Dev Blog: Rise of the Tomb Raider for Story Gamers

John Stafford, Senior Narrative Designer
Cameron Suey, Narrative Designer 

At its core, the story for Rise of the Tomb Raider is as clean and elementary as the myths we were inspired by. Lara, her world view shattered by an explainable event, goes in search of the Lost City of Kitezh which she believes will shed light on her experiences and possibly change the world. Along the way, she meets others who are drawn to the Lost City of Kitezh or bound to protect it, but her journey revolves around her personal search, both for the city itself, for what it could mean for humankind, and for a sense of connection and closure with her father. This is the simplest version of the story, one we intend most players to pick up, no matter how closely they pay attention.

With a simple and easily understandable goal at its core, the story of Rise of the Tomb Raider becomes more complex and nuanced through the characters Lara encounters, with their wide variety of hopes, fears, and desires. Trinity will stop at nothing to find the Lost City of Kitezh, but the native inhabitants of Siberia have their own needs, to keep the city hidden and safe, which puts Lara at odds with them, even when they share a unique enemy.


There’s a piece of writing advice that was particularly resonant to us as we built out our supporting cast: “every character believes themselves to be the hero of the story”. While it was easy for us to cast Lara as the hero, we also wanted to make sure that every other character, no matter how long they were on screen, believed themselves to be an important actor, with a grounded desire that they are pursuing. An amoral mercenary may not be invested in the discovery of ancient artifacts, but his desire to prove himself to his employers, if only for a sense of security, is an important and motivating need. The same goes for every character that Lara interacts with, and through this conflicting sea of desires, there emerges a new layer of complexity to the story, one expressed by all its inhabitants. Beyond just Lara, the other inhabitants tell a new facet of the story.

And even beyond our living breathing actors, the world itself tells a different sort of story. Every Tomb Raider game starts with a strong sense of history, presenting environments that show the effect of a thousand years, the characters that have lived and died there, and their desires. Even people who are long since dead at the time of our story have left their mark on the world. As Lara follows the path of the Prophet to Siberia, she will see both how his followers and his enemies shaped the world. The physical spaces of the game tell a story, always, whether it’s something that happened just a few decades prior, such as a revolt in a Gulag, or a thousand years ago, like a strange sarcophagus in a Syrian tomb. Every space tells a story.


While writing and narration may be our primary tools, we also rely on the fact that the human mind is primed to create stories from seemingly disparate inputs, even if no such connection exists. A nearby sound of rumbling gears might help the player understand a mechanical puzzle, distant cries of terror in the dark, we hope, will get the player to feel impending dread. By working with artists, game designers, audio designers and other creators across the studio, we make sure that we don’t just tell the story of Lara, but also create a believable and real world with layers of history that can be unfurled by exploring.

Rise of the Tomb Raider also features the return of Challenge Tombs, which are optional spaces that the player can explore, solve and gain rewards from. From a story perspective, these tombs gave us an opportunity to tell intimate, encapsulated stories from the past. Careful observation and exploration will reveal moments frozen in time that enrich the main narrative with nuance and complexity. One such challenge tomb explores the relationship between crime and punishment among the natives of the valley, while another serves to highlight the lengths to which Trinity will go to retrieve an artifact, even a thousand years before the events of our story. These stories may not be necessary to experience the story of Lara’s journey, but they add texture and intrigue to the history of the world and the characters who died long before the events of the game, but nonetheless shaped the world that Lara experiences.


As you traverse the world of Rise of the Tomb Raider, every room, every vista, and every dark forest tells a story. You can explore every nook and cranny to dig back through time, uncover hidden truths, and experience the ghosts of the past. Or you can pursue the main story at full speed with guns blazing. The world of Rise of the Tomb Raider is yours to navigate.