Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s world is rich. Lara’s got resources to collect, tombs to raid, crypts to explore, challenges to tackle and side missions to complete. And she’s got to save the world. If you’ve played the previous games in the (rebooted) series — and even if you haven’t — you’re probably going to be pretty familiar with the game’s mechanics. But that doesn’t mean it’s never confusing.
But we’ve spent a lot of time with the game, and these are our tips and the things we wish we knew when we started.
Buy whatever skills you want
No skill is essential. We encountered nothing that absolutely changed the way we played our thought about the game.
Think of skills ways to customize the way you play. If you like gathering and hunting, grab the blue seeker skills. If you like shooting and stabbing bad guys, focus on the red warrior skills. If you like stealth and sneaking (but also murdering), look at the green scavenger skills.
Skills are quality of life improvements — nice, but mostly unnecessary. If something looks good or useful, buy it.
That said, consider buying the two skills that upgrade your swimming in the first few hours of the game. The goal is to move faster and hold your breath longer underwater. Those two skills are basically a way to eliminate most of the stress of underwater sequences. Buy them, and you won’t have to worry so much about drowning.
You won’t spend a ton of time underwater in the first few hours, so they don’t have to be your first upgrades. But when you do go for a swim, you’ll be glad you have those skills.
Pick up everything — until you don’t need to
Crafting is a kind of confusing process in Shadow of the Tomb Raider. You can use some items at any point — like healing and perception plants, or hardwood and feathers to make arrows — while others are only useable at a base camp to upgrade your gear. Still others — ores specifically — are only useful to sell to merchants.
Until you get a grasp on what you need and what you actually use, just pick up everything in reach. You can even buy a larger pouch from a merchant and pick up even more stuff. Resources are plentiful in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, so you’re never going to have to go out of your way to find stuff to gather. Collecting everything you can means you’re going to be prepared the next time an upgrade unlocks, you find a new outfit to craft or you run out of arrows.
Resources respawn, as well. When you return to an area you’ve cleared previously via fast travel, you’ll find a lot of the same resources you gathered before. This means you’ll never run out of stuff to find. And you can seek out specific items you need for weapon upgrades.
Once your pouch is full, you can start ignoring things (until you buy a bigger pouch).
Explore to find challenge tombs and crypts
Just about everywhere you explore in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, you’ll find challenge tombs and crypts. Challenge tombs are self-contained dungeons that have a base camp, lots of collectibles and a puzzle. Once you solve the puzzle, you’ll be rewarded with a new skill in Lara’s skill tree — one that you can’t unlock any other way.
Crypts are like mini tombs. They’re not as complicated, but they still reward you. At the end, you’ll find a sarcophagus with a piece of an outfit inside. You won’t get this half of an outfit automatically, though. Instead, you have to craft it (or restore it) at a base camp.
Better gear comes from merchants (and side missions)
Your gear comes in three flavors: weapons, outfits and equipment. You can upgrade (most of) the weapons you collect in your adventures using resources at a base camp. Upgrading this way improves their base stats — like reload time and accuracy — but you’re never going to build a bigger better bow. (Which is not to say that you’ll never get another bow.)
After the initial tutorial mission, you’re stripped back to your basic gear. New gear comes from a couple different places: you can buy weapons and outfits from merchants, some side missions will reward you with weapons, and crypts give you outfits (that you have to repair).
Your map is useful (and you’ll need it a lot)
As you explore the world of Shadow of the Tomb Raider, your map will fill in with useful bits of information. You can even find things like archivist maps and explorer backpacks that will add a bunch of markers to your map. The problem is that it’s hard to go from a 2D map to the game’s three dimensional world. And you don’t have a compass.
The biggest thing that helps is marking your goal on your map. With a target selected, any time you hit R3 (on a console), you’ll see a marker on your HUD with a blue beam of light marking what you’re looking for. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than wandering blindly.
Our other advice is just to check your map often to make sure you’re still headed in the right direction.
You’ll need to revisit areas to collect everything
In order to collect, find and explore everything Shadow of the Tomb Raider has to offer, you’ll have to make multiple trips to each area. There are certain obstacles you won’t be able to get past until you upgrade your gear. Some chests are locked and you won’t be able to open them until you find a lockpick. Just take a mental note and come back later.
This just means you shouldn’t get hung up in a given area trying to find one last item — sometimes there’s just nothing you can do yet.
Navigating in Shadow of the Tomb Raider is pretty straightforward. You can even highlight some (but not all) of your jumping, grabbing and swinging options with your survival instinct (more on this below). There are still going to be times when you just feel like you’ve run out of options.
Always remember to look up when you feel like this. It’s easy to miss a climbable wall when you’re worried about your feet — some of those ledges are just a little higher than you might expect. Some of the ledges blend into the walls, so take a moment to look closely at your surrounds before getting frustrated.
Use Lara’s survival instinct constantly
A lot of the resources that Lara gathers for crafting or consumables come from the world around her. They’re not normally highlighted on your screen, though, and since they are natural resources, they tend to blend in. And any time you’re underground — say, while raiding a tomb — and it’s dark, it’s just hard to see at all.
Clicking R3 (on consoles) will trigger Lara’s survival instinct. This highlights resources and animals (that you can shoot for resources) on your screen. If you add in skills like Owl’s Vision, Owl’s Wisdom and Eagle’s Sight, your survival instinct will provide a ton of information about your surroundings.
Survival instinct works best when you’re standing still. If you start running, it will fade quickly. If you’re trying to get your bearings and figure out what’s around you, find somewhere safe to hang out that gives you a good view of your surroundings, then don’t move while you look around.