In a recently released interview with Gameinformer, Crystal Dynamics Creative Director Noah Hughes discussed ways that Rise of the Tomb Raider is using what it learned from the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot to improve on those experience. He primarily focused on explaining how the team is approaching revamping crafting elements, expanding level design, advancing character development, improving story telling and approaching combat scenarios. Unfortunately I can’t embed the video in this article, which you can watch right here, but I can give you a summary of some of the key subjects he talked about.
He started off by discussing what Crystal Dynamics felt they did right with the last game and how they wanted to expand upon those key areas.
We really set out to create a survival action experience and we really want to push those systems in a way that the player is immersed in these hostile environments and they have to leverage the resources they find in those environments in order to overcome the obstacles, so a much tighter relationship between those gameplay systems and your ability to progress.
He continued by giving an example of how the new upgrade system is going to work and just how detailed it is. Now weapon upgrades will require Lara to complete specific tasks like hunting rare animals that are only available during certain times of the day or in certain types of weather. Crystal Dynamics really wants the player to feel as though they’ve been thrust into this hostile situation where they have to harness the environment in order to survive.
Next he touched on level design and spoke about some of the team’s motivation when it came down to creating the world. If you played the 2013 reboot, it probably isn’t surprising to learn that the hub-based worlds of Castlevania, Metroid and Zelda were all very influential.
On the system side we were really proud of creating sort of a hub based game with gear-gating that you could come into a space and there were lots of things that you didn’t have access to and it was really through your ability to find gear and use that gear to progress that you felt much more in control of that experience. And we really liked celebrating that idea of that this isn’t just a sequence of scenes, that this is a world that you can come back and explore and it will be different times of day and now it will be different weather, and enemies might be in different populations and we really create a sense that this world is full of player driven exploration and part of that is even giving more rewards for that. You’re really getting more secret tombs and extending that to things like crypts or animal dens or other things that you can find, but then also more skills and gear that can be earned through that exploration.
From there the focus briefly shifted from creating detailed environments to character details like eye movement, hair simulation and environment interaction. But more importantly, he spoke about the fidelity of the Xbox One and how the increased power allows for a much greater level of performance and detail than they had last generation. But how good Lara as a characters looks, while important, isn’t what they feel is most important.
Some of the things I’m most excited about are really showing Lara’s character journey to going from not just survivor but to tomb raider. The idea that survival really becomes the key with which she unlocks these secrets hidden in these hostile locations, that we really wanted to tie those skills that she built in the first game and understand how they become necessary skills to her journey to becoming the tomb raider.
He admits the team had some trouble with Lara’s progression as a character in the last game and that they are doing their best to make a rich character with believable progression this time around. They are proud of tackling the challenge of her ‘first kill’ and are now set out to improving on story telling and characterization.
“It’s important to me that she’s a different person at the end than she was at the beginning. And I think we have the opportunity to do that again. […] This time around it isn’t her first time out so we take a character with more experience put into a situation where she is more prepared for it. And then the challenge becomes escalating what she’s facing in a way that still makes it daunting.”
This lead into the topics of combat and gun-play. Since the two are pretty similar, I’ll just bunch them together. But for the record, Hughes insists that Lara absolutely dos not enjoy killing people or animals.
It’s important that Lara really doesn’t set out to kill, that she’s put into high stakes situations where she may have to kill in order to survive but that never her first choice.
I think one thing we haven’t talked about yet is combat was another element of focus. In no way do I mean putting more combat in there, but actually trying to continue to make ‘Lara’ inspired combat experiences, so this idea that more ways to evade enemy detection. We also tried to capture more tools that you can bring into combat, so whether that be the new ammo crafting system or grenade system or just particular skills or gear that’s new this time around and start to get a little bit more of a combat sandbox feel to it.
He goes on to explain that Crystal Dynamics has extended the enemy awareness systems, so players more “cat and mouse” style gameplay where you can “hide and evade [enemies] and take advantage of chaos and distractions in the environment.” When asked if he thought there was too much gun-play and too much fighting in the last game, Hughes had this to say.
Certainly I think for some people there was more combat that they would like, and we’re sensitive to that, but at the same time it is one of the skills you have to learn to succeed in this game. And then that’s where a lot of the optional content, things like secret tombs that you can start to bias your experience towards things that you enjoy most. And also having more tools to evade combat when you want to, that that’s another way that some people enjoy catering to their own pacing balance.
All in all Crystal Dynamics has shown that they took much of the feedback from the last game to heart and that they are doing everything they can to improve on what they did wrong, as well as what they did right. Since this is just a summary of the eight minute interview, I highly recommend you go check out the interview (found here) for yourself if you have the time.