With the impending juggernaut of Red Dead Redemption 2 on the horizon at the end of October, many of the year’s big holiday releases have moved their release dates to the weeks and months prior, emptying the usually-packed November and overflowing September and early October with a plethora of huge titles. In particular, the first two weeks of September have some particularly intriguing titles: Dragon Quest XI, Spider-Man, NBA 2K19 and Shadow of the Tomb Raider all launch between September 4 and 14. Each of those first three titles has a key factor driving them: Dragon Quest XI marks the end to a nearly thirteen year wait for North American fans for a proper entry in the long-running JRPG franchise, Spider-Man is looking to be the proper AAA treatment that this fan-favorite hero deserves after a history of mediocre titles and NBA 2K is consistently one of the highest-selling titles each year it is released. At the end of that eleven day period, Shadow of the Tomb Raider will descend onto store shelves, and while the polish and passion of the recent entries seem to indicate another solid release for the gun-toting heroine, it’s difficult to determine what exactly may help the Eidos Montreal title stand out in this packed release window.
There’s plenty going for Shadow of the Tomb Raider to get fans excited, even if it doesn’t represent a major shift on what worked well in the latest two titles. Representing the culmination of the prequel trilogy, Lara Croft’s latest adventure takes her to South America as she continues her fight against Trinity and attempts to fix a devastating mistake of hers that could have apocalyptic consequences. With a greater focus on larger hubs, underwater exploration and options for stealth, the core gameplay has proven to offer an enjoyable loop of shooting, looting, upgrading and puzzle solving. Shadow is also looking to be a graphical powerhouse, particularly on PC, as Nvidia recently showcased it as one of their titles to highlight their upcoming lineup of graphics cards. Even without any major enhancements, Shadow of the Tomb Raider seems unlikely to disappoint the core fanbase who will inevitably pick it up at launch.
It’s the potential audience beyond that guaranteed community that still seems to be searching for reasons to pick it up during its crowded launch, however, as opposed to later on when it’s cheaper and surrounded by fewer big name titles. For one, Crystal Dynamics has been reduced to a supporting role with Eidos Montreal taking the reins, which creates a sense of reasonable doubt as to what alterations the new developer will see fit to implement, particularly when they’re not bringing any significant new features to the table to justify it. The narrative has also had its share of issues, as we touched on back during Shadow’s reveal, which has created a lack of motivation from the game’s plot to drive any additional players to see the conclusion of the prequel trilogy. The audience has also been divided thanks to a year-long exclusivity deal with Xbox for Rise of the Tomb Raider back at launch and minimal advertising when it made its way onto additional platforms, potentially leading more casual fans to have missed out on the key middle entry in this trilogy depending upon which consoles they have access to.
For each promising aspect that Shadow of the Tomb Raider seems to offer, there’s an additional factor that leaves room for caution, and with its current release window being so hype-worthy, a balanced level of anticipation does little to benefit the latest entry in the long-running action-adventure franchise. With just one or two noteworthy features, Shadow could manage to not only entice both new and longtime fans alike, but to help evolve this series and continue to cement it as a multi-decade legend among some of the industry’s most notable. But as it stands right now, it’s hard to see Lara Croft buried underneath the onslaught of fall releases, and while those that are willing to dig to find it will likely uncover a solid adventure, it’s still unfortunate to see this happen to such a prominent gaming figure.