Best Bits: Shadow of the Tomb Raider - Trial of the Eagle

This article contains mild spoilers for Shadow of the Tomb Raider
By Duncan Heaney

In Best Bits, the Square Enix Blog team looks at some of our favourite moments from Square Enix games, and why we think they stand out. To be clear, we’re not declaring them to be the pinnacle of the game, merely one of many moments that we love. So don’t get upset with us if you disagree, okay?

Shadow of the Tomb Raider has some truly memorable moments. From the opening breakneck opening Day of the Dead sequence, to more relaxed hang-outs with the locals of a lost city, there’s plenty to admire.

But one bit that I’m particularly impressed by is the Trial of the Eagle.

What is the Trial of the Eagle?

The path to the Lost City of Paititi is fraught with danger. To reach her goal, Lara Croft must prove she’s worthy by completing three trials.

First comes the water-logged Trial of the Jaguar, and despite a close call with an unruly eel, Lara gets through with only minor damage.

Next up is the Trial of the Spider. It’s a tricky climb through tunnels and up sheer walls, but fortunately Lara’s equipped with a climbing axe and a total disregard for self-preservation so it barely slows her down.

At this point, we’re feeling pretty good about the chances of making it through. After all, after Yamatai and Kitezh, Lara’s a pro at finding lost cities. She’s got this, right?

That’s when we hit the Trial of the Eagle - and it’s a challenge that hits back.

An ascent to remember

The Trial of the Eagle is an ancient mechanism - a swirling nightmare of platforms, poles, sails and spikes. It’s big, complex and intimidatingly solid. As Lara points out, “Still standing after centuries of earthquakes and storms.”

The path to Paititi sits at the top of the structure - thus begins an epic climb and, at least in this writer’s opinion, one of the best platforming challenges in the entire Tomb Raider series.

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It subverts expectations right from the start - there’s no way up, so Lara’s forced to head down. But after shimmying all the way to the other side of the room… another problem emerges. There’s still no way up!

The only solution is for Lara to keep descending and, after a tense and dangerous climb that requires most of her traversal skills, get on the outer wall of the mechanism.

A convenient windmill, and proper application of some trusty rope arrows are enough to get things moving again, and create new paths upwards.

Of course, now things are spinning, there’s the added risk of being knocked over by whirling beams…

And all that’s just the beginning of the exhilarating journey through the Trial of the Eagle.

As Lara climbs further, more puzzles block her path, and the ascent gets ever-more treacherous. The structure may have survived for hundreds of years, but there are still limits. The path gets increasingly unstable, and as Lara reaches the peak… well, to reveal any more would be unfair to anyone who’s yet to play. Trust us when we say it’s pretty memorable.

So why’s it so good?

The Tomb Raider games have evolved over time, but two major gameplay pillars persist across all the games - platforming and puzzle-solving.

The Trial of the Eagle represents both elements in their most potent form. You’ll need to use almost every traversal skill you’ve learned to get around, in order to solve the puzzles that bar your way. When you do work out the solution, it changes the environment, and introduces new gameplay challenges to the platforming.

The two elements feed into each other - they work together in this section in perfect harmony.

Another important element of the trial - it builds as it progresses. The platforming becomes tougher and more intricate, as the puzzles increase in complexity.

The whole section feels perfectly paced - an exhilarating climb that keeps you on your toes, and just long enough that when you reach the top, you feel a surge of catharsis.

We also shouldn’t forget to mention the third element that makes the section work - that little extra something that’s sprinkled throughout Shadow of the Tomb Raider: spectacle.

Everything in the scene is visually interesting, from the lighting, to the animation, to the impressive vistas when you stray outside. But what really impresses in the scale - Lara feels tiny compared to the sails and statues of this massive mechanism - and when you get her near the top, you’re acutely aware that it’s a long, long way down.

In case you can’t tell, I’m rather fond of this little slice of classic Tomb Raider. It’s a lot of what I love about the series, executed to an exceptionally high standard.

But what do you think? Do you agree that the Trial of the Eagle is a standout? What are your best bits of the game - let us know in the comments and on social media: