The part of 2015 Xbox One game Rise of the Tomb Raider that will be new to all gamers this week is Blood Ties, an expansion being bundled with today's PS4 release of the game and being offered as paid DLC (or part of the season pass) for Xbox One and PC. It's mostly a Tomb Raider version of Gone Home. The main part of Blood Ties is a non-violent, short gaming experience consisting of lots of listening to audio clips and peering at found objects as the player spends one night exploring a big house.
I played through it in about 100 minutes on Sunday and would recommend it for people who badly want to know more about Lara Croft's parents and Lara's early childhood. There's also a remix of the Manor experience that turns it into a survival shoot-out against spooky, undead enemies.
In the primary version of Blood Ties, you fight no one. You shoot no one. As Lara, you start out in the office of the late Lord Richard Croft, Lara's father. It's a dark and stormy night, and Lara is reading a letter from her mother's brother, Atlas, a man who despised Richard. Lara's mother, Amelia, had gone missing many years prior but was never technically declared dead. As a result, Atlas has sent Lara her final notice to terminate her ownership of Croft Manor, vacate the place and hand it over to Atlas. The ensuing gameplay is a hunt through the Manor to find documents and objects that might illuminate Lara's family background and perhaps help her undo Atlas' claim.
The expansion is set entirely in Croft Manor, a mansion that's been ravaged by time so badly that, in some rooms, it's raining inside. There's a tiny bit of adventure gameplay. There are some maps and clues to decipher, such as this:
And there are a few items to find that help Lara navigate the manor:
Mostly, though, Blood Ties is about walking through a place, picking up and reading (or listening to the reading of) some 40 documents that flesh out the Croft family's back-story.
The writing is good, and the ending is touching, but the whole experience is far more chill than the main Rise of the Tomb Raider game. It is best suited for those who want this slower pace. This is not some tomb Lara Croft is raiding. It doesn't extend the main Rise of the Tomb Raider's story, as it is set between chapters of the game, but it does flesh things out.
There is a more action-packed element to Blood Ties called Lara's Nightmare, though it is slight enough to not be recommendable on its own. Lara's Nightmare is an alternate riff on the Atlas-wants-Croft-Manor story in which Lara has to fight through the mansion, shooting zombies and floating skulls along the way.
Lara's Nightmare is set on the same Manor map as Blood Ties, but works like Rise of the Tomb Raider's other Expedition experiences, meaning players can modify their experience by using virtual cards. Some cards make Lara or her weapons more or less powerful. Others affect enemies. The big novelty with the new, added content is that there are original PlayStation-era Tomb Raider skins that you can apply to Lara.
Here's what the action looked like when I activated a card that made enemies explore and one that put Lara in an outfit from Tomb Raider II:
The release of new content for Rise of the Tomb Raider can be a bit confusing. All of the above, along with a new difficulty level for the game and the option to play the survival "Endurance" expansion in co-op, are bundled as part of today's PS4 release of the game. Blood Ties, Lara's Nightmare and the retro character skins will be available as $US10 ($13) DLC for the PC and Xbox One versions, but the new difficulty and Endurance co-op will be a free upgrade. If that's not clear enough and you're interested in the new content, check out an official FAQ here.