If Uncharted: The Lost Legacy really is the final Uncharted game from developer Naughty Dog, then it’s going out on a strong note.
Though initially announced as downloadable content for last year’s Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, The Lost Legacy is much more than a simple add-on or expansion. Sony has since shifted The Lost Legacy to “stand-alone” status, and for good reason: This is a real, full Uncharted game. It’s shorter than the other entries in the series, sure, but it’s also a fully developed, energetic and satisfying adventure.
The biggest surprise — and perhaps a proof of concept for future Sony developers who may take a shot at the Uncharted franchise after Naughty Dog has moved on — is that Uncharted: The Lost Legacy pulls all of this off without the help of longtime protagonist Nathan Drake. In fact, at times it feels better for his absence.
Set after the events of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, The Lost Legacy has players step into the role of Chloe Frazer, a previous companion of Drake’s and fellow treasure hunter who hasn’t been featured in a game since 2011’s Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. Chloe finds herself in India in the midst of a civil war, searching for a treasure called the Tusk of Ganesha.
For help on her quest, Chloe enlists the services of Nadine Ross, a mercenary leader introduced in Uncharted 4. After the events of that game, the frustrated Nadine has taken a break from the war-for-hire business, opting instead to join a treasure hunt.
The dichotomy between Chloe and Nadine makes for a perfect pairing. Chloe is constantly joking; she’s kind of selfish; and she always fucks up and makes people mad at her. She is, basically, the perfect female mirror of Nathan Drake. Nadine, on the other hand, is dead serious to a fault and goes out of her way to hold others at a distance. It’s a clash of personalities stronger than anything the series has had before. It makes for some very entertaining and tense scenes as these two slowly progress from barely standing each other to maybe sort of being friends.
The Lost Legacy also attempts to solve an issue I’ve seen the Uncharted series faulted for in the past: It gives the main character a personal connection to both the treasure being hunted and (more importantly) the setting itself. As someone with Indian heritage, Chloe isn’t simply looking to raid the ancient prizes of her culture. As the story moves along, it becomes increasingly clear that Chloe legitimately cares about her country’s past and, indeed, a future that’s being threatened by the raging civil war.
That doesn’t mean that Uncharted: The Lost Legacy gives up on all of the series’ goofy gameplay concessions, however. Though players are controlling a new main character in the form of Chloe, most of the core gameplay is standard to the nearly decade-old series at this point. You climb through old ruins and up mountainsides. You solve simple puzzles. And you spend a lot of time hiding behind cover and popping out to shoot dozens of faceless mercenary bad guys in the head.
The shooting has always been a weird element of the Uncharted games — something that has felt like it was there more out of necessity than because it serves the game thematically. That’s still the case; it remains a little off-putting to control a main character who guns down hundreds of nameless soldiers throughout the course of the game, only to switch to charming and funny in a cutscene five minutes later.
But as was the case with Uncharted 4 before it, The Lost Legacy is in the best position for the series so far from a pure “is it fun to play?” perspective. The game’s shooting areas are brilliantly designed. They’re large, offering the player multiple paths to approach, flank and outsmart enemies, but also offering those same advantages to the enemies themselves. It’s not possible to duck behind the first piece of cover you see and slowly take out every enemy in the area. The game forced me to keep Chloe on her feet in combat, hopping between different pieces of cover and looking for any advantage I could get.
The flow of combat also encourages generous use of The Lost Legacy’s updated melee combat system. When Chloe gets into melee range and starts punching, players must use a few different buttons — one for punching, one for dodging, one for countering and struggling against holds — to take down enemies. This system is a little unrefined, and timing your button presses can be tricky, especially in one of the game’s final boss fights, but it also leads to some great moments of spectacle. I particularly enjoyed Chloe and Nadine’s team-up moves, which happen naturally and without taking away your control whenever Nadine is nearby during a melee fight.
The biggest change between Uncharted: The Lost Legacy and previous games in the series lies in one specific region of the game: the Western Ghats. Touted by Naughty Dog as the biggest single level the team has ever built for an Uncharted game, the Ghats find the studio flirting with open-world gameplay. Chloe and Nadine will arrive at the Ghats an hour or so into Lost Legacy, and for the next several hours, players have the freedom to tackle multiple objectives across a large map.
Though the developer has bragged about the size of the Western Ghats, the best thing about this level is actually that it’s not too huge. It would have been easy for an overeager developer to expand the size as big as it could and rely on the fact that Chloe and Nadine have a jeep to drive around in. Instead, Naughty Dog made a relatively constrained level — bigger than any previous Uncharted level, sure, but nothing like a full open-world game map — but one that’s open to explore at your own pace, to take on side objectives or rush headlong to the goal. It doesn’t feel like padding in any way, and that’s important to the game’s pacing.
(Also, the optional puzzles hidden in the Western Ghats include some of the trickiest puzzles in the series’ history, but I solved all of them, and I am proud of that.)
As usual for the series, The Lost Legacy’s pacing is also helped along by a number of intense setpieces. Most of these don’t feel particularly new or different from anything seen in Uncharted games up to this point, but they do feel like a studio at the top of its game.
The game’s finale deserves a special callout for how stunning it is. I won’t spoil the exact scenario here, but it essentially reimagines one of the best moments from the past games and makes it even wilder. The only downside? At a few moments in this last chapter, the game’s frame rate inexplicably collapsed, tumbling to single digits for a noticeable stretch of time. That was the only major bug I encountered in my time with The Lost Legacy, and it didn’t ruin the magic, but it certainly gave me pause.
I went into Uncharted: The Lost Legacy expecting a light stand-alone adventure, but it turns out to serve a much greater purpose. Despite the new protagonist, this game serves as a celebration of everything the Uncharted series has come to represent over a decade of mostly strong releases from Naughty Dog. And because of the new protagonist, it also offers a glimpse into what the franchise could become in the future, with some new developer leading the way. Naughty Dog did right by our memories here, and I hope that whoever takes on Uncharted next does right by them.
Uncharted: The Lost Legacy was reviewed using a pre-release “retail” PlayStation 4 download code provided by Sony. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.