Rise of the Tomb Raider Preview

The Last of Us, Featuring Lara Croft.

With a thirty-minute behind-closed-doors session at E3 to see Rise of the Tomb Raider, the developers were aggressive in how much they wanted to get through, going so far as to ask us to defer questions for email. So let's not dither about.

The demo started with a section in Siberia, picking up where the trailer at the press conference ended. Weak and weary, Lara emerged from the snows of an avalanche. Later I was shown a section in Syria, where Lara searched for the Tomb of the Eternal Prophet.

Survival is again a key feature of the game. As Lara emerges from the snow, she soon finds a small campground and, while shivering and moving slower and slower, finds and breaks the branches of nearby frozen saplings for kindling. Once she creates enough of a fire to warm herself, she crafts a rudimentary bow from the leftovers of the branches and guts of a dead stag, presumably killed by wolves she sees dash off in the distance.

This allowed the devs to show off the crafting component of the game, reinforcing the bow with strips of leather and other wooden flotsam to reinforce it. On the fly, in the level, Lara can craft medicine from finding herbs and poisoned arrows by finding poisonous mushrooms. Later in the game she can craft better clothes by killing specific animals or wolves.

When Lara’s camp is spotted by members of Trinity—the secretive group racing to find the same treasures she’s looking for—they send armed men to look for her. In the behind closed doors session, the devs tried to get Lara into position above a pair of soldiers, but missed a jump from one tree to another, alerting the men to her presence who made short work of her, making it clear just how deadly the enemies were. The devs tried to pass this off as an intentional death to show me how deadly the game was, but it was pretty clear it was a missed jump; next time, guys, just say "Whoops!" It'll come off better and give a fair indication of game difficulty.

One thing I noted during this section was the game’s lack of any HUD, a deliberate choice the devs made to increase immersion (though they had turned off gameplay tutorials and other-on screen guides that would normally have appeared) reminding me of The Last of Us’s HUD-less Grounded difficulty mode

The rest of the combat, combined with the crafting elements, were also decidedly Last of Us-like with an emphasis on stealth-survival combat. After making the jump and killing the soldiers with a poison arrow from above, they guided Lara to the enemy camp, drawing different soldiers away to ply them with arrows. But that was before being attacked by a bear who knocked her off a ledge, where she found one of the game’s hubs.

From the hub, a small city at the foot of the mountains, Lara has the option to do both regular mission content and side missions, opening up the gameplay in a way that lets the player choose their own path and build up Lara’s skills and abilities. This included side missions involving crypts and actual Tomb Raiding, something fans wanted from the series reboot that had been missing.

They then zipped forward in the story to show Lara’s second encounter with the bear, in which Lara clearly had buffed up her gear and abilities, making short work of it, to get to the cave it was using as a home from which she could continue the plot. They then dashed backwards, to a section of the game set in Syria, in which Lara listened to her father’s notes on an audio recorder while looking for the Tomb of the Immortal Prophet.

This section showed everything that fans have wanted from there series: actual Raiding of Tombs. Lara finds a pre-Raphaelite mural on the walls of a crypt and a marker (the same one she remarks about in the trailer) in which she can only make out a few words. The devs told me that Lara can upgrade her archeological skills over the course of the game so she could eventually read all the words on the marker.

The rest of the demo involved Lara working through Uncharted-style area investigation of the crypts, traversal, and the dismantling of booby traps. Not all the decisions that Lara made were the best. Breaking down a wall to let water into a chamber from underground flows so she could swim up to the top worked initially, but the water didn’t exactly drain and made navigating later passages more complicated.

However, though the player can upgrade Lara’s archeological skills, it’s safe to say that her bashing through the walls from one chamber to the other are decidedly “Raider-like” rather than the careful, slow, and boring excavation real scientists in the field do (good thing too, since it makes the game more dynamic and fun). This eventually led to a golden domed spire at the end of a large cavern. At this point the live demo ended, but it looked like there were a lot of immediate opportunities for traversal and discovery. 

Rise of the Tomb Raider clearly has taken fan feedback from Tomb Raider players and fans into account, keeping the successful survival elements of the reboot while pairing them with a Lara excited by the exploration of hidden environments filled with booby traps and mystical discoveries. While many of these elements are not exactly original, they all appear to be being handled with a very high level of quality and care in design to keep them balanced and fun. Rise of the Tomb Raider will release on November 10, 2015 as a timed exclusive on Xbox One and Xbox 360.