The Living, the Dead, and the Living Dead: As-I-Play Rise of the Tomb Raider (Part Ten)

We left Lara last staring into a hole in the side of a mountain staircase with the ominous warning from Jacob that it is crawling with the Deathless. Doesn’t that sound lovely? Fair warning—this will be the final post in this series (for Rise of the Tomb Raider), so it’s going to spoil pretty much everything. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Lara passes through the secret entrance, then has to break down a brick wall (because clearly the secret entrance in the stairs isn’t secret enough). Here, as everywhere, there is more water, but also a massive cavern with crows or ravens circling high near an opening above. Wordless choral music in the background provides a suitably sacred atmosphere. Below are multiple golden domes on the path to the Orrery, which Jacob says Lara will need to “use it to open the entrance to Kitezh.”

As Lara approaches the walls of a keep at the entrance of the Path, the sounds of marching can be heard; once she climbs the exterior wall, she can see the Deathless soldiers marching past (they speak, clearly giving orders, although it is unclear whether they are mobilizing because of Lara, Trinity, or the Remnants above). (They still sound like Jabba the Hut to me.) The scene is reminiscent of the march of the Stormguard on Yamatai beneath Lara’s ledge in the Temple, especially since Jacob explained that the Deathless were the reason the Remnants decided to bury Kitezh beneath the ice (their pride, greed, and desire for power).

As Lara climbs, the ice gives way, dropping her into a narrow crevasse, through which she has to shimmy before dropping to the snow and ice below (it’s not clear how the Deathless didn’t hear her with all the yelling she was doing during this). On a ledge, Lara finds a corpse and a letter from the surviving Trinity Tracker imbedded with the Mongols. He says that “With the Source at his disposal, the Prophet’s Deathless Ones are unstoppable, an army of wraiths and devils that can never die. A mockery of all God’s creation. They are no longer human, and they will break any army that stands in their way. With every death and rebirth, they learn.” The phrase “death and rebirth” implies that they can, in fact, die, but that they do not remain that way. The letter reinforces that Lara should not be here, either–that her ambitions to find the Source in order to keep her father (his memory, anyway) alive are as misguided as those of the Prophet (originally) and of Trinity. What I’m uncertain of is whether Crystal Dynamics agrees–or whether Lara, for some reason unknown to me, is strangely suited to possess divine power. There’s a clear condemnation of the desire to live forever as unnatural, a prioritization of the supernatural–divinity, the afterlife, something–over the extension of life “artificially.”

Lara ziplines into the keep, knocking ice off the side and attracting the attention of one of the Deathless. She manages to tuck herself out of the way as he peers over the edge, although her fingers are visible, and he is waiting for her when she climbs up over the edge of the bridge. The game prompts her to melee attack, and when she “kills” the Deathless, he vanishes as though burned, like a vampire, leaving a burning book behind. Okay, that is super weird. A random puff of ash, sure, but the little book-thing is just bizarre. I guess they needed something for me to be able to loot?

From the ruins of the keep, Lara makes her way into a tunnel leading into the city of Kitezh, walks up a rise, and sees the city spread out beneath the ice, with a tower in the distance with ominously glowing red windows. Lara says that it must be the Chamber of Souls, where the Source is. No shit, Lara. D’you think the creepy glowing windows are where the horrible immortality device is kept?

Lara remarks to herself that she is surprised how “human” Jacob seems, and wonders what the Source will do–“unlock the secrets of the human soul” or “some new scientific discovery,” both of which seem ridiculously naive.

There’s a tomb in Kitezh on the edge of the city, and as Lara approaches, there’s a deep growl. Inside, she finds a large whitish bear (which I used a grenade arrow on, earning the achievement “Was that really necessary?” I say yes–that bear was huge). There’s a tomb, and, as with all tombs, Lara has to swim underwater to get to this one too. In fact, it’s the Chamber of Exorcism, the ancient Remnants used to “drive out the demons,” but “We do not always succeed. Often the poor wretches are too far gone, and they die when we drive the beasts out of them. It is heartbreaking to lose good people, but we must stand against the Devil, in all his forms.”

It is hard to tell, at this point, whether these are truthful accounts or superstitions, whether the evil is the result of radiation (there are uranium mines here, after all) or some other chemical poisoning, simply “bad” people, or something actually supernatural. There is a journal there from a woman who is undergoing exorcism, but she says that “I am mad. But I know there is no evil in my heart. Only sickness that no man can cure.” That’s a bit depressing. Accurate to medieval understanding of psychology, but still a poignant reminder that people will attribute much that is mundane to the supernatural (as people are still executed for witchcraft in parts of Nigeria and for atheism throughout the Middle East).

Back in the city, at the top of a tower, Lara finds another journal from the Tracker talking about the rebirth of the Deathless: “Where a pile of ashes smoldered the night before, a corpse now lay, skin as milky white as a dead fish. As I watched, the dead man breathed. A clicking death rattle in reverse as he sucked in air for the first time in a day. Then he looked at me, and I recognized him at last. I killed this man once before, during the battle. And he has not forgotten.” I really hope they don’t do this to me. I signed on to play Rise of the Tomb Raider, not Dark Souls. When I kill something, I want it to stay dead, thank you.

When Lara approaches the main gate, it slams shut, and then the Deathless start firing a trebuchet at her. I want a trebuchet… and since my quest is now “seize a trebuchet,” it looks like I get one. Huzzah!

Lara has to run back through the city area–killing Deathless–(mostly, in my case, with my axe, which either means that Byzantine warriors were pretty wimpy, since they’re getting their immortal butts handed to them by a tiny woman with a climbing axe, or that Lara is just that bada**) to get to the trebuchet on the far side. The trebuchet is awesome and flings giant fireballs. I just wish I got to use it for more things.

Inside the keep area, Lara has to fight off a bunch of Deathless, and then go find another trebuchet (yay!) to knock open another gate. She heads over to the next trebuchet, and hits the gate once before the Deathless get on another trebuchet and start firing at her, taking out her trebuchet. Okay, go take away their trebuchet, since they’re going to be bullies about it. However, their trebuchet is locked in ice (how convenient that it was aimed right at me), so Lara has to go through a bunch of steps to unlock it so that she can re-aim it at the gate, which she does, and then I can keep going.

On the way through the second gate, another fireball from a trebuchet crashes in behind her, sealing off the doorway and triggering another run-and-jump sequence. Once she defeats the Deathless on the other side, she faces a third gate, but before anything can happen there, Trinity breaks through the glacier ice above. Sofia radios her, saying, “Lara, Trinity has broken through! We can’t–” (Well, hopefully she’s not dead, because I’d actually feel bad about that.)

As she nears the top of this tower, the Deathless are killing Trinity soldiers and throwing them from the towers. Killing Trinity now seems almost silly; they aren’t particularly more or less “difficult” than the Deathless, but they are a good deal less intimidating, and I keep thinking “I beat a dozen Deathless into ashes with my climbing axe–why on earth would I be phased by normal looking men in winter clothing?” Killing undead Byzantine guards really is much more epic. At the end of the wall is a the Final Precipice Base Camp with the “point of no return” warning. Since I have 100% on every region except this one (which is at 95% showing all items found and challenges complete), it seems like I’ll be able to pass this point with no regrets.

Lara leaps from the wall and continues up to the top of another tower, just as a helicopter flies in–wobbling rather badly–to hover. Lara’s reaction is to ask Sofia if the Remnants can hit it with the trebuchet (oh, please, please let me watch a helicopter get taken out by a giant ball of Greek fire). Sofia tries, and they miss because the pilot can avoid the fireballs. Lara then has an idea–that if she shoots the fireball when it’s near the helicopter, the resulting explosion (remember, Greek fire, not regular fire) might take out the helicopter. It works (not sure if I had to have deliberately chosen the grenade arrow for that one, but that’s what I picked), and the helicopter veers off, on fire. This repeats twice more, with Lara having to fend off both Deathless and Trinity in between (why aren’t they fighting each other, exactly?). After the last round, the helicopter loses control, spinning and crashing, knocking the “floor” (roof) of the tower out from under Lara’s feet.

The room she falls into is heavily guarded by Deathless (fortunately, she’s on top of a column above them so they don’t see her). After killing them, Lara heads toward the gap created by the helicopter, and Konstantin rushes up behind her, hitting her in the head. Then he takes her bow (asshole), saying, “Just you and I now, Lara.” Dude, I’ve been beating ancient Byzantine soldiers to dust with this axe for hours now. You really think that you and your bleeding hands bother me? Except they aren’t going to just let me beat him to death. No… Lara has to run around the room and throw crafted explosives at him to knock him down, then stab him with the axe, then quicktime dodge and THEN she can stab him. And then she takes her weapons back, although Konstantin still isn’t dead, and that seems like a mistake (given what he did to Jonah).

He says, looking confused, “This…This is not my destiny. I was meant for greatness!” Lara looks at him: “This was never your destiny. Your sister let you believe that.” He then looks shattered, and says, “I did all… all of this… For her.” Something crashes, loudly, and Lara turns to run. Konstantin says, “Don’t you walk away from me! Wait! Trinity killed your father!” (No shit, Sherlock. I figured that out a long time ago, although apparently Lara didn’t.) Lara says, “No! You’re lying,” as Konstantin starts to get up. And then my console freezes. Are you KIDDING ME? AT THE VERY END OF A BOSS FIGHT?!?!?! There may have been swearing. A lot of swearing. And two alarmed cats.

Fortunately, thanks be to the console gods, when I restarted, it loaded at the exact second it froze (praise Himiko and the Prophet for autosave points in boss fights).

Konstantin is just standing, and Y prompt appears over his head. Lara has the option to kill him… or I could wait and see what else he has to say. Nope, killing him. (After checking YouTube, I learn that she would have yelled at him to shut up, saying, “You’re wrong!” and then the game just waits for her to kill him, so I didn’t really miss much.) Lara kills him, then tells him to “Burn in hell.” And yes, I am looting his body for good measure. And then booby-trapping his corpse just to make a point.

In the Chamber, Ana has found the Source, which is currently wrapped in cloth. She says, “I gave up everything for this. I have no intention of giving it to Trinity. What about your father? You’re dooming him to be mocked by history. How can you let this go? When you’re so close.” Lara is quiet for a moment, then, “I’m willing to make that sacrifice.”

Great, Lara. You’ve caused how many deaths in pursuit of this thing, and now you’re okay letting it go? You couldn’t have made that life choice before killing most of the Remnants and a whole slew of Trinity and possibly (but I doubt it) Jonah and several dozen undead Byzantines? Now you decide that it’s okay to give up? At this point, just take the stupid thing.

Ana tries appealing to humanitarian empathy: “Think of the millions suffering and dying. We can save them. We can change the world. Together.” Lara replies, “The cost is too high, Ana. We aren’t meant to live forever. Death is a part of life.” Ana snarls, “That’s easy for you to say. You aren’t the one who’s dying.” Lara replies, “But this isn’t about you.”

Oooooh, boy. Guess what, Lara? It shouldn’t be about you, either. Or your father. Or Jonah. I mean, okay, it IS about you, because it’s a Tomb Raider game and those are, by their very nature, all about you, but if we suspend that little generic convention for a second and just think about that phrase… You’ve made this whole fiasco about you, Lara Croft, you and your dead father. Despite what Jonah and Sofia and Jacob have told you, you’ve made it all about you and what you wanted, and caused hundreds of deaths because you wanted it to be about you and your daddy issues. So while it’s lovely that you’ve had this little revelation here, forgive me if I’m disinclined to feel terribly sympathetic for your position. Ana is actually dying. You aren’t. For her, it IS about her, and I’m much more sympathetic to her position than yours.

Lara continues, “This is about humanity. About protecting what it means to be human.” A literally faceless Trinity soldier (he has a balaclava over his whole face except his eyes) runs in and yells, “They’re coming! We’re surrounded!” a half-second before Jacob kills him with a Byzantine war axe. Ana pulls out a gun and shoots him three times as Lara yells, “Jacob, look out!” (Except he’s immortal, so the effectiveness of this is going to be rather limited.) On his knees, he cries, “The Source… is not meant for the world!”

Lara and Ana face off over their guns: Ana says, “This is your chance, Lara. Everything I’ve done… Everything you’ve done… Another Croft doesn’t have to die for this.” Lara answers, “But I’m willing to.” Ana unwraps the Source and Lara turns away, covering her eyes. Ana looks at the object–the Source–which is glowing blue, as streams of blue light pour out of her eyes and into it. She cries out and drops it, still glowing blue.

Life lesson, kids. If you happen to have a source of immortality in your hands, don’t drop it.

It is oddly shaped, like a collection of metal ore in pyramidal formations, with strange symbols inscribed on it (arcane, or possibly alien), battered and cracked. Lara sidesteps over to it and picks it up, not looking at it directly, then raises it over her head. Ana screams out, “No!” Lara looks back at Jacob, who nods and says, “It’s okay.” Lara closes her eyes and says, “I’m sorry,” then smashes it into the ground.

Light pours out of it, flowing around the room. Jacob cries out. The Deathless begin to writhe and drop their weapons, looking around in confusion (and possibly pain) as they fall into ash. Lara rushes over to Jacob, saying, “Jacob, hold on!” He laughs, painfully, and says, “I’ve held on for too long already.” She says, “You knew I’d destroy it.” He answers, “In all my years, I’ve met few as extraordinary as you.” He coughs thickly, then says, with excitement, “It’s finally happening,” then laughs. “My ending.” Lara shakes her head and says, again, “I’m sorry. All I wanted was to make a difference.” He tells her, “You already have.” He touches her cheek and repeats it: “You already have.” Then he dissolves into dust.

How touching. (Okay, I’m a horrible cynic. For a scene of this type, it really isn’t all that bad. A bit predictable, certainly, but there was no possible way that Crystal Dynamics could have gone any other way here. It’s pretty clear that “Immortality is Bad” is a theme in the series, since that was also the central plot of TR2013. At least Jacob is a nice guy, unlike Himiko, so that we feel a little bit bad about the loss of a life that had gone one for nearly a thousand years. In fact, I’m more depressed about that than anything else at this point in the game: think about what Jacob must have known, as a person who had lived for that long. And then poof and he’s gone. (There’s also no explanation of how the Remnants aren’t still speaking Byzantine nor of why Jacob manages to remain mostly normal while the Deathless are insane and inhuman.)

The scene shifts back to Lara’s office, her father’s recording, talking about what his father would have thought about the shame he brought upon the family name, concluding with the question, “Croft… what does it even mean? I just hope you can make your own mark on this world someday. Remember that the extraordinary is in what we do, not who we are.” Jonah walks up behind her and tells her she did the right thing, then tells her she has “a plane to catch.” In a voiceover, she says that “It doesn’t matter what choices he would have made. I have to make my own.” There are still artifacts out there, things as mysterious as the Source, “secrets out there that can change the world. I need to find them. Not for my father, not for anyone else. Trinity is still out there, more powerful than I ever imagined. I can stop them. I can make a difference. I can make the right difference.”

It’s a fitting ending. But it isn’t the final ending. I’m not going to spoil that for you—for once!—but I will tell you to stick around through the credits. And that it’s pretty clear that this franchise is going to continue. I will also tell you that it’s worth going back into the game (briefly) once it’s done; there’s some closure there, too.

Rise of the Tomb Raider is the story of how Lara Croft (and Sofia) stops relying on the legend that is her father, how she claims an identity and a story of her own, allowing the dead to stay dead while the living fight for their own place in the world. It’s a fitting tribute to Terry Pratchett–this is not his story, it’s Rhianna’s, and, in many ways, like Lara, she needed to let him die (to allow the Prophet to make an ending) in order to find her own voice.

And it is one hell of a voice.

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