One of Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s biggest issues is the fact it tries to be like many other games on the market, and due to this it lacks the powerful, and interesting traits that the original reboot delivered in spades.
In terms of the rebooted trilogy, I feel Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a stronger overall game than Rise of the Tomb Raider. However, it shows glimpses of absolute brilliance that unfortunately are buried within strange design decisions. One of which is the ‘open world’ aspects, which is actually one of Shadow’s weakest elements.
The best open world games are the ones which create a living world, one that feels like it would continue to thrive even when you were away from the game. You feel like these worlds are alive and your interactions with the world actually make a difference, effecting the world in unique and interesting ways.
Some examples of incredible open worlds are Grand Theft Auto V and The Witcher 3. Both games expertly craft expansive open worlds that feel alive around you, but you can interact with anyone and anything, rather than the few designated characters the game allows you to interact with. When open world environments do not allow this interactivity, it almost feels like you are window shopping within your own gaming experience. The Order 1886 and Remember Me are two other games that I recall suffered from allowing this form of interactivity with the world, and both games could have benefited from correcting these issues.
In Shadow of the Tomb Raider the main hub world of Paititi is quite expansive, but it is unfortunately also one of the most empty and uninteresting places to explore within the game. The majority of NPC (non playable characters) characters do not react to your presence, and they will continue to repetitively conduct their assigned animations. Whether the NPC is gardening, sitting or cooking, the characters don’t react to your presence or simply stop their animation for a brief moment. It makes the entire open world aspect feel lifeless, which is a shame. If Lara Croft is stealing an animal hide from a shop, the clerk should react; if Lara bumps someone gardening they should react; but Shadow doesn’t offer these sort of interesting interactions.
The other issue with the open world is the fact it has been absolutely littered with collectables. I definitely understand almost every single game has collectables in some form, but when one single hub world has over 170 items to collect, it definitely feels like overkill. Instead of developing an interactive and vibrant world to experience, the world has simply been filled with collectables to offer the appearance of lots of thing to do. These collectables instead feel more like a tick box, rather than adding too much additional/important information to the world.
In Grand Theft Auto V NPCs will react to what you do, whether you bump into them or simply doing something strange within the world. This is the same with The Witcher 3, if you perform actions within the world the NPCs will react accordingly. These open world situations simply provide a better experience, and while these game worlds are insanely huge in comparison, bigger does not always mean better. I personally believe that if you provide a small open world experience that feels alive, reactive to the player and full of interesting activities it can rival any empty open world no matter the size.
The experience all comes down to creating fun for the player, and while exploring an open world can be fun, if this world is empty and full of uninteresting collectibles, it becomes a liability rather than a positive feature.
I definitely would love to explore Shadow of the Tomb Raider a little more in the future, simply because there is an amazing game hidden within the final product. But unfortunately it seems the AAA industry standard has meant those incredible features/moments are hidden within the NEED to have certain features within your game; in this case an open world.
I’d love to hear your thoughts regarding the hub world in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, as well as hear about your favourite open world experiences below.