Shadow Of The Tomb Raider's Piecemeal Season Pass Ultimately Improved The Game

Last year’s Shadow of the Tomb Raider had a season pass with a packed lineup that must have sounded great in its publisher’s boardroom and maybe in the ears of some fans: seven expansions, one a month, adding a new tomb each time. Can’t miss, right?

For a while, it did miss, with each small expansion only extending the struggles of a struggling game. Now, with it all but complete, I feel it has finally come together very well.

Nothing’s been a smashing success for Shadow of the Tomb Raider, which launched last September in the shadow of a PS4 Spider-Man game that generated much more buzz. It shipped with the wrong ending, got off to what its publisher described as “a weak start” in sales numbers, was put on sale in October, and by February was added to the Xbox One’s all-you-can play Game Pass subscription service, which probably doesn’t happen if a game is a hot seller.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider is by no means bad. It’s a fun game that uses the revised action/climbing/shooting/upgrading formula introduced in the 2013 Tomb Raider series reboot and refined in 2015’s spectacular if overly combat-heavy Rise of the Tomb Raider. Shadow dials down the gunfights and increases the exploration, letting players propel franchise icon Lara Croft through more tombs than Rise did.

Players explore a vast Peruvian jungle and can chat with crowds of characters in the game’s two large, remote villages. The game was largely a pleasure to play, though it grapples awkwardly with the damage Croft does to the cultures whose tombs she raids, and its jungle setting is beautiful but played out, having appeared in so many other high-end games of late.

Shadow’s season pass was structured to expand the best parts of the game by adding more tombs as well as short quests that wrap around them. Each monthly update would also add a new outfit, weapon and character skill.

The first of the seven downloadable instalments, The Forge, shipped a month late. Like the main game, it was more good than bad, but awkwardly put together. It paired a decent sidequest with a clever new dungeon involving a tower and some gas that could be detonated with fire arrows to make some platforms swing.

The Forge’s bonuses, however, were frivolous non-sequiturs. Players got the ability to craft grenades and a new gun called the Umbrage 3-90, even though Shadow doesn’t have much combat and the DLC had just one fight against a few wolves.

The second instalment hit in December, offering a windy new dungeon wrapped in another short quest and tied to a new skill and a new outfit, the not-as-cool-as-it-sounds “battle dress.”

By the release of the second add-on, I realised the pitfalls of the piecemeal release schedule of the Shadow of the Tomb Raider season pass. An hour of fun but flawed new stuff is a barely satisfying snack.

Any improvement they make on the game is so incremental as to be imperceptible when played at a monthly pace. I kept getting caught up with the new Assassin’s Creed or Red Dead or other stuff and, sometimes, I didn’t even have room to keep Shadow downloaded to my PS4.

The piecemeal updates also created another problem. The more abundant the scheduled updates, the more the game’s community seemed to expect its developers to address community feedback. Most of that feedback has to do with Lara Croft’s outfits, not the new tombs.

The promotional tweets about the Shadow of the Tomb Raider season pass expansions are frequently bombarded with replies of two types.

There’s the “PLEASE BRING THE SHORTS” crowd and the “So cool, a new outfit that we can wear in approximately just like 15% of the game” crowd. The former is the grumbling from fans who are not satisfied with new Lara Croft outfits unless one of them involves her iconic short shorts.

Those comments, occasionally accompanied by complaints about her bust, often seem to stem from people annoyed about the desexualised direction recent Tomb Raiders have gone in (for the record, you can switch Croft’s model in the new game to a low-polygon PlayStation throwback, complete with short shorts).

When the developers promoted the seventh DLC’s new outfit as “tactical adventurer classic,” adopting Croft’s early wardrobe colour scheme but putting her in brown pants, you’d think, from the reaction, that Nintendo had just put Zero Suit Samus in a raincoat.

This additional outfit, as showcased in official promotional images like this one, didn’t go over so well. Some fans complained she wasn’t in shorts, and others complained that you can’t even wear it—or many other outfits in the game—in the game’s biggest hub area.

Shadow’s classic outfit was fine, except for the fact that it is one of many outfits you can’t wear in a large chunk of the game. That brings us to other, more persuasive school of complaint. The game’s designers have offered players dozens of outfits but block many of them from being worn when she’s walking through the game’s massive, remote hub city of Paititi.

Players enter this hub often, talking to myriad villagers about quests, scouring it for hidden items, traversing it to find entrances to new mission areas. All the while, only the game’s so-called tribal outfits are available. There’s an in-game narrative justification for this: Croft’s tribal outfits make her less conspicuous.

The result, though, is a forced outfit change any time she goes there and the disabling of many outfits, including the new classic one, whenever she’s in town. Time and again, fans have asked for the game’s developers to allow all outfits to be worn in all places. Seven updates to the game later, it’s still not been added.

Would it break immersion? Strain credibility even by the loose standards of an action-adventure like Tomb Raider? This is a game where you can change the language you hear from civilian characters, from their native one to English, so there’s plenty of immersion-breaking going on already.

Reps for the game declined to provide comment to Kotaku about either of the community’s long-running clothing-related complaints.

Despite those issues, the DLC continued to trickle out throughout the first half of 2019. Eventually, the upside of releasing so many additions to the game emerged. If you fall out of sync with a release flow like this and return later, there’s a lot waiting for you.

By late April, the game’s season pass had added the following:

  • The Nightmare DLC, which added a hallucinatory mission and a dungeon that involved a giant trench full of deadly drums.

  • The Price Of Survival DLC, which added a short story about the main antagonist’s brother and featured a dungeon that you could only get through by shooting some cannons.

  • The Serpent’s Heart, which fleshed out a story around a supporting character and the death of his wife and somehow fit that into a small adventure involving a cool dungeon based on riding a raft down a river.

  • The Grand Caiman, which featured an impressive dungeon filled with ferocious fire traps.

  • The season pass-exclusive Path Home, which included another quest that fleshed out side characters while also offering a complex tomb that contained several puzzle rooms filled with spike traps.

Each hour-long DLC add-on was fine. Playing five of them in a row was more than fine. Combined, they offer a terrific multi-hour new dive into the game. The tombs are visually spectacular and can be satisfyingly tricky to get through. The side quests add a little more depth to the people in the game’s world. Together, they make a game that was already heavy on exploration and spectacle burst with it.

The DLC doesn’t fix the game’s flaws, but it does accentuate its positives. None of the add-ons deal with Shadow’s tonal issues nor more comfortably situate Croft and her craft into the world she’s regularly trampling through.

They do add a lot of fun climbing and questing, though, and that works if, as so often is asked of people who play games, you’re able to compartmentalise.

By the time the seventh and final expansion came out in April, it felt like Shadow of the Tomb Raider was long gone. There are still faithful fans who praise the game and have followed its updates. There are still the people salty about clothing, still offering a mix of comments on social media and forums about the lack of Lara Croft shorts and the inability to wear half her outfits in a large section of the game.

It’s hard to imagine that the season pass has done well for the people selling it, and it’s not ameliorated some of the grievances fans have had with the game, but for those of us who were enjoying the formula of the Tomb Raider’s reboot, it’s added up to a lot of good extra stuff.

And then there were eight.

The twist to all of this is that it’s not over. At some point during Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s post-release life, fans noticed an option in the game’s menus for an eighth add-on tomb. Some claim that data-miners found proof that it involved Croft Manor, Lara’s family home.

That’s not confirmed. The game’s DLC menus still only show space for seven new character skills, one for each DLC, with no room for an eighth, so it doesn’t seem like any eighth offering would provide the full range of tomb/quest/outfit/gun/skill that the others did.

The small community that still talks about the game is otherwise stumped, wondering if this will be an added bonus for season pass holders, something free or paid for everyone, or what. The game’s publisher has been silent about the eighth slot and declined to answer Kotaku’s question about it.

The game simply lists the eighth tomb as “coming soon”, which means that this game’s improbably long and awkward post-release lifespan will continue. The last word on this game has yet to be written.


Comments

    I miss the good ol' days of buying a game expansion which was almost as like buying a new game. Far Cry Primal or New Dawn are the closest it's come in years.

    DLC is generally overpriced for the tiny amount of content that's there.

    This is a game where you can change the language you hear from civilian characters, from their native one to English, so there’s plenty of immersion-breaking going on already.

    I would say that it's fine becuase Lara understands the language so should I, it's like the Metro series they all speak Russian and understand it, I can't speak or understand Russian so I don't know what's being said unless it's in English.

    I just finished it the other night, deleted it and won't be looking back, it was pretty bad and a rather disappointing way of ending the series to be honest.

    I didn't even mind the outfits or the fact that Lara has been changed so much between the games, for me it came down to the terribly written story, complete lack of world building and aimless design in what was otherwise a beautiful setting.
    After losing most of the people who made the reboot so successful, it just felt like they cobbled together this mess to meet deadlines, a whole bunch of unrelated elements thrown together in hope it would make a game.
    (Even the comics severely declined with the loss of Pratchett)

    The tombs/crypts, while fun enough, had nearly no bearing on the world themselves, the first game used them to build the lore of Yamatai and Rise used them to tell the story of the Prophet but Shadows just used them to wall off a bunch of skills you didn't even need in the end or clothing blueprints, none of which made any sense.
    (A theme that permeated the entire game really)

    It had more than just a few immersion problems, it seemed that any time you started to get pulled in, the game was waiting to whack you repeatedly over the nose with a rolled up newspaper like a misbehaving dog trying to steal food from the table.
    When I first got to Paititi my amazement at the level of detail was quickly destroyed by the horrifying realisation that the majority of the NPC's had the same face like some kind of horrific Aphex Twin song.
    I remember speaking to a group of kids to do a mission but I can't recall what was said, only that they were a horrifying group of clones.
    Same for a mission to rescue some rebels, the mission giver and the four rebels all had the same face and voice.

      I also finished it just a couple of nights ago and I also felt pretty underwhelmed. I'm usually pretty easy to please when it comes to video games, and I LOVED the reboot and enjoyed Rise for the most part. I had no inclination at all to pick up any of the DLC for this one. I think I couldn't really engage with Shadow because narratively, it was a dog's breakfast. I think you're right when you say it feels like it was cobbled together. As the alleged final chapter in the Trinity saga, it's terribly dissatisfying.

      I agree. I've played and finished the new Tomb Raider trilogy and honestly, it feels like a downhill experience.

      I really enjoyed the 2013 reboot of Tomb Raider, despite its linearity. I was super excited for the sequel, Rise of the Tomb Raider, which I finally played in late 2016 (PS4) and frankly, was disappointed. I didn't enjoy the story, I didn't care about the characters, progressing and upgrading weapons felt grindy and the entire experience began to feel like a chore. When I was done with the game, I took it to EB Games in exchange for store credit.

      When Shadow of the Tomb Raider came out, I didn't learn my lesson and picked up a copy. I found more of the same, e.g. the game felt repetitive, I didn't like the characters (especially Lara) and I didn't like the story. The NPCs, especially in the villages you can visit, felt so out of place as they just seemed like a massive copy and paste. Shadow of the Tomb Raider felt like a rushed game to me, and was actually my most disappointing game of 2018.

    They really need to wrap up this DLC now. I've been waiting to get some kind of complete edition and eight months later the game still isn't done. It's ridiculous. And no info about this supposed final update yet either. They must realise how annoying this is for people.

    I don't get the negativity towards this game in the media and forums. I loved every minute of it. And I thought that the DLC really added to the depth of the experience in its gameplay, world and narrative. the game does have flaws, and it is totally inconsistent, but at the same time, I don't see the sins as incredibly rare in blockbuster games. But for some reason, shadow of the tomb raider has been chosen as the one that gets thrown under the bus. It plays really well, it has fantastic production values, the game world is incredibly realised, the story is good, voice acting is excellent, especially if you turn on the optional native language feature. Everything that the game does so well, it's irrational how much the game is criticised.

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