When Rise of the Tomb Raider originally released on Xbox One back in 2015, it was one of my favorite games of the year. I loved its semi-open world nature that prompted exploration, the progression of improving your weapons and gear, and the satisfying combat that often felt dirty and in-your-face.
Coming into E3, it was easy for me to get excited about playing Shadow of the Tomb Raider just because of how much I adored this previous entry. After spending close to thirty minutes with the latest installment in Lara Croft’s story though, I felt that not much had changed from Rise of the Tomb Raider — and I’m entirely okay with that.
To say that nothing in Shadow of the Tomb Raider had changed, however, isn’t giving it enough credit. From the small moments of the story that I was able to witness, the most significant difference that stood out to me was the overall tone seemed much more grim and dark compared to the previous two games in the series. This is something that our own Jordan Boyd took note of as well when he initially saw Shadow of the Tomb Raider after its reveal last month, and I agree with him. For this darker setting to be so apparent says a lot because the previous installments in this Croft trilogy haven’t exactly been all that happy-go-lucky, either.
Other than these darker tones that SotTR seems to have, the core gameplay seems pretty much the same. The vertical slice of the game that I played had me sleuthing through a cave as Lara to find an ancient dagger. To retrieve this item, I had to do a fair amount of platforming, swimming, and puzzle-solving through the use of Lara’s trusty bow. None of these elements of Shadow of the Tomb Raider felt new, but they were still enjoyable and engaging nonetheless.
After I finally found the dagger, the demo shifted into a more combat-heavy section where I was either hiding in tall grass trying to stealth kill enemies or going in guns-hot with an assault rifle to mow down foes in quick succession. Again, both styles of play were virtually identical to what was found in Rise of the Tomb Raider, but that didn’t make head shotting thugs from afar with a bow any less satisfying.
It’s also worth mentioning that this demo I played was on a PC version of Shadow of the Tomb Raider. NVIDIA and Square Enix announced their partnership on this version of the game after it was fully unveiled in April and I found it to be quite impressive. The visuals and framerate each looked fantastic, and I struggle to imagine Shadow of the Tomb Raider running better on other hardware. Then again, I have yet to see what it looks like on Xbox One X, so the jury is still out.
Most of what I played of Shadow of the Tomb Raider might have felt familiar, but at the same time, this familiarity reminded me of why I love this series of games in the first place. It’s always hard to want subsequent sequels in a series to do entirely new things when the previous installments already did so many things correctly. Juggling this balance between wanting to see changes while simultaneously not wanting a sequel to deviate too far away from what made past iterations so great is always tricky. In the end, though, I think I’d prefer Eidos Montreal to not stray too far from what I believe is already a winning formula.
Judging from my demo, it seems like the most significant changes in Shadow of the Tomb Raider will be the tone and the story that it’s telling. While I think the previous two games in this series fell flat at times when it came to narrative, what I saw here at least made me far more intrigued than I expected it to. We’ll have to wait until September to see if this story comes to fruition this time around, but on a pure gameplay front, I’m still all-in for Lara’s next adventure.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider is set to release on September 14 for Xbox One, PS4, and PC. You can pre-order the game now over on Amazon now.
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