When people look back on Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, it won't just represent some big PlayStation 4 exclusive, or a great action-adventure game — instead, Uncharted 4 represents the end of an era for one of gaming's biggest developers.
Naughty Dog has always been synonymous with the PlayStation brand, but it wasn't until Uncharted: Drake's Fortune that the developer became a household name. Somehow, with a young team and new hardware, Naughty Dog created a blockbuster franchise overnight. As the series went on, the story of Nathan Drake and his merry band of adventurers only got bigger and bigger — but gamers knew that the series couldn't go on forever.
Uncharted 4: A Thief's End marks the end of the series ... for Naughty Dog, at least. While there are plenty of rumors as to what the studio will be working on next, Naughty Dog has made it clear that Uncharted 4 represents the end of the arc that started way back in 2007.
So, where does the series go from here? The team has previously mentioned that the Uncharted franchise could go on without it — and given just how much money the games pull in, it's easy to assume that Sony will take it up on that offer. With that in mind, we've got a few ideas of where the series could go after its creators have moved on.
We'll be discussing the end of Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, so if you haven't beaten the game just yet, bookmark this page and come back when you have!
The Obvious Choice: Sam and Sully Take Over
The ending of Uncharted 4: A Thief's End sees Nate and Elena finally settling down and getting ready to start a family (more on that later), and it's clear that Naughty Dog really wanted to drive home the fact that Nate is done adventuring.
Sure, Nate's done adventuring — but his brother clearly isn't.
In the final scene before the epilogue begins, Sam asks Sully about the possibility of working together, to which Sully responds with a few cryptic hints at something that's already in the planning stages. The two walk away together, and while their subsequent adventures are still unknown to the player, the epilogue confirms that they continue working together for some time.
Considering the relationship between Nate and Sully in the first Uncharted, it wouldn't be all that surprising for another studio to tackle something similar in the next game. Not only would the new partnership serve as a great jumping-off point for new fans, but it could help the studio flesh out some of the series' best characters even further.
The only real hindrance is that the ending of a potential Sam-and-Sully game has already been spoiled: no matter what adventures the two go on, the ending of Uncharted 4 confirms that they survive — and knowing what happens to the main characters before the story even starts doesn't really help build dramatic tension.
The Other Obvious Choice: It Runs in the Family
The major twist of the game's epilogue is that, after a second shot at Crash Bandicoot, players learn that they've taken on the role of a young girl. It doesn't take long to figure out that this new girl — named Cassie — is Nate and Elena's daughter ... but that's just the start.
Even taking a rudimentary look around the Drake homestead will reveal that, much like her parents, Cassie is all about the adventure. She's on the cover of magazines, planning for an exchange trip to India and extremely curious as to what her parents used to do before she was born. The game ends with Nathan finally telling Cassie of his adventures — but what if this was just the start?
Cassie taking over for Nathan as the main character of the series wouldn't just be an excuse for the series' first female protagonist, but a way to keep the franchise centered around the Drakes without feeling arbitrary. Sure, the combination of Sam and Sully is interesting, but as we previously mentioned, we all know how that story ends — but Cassie serves as a way to easily transition from one group of beloved characters to an entirely new cast. Following the end of Uncharted 4, it almost feels as if Naughty Dog wants Cassie to headline the series — why not let her?
The Boring Choice: Pull Nate Out of Retirement (Again)
Just because Nate's gotten a little older doesn't mean he can't still go adventuring, right?
Yes, it would fly in the face of everything Naughty Dog set up with the ending of Uncharted 4, but we wouldn't be surprised if the next game somehow forced Nate back into the thick of things. Perhaps his family's been held hostage, perhaps Sam needs help finding another long-lost treasure — it wouldn't be all that hard to justify Nate going out on one last adventure ... again.
That being said, hopefully, whichever studio takes over for Naughty Dog is smart enough to avoid this route. Sure, Nathan Drake is marketable, but the series doesn't necessarily need him to succeed. Make references to him, or keep him in a supporting role — either way, there's really no reason for Nate to be the center of attention yet again. There are just so many different, more interesting choices to go with ... and who wants to play the same story over and over and over again?
The Scary, Yet Possibly Best Choice: Compete Series Reboot
It's a big world — why not start fresh?
If you think about it, there's no real reason why the Uncharted series needs to revolve around the Drake family and their friends. The possibilities are seemingly endless: not only could a new studio pick from any one of the eight billion people on the planet, but the team could explore different time periods and historical settings. Why not set the next Uncharted in the 1910s, or during the tail-end of the second World War?
Yes, the cast of Uncharted has always been one of the biggest selling points of the game, but that's because Naughty Dog did such a good job of characterizing it. It'd be tough, but if a new studio could do the same thing for a new group of characters, it could eliminate a lot of the baggage from taking over a series while simultaneously giving gamers another group of great characters with whom to fall in love.
There are just so many different possibilities for where the series could go, it would almost feel like a waste to throw in some arbitrary connection to the original games. To the future Uncharted team: try something new!
What About the Gameplay?
It's safe to say that Naughty Dog has perfected the Uncharted formula. The gunplay, the traversal, the vehicular segments — everything about playing Uncharted 4 has been polished to a mirror sheen.
The big question is: where do you go from there? Do you keep adding in extra gadgets and risk bloating the gameplay, or do you scale things back and risk making the game feel underdeveloped? What about making things realistic, or taking the over-the-top action even further?
Our bet's not on what needs to change, but on how big things will get. Uncharted 4 introduced more open environments, not just for more traversal routes, but also for more exploration in general. Driving around Madagascar and exploring a wealth of caves and hidden alcoves wasn't just fun, it was a way to break up the pace of the otherwise linear story sequences.
A full open-world sandbox may not work for Uncharted, but more recent Tomb Raider games have proven that a hybrid style can definitely work. Scripted, linear sequences eventually spill out into wide-open areas that players could explore at their leisure — or skip entirely and move on to the next main mission. True, there'd need to be some sort of tangible reward for exploring — but considering the fact the Uncharted has always been about exploring, that probably won't be too high a hurdle to clear.
Uncharted 4: A Thief's End and its predecessors are some of the best action games ever made, and it'll be tough for a new studio to pick up and carry the series forward after Naughty Dog has moved on. That being said, with the right team behind the game, we're confident that Uncharted will live on.
For the time being, however, fans will just have to put up with a fantastic finale: for more on Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, make sure to check out our full review.