Rise of the Tomb Raider is the sequel to Tomb Raider (2014), which was a reboot of the long-running treasure hunter series starring Lara Croft. It takes place one year after the events of the previous game and has gameplay mechanics similar to that title. Her experiences with the supernatural in that game have been covered up by a violent sect known as Trinity. She is in the same predicament as her father before her, whose work was dismissed by the scientific community through pressure of Trinity. She travels to the Siberian tundra in search of the lost city Kitezh, to find tangible evidence of the immortal soul through a relic known as the Divine Source. The harsh and cold conditions turn most of the expedition’s crew away and only Lara and her companion Jonah push through. Jonah is by her side and part of the story for several sections, but most of the game is played once again with Lara alone. A small part early in the game is played as a flashback in Syria where Lara is looking for a prophet’s tomb while being hunted by Trinity, leading up to the events in Siberia.
While many game mechanics are similar, the largest difference is the change of scenery. It introduces new types of animals and now ice plays an important role in many sections. Just like the previous game the game world consists of many smaller open world areas linked together. Lara gets to explore these freely with multiple approaches. Many surfaces can be scaled using ice axes and ziplines can cover a large distance. Other means include a rope and grapple. There are also some linear sections, but almost no quick time events unlike the previous game. As before there is often a choice between direct combat and a stealth approach, but with more emphasis on combat as it is unavoidable or very time consuming to attempt otherwise in some occasions. Melee combat is available along with the use of a knife. Lara can tackle enemies and drop down on them from trees. Unlike the previous game health does not auto regenerate, but now always requires the use of bandages that need to be crafted. For stealth, enemies can be knocked out with non-lethal takedowns, through tackling or using knock out gas. It is also possible to use foliage to hide from both animals and humans. Swimming returns to the series after being absent since Tomb Raider: Underworld. In some sections Lara can hide by swimming below the ice and enemies can be hidden underwater with stealth takedowns.
As in the previous game there are many checkpoint locations known as base camps. There Lara can convert experience into skill points to invest into a skill tree, items in an inventory are accessed and crafted, weapons can be upgraded by salvaging items and fast travel to other base camps is possible. Next to pistols, shotguns, machine guns and hunting rifles, the bow and arrow is once again an important weapon. It is used to take out enemies stealthily, but rope arrows, fire arrows and explosive arrows are also used in many situations to solve environment based puzzles. Each area has multiple objectives and challenges to complete, along with discovering and collecting relics, documents, murals and coin caches. Some of these are now provided as side quests through NPCs. Taking a cue from metroidvania games, players are encouraged to revisit areas several times with new skills and weapons to reach or open up areas that were previously inaccessible. Many items are still crafted by collecting resources stored in an inventory, for instance to create a molotov cocktail. Environments have a day-and-night cycle that influences enemy and animal behaviour. For instance, some animals Lara has to hunt down are only active at night.
The skill tree is once again split up into the categories Survivor, Hunter and Brawler, with different tiers for each and seventeen skills in total. They provide new abilities for Lara as well as weapon enhancements and other skills. For instance she can now mark enemies and then quickly take them out in succession. Many new and powerful weapons are found by completely exploring an area with the full arsenal of skills to collect all the needed parts. As before the open world environments focus on exploration and combat, while most of the puzzle-solving is done in tombs. These separate locations often require logic and the use of different weapons, levers, objects and skills to complete the tomb and grab the rewards. These locations are optional and there are more of them that in the previous game.
An entirely new part of the game, accessed from the main menu, is Expeditions. These allow players to replay and modify levels to make them easier or more challenging, a concept previously used in a similar way in Hitman: Absolution, through various modifiers. Editing actions require Expedition Cards as a currency, bought with coins from the main game or with microtransactions based on real money. The game has four difficulty levels that influence enemy health and damage, and the use of aiming assistance.