Tomb Raider has been in the news a lot recently, which is a good indicator of its enduring popularity considering the last game came out four years ago and we still don't have a title, plot, trailer, or any discernible news on the latest game. It's being made on Unreal 5 is pretty much the only thing we know about it. That reveal was treated by many as confirmation of a new game being actively worked on by Crystal Dynamics, but we've known that for months – we just don't know anything about the game, apart from the fact it somehow unites the Legend Trilogy with the Survivor Trilogy.
However, the future of Tomb Raider does not feel like smooth sailing, despite the gloss of Unreal 5. Even the very name 'Tomb Raider' causes some issues. She is a tomb raider. She raids tombs. That's like, her deal. These days, when games are more mindful of ludonarrative dissonance and view themselves as prestige pieces of art there to tell a heart-wrenching story, having your hero be a white girl who travels to exotic lands to steal their cultural treasures feels a bit iffy. That's the core reason Shadow of the Tomb Raider (though not the only reason) was so thoroughly derailed. Lara still raided some tombs, but with the Survivor Trilogy switching to open-world maps in single locations rather than globetrotting levels, tombs were few and far between. Lara's raiding was used sparingly, almost as a sidequest, while her primary mission was a mix of the supernatural, a tired and almost entirely motivation-less rivalry with Trinity, and running around shooting at mercenaries all while acting like the sweetest slice of pumpkin pie with the villagers themselves.
It seemed to have no idea who Lara was, overdoing the caring and compassionate side of her character until very little of Lara Croft as we knew her remained. And, of course, we spent the whole game making sure our dead ol' daddy was proud of us – and that's a whole other issue the game needs to fix too.
Tomb Raider needs to make a choice. Personally, as I've written before, I would happily leave tomb raiding behind and have Lara be more of an intrepid explorer, working with the locals to discover or recover treasure, and finding a place in the world for herself away from Croft Manor. There would need to be some balancing to avoid her just being a full-blown white saviour acting as a hero for faceless tribe whose only role is to give her something to do, but if we're done with levels in favour of an open-world map, then tomb raiding as an idea needs to be let go of.
Conversely, I would be very happy to see it go the complete opposite way. Have Lara just jet around the world, nick shiny gold shit, shoot dinosaurs, and run. If you want to make a classic Tomb Raider game, do it. I'm here for it. But don't try to do that while making Lara into a fully fleshed out, motherly character who cares deeply about the very earth she trods on. There needs to be a choice, one way or the other. Rise had Lara screaming in vengeful delight as she chased down mercs, but too much of the most recent trilogy lacked that energy.
That is the main choice facing the next game in the series. It needs to be about Lara Croft, the fully rounded human being who carefully considers every choice she makes and how it impacts others, or else it needs to be about the Tomb Raider, who wears sunglasses, backflips off clifftops, and shoots dinosaurs in the dick. I would love either of those games, but they are not the same game. There has been a lot of discussion about the story of Tomb Raider's next outing, and how the frequently overused daddy issues fit in there. But the fact is the real question is less about what the story should look like and more about whether or not it should even have one.
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