Casey Lynch, Editorial Director
Rise of the Tomb Raider finds Lara Croft on an all new adventure with a slew of challenges that she must think her way through and fight her way out of. Which is what most of us would expect from a sequel to 2013’s booming Tomb Raider reboot. What I didn’t expect was the rich meta-gameplay loop that I found waiting beneath the surface.
By meta-gameplay loop, I mean the suite of systems that complement the main path of the game, but aren’t necessarily required for completing the main story campaign. Exploration and discovery, hunting, gathering and upgrading, raiding challenge tombs, crafting, side missions, nested combat and puzzles, and more. You could run a bee-line through the story and easily overlook much of this, which would be a huge bummer. If you take the time to look for it, there’s a ‘game within a game’ here that makes not playing the game one of my favorite parts of Rise of the Tomb Raider.
The first time I really encountered this loop was in an area called Soviet Installation – check the video below to see it in action. It’s a sprawling area with forested flat-lands, abandoned milling facilities, towering verticality, and plenty of hidden secrets waiting to be found. I looked at my map and decided to take a break from the main story path and spend some “me time” exploring the surrounding areas.
It wasn’t long before I realized there’s a little something around almost every corner. Story clues and lost relics to discover, caves and crypts to explore, and plenty of wild animals to hunt to upgrade my gear (in a meaningful way that changes gameplay!) That last part shouldn’t be overlooked. In the first game, you mostly collected Salvage, in Rise of the Tomb Raider you gather all the materials to upgrade all of your weapons, to craft regular and special arrows, ammunition, to make gear to increase your carrying capacity, and more. It would be a shame to spend the whole game with unleveled starter gear, so just know that the secret is waiting for you out in the wild!
Anyway, it was during my jaunt that I had my first run in with a snow leopard – and holy crap, I hope you bring plenty of ammo when you meet these giant cats. Interestingly, I found that the snow leopard was protecting something – I’ll leave you to figure out what – but I would’ve never found it if I hadn’t left the main path and taken the time to get into this meta-game rhythm.
By the time I left Soviet Installation and pressed on in the main story, several hours had passed and my Lara was more fortified and better prepared for the journey ahead. Plus it was just really fun to see what the Crystal Dynamics team had hidden away for me to scrape around for and uncover.
New weapons to unlock, new skills to master, new tombs to raid, and new vistas to explore, the game just wouldn’t be the same to me without all the added depth and fun that these unassuming loops introduce. And unassuming is exactly the right word to use here. These aren’t just back of the box features or marketing talking points, they are a set of player-centered systems that are designed with the player in mind, and are there to find and experience if you’re inclined to look.
I’d highly encourage you to do so and see what’s really under the hood in Rise of the Tomb Raider. This ‘game within the game’ remains one of my favorite parts of the larger Rise of the Tomb Raider experience, and that’s coming from a guy who has beaten the full game many, many times over.
It’s a gameception you don’t want to miss.