When Shadow of the Tomb Raider was officially revealed at a Square Enix press event earlier this year, I intentionally avoided trailers, screenshots, and any information on the game to keep my perspective fresh. Having enjoyed both the Tomb Raider reboot and Rise of the Tomb Raider, I remained confident that Eidos Montréal and Crystal Dynamics would conclude Lara’s origin story in a spectacularly entertaining fashion.
As the end credits started rolling on Shadow of the Tomb Raider, I felt very conflicted much like Camilla Luddington often is in her believable portrayal of the iconic archaeologist turned adventurer. While there are several aspects about this title that are great, Lara’s journey didn’t feel quite as complete and defined as her previous adventures. Here are more of my thoughts on why the conclusion to this origin story may or may not disappoint you.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider revolves around Lara embarking on a dangerous expedition throughout South America and the mysterious hidden city of Paititi to reclaim a Mayan relic with ties to both her deceased father and the prevention of a Mayan apocalypse from destroying the entire world. Given the relic’s direct connection to several apocalyptic events, Lara feels partly responsible for unknowingly causing these catastrophes and enlists the aid of her close friend Jonah Maiava (played by Earl Baylon) to help navigate through harsh environments and menacing wildlife creatures. As expected, Lara also has to deal with the military organization known as Trinity and their High Council Leader Dr. Dominguez who also has some secrets of his own.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider offers a somewhat decent storyline, but for a finale, I was expecting a lot more. While we do get answers to some more lingering questions about Lara’s backstory along with witnessing her full-fledged transformation into the hardened Tomb Raider that we all know and love, the overall execution falls flat and feels rushed in certain areas. The journey feels slightly shorter than the previous games, and for that reason, I would make the argument that this adventure could have been an expansion package rather than a full priced retail release.
In a year with so many significant releases dropping like Marvel’s Spider-Man, Red Dead Redemption 2 and more, I do feel that publishers have to do more to stand out among the masses and when a particular aspect falls short of expectations, then it stands out like a sore thumb. I may not be in the majority in saying this but at least to me, it doesn’t feel like there has been enough real hype for this game ever since the reveal event and that’s a damn shame. Of course, all of these thoughts are entirely subjective, and some of you may enjoy how the narrative plays out. I’m more interested in where Eidos Montréal takes the series next as it doesn’t appear to be over yet.
The single most impressive feature about Shadow of the Tomb Raider lies in just how visually mesmerizing it looks from start to finish. On the Xbox One X, the game supports Native 4K Ultra HD, full HDR support, enhanced texture resolution, and 3D audio. From the lush landscapes of massive jungles to the vibrant backdrop of Paititi, this is without a doubt a graphical powerhouse and the best looking game in the trilogy. If there is one thing to nitpick, then it would be that some of the character models of other locals that you interact with all look similar and not diverse enough. Minor gripes aside, you’ll be delighted with how fantastic the game looks if you have a 4K TV.
One of the driving forces behind gameplay in Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the emphasis on testing Lara’s survival instincts in larger, more unforgiving surroundings. In addition to discovering more tombs, she now has to defend herself against Jaguars, Wolves and other hostile creatures located throughout the jungle. Swimming underwater for extended periods of time to acquire collectibles and reach other destinations has also been added to enhance the reality of threats on both land and sea. Lastly, players will be able to use their upgraded climbing gear to reach both higher and lower ground thanks to the grapple axe and rappel swinging abilities.
When it comes to combat, Lara can now cover herself in mud and use nearby muddy, covered walls to remain camouflaged until executing stealth attacks on adversaries. Using stealth is highly encouraged throughout but you also still have the option of using arrows, guns, and knives at your disposal. Completing tombs, challenges and story related tasks grant you skill points to upgrade your abilities as a Seeker, Warrior, and Scavenger. There are a total of 58 skills to collect, and even if you don’t get them all on your first playthrough, you can do so after the campaign by completing other tasks.
Aside from a few of the gameplay changes I mentioned above, Shadow of the Tomb Raider pretty much remains the same as its other predecessors. There are still fantastic action set pieces akin to something you would see in the Uncharted games and you can still engage in random side conversations with people and explore locations as opposed to playing just the main story. What the team has brought to this game is excellent but I feel like things were played a little too safe and it would have been interesting to see what else they could do to enhance the experience. If you enjoyed the other games in the series, then you’ll more then likely be happy either way with how the final product turned out.
The soundtrack and voice acting throughout Shadow of the Tomb Raider are tremendous and adequately set the darker tone established by the narrative. Leading lady Camilla Luddington steals the show and has an incredible emotional range that genuinely embodies everything special about Lara Croft. The supporting cast also does a decent job in keeping players engaged in every setting.
As a complete package, Shadow of the Tomb Raider could take roughly around 15 – 20 hours to complete depending on which difficulty settings that you choose for combat, exploration, and puzzles. As I mentioned above, this game still feels shorter than the other games, but if you’re a completionist, then there is enough stuff to keep you coming back to collect everything.
There are several different monuments to decipher, secrets to uncover, collectibles to acquire, challenge tombs to discover and side missions that you can participate in during and after the campaign. Additional side missions and challenge tombs will be available at a later time for those who decide to purchase the season pass. Once you complete the game, you unlock a new game plus mode and can replay the story with all of the skills that you have already acquired.
In closing, Shadow of the Tomb Raider does enough right to be another great entry in the franchise. While the ending might feel anticlimactic and there aren’t a massive amount of changes to the overall gameplay experience, Eidos Montréal and Crystal Dynamics have still succeeded in finally finishing this origin trilogy on their terms. They have the perfect combination of a very talented creative team and the best representation of Lara Croft in Camilla Luddington, so the future of the franchise is exceedingly bright.
This review was written based on a digital review copy of Shadow of the Tomb Raider for the Xbox One X provided by Square Enix.