I wasn’t much of a Tomb Raider fan growing up. And as the series went on there seemed to be less and less of a real reason to even start. But then the big reboot happened, and suddenly I was all in. 2013’s Tomb Raider was awesome. It was like an Uncharted game, but with more of a bite to it. It was a little more rough around the edges, a little less Hollywood, and a lot more fun in terms of pure mechanics. The Lara Croft character was modernized, and a tone was established that carried the IP into a multimedia success.
Then Rise of the Tomb Raider, the second game, came out and while it was great too, it didn’t cause the same splash. Now a third game is about to come out, and it’s still telling the “origin” story. As excited as I am for more of this new formula, I’m starting to feel a little concerned. Is the new Tomb Raider being stretched too thin before it can really start?
This is a weird, self-contradicting train of thought I find myself on today. I’m super excited for Shadow of the Tomb Raider. The first game blew me away; I was sold from the beginning, when Lara looks over a cliff after surviving some serious video game nonsense and the game’s title materializes all shiny-like. The idea of an origin story for Croft was still novel then: a character for so long portrayed as a smarmy badass dialed way back and then run through a grinder. And then of course all the running, jumping, climbing, sneaking, and shooting felt great. This was the point when the bow and arrow became cool in games again, after all. When it was over I was so ready for more, to see the next step for Lara in this world, and to see what new twists and turns would come.
But things seemed off a bit. Despite all the merchandise, the comics, the novels, all the praise, Square Enix was in a rough spot and couldn’t really pump the sequel up one would expect. The Xbox One exclusivity window hurt a lot too, for mostly circumstantial reasons. The game itself was fine, but it wasn’t the same sort of explosive package like the first one. It was just more: bigger maps, more areas, and more Lara. It didn’t feel like Lara had grown as much as we expected her too, nor did she really seem to bring much back with her. Early trailers showed Croft in therapy, but that never materialized in the game. Outside of the stuff with her mother-in-law, it felt like a glorified side-story, or more of a half-step.
Now, the third game is being presented as yet another chapter of this story, which makes sense considering a sort of cliffhanger at the end of Rise of the Tomb Raider. Lara is still the same Lara from the past two games, but now it feels like she’s sliding into a generic-tasting melancholy. The first game was a tight, reasonably-lengthed adventure, while the second game just kept going and padding its runtime. What’s to say this one won’t follow the same path? I was expecting to see a more confident, aggressive Lara Croft by this point, somewhere in-between the 2013 Lara and those from before. Instead it feels like the story of one or two games has been stretched out to three, plus extra materials. It feels like a ton of wheel-spinning that happened as a result of things not going as planned.
What does everyone else think? Obviously we won’t know for sure how the game actually is until we’re playing it. It could very well blow me away in ways I wasn’t expecting. Perhaps it’s a big course correct from Rise, which came at a very awkward time in gaming history. Now we’re past a huge lump of drama and business problems, that we seem to be leaving behind to a degree. Sure, there will likely be a goofy multiplayer mode tacked on, but perhaps the story this time will be more focused, and have more forward momentum. I sure hope so. I don’t want to be fatigued after only three games; I don’t want to be over Tomb Raider before we get to see a story beyond the origin.