There are a few sequences where the player is forced into heavy combat scenarios by story-driven moments, but most of the game lets players play the way they want to when approaching enemies. Stealth is key but there are enough items to pick up and convert into throwable explosive/flammable grenades on the fly and enough heavy weapons and lethal environmental objects to go full-on Rambo. These scenes help exemplify why Trinity soldiers learn to fear Lara - evidenced in their dialogue - and help realize some of the game's most epic moments like where Lara defends people as a one-woman army.
"Get Ready, She's Dangerous"
Still, the game's bow weapons are still the most useful and dynamic tools. Silently hunting wildlife for resources to fighting off enemy soldiers - multiple at a time if you unlock the right skills - is one thing but the bow does much more with its different arrow types. Rope arrows can pull down barriers, create zip lines, and move objects in puzzles, while explosive, fire, and poison gas arrows help take down different types of enemies. Broadhead arrows can even be used to climb up certain walls.
The story scenes between the combat make Rise of the Tomb Raider memorable and succeed in giving reason to the over-the-top set pieces, and it all works thanks to the wonderful performance of Camilla Luddington who nails the horrifying and emotional beats voicing Lara, successfully bringing to life the writing of Rhianna Pratchett who returns to pen the sequel. And it helps that Lara Croft and and the other characters of the game are as impressively animated in their close-ups as they are in performing death-defying stunts. The wonderful presentation values of the game as a whole, down to the notable details of Lara Croft's field outfits, tools, and weapons, match the game's gorgeous visuals.
Rise of the Tomb Raider is a big and exciting single-player game, a lot bigger than its predecessor, and it offers plenty of replayability in how it handles side objectives and loot. There's even a merchant who sells high-end gear for the coins located from looting tombs and discovering coin caches. The game's biggest effort in that front though is in an entirely new feature that involves Twitch live stream integration. There's a new Expedition mode which lets players replay levels of the game and to do so with a variety of modifiers or gear that come in the form of cards acquired through buying card packs with in-game credits or real-life cash.
It's more of a gimmick than anything, and it's built around eye-roll-inducing microtransactions, but the idea is that by watching (only through the Xbox One Twitch app) and voting on which cards are active at certain stages during the game, viewers can earn credits to purchase card packs just by watching while the player must play under the conditions of the voted cards for a few minutes. Unfortunately, there's barely a community taking advantage of this at the moment on Twitch and the inclusion of microtransactions sours the idea so it seems DOA.
Besides that experiment, Rise of the Tomb Raider excels as one of the must-play games of 2015. It solidifies Lara Croft's position as one of the best video game characters in existence and demands that more stories and game experiences be crafted by this creative team.
Rise of the Tomb Raider is available on Xbox 360 and Xbox One and releases on PC Q1 2016 and PlayStation 4 Q4 2016.