Cut for spoilers!
I finished Rise of the Tomb Raider (if you can call 61% finishing) at 9:38pm this evening. Been playing since Midnight, so that’s roughly 21 hours of narrative gameplay.
As a standalone game, it’s great. It’s very immersive, you’re forced to go through the same shock and the same emotions (generally) as Lara does and the design for 95% of the game is just hard enough to challenge you, but not hard enough to be annoying. The other 5% if fucking annoying and there are no good walkthroughs yet so I had to do a lot of stuff by trial and error, including the water bucket puzzle that took me two hours because precision aiming on a fucking Xbox when I’m used to PC made the puzzle event INFURIATING. Ahem, anyway…
The balance between stealth and all-guns-blazing is great: for all except key pieces of combat you can make a decision about whether you prefer stealth or hands-on and there’s no particular advantage over either.
The combat system is intuitive and you can learn it on the fly, and there’s usually several ways to accomplish one objective which means you can tailor the game to your choosing.
The narrative is a bit predictable, but there were certainly turns of events that I didn’t expect and which kept me interested.
As a sequel, it’s kind of weak. Where’s Sam? She disappeared suddenly. She was huge and present and the main motivator for the whole of the first game, and is basically completely absent for the second one (except for missable recordings like this one (SPOILERS IN THAT) which I only found on the second playthrough), replaced by Jonah. Literally, it’s a cut and paste job without the cute. Jonah unfortunately played the part of the plot device in this story (as Sam did in the previous one), but for me, at least, Sam was just a whole lot more likable and I really believed Lara and Sam were best friends. Contrast this with all the scenes with Jonah and Lara, and the latter kind of fall flat. The affection between them is forced, and Jonah seems out of character a lot; first he’s against Lara exploring, then he’s supporting her, then inexplicably he’s against it, and then he shows up with no foreshadowing and a specific narrative reason later, but for a reason which doesn’t make much sense based on his earlier behaviour. Some thin reasons for the way he acts are given but I didn’t buy any of them and I didn’t feel them. Jonah, I felt nothing for you. I’m so sorry.
In the main narrative (because I haven’t done the optional tombs yet), there is no real reference to Himiko or Sam. It would have been nice to hear Lara draw comparisons between some of the events, or even ask Jacob about what happened to Sam, given the events of the comics. There is definitely reference to the events on Yamatai, but I don’t see Lara really learning from them, except that she’s badass from the beginning in this one.
I also distinctly remember from PR of Survivor that Lara’s dad was supposed to have gone missing in the field, presumed dead. Well, in Rise, he’s given a totally different history and the discrepancy is weird. Roth is also notably absent from Lara’s thoughts even though he clearly was a big part of Lara’s life and Lara’s dad’s life. Lara’s dad doesn’t mention him at all (except in one of the audio journals you have to go digging through your possessions to find). It’s like a retcon of a retcon. It’s hard to follow.
New characters are introduced which if you’ve read the comics or the book you’ll know about, otherwise they’re kind of out of the blue. Interestingly, Ana, Lara’s de facto step-mother, wasn’t really mentioned in the comics and I don’t think in the book either, and certainly not in the previous game, which seems strange because she was obviously a large part of Lara’s life.
Overall, because of all the new characters, the abandoning of the narrative in Survivor (except for a very small point at the end of it), the loss of Sam and the sudden unexplained discrepancies in backstory like a new sort-of step-mother ,the story seems disjointed. The game play, the locations and the structure of the story (moving from mundane areas progressively through to wild and supernatural ones) do identify it as Tomb Raider franchise, but the narrative is almost completely uncoupled from Survivor and it just doesn’t feel like a sequel.
In terms of the slashability of the characters, Survivor was off the charts in slashibility with all the Lara/Sam bonding, and Rise didn’t live up to expectation in this regard. There are certainly characters Lara meets who you could ship the hell out of, but nothing like the connection between Lara and Sam in the first game.
TL;DR: 8/10 – fun game, but should have kept more of the original characters and not messed with Lara’s backstory.