2021 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Tomb Raider franchise.
While there is no new game on the horizon, Crystal Dynamics, the main studio that has been creating Tomb Raider since 2006, did announce something big, something to change the landscape of the franchise.
Up until now there have been three separate timelines of Lara Croft; the original Core Design era, the first reboot by Crystal Dynamics (often referred to as LAU, the letters of the three games of said reboot), and most recently the trilogy known as the Survivor timeline, starting with TR: 2013.
While these separate timelines have had crossover characters and reimagined scenes, they are mostly thought of as three interpretations of the character…until now.
In a video celebrating the anniversary, it was revealed that whenever the new game will be revealed, it will incorporate every single Tomb Raider game before it, creating the newly-dubbed Unified timeline.
While the Unified timeline has been announced, there have been zero hints as the chronology or where the series will pick up afterwards. But as someone has more than a passing interest in the last twenty-five years of Tomb Raider, I thought I would give a go at laying out a possible timeline, trying to knit it all together in one continuous line with as little breaks as possible.
Oh, and I would just like to say I called the Unified timeline two years ago when I wrote a post outlining what I would want to see in the next Tomb Raider game (in Section Four).
Tempus Fugit – Tomb Raider’s Unified Timeline (in what I have to admit amounts to fan-fiction)
We start with the plane crash over the Himalayas. This was the backstory for Lara in both Classic and LAU timelines, with the only differences being age of Lara (21 in the original, 8 in LAU) and Lara’s mother, Amelia being present in the latter.
I think the new series will keep the LAU ideas but age Lara up, maybe into her early teens. This allows them to neatly tie up the mother/father storylines of the new games into the Classic games.
Trekking through the snow after the disappearance of her mother, Lara finds a need to be on the edge of life (as laid out in the Classic timeline), and she starts to head to all sorts of places with her father, Richard Croft, alongside his friends Conrad Roth, Werner Von Croy and Charles Kane.
One of the expeditions is a fateful trip to the Angkor Wat in Cambodia with only Werner and Lara present (as seen in Tomb Raider IV). Werner is injured by a trap Lara told him about but he dismissed as ‘hocus-pocus’, and as the tomb starts to collapse, Lara escapes, leaving Werner behind.
A search and rescue is ordered (maybe even led by Roth and Papa Croft) but they find Werner has already escaped using the magical artefact, the Iris (that Werner was searching for in Cambodia in TR4, and which it is shown has teleportation powers in Tomb Raider: Chronicles). Despite escaping, Werner now has a permanent limp (even being wheelchair bound for a while) and has a grudge against Lara for leaving him.
Richard Croft is unsure of putting his daughter in danger and tries to stamp out her need to experience the wild, sending her to Ireland with the butler Winston. Lara still manages to get into scrapes as she explores the haunted Black Isle (as seen by the Ireland levels in Tomb Raider: Chronicles).
Richard Croft is now invested in the mysterious and magical, inspired by Werner’s experience with the Iris. He starts neglecting Lara to do more search into immortality and items to bring back the dead, or finding where his wife vanished. This leads Lara to become increasingly reliant on Conrad Roth.
Roth, seeing that Lara will continue to travel the world, starts to train her in some skills like trekking, rock climbing, and even archery.
At around this time, Richard Croft exits the story. In the Survivor timeline he is murdered in his office, but I believe they will have him disappear while working in the field (as seen in the LAU timeline).
This leads into…
There’s no getting around it, the Survivor games are seen as Lara’s introduction to being the ‘Tomb Raider’ so this bit has to go first.
Everything in the 2013 reboot, Rise of the Tomb Raider, and Shadow of the Tomb Raider, as well as little bit of the comics happens in the Unified timeline. Roth goes with Lara, hoping to mentor her better than Werner all of those years ago.
The only caveat I will make is that by the end of Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Trinity, the nefarious organisation that Lara has been battling with since the reboot began (and was instrumental in the death of her father) are wiped out, or are brought down enough that they will never return.
With the death of many of their high-ranking operatives at her hands, Trinity goes away, and Lara starts to enjoy life again, even starting to do some archeology (ya know, the thing she got a degree in).
She leads an archeological dig to Paraiso in Peru, but soon tragedy strikes when the dig site is attacked by a monstrous shadow being (as seen in TR: Legend, the first of the LAU games) and kills nearly everyone else on the dig.
After all these expeditions and seeing the countless deaths of her friends and colleagues, Lara decides it is time to head out into the world alone. She also vows to keep as many powerful artefacts in her possession, lest Trinity or another similar force gets their hands on them first.
As time has gone on, Lara has encountered many treasure hunters and explorers, searching for the same artefacts as she does.
Some notable ones are Pierre Dupont and Larson Conway (from the Classic series) and Carter Bell (from the side game Temple of Osiris and the comic books) as well as her old mentor Werner Von Croy.
As seen in Tomb Raider: Chronicles (and the first expedition of Lara being alone) she battles against Pierre and Larson for the Philospher’s Stone. She meets them again later when Lara is hired by Jacqueline Natla to find the pieces of the mythical Scion and uncovers the remains of Atlantis (as seen in TR1/Anniversary).
Next, Tomb Raider II, sending Lara all the way from Venice, to the Indian Ocean, Tibet and finally China.
Soon after she heads to Russia after hearing about an underwater reconnaissance for a mysterious artefact. She calls one of her father’s old friends, Charles Kane, for assistance, due to his knowledge of countries that used to be behind the Iron Curtain (as seen in Chronicles and referenced in Anniversary).
When Kane tells her she will be going up against the Russia mob, Lara replies, “Dealt with mafiaoso before, unpleasant memories,” showing that this section happens after TR2.
After Russia, Lara learns that Werner Von Croy has been doing tests on the Iris that he escaped with in Cambodia.
From the cutscene at the beginning of TR4, Lara knows that this artefact is dangerous, so breaks into Von Croy’s HQ in New York (as seen in Chronicles) and steals the Iris (as the Iris can be seen in Lara’s treasure vault in TR3, showing she came into possession before the events of TR3).
Lara stealing the Iris widens the rift between Werner and Lara, but also ends Lara’s insistence on being alone during her expeditions. To break into Von Croy’s building, she needs help from a man called Zip, a former employee of Von Croy’s.
Using his knowledge of the building was instrumental for Lara, and so she hires him as a general tech advisor and aide. While she is out in the field, he stays behind at Croft Manor.
Before fully hiring him though, she has one last trip by herself in the form of Tomb Raider III. It is here though where she realises that she’ll need some extra help.
The amount of high-tech security she had to bypass in TRIII, not to mention the many hours of research to find her next destination have obviously taken a toll on Lara. She wants to be out in the world, not be in her manor doing thousands of hours of research.
So, alongside hiring Zip as her tech expert, she also hires Alistair, an old history colleague who helps research the places she needs to go to find her next artefact.
This leads into the Legend storyline, which then leads into Underworld (part of the LAU timeline). In Underworld Croft Manor is destroyed, Alistair is killed, and Lara does battle with Natla for the final time.
Lara once again is reminded that everyone around her is unsafe because of her, and so she severs ties with Zip, with only Winston staying with her.
Final Years (Death and Resurrection)
Leaving Winston to manage the rebuilding of Croft Manor, Lara heads back out into the world, alone, and into the story of The Last Revelation.
Learning that Von Croy is doing an excavation in Egypt for the fabled Tomb of Set, Lara sets out to beat him to the punch and steal whatever artefacts are buried in the tomb.
She does so, and inadvertently unlocks the Egyptian god of chaos from his prison. So begins a race against time between her and Von Croy, with him unaware of the larger implications of Set coming to destroy the world.
Von Croy is possessed by Set, but Lara manages to seal the evil god away beneath the Pyramids of Giza. As she exits the tomb, she sees Von Croy standing before her. The tomb starts to collapse and Von Croy offers his hand, seeing Lara in the same position as he was all those years ago.
Lara is still unsure whether Von Croy is under the influence of Set though, and so sadly falls into the tomb, presumed to be dead (all seen in TR4).
A memorial service is held for her (as seen at the beginning of Chronicles) at the recently rebuilt Croft Manor. While everyone else left her for dead, Von Croy is busy digging through the pyramid, eventually finding her.
It’s never actually explained how long Lara is buried underneath the pyramid for, but for the Unified Timeline, I’m going to say it was anywhere from a couple of weeks to a full month, with Lara barely surviving.
Having been buried alive, Lara is no longer the seasoned raider she once was. This can be seen in the next and final game in the Unified Timeline, Angel of Darkness. She does not have the strength, stamina, or reserve she was once known for, now she is cold, ruthless, and angry.
At the end of the game, where she once again saves the world but at the cost of Von Croy and her new friend Kurtis, she walks off into the darkness…
Where to go now?
Let’s do a bit of a time scale. TR 2013 to Shadow is approximately five years. That puts Lara at 26 years old.
After a few more years of archeology with groups, ending with the massacre at Paraiso, Lara is now into her thirties.
Everything from Paraiso to the destruction of Croft Manor is would estimate to be another five to six years, meaning Lara starts her trip in Egypt at around 35 years old.
After the events of The Last Revelation, she takes a few years before Angel of Darkness starts. So in my approximation of the Unified timeline, Lara is nearing her forties.
I think this is where the Unified timeline will pick up. Keeley Hawes (voice actress for Lara during the LAU reboot and the ‘Lara Croft’ spin offs games) is returning to the series for the new Tomb Raider: Reloaded mobile game.
Could this mean she is coming back for the mainline series? It would fit age-wise, with Lara and Keeley Hawes being within the same range.
I also think the Angel of Darkness ending leaves the door open to a new game. I don’t think Crystal Dynamics will make a sequel to Angel of Darkness (two were planned, but when AoD was a commercial and critical failure, all future sequels were scrapped), but they might take aspects of the Lara we last saw in that game.
Lara was a lot colder in AoD than she had been before, jaded by her experiences and not being able to climb and jump as well as she used to. I’m not saying the next game has to be about building Lara up again into the Tomb Raider, but maybe showing a harder, colder edge.
But then we also have all the returning characters from all the timelines; Jonah, Zip, Charles Kane maybe, Winston obviously. These character will allow our heroine to take a breather, to smile, to be happy. That would be the best compromise between Core and Crystal’s two sides of Lara.
Fans should rejoice. Everyone is getting their Lara back. And I for one can’t wait to she where she takes us next.
Banner Photo Source: “Evolution of Tomb Raider (Lara Croft) 1996 – 2014” by blazeofmind.
One thought on “Tomb Raider’s Unified Timeline: Explained”
Loved reading this, thank you for sharing! Can’t wait to see how it all pans out!