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Rise of the Tomb Raider 'Baba Yaga' Review: Spell Check

Rise of the Tomb Raider left itself open to lots of exploration for further storytelling opportunities. From its ambiguous cliffhanger ending to the wide array of locales Lara explores, Crystal Dynamics has plenty of potential avenues for more tomb raiding. Baba Yaga: The Temple of the Witch is its first attempt at story DLC, offering a short-but-sweet anthology that fits neatly into the main game, but doesn't present as much gameplay as fans may expect.

Starting in the Soviet Installation, Lara finds a new member of Jacob's tribe hiding from Trinity guards, who explains that she was trying to find her grandfather. The old man went looking for his wife, and his search led him to an area that even the locals avoid: the Vale, which is said to be the home of a fearsome witch.

The start point and standalone nature of the story means that it folds neatly into the main campaign, and you can start it rather early if you happen to be playing a new game when you reach it. Connecting it so early to the game proper means that it doesn't really use many of the more advanced later mechanics. 

It's well-produced, but feels rather short, and that's for a few reasons. For one, a major sequence is more of a guided narrative than real gameplay, albeit a visually striking and intense one. Plus, while the bulk of the content takes place in a new area, there is a decent amount of backtracking. At one point you have to gather resources, including deer pelts, no matter how many you may already have in your possession. As a result, the actual new content consists of one medium-sized puzzle room, a little bit of traversal, and one boss fight.

As I said, though, it is a short-but-sweet anthology, with an emphasis on sweet. Most of the character development takes place through journal entries that establish the complicated and somewhat heartbreaking story of how the girl's grandparents fell in love and were subsequently torn apart. 

The plot revelations were predictable--you may be able to accurately guess from even the extremely basic description I've already given--but fortunately, the game knows better than to treat Lara like a sap. It knows that we've figured it out, and so it lets her reflect that. As in the main game, she's treated as smart and capable, and it's the particular wrinkles of the lovers' history that make it stand out.

Your reward for completing the story is two pieces of specialized gear, which may make the rest of the game much easier if you play the DLC early on. But those souveniers are of secondary importance next to the strength of the story, which is really the standout here. It may not have very much to do but Baba Yaga casts an intriguing spell regardless.


This review is based on a Rise of the Tomb Raider Season Pass code provided by the publisher. Baba Yaga: The Temple of the Witch available to download for $9.99. The game is rated M.

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