Shadow of the Tomb Raider Review

By Mike Sousa on September 16, 2018

After the release of Tomb Raider: Underworld back in the beginning of last generation, Crystal Dynamics made the decision to take the Tomb Raider franchise into a new direction. The result of this decision was the Tomb Raider reboot released in 2013, a new adventure that gave us a new look at how Lara Croft became the fierce adventurer we all knew and loved. This reboot would also see several changes to the core gameplay, including a larger focus on action/combat segments. The game quickly became a success, allowing to development team to develop and release Rise of the Tomb Raider in 2015, which would expand on what the original game had built. Now in 2018, we get treated to Shadow of the Tomb Raider, the final game in this trilogy, with Crystal Dynamics sticking with the formula that made the previous games two amazing and well-received titles.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider continues to expand the narrative around Lara Croft and how she "became the Tomb Raider". During the events of Rise of the Tomb Raider, Lara stood against Trinity, a mysterious militant organization that seeks control the world and the fate of mankind using ancient artifacts, to prevent them from obtaining the Divine Source. In Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Lara is once again trying to stop Trinity, but this time, from obtaining an ancient artifact that is said it can rebuild the world according to its user's desire. However, in an attempt to get to this artifact first, Lara unintentionally triggers the beginning of a Mayan apocalypse. Without spoiling too much of the story, Lara gets too see with her own eyes to consequences of her actions, and to prevent further cataclysmic events from happening, Lara starts searching for another artefact that could revert this situation while trying to stay one step ahead of Trinity.

The Tomb Raider Reboot and Rise of the Tomb Raider did a fantastic job in developing Lara Croft as character from a casual and innocent young woman to the Tomb Raider we came to know. While the Shadow of the Tomb Raider didn’t exactly do a bad job to continue her character progression, I can’t help but feel a bit disappointed with her character arc in this final chapter of the trilogy. As I said above, Lara’s reckless determination to stop Trinity led her to trigger a Mayan apocalypse, and despite her feeling responsible for the death of hundreds of people, that doesn’t change nothing in Lara’s reckless attitude, as she just continues to be obsessed with stopping Trinity at all costs. This would be all good if Lara showed a good character development throughout the game, but I felt like any little progression to her character only came really late into the game and all too suddenly. With the story focusing mostly around Lara, and with the supporting cast, including Trinity, not adding much to the narrative and being easily forgettable, I found the game’s narrative to be inferior in comparison to the previous two games.

While the narrative leaves a bit to be desired, the gameplay on the other hand is probably the best and most entertaining in the trilogy. From a gameplay perspective, if you have played the previous two games, then you know what to expect from Shadow of the Tomb Raider, as the game strongly builds upon what Rise of The Tomb Raider delivered while adding a few subtle mechanics here and there. After all, if it’s winning formula, why change it?

Just like in the previous two games, Lara Croft once again relies a lot on her bow and arrows to kill enemies in combat, solve puzzles, and help her in several platforming sections. Combat is also mostly the same, where Lara Croft can use also use firearms in addition to her bow. Of course, you can also tackle encounters with human enemies with stealth by using your arrows to kill your enemies quietly, or hide on the top of trees or in vegetation in order to perform stealth takedowns. It’s here where players can find a few of the small numbers of additions to the gameplay formula of previous games. For example, Lara can use mud for camouflage to make her harder to be detected by enemies. Another addition are the fear arrows, which causes an enemy to start attacking his own allies before dying a few seconds later.

Speaking of combat, one of the “issues” long-time Tomb Raider fans had with the Tomb Raider Reboot and its sequel was the fact that both games, especially the first one, had a lot of combat sections and very few moments where we would actually be solving puzzles and raiding tombs. Things are different this time around, as Shadow of the Tomb Raider features a lot more tombs and crypts to explore, both mandatory and optional, and less combat sequences. Considering that combat was never really the strongest aspect of the previous two games, I found this to be a smart decision by Crystal Dynamics.

The puzzles you will come across in the main story are simple and straightforward for the most part, and even if you are having a hard time trying to solve a particular puzzle, you can always rely on the game’s hint system (something you can turn off at any time should you wish). On the other hand, optional tombs and crypts offer a more challenging experience that will surely please long-time fans. These optional areas feature some clever puzzles that will definitely require a lot more thinking that the ones in the main story, occasionally feature combat sequences, and often are full of deadly traps. Exploring tombs and crypts is enjoyable and rewarding, as you will not only obtain several collectables in the process, but also acquire new skill abilities that will surely be helpful in long run. Overall, when it comes to the quality and quantity of the tomb raiding and puzzles, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is surely the best in the trilogy.

Everything you do in the game earns you XP, whether it’s killing enemies, completing tombs or challenges, or gathering collectables. You can then use XP at campfires to unlock skills at three different skill trees: Warrior, Scavenger, and Seeker. The Seeker skill tree gives you access to skills that are mostly about allowing you to more easily spot enemies, resources, objects, and collectables, as well as being able to carry and collect more ammo and resources. Scavenger skills grant you the ability to craft special ammo and traps, increase Lara’s speed and breath capacity in underwater sections, and new stealth takedown abilities. The Warrior skill tree, like its name indicates, it’s all about combat, where you can unlock skills such as damage resistance, being able to shoot 2 or more arrows at once, and more. While all three skill trees have their strong points, taking in consideration the small amount of combat sections and how easy they are even on the highest difficulty, the Scavenger and Seeker Skill Trees were the only ones I felt it was worth spending skill points on.

It’s also at campfires that you can use some of the materials and other resources you collect to upgrade your weapons, as well as crafting outfits. Similar to Rise of the Tomb Raider, you can change Lara’s outfit to grant you stat boosts and other bonuses, such as receiving extra XP or taking longer to be detected by enemies. While this might seem like a good optional mechanic at first, it becomes kind of a pointless feature after a few hours of play. I say this because when you get to a certain hub location not even halfway through the game, which is a location where a good portion of the story takes place, you will have to use two specific outfits (which one you use depends on the situation) that the game gives you whether you like or not. And even after completing the story missions here, most people won’t talk to you unless you are wearing a specific outfit, making the whole outfit switching an annoyance more than anything else, especially when you can only change outfits at campfires.

Speaking of hub areas, Shadow of The Tomb Raider features a few locations where you can talk with people and accept side missions, which are always a nice distraction from the main story and usually offer some good rewards. Interacting with people is also rewarding, as you often learn more about their culture, the city, and sometimes even hints to hidden treasures or rare resources. It’s also here you can negotiate with merchants in order to sell some of the goods you have collected and/or buy weapons, special gear, and more.

From a visual standpoint, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is without a doubt an impressive game, easily standing alongside some of the best-looking games out there. From the impressive tombs and detailed underwater sections, to the vast jungles environments and stunning ancient cities, everything is so incredibly detailed and realistic that I would often find myself stop exploring just to enjoy the beautiful environments and vistas around me. And for those that are playing the game on PS4 Pro, Xbox One X or PC, the visual experience is even better thanks to enhanced graphics options, including 4K resolution and HDR mode. The sound design also does a terrific job, with sounds that fit perfectly with each environment and help the player immerse into the experience.

Final Thoughts

Shadow of the Tomb Raider is without a doubt a fantastic game, and a fitting conclusion to the trilogy. Following the success of the previous two games, Crystal Dynamics decided to not change its Tomb Raider formula, and instead focusing on polishing some of its gameplay aspects, which resulted in the best game in the trilogy from a gameplay perspective. While it’s true that Lara’s character progression feels a bit disappointing, the improved gameplay from the previous games, a perfect balance between tomb raiding and combat sequences, and an amazing visual experience make Shadow of the Tomb Raider a game that long-time Tomb Raider fans, fans of the Reboot series, and newcomers will surely enjoy.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider was reviewed using a PS4 Digital Copy provided by Square Enix. You can find additional information about Gaming Union's ethics policy here.
A perfect balance between the amount of tomb raiding/puzzles and combat sequences.
Entertaining gameplay that builds upon the previous two games and improves it further.
Exploring tombs and crypts is challenging, but also rewarding.
Amazing visual presentation.
Lara Croft’s character arc leaves a lot to be desired.
The outfits gameplay mechanic is a half-baked idea.
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