E3 2015 Preview: Rise of the Tomb Raider Impressions

Rise of the Tomb Raider is second only to Halo 5: Guardians as the most anticipated game for the Xbox One. Set to release this holiday season, I had the opportunity to see a live gameplay demo of Rise of the Tomb Raider at Day One of E3 2015. The demo was set immediately after the footage shown at Microsoft’s E3 2015 Briefing. You can watch it here. No photography was allowed during the demo. This is what I saw:

Rise of the Tomb Raider’s E3 demo was all about survival. How Lara survived her first adventure in 2013’s Tomb Raider, and how she continues to survive new environments and threats in this latest installment into the series. Set some time after the events of the previous game, Lara now finds herself in search of a Lost City hidden somewhere deep within Siberia. She has grown tougher and more confident since we last saw her, which is good thing because the freezing cold of the Arctic would make short work of a lesser adventurer. Separated from her companion, Jonah, I saw Lara build a camp fire to provide her with warmth and a safe place to rest. In searching for the necessary supplies to build this fire, I was introduced to Rise of the Tomb Raider’s refined crafting system. By scavenging or looting component parts, Lara can piece together useful items on the fly. The very first example I was shown involved some tree branches, a bit of cloth, and a few mushrooms. Able to combine these items anywhere and at any time, Lara was able to craft a new ammo type for her signature bow—poison arrows. I was assured that craftable ammunition and one-use items will markedly affect how players approach combat in Rise of the Tomb Raider and indeed, I got to see this in action.

Having rested for a short while, Lara continued through the demo—which sported some pretty incredible visuals that will even simulate snow accumulating on Lara’s body—before encountering an armed patrol huddled around a camp fire. How and why a group of mercenaries are stalking the Siberian wilderness isn’t known, but I was told that Lara isn’t the only party interested in finding the Lost City. This is when I saw the biggest change to Rise of the Tomb Raider’s combat—an increased emphasis on verticality and environment navigation. Lara is now able to climb up trees and scale other objects in her environment in a manner reminiscent of the Assassin’s Creed series, which is to say that doing so is fast and fluid. By quietly making her way up a tree and across several nearby branches, Lara was able to stealthily move into a more advantageous position with better sightlines. Lara fires an arrow away from the group of gunmen, drawing one away from the pack of four. While the others aren’t looking, she fires a single arrow into the lone merc, killing him instantly. Jumping down from her treetop perch, and looking a bit like Batman doing so, Lara rummages through the dead man’s belongings and finds a radio, which players will be able to use to call off reinforcements or distract nearby enemies, which will feature more advanced AI search and attack patterns this time around. In this case, Lara was able to distract the remaining mercenaries by turning the radio on and throwing into the nearby snow.ROTTR4-tifAs they coordinated their movements to investigate the commotion, Lara made her way through their little camp, picking up a small gasoline canister and combining it with some pieces of cloth to make an improvised explosive. Again, this was all done in-game, in real-time, similar to such crafting systems as those found in Dead Rising 3, or more recently, The Last of Us. You can imagine what happened next: Lara threw the explosive at the remaining mercenaries, killing them in a shower of flames that kicked up as much debris as it made a thundering sound. What I took away from this short scenario was 1) players will need to pay closer to attention to their surroundings than ever before and use it in creative ways to accomplish their goals 2) stealth is a much bigger component of this game than it was in the last 3) crafting items and upgrading weapons is crucial to success in Rise of the Tomb Raider. Coupled with a new environment traversal system that appears to open up the play space considerably and I think Rise of the Tomb Raider has the potential to present players with a new and tightly refined combat engine that is as much about stealth as it is hard-hitting combat.

Which is exactly what the second part of the demo showed off; following the encounter with the mercenaries, Lara continued through the wilderness in search of a route to Jonah and the Lost City. But men aren’t the only dangers Lara has to be mindful of in Rise of the Tomb Raider. There are other larger, more frightening predators to contend with, including the highly vicious East Siberian brown bear. In the demo that I saw, Lara was caught off guard and attacked by one of these massive bears, forcing her to run away. My gameplay coach wasn’t quick enough to evade however, and so Lara was caught by the beast and viciously mauled to death—if you were worried that this game was going to pull back from all the gory deaths of the last one, put that fear to rest. Able to successfully elude the bear the second time around, Lara emerged out onto a clearing in the wilderness. High atop a cliff overlooking a snow-covered valley, I was able to understand just how massive in scope Rise of the Tomb Raider really is—environments are several times larger than any of those seen in 2013’s Tomb Raider, and they’re full of tons of things to do and experience, including actual raiding actual tombs Who would have guessed it? Opting to do just that, my gameplay coach made his way down a path leading to some long abandoned ruins. The only catch was that the main entrance to the ruins was being guarded by the very same bear that had attacked Lara earlier. Unfazed by this, Lara called the bear out into combat, evading its powerful attacks and firing arrows into the animal’s right foreleg, possibly indicating that there is area specific damage that can be used to immobilize enemies. After a fierce confrontation with the bear, Lara felled the beast with an arrow through the cranium, ending the demo.ROTTR5-WomanvWild-tifAll said, I came away very impressed with Rise of the Tomb Raider. From its gorgeous visuals to its new crafting system, and from its intense, high-octane combat to its wide open environments that encourage exploration and investigation, Rise of the Tomb Raider is shaping up nicely. That Xbox was able to secure an exclusive (timed) partnership for the game is beginning to look like a good decision. Rise of the Tomb Raider is definitely a game that all Xbox fans should be excited about and I think it will do very nicely for itself come this holiday season. What is this Lost City that Lara is searching for, who else is after it, and why?

These questions and more will be resolved later this year, and as always Press Start is the place for all your news about Rise of the Tomb Raider. Remember to check back for more news from E3 2015!