Meagan Marie, Community Manager at Crystal Dynamics, was recently on tour around Europe to demo the latest version of Rise of the Tomb Raider. As a true ambassador of the game, an advocate of all things Lara Croft, and a cosplay enthusiast, during her tour Marie brought together lots of passionate fans (some cosplayers included) to reveal more about the game and the evolved character, and share some insight with the press. This is the chat we had at Microsoft's HQ in Madrid:
Can you give us a brief recap on what you've been showing with the new demo of the game?
This demo highlights two of our large new evolutions in terms of gameplay: the first is our bigger, more challenging tombs. Fans wanted even more difficult puzzles and tombs, so tombs now are a lot larger, that's what the demo showcases. The other demo is called Advancing Storm and it takes place quite a bit forward in the game. It's a combat demo and it showcases the diversity in combat that we've implemented since the last game. We got a lot of feedback from fans saying that they wanted to have more player choice when it came to engaging in combat, so we allowed them now to choose if they want to take a more stealthy approach or if they wanna go full board into combat, but overall combat still feels very much like guerrilla warfare (using the environment to your advantage).
In the previous game, I didn't feel like the tombs were mandatory for me to progress during the game. Is that something you're changing for this one?
It's funny because tombs mean something different for different people. For some people they're an ancient space that you can explore, full of history and relics; and for some people tombs specifically mean puzzles. We're increasing both of those [elements]. Our new approach to puzzles is what we call the "nesting puzzle" approach: it means that you walk into this beautiful ornate space and you usually don't know where you need to go right away, so you have to solve multiple smaller puzzles throughout the environment in order to get there. There's some combat and traversal in-between, so there's that whole gameplay experience wrapped up in a single tomb setting. So we do have more critical path tombs, path puzzles, the ones you have to play in order to progress in the story; and then we also have more challenge tombs, and they're a little bit tougher - the designers feel like they can have a bit more fun and be even more challenging with these tombs because they're optional, so when you discover and complete them you really get that sense of satisfaction.
How do you find the balance between making a game for an audience with cinematic sensibilities and creating an experience that resonates with players like me, who feel that the adventure genre means more puzzle solving and challenges for the mind as well?
We did get feedback on that in the last game, people felt that maybe the combat was a little heavier than they would have liked, and that the exploration, puzzle solving and traversal needed to be spotlighted more. We've worked hard to rebalance this, but since the original Tomb Raider, the core tenants of the game have been traversal exploration, the puzzle solving and the combat, so that's what we're aiming to bring back again. And we try to cater to different play-styles by having a really engaging narrative cinematic story, because Lara's journey is so essential to this, her evolution as a character is so important to this story. We have this really cinematic storytelling moments, but then we drop you into these huge exploration spaces - the hubs are up to three times bigger than the biggest one in the last game, where you can just explore for hours - you can decide how much you want to explore, you can continue with the story and fast-travel back and complete the challenges later. So we try to cater both to the people who want that action-packed narrative and storytelling, but then also people who love that sense of isolation that's core to classic Tomb Raider games.
Regarding the character progression, you mentioned there are some things you have to unlock. During the demo you've shown this system of abilities that only get unlocked when you achieve something...
There are things to unlock through experience points and you can choose if you want to unlock skills that are more combat-oriented, or things that will help you find relics in the environment and help you explore; or there are some skills that you only learn through finding ancient scripts in the environment. It's a reward for completing challenge tombs. The idea is that you find an ancient script in a challenge tomb and that script teaches you how to fire two arrows at once like ancient Mongolian soldiers.
Can you achieve those skills by trying to shoot differently or trying to kill two guys with one shot, for example?
No, they're unlocking-specific skills, so you'll only learn them by finding [the scripts that'll teach you how to]. The idea is that Lara is learning from the environment and the ancient cultures that came before her, and we think that's really cool.
Do you worry that the amount of killing that happens in the modern Tomb Raider games is in danger of altering our perception of Lara Croft as a character?
I think that when it's taken out of context, when you see just isolated pieces of combat, I can understand how people might feel that way. But I think within the story, the narrative team does their best to really balance and make sure that the player feels motivated and that they understand Lara's motivation, and that Lara never feels like she's enjoying it, but more that she understands it's something she has to do now. Especially now, she's become a little bit more aware that there are forces out there that aren't going to hesitate to kill her, and in the beginning of this game she will again find out just how terrible these Trinity forces are, so she's going to do what it takes to survive and that includes killing some of the soldiers. The narrative team works hard to make that disconnect less, and we do know that some people felt that there was a very quick escalation in the last game from Lara's first kill to having to take on enemies. But that's also why we're happy to introduce some player choice, so there will be instances where you absolutely have to engage in combat but if people want to avoid combat to some degree, they can choose to be a bit more stealthy.
The combat and skills systems have evolved, but you've ditched the multiplayer part of the game to focus on the single player element. Wouldn't those advanced combat features have worked nicely in a multiplayer mode?
We actually haven't confirmed whether we have a multiplayer yet. We hopefully will be doing that soon, within the next week or so. There is something in place that will allow you to compete with your friends, but we just haven't revealed exactly what yet.
Can we expect any kind of exclusive content on the Xbox One and Xbox 360 versions, like missions or something special for this very first exclusive version?
I think that's not something I can entirely answer, we're so focussed on the Xbox One and Xbox 360 versions that we haven't even started talking about the other SKUs, but I would expect that they'd be the same game. The partnership that we've had with Microsoft has been really great because they've been very supportive, not only helping us have events and showcase the game to fans around the world, but also just having the hardware architects to work with. That in itself is a benefit, when you work with the people who have made the hardware you can really push a game to be the absolute best that it can be.
Knowing it so closely, how important do you think the fanbase is to this specific game and this series?
When you have a franchise that's been as long-running as Tomb Raider, the fanbase is its lifeblood. They're passionate and vocal, no matter if their opinions are positive or negative, the fact they're passionate means that they care and they're invested and they think that Tomb Raider and Lara Croft are relevant and that's amazing. Not only that, but they also our biggest evangelist and they're incredibly helpful. We have over a hundred official fansites around the world that help us translate articles and get out information to their local communities. And they're also a goldmine of information: after the last game, I put together sixty or seventy pages based off community feedback from all over social media, and the developers took into consideration a lot of that feedback, and it also coincided with the things they wanted to do and change in the game. It's really great to have such a passionate group of fans to give you that feedback that let you know what you're doing right or what can be improved.
What's the main feedback you're getting from the people who have already played the game?
In Rise, the thing that they're most excited about is that swimming has returned and the potential to use water. They're also really excited about the different types of tombs and challenges; the fact that we have all this exploration and discovery in the game, that's something the fans always love.
Enjoy the fan event and thank you very much for your time.
Thank you so much.
For more info on the game, don't miss our latest Rise of the Tomb Raider hands-on impressions and exclusive gameplay.