TL; DR(eview) - Rise of the Tomb Raider is in many ways more of the Tomb Raider reboot from a couple years ago. Better combat and beautiful world designs stand out as the biggest improvements over its predecessor, even if the story probably won't stand the test of time.
When Rise of the Tomb Raider was first announced as an Xbox exclusive, I was fascinated by Square Enix's decision to take a multi-platform franchise and make it a console-exclusive (on the console currently trailing in the competition between PlayStation and Xbox). Microsoft most have spent a pretty penny securing that dear but it made sense that they might find the investment worthwhile. So when it was eventually revealed that this deal was only for a timed-exclusive, the rationality of the deal slipped significantly. And when Fallout 4 and Rise of the Tomb Raider announced at E3 that they'd be launching on the same day, any benefit of that deal appeared to have fallen away. Microsoft even appears to have been aware of this and tried to hedge their bets by partnering their branding with the Fallout 4 release, as well. of course, none of that actually affects the great game that Crystal Dynamics produced.
How About That View?
Rise of the Tomb Raider takes the formula of the first game and builds upon it. Having played the remastered version of the last game on PlayStation 4, I thought the sequel built upon those assets to produce an even-better looking game (one of the most beautiful games I played in 2015). From the opening moments in the snow-capped mountains at the start to the lush landscape of the Geothermal Valley and beyond, the world was vibrant and impressive.
Bigger and Better Tomb Raiding
The combat of the Rise of the Tomb Raider felt tighter and more enjoyable than the last game thanks to the better stealth mechanics and new weapons like the Poison Gas Arrows. I felt like I was much more capable of stealthily fighting through a combat arena in this adventure compared to Lara's last one, picking off members of Trinity from behind cover with my bow, one by one. Leveling Lara and upgrading her gear allowed me to tailor her skills and equipment to my play-style and feel even more powerful raining terror on my enemies.
The tombs this time around were all enjoyable self-contained puzzles off the beaten path. Each one came with its own in-game reward but the personal pride of solving them was often even more satisfying. Beyond the tombs themselves, all of the other collectathon aspects of the game (relics, coin caches, documents, etc.) all feed toward your experience and therefore reward you for seeing them out. And much like the last game, many of these items double as background information on the history of the areas you're exploring and the story of past explorers.
The only real thing I felt working against Rise of the Tomb Raider is that the story isn't particularly notable. There are a couple moments early on in the plot that certainly impact Lara but because most of the cast of this game is new to the player that some character moments don't exactly have the impact on the player that I think the developers were hoping for. Hell, I didn't even remember who appeared in the last game outside Lara, of course.
In my post comparing and contrasting the Tomb Raider and Uncharted series, I touched on the idea that the focus of a Tomb Raider game is the Metroidvania-style progression system where the player is continually leveling up to make Lara stronger, while Nathan Drake in Uncharted, on the other hand, stays static in this regard because Naughty Dog puts a greater emphasis on the action-adventure story and the character relationships. I firmly believe this is why we remember characters like Nate, Elena, Sully, and Chloe while most of the cast of characters save Lara herself are forgotten.
But maybe that's just colored by the fact that I've played three and a half Uncharted games (sorry Golden Abyss) and only two Tomb Raider games.
Probably not, though.