This piece contains spoilers for Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.
In an interview with Buzzfeed, Naughty Dog co-president Neil Druckmann confidently said the studio is “Moving on” from the Uncharted series saying, “Uncharted was insanely successful — Uncharted 4 was one of our best selling games — and we’re able to put our final brushstroke on that story and say that we’re done.”
If Naughty Dog is done with the Uncharted series, they ended it about as perfect as they could have. After decades of exploring, Nathan Drake settles down with the love of his life, and together with their daughter, can enjoy peace and retirement. Only, why does it feel like there’s a missed opportunity still?
In the first Uncharted game, Nathan Drake was the charismatic treasure hunter with a joke on his tongue and a song in his heart. Drake’s Fortune was a perfect vehicle to showcase the PlayStation 3’s graphical prowess, rendering incredibly detailed jungles and providing exceptional shooting and seamless parkour. However, somewhere along the way the gorgeous vistas and beautiful locales got sucked into the black hole of Nathan Drake’s various mid-life crises. No location is better suited to contemplate your fear of settling down than in a cathedral tucked away in the misty Scottish Highlands.
Once known for its epic platforming, Naughty Dog has become the standard-bearer of character-driven storytelling starting with The Last of Us and the darker, more character-focused Uncharted 4, which followed after. The studio further cemented its ability as world-class storytellers with the premiere of The Last of Us TV series on HBO, which is already being called one of the most successful video game adaptations of all time.
As Naughty Dog became a more storytelling operation, the Uncharted series began zeroing in on Nathan Drake the character, with his adventures across the world serving as a metaphor for the internal drama he was facing, whether it’s his fear of loss, fear of his past, or fear for his future. It was bold, especially considering Nathan Drake’s nickname when he was first introduced into the world — Dude Raider. But in the same way Temple of Doom is some peoples’ favorite Indiana Jones movie because it’s about the adventure and less about Indiana Jones, to me Uncharted as a whole feels like a series comprised of three Last Crusades — the movie that explained, that actually, Indiana Jones’ life was molded by a single childhood event as well as his relationship with his father.
It doesn’t help that the series broke new ground in the spinoff Uncharted: The Lost Legacy. The seemingly final Naughty Dog Uncharted game introduced a semi-open world that was fertile ground for all kinds of future adventures. The Western Ghats of India that Chloe and Nadine explore partway through Lost Legacy felt like a revolution at the time and could be utilized in any number of ancient temples, ruins, and more wonderful, made-for-Uncharted locations. To quote Kevin Garnett in Uncut Gems, why would you show me something if I couldn’t have it then?
Plus, it also showed that Uncharted games could be headlined by a character who wasn’t Nathan Drake. Never mind that Naughty Dog was still firmly in its tormented protagonist era by having new heroine Chloe Frazer face off against — yup — her father.
The real greatness of Uncharted was how it showcased the beauty of our world, and there’s so much world left to explore. To lose Uncharted as a series will deprive gaming of one of the rare game series that takes joy in the diversity of our shared human history and the splendor of oft-overlooked civilizations, whether it’s the mountains of Nepal or the plains of India. With so many cultures that could still be explored through the virtual adventures of Nathan Drake, it’s a shame that towards the end of the series, its gaze shifted away from our beautiful world and inwards towards the soul of its surprisingly tortured protagonist.
Not many game series can claim a definitive ending like Uncharted. The games industry is littered with half-finished (Half-Life?) series that promise to finish the fight, only for the market to declare the series isn’t selling anymore so let’s move on. Not Uncharted though, which was both critically and commercially successful enough to warrant numerous sequels and a proper finale.
If Naughty Dog has closed the book on Uncharted it’s because there are no more Nathan Drake stories to tell, even though there are still plenty of Uncharted stories that can be told.
Matt T.M. Kim is IGN’s Senior Features Editor. You can reach him @lawoftd.