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Uncharted: The Lost Legacy feels like a true Uncharted game

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How familiar is too familiar?

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy - driving jeep through shallow water Naughty Dog/Sony Interactive Entertainment

If you were worried that Uncharted: The Lost Legacy would turn out to be an Uncharted knockoff, a lesser-than experience starring side characters that people don’t really care about, well, I would be jumping the gun if I laid those fears to rest completely. I’ve only played the game for about 45 minutes.

But it doesn’t seem like that will be an issue. Instead, The Lost Legacy feels exactly like a proper Uncharted game — in ways both good and bad.

The Lost Legacy focuses on a team-up of convenience between Chloe Frazer, who’s basically a more self-interested Nathan Drake, and Nadine Ross, the opportunistic ex-leader of Shoreline, a private military corporation introduced in Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. They join forces to track down the Tusk of Ganesha, a fictional artifact from Indian history that dates back to the Hoysala Empire. (Chloe is apparently half Indian — which feels like a bit of a retcon, considering that the series has never mentioned that side of her heritage before — and her knowledge of Hindu mythology helps unlock many of the secrets that the duo is pursuing.)

Of course, Nadine and Chloe can’t just undertake a methodical treasure hunt at their own leisure. They’re racing against the villain of the story, an Indian warlord named Asav who’s also hot on the trail of the artifact. Asav is fighting a civil war, and it’s not yet clear how he believes the item will help his cause — but it’s probably for the best if we don’t let the situation get to that point.

In the segment I played, which was an unspecified amount of time into the story, it was clear that Chloe and Nadine were still feeling each other out. Neither of them is an open book, and it seems like their relationship will be marked by the kinds of ups and downs you’d see in, say, a buddy cop movie. Nadine has some kind of history with Asav, but of course she brushes it off whenever Chloe asks for details. And James Cooper, lead designer on The Lost Legacy at developer Naughty Dog, told me that Nadine will behave differently in combat depending on how she and Chloe are getting along at that moment.

I was able to get a sense of their camaraderie — or lack thereof — because the demo I played was very similar to the “Twelve Towers” chapter of Uncharted 4. Instead of Nate, Sully and Sam driving a jeep around the muddy plains of Madagascar, here it was Chloe and Nadine driving a jeep around the muddy plains of India’s Western Ghats mountain range. As I explored the massive area, stopping occasionally to hop out of the vehicle and examine some Hoysala ruins, Chloe and Nadine’s back-and-forth conversation moved their relationship and the story forward.

Like many sequels, The Lost Legacy goes bigger in this respect. “The Twelve Towers” demonstrated what Naughty Dog calls its “wide-linear” approach to storytelling, in which the player can choose their own path through an area even as they’re being funneled through story beats. The Western Ghats setting is similar to Madagascar in terms of its environment — a dry region crisscrossed by streams and waterfalls, with mountains in the background and lush foliage all around — but it’s a much more expansive playground.

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy - Chloe looking out at fortress from tower Naughty Dog/Sony Interactive Entertainment

To wit, I spent the majority of my 45-minute playthrough driving around the eastern perimeter of the area, scouring a few Hoysala temples for loot. By the time I asked Cooper where to go to get back on the critical path, my time was almost up. It seems that Naughty Dog, with Uncharted 4 and now The Lost Legacy, has been quietly edging away from the aggressively linear design that the series was once known for.

Sure, some people will simply head straight for the obvious landmark: a tall tower in the distance, which eventually points you in the direction of three fortresses. (The story will be slightly different depending on the order in which you complete those three areas, which are more linear than the chapter as a whole.) But if you head off the beaten path at all, you’re likely to come across ruins — some of which are guarded by groups of Asav’s forces — that conceal special artifacts.

These items are tokens of Hoysala kings that are scattered around the Western Ghats. Each time you find one, Chloe and Nadine will remark about an opportunity to make some extra cash — yes, the trinkets are part of a full-on side quest, which is something we haven’t seen before in an Uncharted game. The Hoysalas ruled for about four centuries starting around the year 950, in the region of India known as the Deccan Plateau. The side quest in question has its own arc and payoff, and Cooper said it functions as a way for the player to learn about Hoysala culture.

I love hunting for that kind of stuff, but doing so threatens to grind the story to a halt. The pacing of this chapter was Naughty Dog’s biggest challenge, according to Cooper, because the studio wanted to give people the freedom to roam the massive area while providing some direction for the players who want it. Unlike previous Uncharted games, though, The Lost Legacy shies away from something as explicit as a hint popping up if you seem to be stuck. Instead, the dialogue between Chloe and Nadine will offer gentle nudges and suggestions as to where you should be heading.

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy - Chloe swinging with grappling hook Naughty Dog/Sony Interactive Entertainment

At the same time, I was surprised by just how familiar The Lost Legacy felt. Cooper said that was Naughty Dog’s goal, but I found myself wondering if some more differentiation would have paid off. Uncharted 4 added a grappling hook to the mix, and since this game takes place six months to a year afterward, I suppose it makes sense for Chloe and Nadine to have one. The only new gameplay element is a lockpicking mechanic, in which you rotate the left stick until the controller vibrates. (This felt rote in the demo, but Cooper said it gets more complicated later.)

Chloe obviously has animations that are her own, not Nathan Drake’s, for activities like running, climbing and fighting; she’s “more calculating” in using her body weight during hand-to-hand combat, said Cooper. And I can’t say for sure that she moves and shoots the same way Nate does. Yet at times, during my limited demo — in which I admittedly did a lot of driving, rather than running around — it felt like I might have been playing an existing Uncharted game, but with a Chloe skin for the protagonist.

Even so, I found myself getting engrossed in the story and exploration, as I was saying. And the narrative piece of the Uncharted games has always outweighed the act of playing them, so I expect that most people won’t mind if The Lost Legacy feels overly familiar. This appears to be the last Uncharted game that Naughty Dog will make for a while, and perhaps the studio’s last one, period. I’m ready to dive in, even without Nate, Elena and Sully.

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy is set for release Aug. 22 on PlayStation 4. (I was playing in HDR on a PS4 Pro, and it looked absolutely incredible. But you probably figured as much.) It will cost $39.99 and will include Uncharted 4’s entire multiplayer component, along with the ability to compete with people playing that game.