Lara Croft is anything EVERYTHING but a sex symbol in the upcoming reboot of Tomb Raider. Don’t look at her that way and, in the name of Suzanne Somers, don’t think of her that way. Lara is all about survival this time. Survival and exploration, actually. Sex symbols are not about surviving –for a rough comparison here’s a list of dead centerfolds– and they damn sure don’t do exploration –you ever seen a Bond girl ask for directions?
Lara is at least a survivor and an explorer with more non-sexy adjectives and descriptions perhaps on the way and there are great number of in-game systems supporting this idea. She has nothing and is cold, tired, hungry and scared when this new Tomb Raider adventure begins and it seems building her into the hero we all know and lov– er, respect is going to take a lot of hard work and skill. In my early run through with the game, the volume of customization and upgrade options –stuff that’s going to happen in the menu– was surprising. We’ll get into the mechanics of playing as Lara Croft operating in a jungle environment on a mission to stay alive, but for now let’s look at how she’s capable of change.
You can develop her skills as a Survivor, a Hunter and a Brawler that we’ve seen. These are general overarching categories where you can choose to invest the points you’ve earned during gameplay by doing “good” things that help Lara. Finding salvage, food and ammo are all good things. The system also operates on a tier system where you’ll have options to upgrade her Survivor and Hunter skills to a certain point while even opening up the Brawler attributes doesn’t come until later. You’re not going to make Lara into an all-powerful Jedi Knight kind of adventurer even if you’re dominating the game.
Under Survivor the initial available upgrades were:
- Animal Instincts – “huntable” and edible animals will glow
- Survivalist – get more food out of killed animals
- Advanced Salvaging – get more salvage when you find it
- Bone Collector – get more salvage from corpses
- Arrow Retrieval – fired arrows can be recovered and used again
- Scavenging – extra ammo from enemy corpses
These are all rough descriptions of the upgrades but you can see that the Tier I Survivor upgrades are all about Lara Croft getting more useful stuff out of the environment whether it’s food, ammo or salvage material that can be used to make other stuff. When you first get a chance to upgrade, which of those elements is going to be most valuable to you? What challenges are just around the corner? These questions and a whole lot more come into play whenver you hit the upgrade menu because this stuff happens when you’re at one of Lara’s established Base Camps. The decisions and weapons and things you make at a Base Camp aren’t permanent and locked in forever but you’d better have a plan and style of play in mind coming out of one of those things. Also, certain upgrades are linked to each other. You can’t add Scavenging until you’ve already selected Arrow Retrieval for Lara so first she has to be able to repossess her arrows and then she can get more ammo. It’s clear that the slower pace of upgrading (as opposed to some RPGs that have you getting at least some interesting stuff early and often) in Tomb Raider is meant to be balanced with the challenges of the story. All of these upgrades are stacking on top of each other so that at some point Lara, when she’s filled up her Tier I Survivor skills, is extremely efficient operating in the environment and getting everything she needs to proceed along.
Her Hunter Skill ladder looks like this:
- Steady Shot – focus for more lethal shots with the bow and arrow
- Ammo Capacity – carry more ammunition
Not a lot of options in the first tier for Hunter skills, is there? Blasting away like some soldier of fortune is not what Lara Croft is going to be doing in Tomb Raider, at least not early on, so you don’t need these ranged weapon skills as much. You’re allowed to see what other Hunter upgrades are down the line –things like Accomplished Killer and Shotgun Expert sound very enticing– so you know eventually its going to be time for Lara to slug it out with bad guys but those are on higher Tiers.
The potential skills and upgrades in Tomb Raider are very specific and tied to very specific skills, weapons and abilities. This all seems to be for a good reason: increasing the fun as you proceed through the story. By the time Lara Croft is a dodging and rolling and killing with finesse the hope is we’ll all appreciate those abilities in a way that matches where we are in her first adventure. Bring on the jungle.