Shadow of the Tomb Raider probably isn’t what you think it is.
From previous gameplay trailers and footage, you might have got the impression that combat had been brought to the forefront, and that overall it would be more “edgy”. The truth is, neither of those things are true. And that’s quite possibly why it’s the best game in the Tomb Raider reboot trilogy.
She just can’t help herself
Shadow of the Tomb Raider reunites us with a now more mature Lara Croft, who is once again in pursuit of storied artefacts and the shady organisation known as Trinity. While by now you’d expect her to have realised that she shouldn’t mess with things she doesn’t fully understand, she just can’t help herself, and sets in motion a sequence of events that threatens the entire world. And so of course, it’s up to her to clean up her mess, and her friend Jonah is along for the ride.
After a few hours with Shadow of the Tomb Raider, you’ll be of the opinion that the core experience is largely the same as in previous titles; an enjoyable mix of action and adventure, with plenty of resource gathering thrown in for good measure. It’s only as you progress further that the game really comes into its own. Upon finding a small settlement, for example, you might be surprised to not only find a vendor from which to buy weapons and crafting goods, but also to pick up a side mission.
You can rely on Lara
While there are only a handful of actual side missions in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, they do a great job of making the world feel more expansive. They also help to show Lara in a different light. She’s no longer the whiny, almost reluctant adventurer she was in the previous games; now she’s a go-getter who doesn’t believe in the word can’t. While she sometimes drops the facade when alone with Jonah, when presenting herself to anyone else she’s a pillar of confidence and strength, someone they can rely on.
Make no mistake, Lara has grown up a lot since Rise of the Tomb Raider, and she develops more as a character throughout Shadow of the Tomb Raider. The gameplay has matured with her too. Believe it or not, combat has actually been toned down for this journey. There’s the odd skirmish here and there, but Shadow of the Tomb Raider is happier with you exploring picturesque locations and actually raiding tombs than presenting you with dynamic shooting galleries.
Less combat, more adventure
It’s perhaps a strange move to decrease the number of combat encounters while also increasing the number of weapons available in the game, but it works, nonetheless. Though the majority of encounters can be easily diffused with stealth, Lara smearing herself with mud to more effectively remain concealed, you’ll be glad you’ve got your arsenal when things go wrong. You’ll also be glad when faced with enemies that stealth just isn’t an option for.
Even your outfit in Shadow of the Tomb Raider can have an effect on the gameplay. While you’re sometimes forced to wear certain attire for story reasons, when you can choose what you wear, you might do so tactically. New outfits can be acquired by raiding crypts, and also purchased from vendors; their effects ranging from boosting your stealth abilities to providing you with more experience for certain types of kills. Whatever you choose to wear, its benefits, if there are any, won’t dramatically change how you play, but it might just give you an edge on harder difficulties.
Taking it easy
With combat encounters now few and far between, the general difficulty of Shadow of the Tomb Raider feels more lenient. On normal difficulty, I probably didn’t need all the skills I unlocked, or to have fully upgraded the six or so weapons that I acquired. I also didn’t need to make great use of the new herbal crafting system, allowing you to heal and boost your abilities on the fly. It’s not so much a negative; it just makes me keen to back through the game on harder difficulties.
Completing the main story line, along with all the challenge tombs and the majority of side missions took me just under 20 hours. At that though, there are still plenty of crypts, challenges and collectables for me to go back to discover and complete. Shadow of the Tomb Raider makes that easy to do, too, allowing you to jump back into the game once you’ve finished it. There’s also a new game plus mode if you’d rather start back at the beginning with all the gear you’ve unlocked.
A real journey
Honestly, I see myself jumping back into Shadow of the Tomb Raider as soon as I can. On Xbox One X it looks magnificent, especially in high resolution mode. Though it is much nicer to play in high framerate mode. More importantly though, its gameplay holds your attention from start to finish. It’s perfectly paced and perfectly pitched; there are no frustrations outside of the usual control issues (yes, Lara can still be a little unruly at times). And Shadow of the Tomb Raider‘s difficulty options means that it’s truly accessible to all.
When the credits roll, you feel like you’ve been on a real journey with Shadow of the Tomb Raider. You’ve experienced ups and downs, made new friends and enemies, and had the pleasure of seeing some phenomenal sights along the way. And as the dust settles, Lara has become who she was meant to be. But it is you who has got her there. It is you who has traversed dangerous environments and raided temples for their treasures, all the while defending yourself from those who seek to put a stop to your adventure. And just like any good adventure, you’ll be left wanting more.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider ends the reboot trilogy on a high note. It gives the fans what they want, as well as hope for what comes next. And I really hope there will be a next, because when it’s this good, it’d be criminal to have Lara sat twiddling her thumbs.