Nine reasons to explore the muddy jungle in Shadow of the Tomb Raider

By Dave Tach, Contributor

In an ideal trilogy, everything is always getting better every time. Foundational concepts establish a vision. Then they evolve into tweaked and refined versions of the original ideas. The worst parts stay behind, replaced by new implementations that build on the franchise’s foundation and expand its previous boundaries. It all feels similar, but somehow different, better, and more mature. 

Shadow of the Tomb Raider is an outstanding example of that yearslong process of refinement. Here are nine reasons why it’s a great time to muddy up your face, head to the jungle, and become Lara Croft.

Less stress, more enjoyment

Shadow Of The Tomb Raider 4In 2013, developer Crystal Dynamics rebooted and modernized the venerable Tomb Raider franchise. A sequel, Rise of the Tomb Raider, followed in 2015. Then, in 2018, Shadow of the Tomb Raider arrived with a new developer, Eidos-Montréal, along with the weight and baggage that the conclusion to a well-regarded trilogy invariably carries with it.

Here’s the thing about baggage: It tends to evaporate with the passage of time. Like steam vanishing into the air, the expectations and passions of the moment around a game’s release eventually dissipate. 

And here’s what that means for you: In 2023, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a beautiful and clever game without all of the weight. It’s lighter and easier to enjoy as a standalone experience.

All of the beauty, less of the cost

Shadow of the Tomb Raider is gorgeous, the kind of game that pushed the boundaries of then-current hardware and shows the prowess of next-gen horsepower. Because you live in the future (as far as the game is concerned), you can enjoy its lush and detailed jungle environments without owning the latest and greatest and most expensive hardware that was required at its release. In fact, odds are that your hardware is more than capable of running the game with the settings cranked up, which means that you get to luxuriate in the beauty that only those who, in 2018, had the beefiest hardware. 

All of the content, less of the cost

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Cost also means money, and the sheer amount of content that comes with Shadow of the Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition is staggering. You get the base game and all of the DLC expansions, which include weapons, outfits, skills, and Challenge Tombs. And you get it all for significantly less than the original retail price of the base game, let alone the DLC. It’s kind of a steal.

So. Many. Challenge Tombs.

Challenge Tombs were arguably the best part of the original game, at least if you’re into Indiana Jones-style role-playing. These are (mostly) hidden throughout Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s open-world areas, and each offers elaborate and creative puzzles as well as rewards. 

Put another way, they’re really well-designed puzzles in just-as-well-designed and fantastical areas that make you feel like you’re the first person in a thousand years to see them. You turn a corner, the camera sweeps across the landscape to frame a two-story-tall rock statue of an ancient god, and you find yourself saying “Whoa!” in time with Lara. They’re big, they’re beautiful, and they’re fun. They are, in a lot of ways, the distilled essence of the Tomb Raider formula, full of climbing, puzzle-solving, and combat. 

The original game shipped with nine Challenge Tombs, and the Definitive Edition nearly doubles that with the addition of seven more. It’s an embarrassment of riches (you know, the ancient kind that you have to find in an enormous and dank tomb). 

Lighthearted traversal

Shadow Of The Tomb Raider 1You know what’s fun? Scaling a hundred-foot cliff above a raging river with only your wits and your grappling hook to help you. These moments are peppered around Shadow of the Tomb Raider, serving both as light puzzles and reprieves from the main action. 

They tend to fit right in the Goldilocks zone, requiring you to think about what you’re doing just enough to be challenging—leaping from flat surfaces, arms flailing, until you can grab onto the rock in the distance with your ax, rappelling down and swing-running like it’s jungle parkour—but they don’t require so much dexterity that you feel overwhelmed.

Plentiful puzzles

Puzzles are one of this franchise’s tentpole elements, and Shadow of the Tomb Raider is full of them. 

We’ve already lauded Challenge Tombs, the most obvious, elaborate, and straightforward puzzles in the game, but Shadow of the Tomb Raider has a way of turning many otherwise banal things into puzzles, small and large. 

For example, combat in this game favors stealth over shooting, and what is stealth if not a puzzle that you solve covered in mud to conceal yourself while the enemies heavily armed puzzle pieces move around the jungle board? Even the traversal that leads to Challenge Tombs and other places around the in-game world serves as a simple, short, and typically refreshing puzzle to solve. 
It’s a game that mostly wants you to use your head, not (always) your might. 

Simple stealth 

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Shadow of the Tomb Raider is sneakier than it is loud. It favors a quieter approach to combat that puts Lara at an advantage in the game’s lush jungle environments. 

Lara’s free to run-and-gun, but it’s clear that the developers would rather that she used her formidable mind, allowing her to escape into obscurity when she breaks her enemy’s line of sight. 

It’s not a wildly serious stealth simulator, and while any stealth game tends to incite criticism about NPCs’ relative intelligence or lack thereof, Shadow of the Tomb Raider succeeds in designing scenarios that favor fun ways to deploy the quieter lethal arts. 

Plus it’s never not fun to fire an arrow attached to a rope, descend from the canopy above, and string a goon up in a tree.

A manageable open world

Shadow of the Tomb Raider isn’t an open-world game, but its hub areas sure take a lot of inspiration from them. 

You’ll find yourself in large open areas filled with people to meet, small quests to go on, treasures to find, and mysteries to reveal. These areas are large but not huge, making them feel manageable. They also feel lived-in and full of promise. The more you explore, the more you’ll be rewarded. Unless that’s not your thing, and in that case, you’re free to ignore it. You get to play like you want to play. 

The whole package 

Shadow of the Tomb Raider does what a trilogy’s final act should do: evolving and improving on the best parts of its predecessors while adding smart new ideas to the recipe. If you’d like a lot of solid fun at a discount, you can buy Shadow of the Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition in the Epic Games Store.