The last thing I thought I would have wanted was another Uncharted game. Not that Naughty Dog had churned out a bad one or the series had stopped being worth it, but it definitely felt like after Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, they had said all they wanted to say about it. Who knew, though, removing the character that turned the franchise into something worth talking about would improve it?
Everything about The Lost Legacy defies expectation. It started out as a standalone expansion in a series that had only ever done multiplayer DLC before. It then turned into a budget title—a standalone expansion—from a studio that had only done gargantuan triple-AAA games. But most importantly, it kicked Nathan Drake, the character that made voice actor mainstay Nolan North’s career, to the wayside and brought to the forefront two women of color who had previously been bit and side roles.
It was also perhaps nothing more than a more extreme version of something they’d done before with The Last of Us‘ DLC Left Behind. It completely removed the main male protagonist (if you can call Joel a hero at all, but we’ll save that for another time) and focused on the relationship between two women—or rather, young girls that had to become women in the face of extraordinary circumstances. This, in many ways, felt like Naughty Dog returning to the well one too many times, self-indulgent in an unsavory way.
But it does so much more than that. Both Chloe Frazer and Nadine Ross were favorites of the past but always shown up by the likes of Sully and Elena. They came and went to make scenes work but rarely did more than that. Here, however, their purpose—their existence—is brought into stark relief. They are real people with more than reactionary motifs defining their personalities. These two strangers grow into a forged, hardened friendship.
Admittedly, Chloe starts out feeling an awful lot like Nathan Drake. (And it continues to be problematic that she and Nadine are voiced by nonrepresentative voice actors.) She’s smarmy and joking and constantly lucking her way out of bad situations of her own creation. But by propping up this archetype against someone like Nadine, a deadly and pointedly serious character with an outlook and attitude defined by her time as a professional mercenary, it becomes something entirely new.
Rather than the reflective nature of Nate examining his bungling nature in A Thief’s End, we are given a new and exciting tension between two people offering up superficially incongruous facades. It’s funny and scary and, most importantly, relatable. Who hasn’t been the person holding others at arm’s length and called it self-preservation? The person who cracks jokes to distract from something real?
And with all the finely written parts (including finally turning Drake’s penchant for shine into something personal), it is also bolstered by the gameplay. Chloe and Nadine team up in melee moves, each one fully carrying her own weight even as under AI supervision. And as they explore the immense Western Ghats, the mere practice of exploring a new, open environment creates a Final Fantasy XV-style growth.
Plus, with all that’s unabashedly fresh, this is a game that understands where it comes from. It does what it wants to do and gets out before it feels like a drag, something the other games have never been able to do. It consistently has well-designed combat arenas instead of having moments of brilliance elevating a bevy of just pretty good. And good god, it even has the audacity to reimagine one of the most iconic sequences of the entire series, and it fucking succeeds.
It would have been one thing to just do that and remind me of why I loved the Nathan Drake saga, rekindling a flame I thought was dying. Toss in some callbacks and explore some new backstory. But instead, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy redefines what I like about these games, and that’s why it’s our number six game of the year.