When I got my hands on Rise of the Tomb Raider for PlayStation 4, with all the 20th anniversary DLC goodies bundled in with it, I didn’t actually spend all that long playing through the main game. No, instead I was all about the survival mode and playing the game co-operatively. I’ll admit it was a weird fit, but there was something about battling the harsh wintry elements, delving into underground caves, and fighting off extremely angry bears, wolves and Trinity goons that happened to be hanging out as we explored.
Clearly it was just a wild experiment, alongside the card-based modifiers that were all the rage in 2015, but the most important element of it has now made a return in the first DLC for Shadow of the Tomb Raider: playing in co-op.
The first of several expansions in the season pass, The Forge is really all about adding a new challenge tomb to the game, and if you want, you can just hop straight into it from the Challenge Tomb section of the main menu. However, it’s also woven into the main game, so that you can bump into it when on your first or second play through as a side story, or simply return to it while continuing to explore the world’s various locations once you’ve finished the main story. Complete The Forge in this context and you unlock a new skill, outfit and weapon.
It’s wrapped up in a little tale that fleshes out Abby’s backstory, with her aunt in the town of Kuwaq Yaku fretting about whether or not to give Abby a map left to her by her deceased grandmother, Mariana. It’s just a map of Kuwaq Yaku and the surrounding areas, but with a little bit of classic Tomb Raider/Indiana Jones/Uncharted sleuthing, it soon reveals all.
If you were to simply tackle the challenge tomb, you’d miss out on this little adventure, which takes you out to dig up some old clues left behind by Mariana. This includes a smaller offshoot with some relatively light traversal and environmental puzzling to reach a stone coffin, which would be a shame to overlook. Interestingly, while the main game’s challenge tombs and crypts were built into the world seamlessly, here you simply find the entrance and are sent to the new locations with a loading screen. It’s a minor point, but shows how these additions will likely be integrated into the game in future as well.
The actual challenge tomb itself is all fire and brimstone, living up to its name as a forge full of molten lava. OK, so I’d question whether or not it could actually be used as a forge, but that’s beside the point. A huge environmental puzzle around a column of moving platforms and explosive gas follows, and it’s rather enjoyable trying to figure out what it demands of you. It’s not the most challenging of tombs, but you can amp the difficulty up a tad by turning off more of the game’s traversal and environmental assists.
However, it’s also fascinating to see how Eidos Montreal have gone about designing for two players. Even when playing solo, you can see certain paths and ideas that could be explored by two people instead of one. Actually playing as a pair, there’s surprisingly few differences to how the puzzle presents solo, in a way that feels like it might not actually be intended. You are certainly given impetus to head in separate directions and progress through combined efforts while overcoming personal challenges, but then there’s some switches and platforms that feel like they should be manually triggered are instead automatic, it seems.
You can tackle The Forge as a standalone challenge tomb in simple exploration mode, with score attack or time attack, and this is also being rolled back to tombs from the main game. Court of Death has already been updated, while Gate of Xibalba will be updated in 27th November. Sadly, co-op isn’t a part of the equation for these updated challenge tombs, which would be difficult, if not almost impossible to adapt to the purpose.
While I’d have liked for the actual co-op gameplay to be a bit more ambitious and transformative, it really highlights for me that co-op and Tomb Raider works well together. Every time you’re playing through an adventure game like this and have an AI partner that’s lagging behind or that you have to coordinate with, that could be a second human player. Hopefully Eidos Montreal can refine their craft over the coming months of DLC releases.