Every once in a while even iconic franchises need their restart, which is what Tomb Raider did utterly successfully in 2013. But even after successfully kickstarting the reinvention of a franchise you have to set a course towards something that keeps both new and returning players interested in what you’ve got in store for them. This year Lara Croft returns, and we got a first hands-on experience and an in-depth look at the game with the team at Crystal Dynamics.

A huge factor that divided players about the 2013 reboot was the fact that the game had taken a much more action-oriented approach, that whilst being strong in its own right didn’t cover all of the core-elements that the Tomb Raider franchise always held close to heart. Exploration, puzzles and treasure-hunting were always key elements in the franchise, which make a definite return in what seems to be a mix of both old and new. But let’s start off from the beginning. As we started our session we began with a short presentation by Chris Johnston, associate brand manager at Crystal Dynamics, who would give us a short summary about the game and its production.SCREEN_TR_0003_Layer 1Rise of the Tomb Raider follows Lara Croft as she heads towards Syria, where she is looking for the Prophet’s Tomb, which holds the secrets of immortality according to the notes that her father left behind. But as she makes her way a ruthless organisation known as Trinity is on a rival expedition to find the secrets of the Lost City of Kitezh as well, which prompts Lara to endure a battle for survival and a race to the finish before Trinity beats her to it.

We start our journey with a single cut scene to get us on our way, which encompassed an intense jeep vs helicopter versus helicopter encounter that as expected, doesn’t really end all that well. A wounded Lara makes her way away from the wreckage and along the cliffside, after which we encountered some familiar and welcome gameplay elements that many have been missing for a while. Rather than a combat-driven section we were given a pretty big taster of exploration and puzzle-solving throughout Rise of the Tomb Raider. Puzzle rooms, spike-filled walls and boobytraps were all part of the equation as we ventured deep into the temple that laid ahead. A large part of the demo featured water-based sections that tasked the player with lowering and raising water levels in order to get to the next section, which acted as a tutorial for these mechanics as the demo we were going through was an early section of the game.SCREEN_TR_0002_Layer 2Whilst there were a lot of classic elements that returned during our session, the new elements that the game brought in were just as interesting with their dynamic. A new feature is that Lara can expand her knowledges of foreign and ancient languages as she translates ancient murals in her surroundings. For instance, if Lara translates a script written in Greek her proficiency level in that language will move up, which will help unlock additional puzzles and even aid in unlocking hidden crypts that hold even more secrets and treasures for the players to find in the world, which is where another big factor of the world comes in.

Like it’s predecessor, Rise of the Tomb Raider’s game world is divided in hub’s, which are unlocked as you progress throughout the story. Each section has their own distinctive identity and setting, though you won’t just be passing through as you make your way throughout the story. In order to find treasures, explore additional tombs and gain specific items for upgrades you’ll be able to move back through the different hubs in order to complete your gameplay experience. For example, for certain upgrades you’ll need to head back to a certain area because the specific animal you need to hunt is only featured in that part of the world, which will cause you to backtrack throughout the world and possibly find a lot more secrets you may have missed the first time.SCREEN_TR_0000_Layer 4Whilst we only got to play an early section of the game, its contents were a good sign of what’s to come, which included a lot more variety and callbacks to the aspects of the Tomb Raider franchise that we’ve known to love. The action-filled aspects of the first game carry over, but the franchise evolves with Lara herself as we move into territories that create a combination of the best aspects of the franchise.

Rise of the Tomb Raider is slated to be released as a timed-exclusive on Xbox One this December.