It will comes as no shock to podcast listeners that Rise of the Tomb Raider sits atop my ‘Most Wanted’ list for 2015.
The sequel to Square Enix 2013 franchise reboot transports gaming’s most famous explorer from the weather battered shores of Yamatai to the frozen tundra’s of Siberia – all in time for the 2015 ‘holiday season’ (read Christmas) no less.
With such strong foundations to build on, anticipation for this beloved franchise will only grow as the year progresses.
A timed exclusive on Xbox, developers Crystal Dynamics have already promised more in depth puzzles in Rise of the Tomb Raider; as they look to use community feedback to help shape the next chapter in Miss Croft’s adventure.
It’s a promise that appears to entail rekindling the occasionally brain busting tombs of old; but accessibility remains a key focus for a studio that has already brought us four other Tomb Raider games prior to the 2013 rejig.
Lara’s ‘romp’ around Yamatai was criticised by some for pushing the much loved tomb exploration of old to the side – but arguably Crystal Dynamics did something much more important in the reboot: they made the world of the eponymous heroine far more accessible to the masses.
And as someone whose early experiences of Tomb Raider were hindered by seemingly ‘unbeatable’ puzzles in the franchise’ first outing on the Sega Saturn, that was a welcome change of tact.
On the surface, what Crystal Dynamics are proposing seems to tread that fine line between maintaining accessibility whilst also challenging the hard core raiders out there – with creative director Noah Hughes using terms like “a spectrum of difficulty for puzzles” in a recent interview with Game Informer.
Certainly some evolution to the main quests exploration would be welcome, with meatier ‘side tombs’ providing both depth and a mental work out for those who seek it.
Crafting also looks set to receive an upgrade, as the slightly simplistic method seen in Tomb Raider is developed further, and wildlife will interact more closely with the landscape (including some animals who will only appear during the day or night).
Small changes perhaps, but ones that perfectly encapsulates how subtle change can both retain a games core strengths whilst also driving it forward.
Whether these changes extend to combat as well remains to be seen. Tomb Raider’s method of battling with island enemies was simple but effective, opening up new features as the game progressed and often engaging in challenging, but never insurmountable, show downs with ship wrecked stragglers turned cultists.
For some, the second half of Tomb Raider presented too many of these pitched battles – moving away from the tense skirmishes Lara endured early on – which in turn perhaps goes against franchise spiritual heart. But in order to maintain interest and building towards a suitably epic climax, much of this can be forgiven when you consider the way in which Crystal Dynamics looked to reinvigorate the series.
The studio took Lara on a harrowing journey from naive teenager to hardened survivor, dispelling old images of hot pants and triangular boobs as it’s dragged her almost literally through hell on the tiny Asian island.
With writer Rhianna Pratchett on board for Rise of the Tomb Raider hopes are high for a suitably engrossing sequel.
With Nixxes Software handling the 360 version of the sequel, it frees Crystal Dynamics team to concentrate on Tomb Raider’s first true foray on to the ‘next gen’ (with a nod to Tomb Raider Definitive Edition of course).
After such a successful return to form for the franchise in 2013, the pressure is on – but the seeds are there for Tomb Raider to grow in to gamings #1 adventure series once again.
But for now, we’ll just have to satisfy ourselves with the teaser trailer: