As I wrote in my review yesterday, Uncharted 4: A Thief's End is an excellent sendoff for the series. Here are some of my reactions to the more spoiler-ific aspects of the game.
The Use of Flashbacks
Following in the footsteps of Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, Naughty Dog masterfully utilizes its flashbacks here. Two separate chapters have you revisiting your time as young Nate. The "tutorial" portion of the game's platforming section has you revisiting Nate's childhood as he sneaks out of the orphanage one night to hang out with brother Sam. As alluded to in my spoiler-free review yesterday, this is one of the sections that runs a bit longer than necessary, in my opinion. But it does so because Naughty Dog is interested in showing off a fully-realized world for these characters so there a lot more rooftops to sneak across compared to if this story had been told on the PlayStation 3.
Following that introduction, Uncharted 4: A Thief's End tackles the issue of introducing a more modern Sam Drake head on by revealing your time in a Panamanian prison right out the gate. And with the chapter culminating in the apparent death of Sam, it makes sense that Nathan would have refrained from mentioning him during the few adventures we've experienced with him. It even translates as a topic too painful to have ever been addressed with Elena outside of the adventures experienced in-game in the past. If you think you brother died in your arms, you sure as hell wouldn't be eager to introduce that topic into a conversation.
The final flashback, later in the game, does a great job continuing the early relationship of Nate and Sam. Exploring the house of another treasure-seeking adventurer Evelyn showcases how early the treasure-hunting bug hit Nate and Sam. And the story told through the optional notes found throughout the house - leading from the initial correspondence to Evelyn's once and future husband Ken all the way through to the estrangement of her son Edmund plays as a pitch perfect analogy to the path that Nate is on if he continues to hide the truth from Elena.
The brief scene in the attic of Nate and Elena's house plays as an absolute love letter to fans of the series. Littered with references to Nate's previous adventures, the attic celebrates the games that came before, including Golden Abyss on the PlayStation Vita. Taking a moment to revisit images or characters from Drake's previous adventures was a great way of rewarding fans who have been with the series from the beginning. And including a small feature where Nate can pick up a toy gun and shoot at targets featuring some of his notable enemies over the course of the series while an adventurous bit of underscoring plays is just icing on the cake.
Immediately following the attic love letter to Uncharted comes the game's homage to Naughty Dog themselves as Nate and Elena settle an argument by trying to get the high score in a level of Crash Bandicoot. Being able to honor the historical legacy of Naughty Dog by including this moment in the game makes for an extra special moment when you factor in the reality that Activision - not Sony - own the rights to Crash. Given the good relationship Sony and Activision have shared with Destiny and more recently Call of Duty it didn't come as a huge surprise that they would be open to working together, but it was a delightful surprise in the game nonetheless.
The long-running tradition of including a Precursor Orb from the Jak and Daxter series in Uncharted was expanded this time out to add a Wumpa fruit from Crash Bandicoot and a Firefly dog tag from The Last of Us, effectively celebrating the entire history of Naughty Dog's PlayStation relationship in one title.
As alluded to yesterday, one of my favorite elements of Uncharted 4: A Thief's End is the way in manages to integrate the historical stories of the game with the present-day narrative through the use of environmental and optional note-based storytelling. The core game focuses on the story of Nate and Sam in their search for Avery's long-lost treasure.
Simultaneously, intrepid players get glimpses of the same journey made two hundred years earlier in the adventures of Burnes, an adventurer following the clues given to him by his grandfather. By finding various notes throughout the game, the player uncovers that Burnes transitioned from excited treasure-hunter to paranoid ship captain in the quest for Avery's "Paradise," marooning and abandoning various members of his crew when he felt threatened by them.
And then there's the story of Avery and the Founders themselves. What initially gets presented as a wealthy pirate captain hiding his treasure, evolves into an invitation to other pirates to pools their resources in a communal society. Avery's greed and distrust rules the day though. Not only does he put potential recruits through an obscene number of trials, spanning the globe from Scotland to Madasgascar, but ever within the confines of his utopian Libertalia, Avery fears the colonists and other founders are after his riches. Orchestrating a revolution, he strove to drive a wedge between the colonists and other founders. Then he had his second-in-command Tew offer an false olive branch to the Founders, instead poisoning everyone and flooding their land. The finally reveal that Avery and Tew killed each other before either could enjoy their wealth serves as a excellent "bizarro" universe where Nate and Sam could be driven apart by the same level of greed and distrust.
Nate and Elena
The way the game handles the relationship between Nate and Elena is near pitch-perfect in my eyes. These two met and fell in love over the course of Nate's incredible adventures. So it doesn't feel out of left field at all that their time spend living a "normal" life might wind up underwhelming and drive them apart a little. As I played through the game, I was continually screaming at the screen "dammit Nate, stop it! Come clean and tell Elena what's really going on!" while all the while understanding his reasoning for not doing so.
So when Elena discovers the deception in Madagascar and leaves, there is absolutely a well-earned sense that this is it: Nate blew it with his perfect woman. When she reappears, both the player and Nathan understand how lucky they are that she came back. Nathan finally opens up about Sam and the two of them - over the course of the next few chapters of the game - address their marital issues in a real open and honest way, even if there are a few more firefights than your average married couple might have to deal with.
As a final bonus: Elena is never once presented as a damsel in distress character. She holds her own and it is often very apparent that Nate would be utterly lost without her.
If the Attic Scene early in the game is the icing on the cake for Uncharted fans, the game's ending and epilogue are the rest of the bakery.
Beginning with the tease that Sam and Sully will head off onto other adventures, Uncharted 4 introduces the possibility that while this might be Nate's last adventure, it doesn't have to be the final Uncharted. A potential passing of the torch between Nolan North, who rose to fame as a result of his role as Nate, and Troy Baker, who made a name for himself playing pretty much everyone else in the time since Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. The idea that another studio could come in and pick up with Uncharted 5: Sam's Story seems sacrilege, but it's a possibility nonetheless.
But beyond that, the game flashes forward to Cassie, playing the even-more-retro Crash Bandicoot. It is unclear at first how she and her dog connect to the heroes we've spent hours following but it quickly becomes apparent she is at the very least tangentially related. When the game finally introduces that she is the daughter of Nathan Drake and Elena Fisher, and that she has the same archaeological adventurer bug that struck Nate Morgan at a young age, an additional option opens up that Uncharted 5: Cassie's Caper might take over.
The inherent assumption here is that for probably fifteen years or so, Nate and Elena have found a way to make life work in their favor. They aren't just the couple that needs the thrill of adventure to spice up their love life. They can, and have, turned the investment in Jameson's salvage company into a life that fulfills their sense of adventure while avoiding the unnecessary violence and intrigue that have taken up so many of their adventures to date.
As someone who has adored these characters since Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, I couldn't wish for a happier ending for them.