! 😀

***Spoilers ahead!***

Speaking of spoilers, I actually spoiled the plot of this game for myself well before I even picked the game up, so the first major “twist” was not actually a surprise to me. See, Lara had a surrogate mother figure named Ana, who turns out to be secretly an agent of Trinity and the sister of the big bad, Konstantin; Lara learns this when Ana tries to trick her into revealing what she knows about the divine source. Some of the documents you collect indicate that Ana has mixed feelings about betraying Lara, and her father, but obviously she still goes through with it. Naturally, for Lara, it’s even more psychological trauma, poor girl.

Rise of the Tomb Raider
Konstantin. Kind of a bad boss, incidentally. I… didn’t manage to grab a picture of Ana. Oops. >.>

I have to say though, even if I hadn’t spoiled the story for myself, I probably still would have been suspicious of Ana for meta-story reasons. She effectively pops out of nowhere to be an important figure in Lara’s life — as far as I recall, she wasn’t so much as mentioned in the previous game — and the story doesn’t spend too much time building up her character before the big reveal that she’s on the other side. So, it’s hard for us as an audience to have the proper reaction to her betrayal, since we (as the audience) don’t have much emotional investment in her yet. Most of the characterization we do get is from Lara’s exposition, and as everyone should know, telling us that she is an important emotional crutch for Lara is not nearly as effective as showing us. So, I guess I’d call that a missed opportunity for good storytelling.

Setting that aside, I like the general arc of the story. There is enough mystery to keep you moving forward, and enough real emotion to make you sympathize with Lara. As I already mentioned, Ana doesn’t help in that regard, but fortunately Jonah from the first game is still around, and he’s still a big cuddly teddy bear who is 100% behind Lara even when he thinks she’s going crazy. Despite Ana’s best efforts, in and out of game, he is the emotional lynchpin of the story, and the story is better for it.

Other notable NPCs include Aloy…

Rise of the Tomb Raider
Wait, that hair isn’t nearly crazy enough. The resemblance is uncanny, though.

…Ah, no sorry, that’s Sofia. She’s the daughter of Jacob, the badass and mysterious leader of the Remnant, the natives living around the lost city. Here’s a big spoiler for you: Jacob is actually the Prophet, made immortal by the Divine Source. Apparently he was something of a jerk in the past, but by the time of the game he seems to have gotten over it. I have not gotten far enough into the game to see any of this revealed, but I’m looking forward to it. Frankly, I like that there are friendly NPCs in the game this time; in Yamatai, you had the crew of the Endurance, and that was basically it. In this game, you can actually do missions for the Remnant, for decent rewards, so it doesn’t feel as unrelentingly grim as the situation in Yamatai, although Trinity is attempting to wipe everyone out. So yeah.

Let’s see, what else… Well, as expected, the Divine Source is destroyed at the end of the game, and Lara reaches some measure of closure with the death of her father even though she couldn’t redeem him in the eyes of the world. She defeats her immediate enemies, but Trinity is still out there. So far, so standard; but frankly, I prefer not to judge stories based on how original they are, but on how well they execute their chosen story. ROTTR makes a few missteps, perhaps, but on the whole it presents a very engaging tale of exploration, trauma, and redemption, and I’m looking forward to completing it.

Rise of the Tomb Raider

***Spoilers done***

Well. Although I want to complete Rise of the Tomb Raider, it’s been a week, and it’s time for me to move on. I had a few candidates for next week’s game, but after a certain amount of consideration, I’ve decided that I will be playing Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate. One reason is because I want to immerse myself in the Victorian London setting… but the main reason is that I noticed when comparing PS trophies to OhMario that he and I have only a single game in common out of a couple hundred (Borderlands on the PS3, in case you’re wondering.) Well, next week we’ll have two. 😉

…That went way longer than I expected, and I think I still forgot a couple things I wanted to mention. Like how the snow physics were all wrong… Oh well. Later, all. 😛

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