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UNCHARTED: THE LOST LEGACY Proves You Don’t Need Nathan Drake

Whether or not a franchise can sustain itself following the departure of a main character is a dilemma I’m sure studio execs the world over struggle with, especially after contracts begin to expire. It’s much less of an issue in video games, given that pretty much you can make Batman or Mario or Mega Man games forever. But Naughty Dog‘s Uncharted series was different; this was a franchise built around the exploits of one adventurer and his cohorts. Could an Uncharted game work without Nathan Drake? The recently released Uncharted: The Lost Legacy proves resoundingly yes.

For four of the most exciting and cinematic action-adventure games ever, Nathan Drake traversed the globe looking for ancient artifacts and contending with warlords and megalomaniacs bent on using these treasures for their own end. Naughty Dog gave us these amazing set pieces along with engaging stories about people and their relationships; Nate’s troubled romance with Elena, his devotion to his mentor Sully, his guilt about his long-lost brother Sam. Drake’s not just a rogue with a gun and a knowledge of antiquities, he’s a complicated person who tries to balance a regular life with having this thirst for discovery. And when you finish playing Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, you absolutely feel like Nathan Drake’s journey is complete.

But Uncharted‘s isn’t. Perhaps more than anything, the decision to make The Lost Legacy more than just a DLC was a test to see if the mechanics of the game–puzzle solving, frenetic platforming, increasingly massive gun battles–would work without Nate. Those mechanics are incredibly strong; tons of other games in years since have tried to milk it, including the mostly great Tomb Raider reboot in 2013 and its slightly underwhelming follow-up. And in order to test it out, they made another character people love the main character, but changed up the type of story it can tell.

Chloe Frazer (Claudia Black) was the Han Solo-ish rogue of Uncharted 2 and 3, and this is in a game series where your lead character is already Han Solo. She was funny, she was sexy, she was brash, and she was wholly capable of holding her own. Making her the playable character in The Lost Legacy was a genius move, and they deepened her by giving her a relatable backstory about following in her father’s footsteps and showing at turns that she’s not perfect, and she lets her friends down, just like all of us.

Here, Chloe is partnered with Nadie Ross (Laura Bailey), who was the leader of the mercenary group working for the villain in Uncharted 4. She was a formidable adversary for the Drake Brothers, but by the end of the game we realize she’s not in it for power, she was just doing a job, and left before the shit really hit the fan.

Now having her work with Chloe gave the game makers two familiar faces to follow, but not a ton of history between them. We get to watch as Chloe, the jokey, carefree treasure hunter, and Nadine, the by-the-book mercenary, have to learn to work together and forge a real friendship. In the previous games, all of Nate’s friends and allies were very clearly supporting characters, but in this game, even though Chloe is the player character, both she and Nadine are vital to the story. Nadine does things Chloe can’t, and it’s their combined knowledge and skill set that allows the story to grow and the adventure to continue.

Without giving away anything for those who haven’t finished playing, the culmination of The Lost Legacy feels like the beginning of something, not the end of it. The partnership of Chloe and Nadine is reaffirmed and they set their sites on new chances for fortune and glory. This is the approach a similar, non-video game franchise could take with future proposed projects: the Indiana Jones films.

Obviously, Uncharted would likely not exist if not for the influence on some level of the Indiana Jones series, but with 2008’s The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the films proved that they’d never dream of making a movie without Jones himself, no matter how old he is. Talk of rebooting the franchise and casting a younger actor gave way to the current plan of, welp, let’s just have Harrison Ford play Indy again, because apparently the whole franchise is just that one guy.

While I didn’t love Crystal Skull, introducing the character of his son, Mutt Lang, was a good idea, and should have ushered in the chance for a new take at raiding future lost arks. Because, if Indiana Jones’ story ended in 1989’s The Last Crusade, it definitely ended at the end of Crystal Skull. But Naughty Dog was willing to take a chance that Disney/Lucasfilm/Paramount evidently wasn’t; it’s risky to shift a series’ focus off of a very popular character, but faith in the concept and faith in the ability to create and utilize the other characters you have.

At any rate, after playing Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, I wasn’t left saying, “Yeah, that was fun, but I wish Nathan Drake had been in it.” I was saying, “Holy cow, that was great! I want five more Chloe and Nadine games!” When you have solid, addicting gameplay, beautiful visuals, and compelling, funny characters you care about, it’s Uncharted, no matter who’s shooting.

Images: Naughty Dog, Paramount

Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist. You can find his film and TV reviews here. Follow him on Twitter!

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