In what’s likely to be a more divisive addition for Rise of the Tomb Raider, Blood Ties is an exploration focused journey through Croft Manor. When Lara’s pompous uncle threatens to take the Manor for himself, she’s tasked with hunting down her father’s will and proving that she’s the rightful owner.
Croft Manor is a large, spacious setting that looks as if it hasn’t seen proper use in years. Sheets cover the furniture, a thick layer of dust coats the trinkets adorning the walls and shelves, and one wing of the manor has even had its ceiling caved in by a tree. Regardless of its state of disrepair, there’s something oddly beautiful about this gigantic home.
As you scour the rooms and halls of the Manor, you’re able to interact with several artifacts and notes. If you’ve played through something like Gone Home, then you should have a pretty solid idea of what to expect here. You can flip these artifacts around to get a better look at them, which is interesting, but it’s the notes that are the real draw to Blood Ties.
These notes tell the story of how Lara’s parents met, fell in love, married, and raised her as a child. It’s a beautiful and heartwarming tale, but it’s also one that’s laced with drama. Lara’s mother comes from a rich and proper family who looks at their daughter’s love interest as a loony, immature nut job. The struggle between pleasing her family and following her heart is the focus of Lara’s mother’s story and seeing how the struggle remains years after is fascinating.
In between picking up notes, there’s a slew of puzzles to solve. In fact, this is one of Blood Ties strongest features, with the puzzles being a pretty drastic departure from what was on display in the Rise of the Tomb Raider campaign. Where Rise focused on environmental puzzles to challenge players, Blood Ties is more focused around analyzing and deciphering clues. Reading notes for clues and combining the information to work through the obstacles presented is how you succeed in Blood Ties. I think the puzzles here aren’t as obvious as in the main game, but I don’t necessarily think that makes them better. They’re just different.
Similar to the main campaign, there’s sections in the Manor you won’t be able to access right from the start. Instead, you’ll have to scour the environment for the correct tools to progress. Most of the necessary tools are awarded to you for completing puzzles, so if you feel like you can’t progress any further, it usually means you missed a clue or puzzle somewhere nearby.
With the focus on exploration, puzzle solving, and storytelling in Blood Ties, those looking for an action packed experience are going to be disappointed. There’s no enemies to shoot, stab, or blow up anywhere in sight. Instead, Blood Ties works like a slower way to catch your breath after the more intense campaign or Cold Darkness DLC (which I’ll be reviewing tomorrow!).
Blood Ties is a fairly short experience that only took me three hours to complete. Mind you, I was looking behind every little corner to find the notes, so if you’re looking to just play through for the puzzles you’ll probably finish in an even shorter amount of time. Blood Ties eventually culminates in an emotional and satisfying ending that’s while worth playing through to experience. It’s worth noting that Blood Ties is able to be experienced in virtual reality thank to PSVR, but since I don’t have the headset I wasn’t able to test out that mode.
As a bonus, there’s another mode that also takes place in Croft Manor.
Titled “Lara’s Nightmare”, this is what you action junkies are going to want to check out. Lara’s Nightmare is a full on shoot-out against waves of zombies. Yes, you read that correctly. This time, instead of artifacts and notes, there’s a plethora of weapons hidden around the manor to aid you in putting down the undead. Your main goal is to find a number or floating objects that act as spawners for the undead. After successfully destroying all of them, you’ll be able to take on the boss.
This mode is silly, but it’s also pretty fun. Blowing up waves of zombies with explosive arrows is hilarious, but the actual zombies are honestly frightening. This makes for an odd but powerful experience. There’s just something chilling about walking into a room and seeing glowing eyes approaching from the shadows.
Unfortunately, Lara’s Nightmare is ridiculously short. I first completed it in around thirty minutes, but going back to just kill zombies without destroying the spawners lengthened my time significantly. Regardless, if you’re looking for a mindless zombie killing experience, you could do much worse than Lara’s Nightmare.
While the two modes are both connected by the same location, Blood Ties is definitely the standout of the two. It’s a refreshing change of pace from the campaign, focusing solely on exploration, puzzle solving, and storytelling, without diving into any combat whatsoever. However, if you crave a more adrenaline fueled experience, Lara’s Nightmare might be more your style. Blowing up waves of zombies is a blast (no pun intended), but the experience is relatively short. Regardless of which mode you decide to play through, both offer a great bite-sized experience.
– Zack Burrows