It’s only been about two-and-a-half years since the release of the last Uncharted but the wait feels a lot longer than that. This has partly been due to the fact that Naughty Dog and Sony have been so quiet on the project, even so much as holding off on confirmation of its existence until last November, and partly because of the closure brought by Drake’s Deception‘s ending. While it’s true that the first three games weren’t aiming to be a trilogy in the same way that something like Mass Effect was, there was still a kind of symmetry, and a sense of finality, with how the story ended and where the characters were left off.
From a business standpoint, it’s not all that much of a surprise that we’re getting another game in the series. As one of the most prolific on the entire system and arguably the banner franchise for Sony over the last generation, no doubt both developer and publisher would want to return. At the same time, it’s hard not to feel like the series might be running out of story and places to go with the characters. It’s not surprising that Sony would hold off on the game’s official announcement until the night the PlayStation 4 released. It seems even more appropriate, now that we’ve received our first real trailer out of E3, with more solid information about the game, including its title, that this really does look to be the end for the series.
It’s something that many television shows struggle with and, to a lesser extent, has dogged long-running video game franchises. At a certain point, the characters are going to grow out of the original premise set in place for them — often with such growth being brought about by the very nature of that premise. But at a certain point, either the characters abandon the premise — thereby violating logical continuation of the series — or a series of increasingly illogical reasons are set in place to keep those characters perpetually trapped in the status quo. Any fan of Parks and Recreation can attest to that show’s very difficulty and subsequent clever handling of it in the sixth season finale.
At the heart of the experience, Drake’s Deception was very much about examining and deconstructing the individual Nathan Drake himself. We were given pivotal background, including the surprise that Drake is a fabricated identification and his claims as a descendant of Sir Francis Drake in all probability a lie. It additionally established the infrequency of the extreme danger that we see him and his cohorts in across all three games and how that takes a toll on him and his relationships. Once it was wrapped up at the end — once Nate found some resolution over no longer needing prove his own identity — and he and Elena were once again reunited for good this time, continuing the entire premise of the franchise came into question. When the danger is that unusual and when your protagonist no longer has motivation for entering into it, how can you logically return to the story without undermining what’s come before?
Fortunately, Naughty Dog is a smart developer, the kind that, even with the desires of Sony, would probably be able to hold out on making sequels simply for the sake of business purposes. Fans may be clamoring for a sequel to The Last of Us, but it’s doubtful that they will actually generate one until they themselves are certain they have a good story to tell, one they feel will be worthy of the acclaimed hit.
The same can be said for Uncharted. In which case, it’s a pleasure to know we’ll be getting one last go with Nathan Drake; but at the same time, it’s also a relief to know it’ll likely be the last go-around. All hints from E3’s trailer, as well as the title itself, strongly imply that extreme circumstances have been contrived to pull Nathan Drake back into things, as well as what has likely been a longer passage of time between stories than with early entries.
The one potentially discouraging side of this entry is the departure of key creative talent from the developer, not least of which includes writer Amy Hennig and director Justin Richmond. Both were strong voices and contributors to the series from the start and even with members of The Last of Us stepping in to take their place, it’s hard not to worry about Uncharted as a whole. That inevitable point when something stops producing quality and is being generated simply for the sake of continuing with the story world, despite diminishing returns, is also a further indication that Uncharted is nearing its own end date.
At the same time, this doesn’t have to mean the death of the franchise as a whole. Plenty of other series, Infamous being one of the most recent, have found ways of handing off a story world and adventuring to a new protagonist. Uncharted is a valuable commodity for Sony that they will undoubtedly want to see more entries of throughout the PS4’s and possibly PS5’s lifespan. This fan hopes that perhaps they would even consider a woman protagonist — Naughty Dog has largely risen above the pack when it comes to depiction and presentation of female characters and seeing what their studio could do with one front and center would be a true pleasure.
We still have A Thief’s End to look forward to, though much of it is still speculation at this juncture. From the original announcement trailer, we know that there will be pirates involved, both Nate and Sully are involved, and Nate is still wearing his ring, meaning that he and Elena are most definitely still together. It’s unlikely we’ll see the game before 2015, so we have more trailers and stills released from the developer to pick over as we seek to ascertain what this new gaming experience will be about.
Most of all, we just hope it’ll go out well. After The Last of Us, Naughty Dog is at the top of its game and the industry, and no other series or character deserves a better send-off. Let this be the last Nathan Drake-helmed Uncharted — and let it be a great one.