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Shadow of the Tomb Raider - mini-review

rtwjunkie

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#1
Last Friday, September 14th, Square Enix released Shadow of the Tomb Raider, the 3rd of the rebooted series. I hear it's the last, although I would certainly love to see this series go forward. The game is set in Peru, with an hour long introduction in Cozumel, Mexico. The story has Lara in search of the silver box, and of course trying to beat Trinity to the prize, which Trinity wants to use to remake the world, in order to save their little hidden valley from change and the outside world. It is an action adventure game with a lot of parkour and climbing elements, as well as a little bit of RPG with crafting and improving of skills. As with the previous two, Lara will need to hunt and gather in order to get the materials she needs to improve her tools and weapons.



As most who have been to "What Are You Playing" know, I have been a little frustrated with the game. Some mechanics, some design decisions, and some inconsistent graphics. The majority of the time the graphics are out of the park. People raved about Crysis jungle foliage, well SOTTR has it beat completely. Yet, there are times when character skin will look pasty, or others when within a scene, parts will look dull and blurred, while others or detailed to the max. I finally was able to dial in settings that work perfectly. To be sure, getting your settings just right is more of a chore than earlier. My screenshots other than the first one, are all from today. Below are the settings I settled on to bring it to its (most of the time) beauty.







Lara has some new moves now, although the majority of her controls and animations remain the same. She can now lower herself on a rope, as well as raise up if she changes her mind, or just needs to adjust height. She can rappel, and she can do a wall run while attached to a rope, to really aid in swinging herself to a far ledge, platform or wall. The best new control feather is Lara's ability to crawl, with foot pitons and climbing axes out on overhangs, being upside down so to speak. Without the right tools, unrealistic, yes. So are nearly all her antics, so it's not a problem for me. Annoyingly, Lara still has a propensity about 5% of the time to jump in a completely different direction than pointed. Also, a number of the contact points, or surface area allocated for her to actually grab something successfully, are in my opinion, too small. Actual QTE type events are fairly limited, and number under 10, mostly involving combat with moray eels or being grounded by a wolf or jaguar. Mercifully, time is adequate even for me to accomplish.



Ranged combat feels very good. I found out the hard way I had aim assist on at one point, where shooting a barrel would have taken out 3 Trinity soldiers at once. Unfortunately, it would not unlock from what the game had decided was the first one I needed to shoot at. It didn't turn out well. The bow is still as fantastic a weapon as ever. There are a number of parts of the game, due to local sensibilities (the Forbidden City), you must be in local costume, and pistols and rifles are not even an option for you. The stealth is very well done in the game. The most satisfying combat bits were two parts in which Lara gets all mudded up and stalks her prey, silently killing a score of enemy one by one. Actual melee combat? Best to just run away and avoid it. It's not very good.





Actual tomb raiding is much more present here than in the previous two rebooted games. There are 12 challenge tombs, two of which I felt like a complete idiot about and had to walk away, unable to solve. Today I went back and was successful. There are also a number of temples with huge puzzles and other room or cavern sized puzzles as part of the main quest. Although most puzzles are not as hard as the ones in previous Tomb Raider series', they are still very intricate and satisfying to figure out. One great feature that is in this game is in the game settings. You can now set puzzle difficulty separate from gameplay and combat! This is a nice touch if you are very stuck. Just go to setting, change puzzles to Easy and pop back in to hear Lara give occasional thoughts as to what she should do next. Many of these tombs also come with ferocious enemies that live underground. I never learned what they are, just what the local people call them and that they have always lived in harmony, with humans above ground, and the creatures below, guarding tombs.









Throughout the game you see examples of the creatures that defend the temples and underworld. Many times it's arrows, other times it is through old writings by those who have been hunted by them, some dating back to the 1600's. They frequently shadow or harass you, until all of a sudden in one temple, they are now visible....and PISSED!







One thing that particularly annoyed me was the mechanic of giving you a tool or gadget you need, either through a mission or through purchasing, much later than the point at which you needed them. Yes this was done in 2013 Tomb Raider, and in Rise of the Tomb Raider. But in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, they decided to double down on it. You will literally need to backtrack (using the campsites) all the way to the first area just to get into the various blocked off areas you needed an extender, a reinforced knife (because of course, the first knife just won't do), or a shotgun. Remember the previous ones, there are some caves you need a shotgun to open. Speaking of shotguns, when I found one finally, I knew there was a reason. Those nice folks just above, who had haunted me throughout the game, decided to attack.

In may ways, the game was very linear. If you look around though, you will find detours you can go on for challenge tombs. In populated areas, there are many different people you can receive side quests from. In those populated areas, it feels a little like an open world. Of course, there are no conversation choices. If you talk to someone, you are committed to whatever the writers decided you would do. No change there.



Overall it has taken me 38 hours to reach the 79% completed point. In reality, I have but one main storyline mission after this optional one I am doing now, and the game will be finished. I think It will be only about 85% when I finish. Obviously, despite my propensity to wander into every nook and cranny, I probably missed some things. I don't tend to spam survival instinct either. Jonah spends much more time in Lara's company in the game as well, many times accompanying her on the first part of a mission, or coming to her rescue at the end. There are a lot of conversations, and I feel we got to know Lara much better. She is quite brooding and angry. They've definitely made things more serious than ever in this game.

Graphics are very good in most parts, with some inconsistencies like I mentioned. Some of it is down to getting the settings just right. Those that want to copy mine can, and you can see by the Afterburner OSD what effect those settings will have. Overall, it is truly a beautiful game. There is one glitch in the game that showed up, ALOT in tombs. The game would hang, with frame rate dropping in half for a moment. One member of TPU I spoke with on Steam also had this problem. He suggested that while in-game, going to Task Manager, and on the details tab set SOTTR priority to High. The caveat is it must be done each time. YMMV, because this did not work for me. Had I not already been so far in game when we discussed, I would have stopped, and waited for it to patch itself. No settings within game made it go away either. Although the first part of the game truly felt like a chore, after the first 1/3rd, it all seemed to come together, and I honestly was hungry for every step of the story after that.

If Tomb Raider (2013) was an 8/10, I'd give Rise of the Tomb Raider a 9/10. So, where do I place Shadow of The Tomb Raider? That is tough. Honestly, as it stands now, with some of it's inconsistencies in graphics, the framerate hang, and the overuse of not giving me tools and gadgets I needed till much later, I would give it a 7.9. Graphics are overall very nice, and the story holds together pretty well. The fun factor manages to finally take off after the slow start, and that is ultimately what makes it almost an 8 in my book. If you are a big Tomb Raider fan, I very much recommend, so you can get your fix. If you are a casual fan, or only play these action adventure games occasionally for fun, then I recommend you wait until on sale.

I'll end with Lara looking wistfully in the distance, perhaps pondering if this trilogy was just of her beginning, and whether we might see more tales of her further adventures? Only time will tell.



Thanks for reading my modest review!

7.9/10
 
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#2
I plan to buy the game. Looking forward to a lot, so I didn't read your review, in fear of spoilers.

I do have a question. You didn't play the game in DX12?
 

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#3
I didn’t. It kept crashing on start. Once I started, I wasn’t going to be bothered to go and update my driver.

Honestly, with my setup, I don’t have much need to do DX12, and it doesn’t result in better visuals anyway.

The review only has some minor spoilers, and for the most part I don’t think I gave anything away story wise, that isn’t already part of how the others have been.

Addendum: I finished the game in 40 hours even with 89% completion. The final battle with follow on boss battle took about an hour or so, and was indeed supernatural oriented, as they all are. It was a very good finale.

You can then free roam, play a new game, or start a new game + mode.

@Cvrk @jormungand I know you both were waiting for me to write this up.
 
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#4
Nice review and thanks.
I'm only about 15% advanced so there's loads more action to come.
I also found momentary stutters, when she would freeze for maybe 2-3 seconds and going exclusive fullscreen seemed to fix this.
By the way, your screenshots are superb. Are they Steam generated or are you using other software for screenshots? Or perhaps photo mode? Mine all look a tad foggy in comparison.
I'm glad they decided to put the tombs and puzzles directly in the storyline this time, rather than optional which I always thought was a cop-out.
 

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#5
@Splinterdog I didn’t do anything special on screens. I didn’t even try out photographer mode. They are all just Steam generates. It’s probably the result of totally maxing out settings.

Thanks for your tip on Exclusive full screen fixing those occasional stutters!
 
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#6
Nice job, I'll probably give this a try at some point though I haven't finished the previous one just yet.
 

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#7
Thanks! The story does follow and reference Siberia quite a bit, including Commander Rourke’s comments.

I appreciated that it was done in such a manner to make it playable and the storyline understood by people who had not played the new series previously.
 
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#8
I can see it's a GPU demanding game and it probably won't do Ultra details on my 1080 at 3440x1440 but if High gives me around 60-80 FPS that should be enough
 
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#9
Runs nicely 40+ fps on 1080p with GTX 980 @ 1500MHz. :)

I even have the 399.07 drivers which are pre-game release.

edit: with highest settings, forgot to mention that. :D
 
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#10
On my work rig (Phenom 965, 16Gb RAM, GTX960), which I sometimes play on, I have to dial down the settings to medium, but it's perfectly playable with a bench average of 38 fps.
A well optimised game for lower end machines like this one.
 

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#11
@rtwjunkie what did you use for screen capture, steam? and yeah man DX12 plays flawless and looks waaaay better.. maybe need to wait for Nvidia to update their driver for DX12 mode. Its actually nicer and faster then DX11.. Id show you a few of my screen shots but my files are way to big to post here,, Nice short review though and appreciate it :toast:
 

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#12
@fullinfusion what visuals are better in dx12? I’ve always been given to understand that DX12 merely offloads a lot work from the CPU, helping lower end systems maximize their GPU power, but that no visual extras are present. Is that wrong?
 
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fullinfusion

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#13
Lighting is actually better on this game with DX12, they actually recommend running it in DX 12 for a better experience. I also see the difference in visuals in ROTTR as well. Your screen shots look bright, mine look a lot darker and more realistic tbh.. That's why I asked what did you screen capture with? Myself I use Amd-Link and it looks exactly like what I see in game.
 

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#14
I just used Steam. I actually prefer a little brighter. I I use Afterburner I get better screenshots, like you do with AMD-Link...but that’s when I remember. That F12 is just so convenient. :p

I’ll be doing a New Game+ for fun, so i will update drivers for that and run DX12. Thanks for the tip!
 
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#15
Updated drivers to 411.63, so I hope that there would be some performance boost. :rockout:
 
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#16
Thanks for the tip. I'll try that on my work rig.
 
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#17
wow Great review @rtwjunkie , i beat both, TR and RotTR enjoyed a lot and want to play this one too but im gonna wait for a nice deal. After reading your full review
i think that waiting wont be that bad , still i have more games to beat. Thanks for posting the graphics settings ( already saved the image for further help :)) and like always astonishing review.
edited""""""
LOLOLOL What!!!!!!
you already got the GTX 1080 TI ....... T-T ill have to wait till Black Friday. Congrats
 

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#18
I've added some DX12 screenshots I took today. @fullinfusion do you see any difference? I still stuck with Steam screenshotter to have consistencey.









 
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#19
anyone having the problem on PC version and HDR that the picture in caves and such is way to dark. Often i wish you could turn on the flashlight manually but lara seems to make it atomatically sometimes. not often enough..
 

rtwjunkie

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#20
anyone having the problem on PC version and HDR that the picture in caves and such is way to dark. Often i wish you could turn on the flashlight manually but lara seems to make it atomatically sometimes. not often enough..
Yes. I just viewed it as the flashlight comes on when it is too dark for eyes to adjust anymore. Now that you mention it though, full control of flashlight would have been nice.
 
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#21
Thanks for straight user review. its a shame to hear about the mechanics, I do share your opinion on them and I hoped they would change. You mentioned little of the skills and I'd like to know if they have been polished or if some still exist as irrelevant bloat? Also does the game feel new or is it more accurately described as an expansion of rise?
 

rtwjunkie

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#22
Thanks for straight user review. its a shame to hear about the mechanics, I do share your opinion on them and I hoped they would change. You mentioned little of the skills and I'd like to know if they have been polished or if some still exist as irrelevant bloat? Also does the game feel new or is it more accurately described as an expansion of rise?
Good questions, and those are two areas that I regret not covering though they were in my original intentions. I ended up forgetting.

The skills are bloated. Fully half of them are skills for use in conjunction with either Focus or Perception mixtures, which you make from different plants. I never once used either of those abilities, and did not add any of those “skills” to my ability skill set. The best skills you get IMO, are the ones that are locked and unknown, which get awarded to you upon completion of each of the 12 Challenge Tombs. These skills are usually very useful, covering some element of combat, or being able to hold your breath longer, for example.

As to whether new or not, it is part of the reason it scores lower than Rise of the Tomb Raider. Although more tombs are incorporated in the storyline, and there are more challenge tombs on the side, the game’s progression, encounters, and even the Hidden City with its friendly and oppressed indigenous peoples feel like a redo of Rise of the Tomb Raider. Well done, but still a little lazy.
 
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#23
Nice overview @rtwjunkie.

My biggest gripe about the game (and it's a major grumble) is the sheer amount of enforced camera POV and the enforced, slow march story cutscenes. It lacks freedom of movement as if I'm always fighting with the KB & mouse to look somewhere. I think Eidos get a wee bit carried away sometimes and forget, ultimately, TR is an action puzzler. Putting a B rate Indiana Jones plotline in their games isn't why folk buy it (or is it?)

I remember playing TR on the PS when it came out. Blew my mind. Now, after so many generations, it's lost so much wonder for me. Once again, dare I reference it in the wrong thread, The Witcher 3 spoiled us all!
 
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#24
Do you others have instability with this? I had two crashes in a ~5h stream.

And a screenshot, of course :)

 
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#25
Looks really good tbh, my favorite game in the Saga so far has been RotTR just because I felt like it was more fleshed out than TR, which felt like it walked you through the majority. I plan to have fun with this though
 
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