Lara Croft has made quite a name for herself in the video game world since her debut in 1996, and with the success of the 2013 reboot, Tomb Raider, the hype for the sequel has grown to mythic proportions.

Rise of the Tomb Raider is a roaring adventure that offers fast-paced sequences that have players scrambling to survive; hidden tombs whose puzzles become increasingly challenging; a beautiful semi-open world for exploration and discovery of documents, artifacts and challenges; a deeper and darker storyline than what is usually expected in adventure-driven games; and a dangerously formidable protagonist.

Although elements of Lara’s latest quest seem at times questionably familiar, additions and modifications have undoubtedly improved the game in almost every way. Rise of the Tomb Raider is an epic thrill ride to be sure, but there are still criticisms that can be made.

Consider the following our breakdown of the best and worst aspects of the newest installment in the Tomb Raider series.

Best

Xbox Exclusive

The Rise of the Tomb Raider has been released exclusively for Xbox owners. And with Rise of the Tomb Raider being a beautiful beast of a game that is full of adrenaline and adventure, Xbox players now finally have something to brag about.

Breathtaking Vistas and Top Notch Environments

Snow-covered mountain tops, dark crypts, lush woods and decaying ruins are only some of the locals you’ll discover. Rise of the Tomb Raider is a very visually stunning game that provides a meticulously constructed explorable world. Hunting down all the collectable items and challenges becomes less like a chore as you truly begin to feel like you’re part of the world. Crystal Dynamics tackles various types of environments in Rise of the Tomb Raider, all done with a critical eye for detail and realism. The most notable one for us were the snow environments where the snow made realistic crunching sounds, deep snow slowed movement, and polar winds whipped all while Lara shivered.

To further the visual win, image quality is translated from the environment to the cutscenes. The picture quality of many games usually varies between the cutscenes and the game environment, but Tomb Raider is an exception, as it offers near seamless transitions between the two. There are times when you wait for Lara to move, but following your eye-roll you come to realize that it is in fact you who is in control.

Materials and Crafting

Rise of the Tomb Raider has made scavenging for materials worthwhile. As in the past Lara scavenges materials from the world around her, but now these materials are put to a better use then they were in the previous game. Lara can use saplings, hides, feathers, ore, bottles and cans to craft a wide range of objects including weapons upgrades, weapons themselves, and healing poultices. Many of these upgrades can be crafted on the fly, allowing Lara to resupply herself with poison arrows, instantly heal, and prep a Molotov (one of our personal favorites). That means farming for these materials prior to battles can save you from dicey situations in the long run.

Enemy Engagement

The third person shooter style of enemy engagement is the least inspired aspect of combat in Rise of the Tomb Raider. What turns this into a win in our books is that Lara can craft high-damage incendiaries like nail bombs, Molotov cocktails, smoke bombs and special ammo (that can also be lit up) to decimate baddies in seconds. With Lara’s volatile arensol and choice upgrades, just shooting a guy becomes gauche. However, for traditionalists, high-powered weapons like shotguns and rifles will get the job done nicely.

Darkness and Brutality

Rise of the Tomb Raider and its central villains have a dark tone to them, making it more brutal at times than what we have seen of the series to-date. The villains this time around are morally bankrupt, leading to more than a few dark encounters. And the increased grittiness of Rise of the Tomb Raider shows its evolution from a goofy puzzle platformer to a serious, immersive and, at times, complex RPG. The depth and weight of character motivation combined with violent, brutal combat will give this game real staying power. Rise of the Tomb Raider goes toe-to-toe with Uncharted and Far Cry, making it a franchise that is on track to dominate the genre.

Side Quests and Tombs

The best thing about Tomb Raider is, surprise, raiding tombs. And Rise of the Tomb Raider, with its semi-open world, delivers dynamic explorable areas. The best puzzles in the game are not found in the main questline but must be uncovered, and given the beauty of the world it easily becomes one of the game’s highlights. The “challenge tombs” offer puzzles that increase in difficulty as you progress through the game, an element that has consistently been the heart of the series. One thing that has changed in Rise of the Tomb Raider is that players are now given the option to accept side quests from specific allied characters throughout the adventure. This new quest system gives players another reason to hunt in non-combat zones that is perhaps more enjoyable than hunting down all the relics, documents and challenges.

Lara’s Evolution

Welcome back, Lady Croft! The 2013 reboot of the series, Tomb Raider, saw Lara at the very beginning of her journey. She was relatively green, with many of her skills lacking in refinement. But the latest installment in her journey sees her taking a decidedly darker path. With an attack style that is unquestionably more brutal and survival-based, Lara fights for her beliefs no matter the cost. What is refreshing about Lara Croft as a character is she is extremely well-rounded, brave, quick-witted and brutal. Rise of the Tomb Raider sees Lara as vulnerable, not in the typical way video games make their female characters, but morally and ideologically. Core principles are questioned and we see her early idealism fade into a moral gray area. Overall, Rise of the Tomb Raider‘s Lara Croft is the most dynamic and lethal incarnation yet. She gives Nathan Drake and Indiana Jones a run for their money, and she throws one heck of a barbecue.

Worst

Delayed Release for PS4

While Xbox owners rejoice, PlayStation owners will have to wait a year before they lace their adventuring boots. Maybe they can take all those sour grapes and make a nice wine to help ease the wait?

Play Style (Skill Development)

Rise of the Tomb Raider introduces three skill sets: Brawler, Hunter, Survivor. The different skill sets allow players to customize how their Lara interacts with her world and the many foes she faces. What makes this tip more towards a con is the fact that players must commit (for the most part) to one of the types if they want to unlock more higher level skills (increased damage or health regeneration). Without this commitment Lara will only gain a bunch of mid-level skills which, in turn, renders her mediocre.

Expedition Mode

Expedition Mode is the latest play style to be added to Rise of the Tomb Raider, replacing the 2013 multiplayer, but neither option has really felt like a hit yet. In Expedition Mode players can customize their environment using a variety of cards to modify play. However, gamers must complete their modes solo with the goal of besting their last effort or the efforts of their friends. While Expedition Mode does offer entertainment, the level of “fun” depends on the cards you’ve been able to collect on your way through the main questline and on your friend list.

Stealth Mode

Although, stealth takedowns have you up trees, in bushes, or poised behind enemies waiting to unleash your finishers, the mode itself seems lackluster in the face of all the damage Lara can inflict. That’s not to say that stealth modes don’t have their benefits, other series have used this type of enemy engagement to great success, and you do get special XP bonuses for stealth kills in this game. Having this stealth option does speak to the highly customizable game play that Crystal Dynamics wanted to create in Rise of the Tomb Raider, but Lara’s ability to fell enemies with high-powered weapons and grenades in a blink of an eye makes it redundant.

Verdict

Overall, the game is reminiscent of Far Cry 4 and the best parts of Prince of Persia, but that comparison doesn’t give full credit to the game Crystal Dynamics has produced. If you are looking for a game where you can adventure in an open world scavenging for materials, looking for treasure, and delivering serious hurt to some bad guys, then Rise of the Tomb Raider is for you.