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Legend of Kitezh - Story of Rise of the Tomb Raider

Raiders Of The Lost City – Lara’s Search For Immortality

Lara Croft’s previous journeys have taken her on quests for magical daggers said to command ancient armies and spelunking through Norse underworlds in order to gather archaic armor rumored to belong to the gods. Tomb Raiders’ exploits always send Lara on wild adventures, but these adventures are always based on some nugget of real life lore. Even after the 2013 reboot, Crystal Dynamics still builds its fiction off a real historical legend. For Rise of the Tomb Raider, Lara will start a search for the secrets of immortality by tracking down an ancient city that sunk into a frozen Russian lake centuries ago.

Early on in the development process, Crystal Dynamics casts a wide net looking for different myths that haven’t been overused in other pieces of fiction. However, the studio has to look at more than just the myth itself; they have to think critically about whatever item Lara will be chasing after. The studio looks at the location and culture surrounding each myth. For example, using a myth set inside Russia will require the team to set the game in Russia, and this affects other aspects of the game’s design, pushing the team to build technology to replicate mountains and snow. If the team chooses a myth set inside the jungles of South America, it will require a completely different set of technical challenges.

“We wanted to put Lara into a whole new location, someplace that still fulfilled the goals of survival, but had a whole new look than Yamatai,” says game director Brian Horton. “When we did the research, we found a myth that would take us to the mountains of Siberia, and that just seemed like a really cool hostile place, which became a great foundation for our story and gave us a landscape that was new, and required a whole new set of technologies.”

When choosing the myth for Rise of the Tomb Raider, Crystal Dynamics had another factor to consider. How would the game’s core fable tie back into Lara’s experiences from the first game? In the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot, Lara encountered something she never expected could be real: an immortal soul. Upon returning to civilian life, Lara couldn’t shake the memories of Yamatai. In fact, the best way for her to cope with her post-traumatic stress was to begin researching other immortality myths. Finding another immortality myth to chase after fits nicely with Lara’s larger meta-narrative.

“One of the things I love about Lara is her determination, but at this point it’s grown into almost an obsession as she chases the secret to immortality across the globe looking for any clue that can validate what she’s seen,” says franchise creative director Noah Hughes. “She’s almost on the end of her rope at this point in the story. Some of these myths are true across cultures. There are echoes of this myth everywhere. But she alone is the one who connects the secret to immortality to the lost city of Kitezh.”

There are not a lot of details about the lost – or invisible – city of Kitezh in the history books, but in short, the myth is based around an old Russian legend that dates back to the 13th century. The legend actually talks about two cities, Maly Kitezh (Little Kitezh) and Bolshoy Kitezh (Big Kitezh), and begins after the Grand Prince of Vladimir, Georgy II, founds the city of Bolshoy Kitezh off the banks of Lake Svetloyar in modern day Russia. The settlement was said to be a lavish spectacle full of wondrous secrets and cryptic knowledge.

The legend continues when a Mongolian price named Batu Khan invades Maly Kitezh. Georgy retreats with his army to Bolshoy Kitezh. Batu Khan tracks Georgy back to this hidden city and marches against it. Oddly enough, the residents of Bolshoy Kitezh make no move to defend themselves from the invading Mongols. Instead, the entire city starts to pray, and before Batu Khan’s army sets foot on Bolshoy Kitezh, the entire city begins to sunk underneath the waves of the nearby lake, taking all of its secrets into the depths below. These days it is said that only those who are pure in their heart and soul will find their way to Kitezh.

We’ll have to wait until Rise of the Tomb Raider’s holiday release on the Xbox One and Xbox 360 to see if Lara proves to be pure of heart, but either way, Russia’s wilderness and hidden tombs will challenge this resourceful explorer. We don’t know how much of the legend of Kitezh Crystal Dynamics will retell in the game, or even if Lara will set foot on both cities, but Crystal Dynamics has chosen an interesting, and somewhat unknown myth, and we’re excited to see how they connect it to the secrets of immortality.

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Illustration: Lara´s face by the artist Leon de Leon.

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