There’s a forest on the outskirts of Siberia that no sane man will willingly enter. Rumors of whispers in the trees, creeping shadows, and impossible monstrosities have given even the most courageous of explorers reason to stray from this cursed vale.
When Lara Croft rescues a young woman from a group of armed soldiers, she unknowingly drags herself into the middle of a dangerous expedition. Before being captured, this young woman, Nadia, was in search of her missing grandfather. All signs seem to point towards him entering the woods, but Lara refuses to allow Nadia to go in after him, taking it upon herself to enter and locate him. Before making the trek into the dark unknown, Nadia leaves Lara with a warning: beware the witch, Baba Yaga.
The natives of the valley have grown up hearing stories of this witch. Stories of how she lurks in the shadows, floats through the air, and even has a strange house that walks around on chicken legs. Of course, Lara doesn’t believe the stories (thinking them only superstition), but she quickly learns that even legends can be laced with truth.
Put simply, this piece of DLC is ridiculously strange. Lara encounters weird creatures, stumbles through trippy visions, and grapples with a world that struggles to have any semblance of reality. Although supernatural elements aren’t anything new to the franchise, they feel incredibly bizarre this time around. However, that’s not a bad thing at all. As short as it is (I finished it in around 3 hours), it has a style to it that’s unique.
While there is a part where you return to an area from the base game, the majority of your time in The Temple of the Witch will be spent in the new forest area. Crystal Dynamics has seen to making it a memorable location, resulting in some of the weirdest sights I’ve seen in a game in recent memory. The woods are creepy and give you a sense of unease while navigating through them, but it’s the strange witch who really brings up the creep factor. She distorts reality, transforms the landscape, and even does some cliché (but effective) jump scares.
There’s also a substantial puzzle on display here that I found rather challenging. It felt like a serious step up in difficulty from the puzzles in the main game, so I appreciated the extra challenge. I would love to see another Tomb Raider that makes the puzzles a little harder, and if they end up being anything like what can be found here, I would be satisfied.
One of the things I really loved about this piece of content was the collectibles. Similar to the main game, you can find audio tapes hidden throughout the environment. While the tapes in Rise of the Tomb Raider told several different stories, the ones present here are all related to Nadia’s grandfather, his past, and why he went missing. It’s a great tale, but I couldn’t help but feel like the audio tapes make the conclusion of the story way too obvious, which made me lack any sense of shock or surprise when the ending finally came.
Upon completion of this story, you’re awarded with a new outfit and weapon for Lara. The outfit was nice, but the bow actually grants you a new ability. It’s a disappointment that you unlock it after the mission is already over, because it would have been fun to use during it. Thankfully, the DLC is integrated into the single-player campaign of Rise of the Tomb Raider, so I was able to mess around with it as I ran around trying to 100% the game after I cleared the story.
It’s not perfect, but Baba Yaga: The Temple of the Witch is a fun and memorable little story. It introduces a strange new area for Lara to explore, but there are a few problems. While the actual area itself is interesting, and the puzzle it houses is well crafted, the conclusion is practically given away via the collectible audio tapes, and the new equipment granted from this DLC is awarded to you too late. There’s still some really cool sights to see within this content, so I still feel that it’s worth the playthrough. Also, if you bought Rise of the Tomb Raider on PS4, you’ll have this content already integrated into the campaign.
– Zack Burrows