The Perma-Death Endurance Mode DLC Is The Best Version Of Rise Of The Tomb Raider

I wanted to play Rise of the Tomb Raider [official site] more than I realised I did. It’s nice to not have yet another BrawnMan in the middle of my screen, sure, but for me it’s the idea of vaguely puzzley, vaguely sandboxy adventures in a not-too-fantastical wilderness which appeals.

Enthused by Adam’s review, I picked up the PC version, but it wasn’t long before I was hissing through my teeth at the bad balance of impossible escapes from death, relentlessly dour and earnest tone, mechanically-delivered dialogue and preposterous animal-massacre-based-crafting (because, once again, Lara had gone on an incredibly dangerous adventure without packing anything more than a glowstick and the first option you get if you type ‘bow and arrow’ into Amazon then sort by Price: Low To High). Fortunately, the Endurance Mode DLC turned out to be game I wanted.

I want Rise Of The Tomb Raider’s great outdoors challenge, partly because it’s a beautiful place to be, partly because the game does a grand job of making a complex control set feel fluid and rewarding, partly because its protagonist comes across as capable and hardy in a way a beefy man with a gun rarely does, but I don’t want its plot. I have no strong feelings about the actual writing one way or another, but the tone of its presentation is the issue.

It’s one thing to fail to comment on the inherent absurdity of what Lara goes through, and another still to actively force a blandly grim mood over the top of all that squirrel-bothering, avalanche-surfing, ancient ruin-devastating and climbing around pirate ships embedded into an underground cliff-face. It’ll be a cold day in hell before Tomb Raider embraces comedy, but a little more self-awareness would go a long way, as would a more open spirit of joy: Lara is, after all, doing this crazy stuff by choice.

As well as that, the slew of setpiece bear battles, over-long cutscenes and chain-reaction avalanches were killing any sense that this Siberian wilderness I was in was a real place. I wanted to spend more time with the game at the heart of all this rather than find out what happens, so I nosed at the Expedition side-missions and the DLC (already available in bulk, as the temporarily exclusive Xbone version had this stuff a while back). £6.99 on top of the base game’s £36 is a pretty hefty price to pay for the Endurance mode add-on, but having spent some time with it I’m convinced that it’s the best way to play Rise of the Tomb Raider.

The survival aspect of the main campaign is pretty thin, even if the sandboxy approach to it manges to stay on the right side of mechanical. Resources such as wood, cloth and oil must be gathered from the land, and animals large and small must be hunted for hide and feathers, but it all only serves one purpose: crafting weapon and item upgrades. Lara’s in no danger from the environment, unless you count spike traps as natural hazards: she’s just doing her A-Team thing with no fear of exposure or starvation.

Conversely, in the Endurance DLC she’s close to death the whole damn time, and as a result it becomes a truer game of exploration and risk-taking, rather than an odyssey of implausible action movie tropes. Endurance digs through to the game that I think Rise of the Tomb Raider really wants to be. (The problem spinning out of that is whether Endurance really should be a part of the base game package, but I’m going to leave business model agitation alone in favour of ‘hey this is cool’).

The perma-death Endurance mode is built around the ‘ever-widening circle of exploration’ concept familiar to anyone who’s played a recent survival game such as Don’t Starve or DayZ, and even Minecraft. Find a (relatively) safe space, carry out short sorties from it to collect resources, then use those resources to build stuff that should see you through a longer expedition – ideally to the point that you can establish a new outpost to then stage further adventures from.

In this case, though, it’s paired with something a little more traditionally Tomb Raidery: trying to find long-last relics, and doing a whole lot of climbing and jumping to do so. Freed from the dour bonds of plot, Endurance missions feel like A Day In The Life Of Lara Croft: she’s sent herself somewhere stupid because this is her job, or more to the point because she’s a thrill-seeker and has wealth enough to fund her crazy adventures. I guess my root problem with Rise’s main plot is that it works overtime to make us feel sorry for an adrenaline junkie who has willingly thrown herself into danger, but Endurance leans closer to the original games’ sense that this was just what Lara Croft was up to this week.

But it’s very different nonetheless. Hunger and cold, not factors in the main game or in any previous Tomb Raider, are introduced, with the latter a particularly pernicious threat. This is stuff an explorer should know how to deal with, and in this mode Lara very much does: the capable adventurer shines through. Unbound by plot, by daddy issues, by ultra-earnest friends to help her out, she’s entirely back to being the bad-ass we always knew her as. It’s glorious.

That said, her failure to bring any provisions with her and inability to create a fire in any place other than where a fire has already been are big logic black holes: this isn’t the end of the world, it’s just someone on their holidays. Accepting that Lara Croft somehow doesn’t know how to make fire is a hurdle you just have to jump in order to enjoy Endurance mode, but it’s worth it.

Cold is the killer. I know that there are rare resources and, most of all, ancient artifacts out there in the snowstorm somewhere, but if I spend too long clambering around looking for them, I’m going to freeze. Freezing isn’t an immediate death, but it does slow me down badly, and it chips steadily away at my health until I find a heat source. Shelter alone will slow the onslaught of cold, but it won’t take it away. For that, I have to find fire. Borrowing from a system in the main game, a campfire is also the place to craft and spend experience points, but campfire spots are few and far between: often enough, I huddle around a flaming barrel or an old stove, giving me strength enough to push on even if I haven’t had the opportunity to build new toys.

There’s no fast travel and no map. Intuition, memory and luck are all I have to go on as I scour the landscape for resources and treasure. It’s a swirling, whirling snowstorm out there: I have no idea what’s more than a few feet in front of me. Even the divisive ‘Survival Mode’ vision toggle, used in the main game to identify items of interest and potential puzzle solutions for the uncurious, here becomes more of a vital filtering system than a supernatural shortcut. This might be a wilderness, but it’s not a wasteland: trees and bushes are everywhere, and a tap of Q reveals which ones grow edible berries or branches suitable for kindling.

Endurance is not about puzzle tombs, but rather about exploration, so Survival Mode doesn’t feel like a cheat, and more just a necessary way to save myself from fruitlessly pressing ‘Use’ on every tree I pass. It can be upgraded to highlight animals and some items, which does make finding what you need in the snow a little easier, but mercifully it never goes all the way to super-powers.

Nothing helps with the cold except fire. I’m forever making a risk assessment: push on even though I’m freezing, taking a chance that I’ll find a campsite before death claims me, or turn back and then have to do all this again once I’ve warmed up. Hunger, at least on the lower difficulties, isn’t quite so punishing, but does necessitate a little more patience when it comes to animal hunting, of continually making sure that you’ve got snacks on hand rather than just going off to murder a deer because you want to stitch a new bag.

This is, as I’ve mentioned, a perma-death mode, so the consequences of that risk backfiring are steep. At least in terms of sense of failure: if there’s a weakness to Endurance mode, it’s that the consequences of success are menial: leaderpoint points, in-game cash to spend on cards which remix abilities and items in Rise’s side-modes. There is some crazy shit in the cards, like making Lara into a sort of a vampire or being on fire all the time or becoming even hungrier whenever she eats a squirrel, so I guess I’m down with buying packs of them to see if I get anything ridiculous, but really Endurance is about sense of accomplishment.

Not just how long I can survive for (I forgot to mention – as well as the cold and the food and the falling and the spike traps, Bad Men arrive from time to time and must be dealt with too), but how many treasures I can find in the process – and, additionally, potentially climatically, if I can manage to call in an extraction. This can be done at any point, if I can find and provide resources for a signal fire, but do it too soon and it feels like defeat, leave it too late and my chances of falling, freezing or starving to death steadily increase.

Getting out of there with ten artifacts in my bags feels like victory; getting out of there with just four feels like I gave up. Losing it all because I froze to death after taking a chance that there’d be a campfire further ahead feels maudlin but deserved. Losing it all because I failed to jump away from a spike trap in time makes me scream and curse.

It’s less like olden Tomb Raider than even the main campaign is, but somehow it feels more like it. That sense of loneliness, of me taking the risks myself rather than the world exploding under me without warning, no more drip-feed of unlocks, none of the cognitive dissonance of learning languages on the fly by looking at old paintings in a cave, a wider area to explore without narrative or setpiece interruption, and most of all strong sense that this is just Lara doing what Lara has always done best rather than whatever it is she’s trying to prove in the plot is. It’s a shame it’s seven quid extra, and it’s also a shame that new Endurance missions only unlock if you progress far enough through the main game, but I think it’s as essential a piece of DLC as I’ve seen in a while.

Rise Of The Tomb Raider is a good game, but it keeps its best aspects somewhat at arm’s length, particularly in terms of tone. The Endurance DLC not only takes that gap away, but actually amplifies what this game does best. It’s also the only game I can think of in which killing a squirrel feels really, really important.

From this site

53 Comments

  1. WastedJoker says:

    Getting quite bored with all the rogue-like/survival games and now they’re giving us feature-creep in traditional games :(

    • Xzi says:

      You must have missed the part where it’s DLC that you neither have to buy nor enable.

    • Xzi says:

      Although I’d be overjoyed if every game included an optional roguelike mode with different rule sets from the main experience.

    • sandrahart895 says:

      hi

    • Unportant says:

      Getting quite bored with the opinions that add to nothing but the commenter’s self-satisfaction.

  2. udat says:

    All of these mechanics sound interesting, except for “permadeath” – assuming that means if you die you have to completely restart the game. I don’t have time for that any more. Can you selectively enable different bits of the “Endurance mode” mechanics?

  3. golem09 says:

    So what maps is this using? Completely new ones, or parts of the main campaign?

  4. airknots says:

    Sounds too stressful for me, cause I’m not really fond of survival games. I love puzzles, exploration, and crafting, but I hate worrying about food and warmth in videogames.

  5. Minglefingler says:

    This sounds interesting however I doubt that I’ll buy it as I’m close to giving up on the game due to the fact that in certain areas it spams you with hints every few seconds unless you do what it wants. Yes I’m aware that I can destroy stuctural weak points if I shoot them but I want to jump up on that roof first and have a look around and you telling me the same thing repeatedly isn’t helpful, it’s really fucking annoying. I can understand how some people might find this sort of thing useful as a one off message in a new area but surely no one needs the same prompts every five fucking seconds, it’s obnoxious, it’s patronising and there’s no option to turn if off.

    • king0zymandias says:

      That’s what you get when you have literally an army of UX guys dictating game design at every step based on focus tested user data.

      The amount of people with fake jobs (link to strikemag.org) who make it harder for the real developers (programmers and artists) to do their job is quite staggering in a large game studio.

      • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

        Brilliant article!

      • Minglefingler says:

        Thanks for that, very interesting read. I’nm just bewildered that anyone can think it’s a good idea to do this sort of thing. A friend of mine was going to see the Sixth Sense many moons ago and a bloke he knew said (spoilers) “I don’t want to ruin anything for you but the Bruce Willis character is dead.”
        That’s pretty much what this is doing, assuming you’re too stupid to figure out things for yourself, assuming that you don’t want to try, and additionally assuming that you’re so cretinous that you can’t remember the instructions it gave you five seconds ago. Square Enix allowed us to turn off all of this stuff in the Thief reboot, I don’t know why they can’t do the same here.

        • JuergenDurden says:

          the thief reboot was still beyond awful though

          • anHorse says:

            Nah reactionary twerps just assumed so because it was a reboot of a series they claim to have liked (a good amount of people in all such reactions have never played the originals they’re defending)

          • fish99 says:

            AnHorse, that’s quite an assumption you just made there. The reality is you don’t have a clue whether those people played the original Thief games or not.

        • Frosty_2.0 says:

          Different developers – Eidos Montreal; Crystal Dynamics (Tomb Raider).
          Overblown “UX” & kid gloves get my goat too.

          Then on the other side of things, you still have all sorts of products where the devs/engineers/designers just don’t use their common sense and think about actual usage. [For one thing, remember databases have that SQL ‘Sort By’ witchcraft devs everywhere?]
          The beginning of the Warframe Open Beta was pretty bad in that regard – I can’t fathom how DE came to release the inventory & some other interfaces after using it first-hand. There’s agile development and then there’s plain messy design. I don’t want to dig into more dark memories but anyone who played then will remember ;)

          I took the “Human Computer Interaction” paper back in my Uni days and there’s Nielsen’s Usability Laws, Use Case design, Personas etc… which is really just formalised Common Sense and applying it to what you’re designing.

  6. Premium User Badge

    heretic says:

    Thanks for covering this, wouldn’t have known otherwise as I usually don’t bother with DLC – definitely sounds like this is worth picking up, though maybe can hang on for now until price drops a bit!

  7. WMain00 says:

    Sounds quite good. I’ll wait for when it’s on g2a or whatever so I can buy it without spending extra on a feature that should be in the game in the first place.

    • Asherie says:

      G2A is rife with stolen keys in which the game can disappear from your library if the devs/steam/whoever catch on. If you want to pirate it, pirate it, but don’t give money to the thieves that go into stores n steal the keys from inside the boxes.

      • horsemedic says:

        I’ve never had an issue with G2A. It’s like eBay in that what you’re buying is as solid as the seller, and most sellers seem legit.

        They also have eBay-like seller ratings and an insurance policy you can buy for about $1 to get refunded if your key is no good.

        Beware too-good-to-be-true deals, as anywhere, but in my experience G2A is usually good for a few bucks off the Steam price, and sometimes many bucks.

        • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

          This isn’t all about buyer’s risk, it’s also about the perfectly legit suspicion that further foistering this market is not really a good thing.

          • horsemedic says:

            Depends what you mean by “this market.” If you mean a criminal market like what OP describes, in which keys are physically stolen and sold at discount, then I’d agree except that I’ve seen no evidence that stolen keys account for a significant portion of the stock at G2A. If they did, you wouldn’t be able to buy insurance for pennies.

            If you mean any sort of aftermarket for Steam keys, then I disagree. It’s already impossible to resell a Steam games when you’re done with it like you can resell pretty much anything else they own. Why would I want to make it impossible for people sell keys for games they’re never even going to play?

        • thinkforaminute says:

          Just because you haven’t had an issue yet, doesn’t mean it’s not happening. Riot pulled LoL keys, the devs who made Natural Selection 2 pulled their keys, Ubisoft pulled Far Cry 4 keys. There’s probably more that I can’t remember.

      • WizNick says:

        They aren’t stolen, those are keys from markets that the games get sold cheaper than NA/EU. Also anyone can sell his keys there. I have sold some bundle leftovers. Obviously, there is always the possibility that some keys were not acquired in a legit way but that exists since forever in any kind of market for any kind of goods.

        • anHorse says:

          They are

          I’ve had a g2a key revoked for being stolen

        • RvLeshrac says:

          Selling “leftover bundle keys” may not be illegal, but it does make you a complete dick.

    • Premium User Badge

      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      Tomb Raider is the current Nvidia freebie game. You should be able to find lots of legit keys on eBay.

      I was able to get MGSV before it came out for about $30 cheaper this way. Plus Konami didn’t get my munnies!

  8. w0bbl3r says:

    I have to agree with what is said about set-piece bear fights and too many cutscenes.
    But I stuck with it even though I was getting a bit annoyed with all that and after about an hour and a half the game opens up, and now I rarely see a cutscene and haven’t had a set-piece fight like the bear one since the start

  9. neems says:

    I envisage a future for the Tomb Raider games where at the beginning everybody will listen to her crazy theories and schemes with the utmost seriousness – “You’ve discovered that the lost continent of Atlantis is actually at the top of Everest? Let’s go!” – for two very sound reasons –

    1) She’s always right, you know this;
    2) Make no mistake, she will kill you.

    Embrace the ludo-narrative dissonance. She’s a rich kid who hunts mercenaries for kicks, and she loves it.

    • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

      I don’t know if this was your original intention, but you’re quite selling me the game now!

    • Will the wtf says:

      Yeah. Someone tell Rhianna Pratchett! Maybe she knows and is taking the series in this direction cautiously. She’s cutting her teeth as a writer on some pretty big things. I don’t know if her father Terry the mensch taught her well or she’s inherited his best qualities and staked out her own aswell, because I just haven’t played these games. I know people have misgivings with the writing but they seem mainly about the context of the story with the gameplay or limitation of Lara not quite having enough sense of self-knowledge and complicity and irony and fun. In this unlikely action movie hero stuff that maybe wouldn’t feel that way if it was just a short story. I’d like to put it down to the writing being so good it raises the bar for what we expect of interaction and gameplay beyond the norm, so the designers need to run to catch up and integrate their vision better. I know she’s one of a team of writers too. I just think if they can crack that stuff, they’ll be away, they’ll really have raised the bar. They’ll run into those Bioshock infinite problems (link to tevisthompson.com) at some point with the limits of immersive scripting and handy conceits about fatalism, but that hasn’t happened yet in the sandbox ARPG. I don’t mean to go digging up skeletons, but there’s room for Tomb Raider, with the survivalism mode now, for the writing to be like providing a wealth of texture for it to pull in a more dynamic interactive story-telling, as set out by Chris Crawford. I don’t know about designing a mechanic that would ensure your story had some kind of structure, non classical, and broken out but functional each time, like a Stanley Kubrick narrative. That means much more than Her Story or Contradiction or even the interactive author-meddling creative augmented reality book The Ice-bound Concordance (which sounds so awesome), it could still be the immersive full-on traditional videogame experience with current technology, just through the plot device of limited language of communication in the setting of these remote places, with dynamic, distant but relevant agencies with personality like the heirachies in Crusader Kings 2 or Dwarf Fortress that matter with resources and knowledge to you in your isolation. This would mean giving up more control in some ways as a linear author, and merging your role more and more with the lead designer, but who cares! Develop games and write stuff that can surprise you.

      • Wulfram says:

        Rhianna Pratchett isn’t exactly a novice nowadays.

      • Hyomoto says:

        Say again? The plot couldn’t be more bland and predictable. I’m sure it’s partly due to the whole design-by-committee vetting process that goes into these things but no, the plot has a few minor macguffins which it roundly stomps the life out of, and a major one that you can probably guess the outcome for. Other than that it’s a paint-by-numbers Indiana Jones clone. If Mrs. Pratchett is happy with herself, she shouldn’t.

        This is why I absolutely abhor the, “I’m playing for the story!” crowd. A game like Skyrim throws the premise in your face and the ‘plot’ is how you, the Dragonborn, interact with the world. Tomb Raider is the story of Laura Croft and how her unresolved issues and guilt for her father have pushed her into the most dangerous game. Or at least that’s what it wanted to be, but the problem is the game gives me control every now and again and the story becomes that of a schizophrenic girl who lapses into self-doubt and loathing every now and again between sessions of wanton murder and looting. Simply put, I’m only cold when the plot demands it. Which is why I understand very well what Alec is saying here. Games are an interactive medium, and story-telling like this is the equivalent of waist-high or invisible walls, trying to confine the experience while hinting that it might just be larger if you could walk over that hill.

        The writing is not solid, and even if the game where altered so that the two were better in alignment with one another it would only do more of what it does already: weigh down the game with needless, uninteresting tropes and try to box in the experience. Whether or not you believe Laura’s actions are justifiable is up to you, the player. Having the plot jump in to hand-wave, justify or accost you for them is simply a writer who doesn’t understand the medium. The character motivations are MY motivations, whatever you wrote is going to take a backseat to that. This is why Skyrim is so successful, it portends nothing about what you will do or who you will be, it simply gives the world a bit of life and a direction if you need it. I’m not asking big questions about Laura, or even the final macguffin because the story used the game to railroading me through them. And that’s all outside any direct plot examination such as why Laura has to do this on foot but the enemies all get airlifted in.

        In the end, Rise of the Tomb Raider is a competent third-person action-adventure game with a bland, and intrusive plot full of holes, sloppy tropes and ignorant of it’s joyless and uninteresting presentation. There is no ‘cautious’ direction here unless ‘status quo’ is considered cautious. And if anyone is cutting their teeth, it’s probably to forget the pain of having to put their name on this for industry recognition.

  10. montorsi says:

    This game is leaking memory like nobody’s business. I would really like to get through the introductory areas but good lord it starts bogging down. Can I buy a game without problems at launch? I feel cursed.

    • neems says:

      Check your vram. My 4 Gb (allegedly) gtx 970 can’t handle textures on very high, put it on high and it’s (mostly) fine.

    • SurfOnAcid says:

      Same here, don’t just blame it on the port. The game itself is pretty optimized regarding it’s graphic fidelity. I had set textures to “Very High” and had quite a slowdown ~30 minutes in the game during the cutscene, where my usual RAM started hitting the 8GB mark due to simply exceeding the VRAM. (GTX 970, too) Adjusting Textures to High and leaving everything else at the hightest option has resolved every problem.

    • Dale Winton says:

      It does use a lot of vram and system ram. Noticed it using 6.5gb of system ram earlier

    • Cei says:

      It isn’t a memory leak, it just uses a lot of VRAM at the highest settings. I’ve got a 980Ti (6GB VRAM) and 16GB of system RAM. System hasn’t used more than about 7GB and the GPU has coped absolutely fine – but my system monitor clearly shows a LOT of data being thrown in and out of the VRAM.

      Interestingly, the CPU load never goes over about 30% on my i7 3770K.

  11. UncleLou says:

    Sounds interesting, but how does it work? Is each attempt more like a score attack mode usually lasting just minutes, or is it a huge map where you can survive for hours (with enough to do as well) on a huge map?

  12. prof_yaffle says:

    This sounds a lot like a cross between Tomb Raider and The Long Dark. Before now I hadn’t realised how much I wanted that.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      Yeah, one thing games like The Long Dark lack is an actual long-term goal and/or a good reason to be out in the wilderness (besides crash landing, apocalypse etc.). Pillaging ruins for archaeologically significant bric-a-brac is a brilliant reason.

  13. Jamesac68 says:

    I don’t want Rise of the Tomb Raider at all. I want this quite a bit. It’s really too bad it won’t go on sale as a stand-alone game, without needing to slog through an unwanted story adventure to unlock new Endurance goodies.

    • Vinraith says:

      Yup, I’d buy a stand-alone version of this the instant it was available, but I’ve no interest in having to play the main game in order to enable it.

  14. JuergenDurden says:

    this article told nothing of worth about this dlc. what maps? how long does a round last? how does weapon skill progression work? do you need to have beaten the base game?

    • RvLeshrac says:

      a) Randomish b) As long as you like c) Why cover base game mechanics? d) No

  15. Shadow says:

    What the… Is that chain mail she’s wearing? And then plate armour?

    Where did she travel to? Skyrim?

  16. haider.zoheb says:

    This might come as a silly question guys but how do I get rid of the login borders in ROTR (The username, game title, collectibles and so on..)? I purchased the game today on Steam and it kinda bothers me every time I play!!

    • RvLeshrac says:

      If you’re talking about the streaming overlay, that’s in the options somewhere.

  17. Uninteresting Curse File Implement says:

    as well as the cold and the food and the falling and the spike traps, Bad Men arrive from time to time and must be dealt with too

    Read this as “Mad Men”, had a vision of Lara machinegunning Sterling and Cooper in half.

  18. SuicidalFoetus says:

    I love the Endurance DLC with one caveat. It doesn’t love my machine, and some others. I frequently get hitches where the game stops dead for 2 or 3 seconds. The story mode and other game modes behave fine, it’s just endurance mode I have this problem with.

    Anybody else gave the same issue.

  19. brek says:

    Really enjoyed the 2013 reboot. Finding this one a bit corny. Seems like they tried to incorporate role playing elements and what is with the chain mail??? But my main bugbear is it keeps crashing. I have 32gb ram, msi r9 390 with 8gb vram and i7k processor