The jeep trekking sections of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End made up some of my favourite moments from our 2016 Game of the Year. It was Naughty Dog’s first foray into building an open world environment for a Nathan Drake adventure, and for its initial effort, the developer was incredibly successful. Madagascar felt alive with colour, wildlife, multiple locations, and many ways to traverse it. However, there was still potential for improvement.
A year later, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy capitalises on that. Chapter 4, titled The Western Ghats, is a masterclass in open world structure, design, and variety. It takes Chloe and Nadine’s journey across India to the next level, as it proves that an Uncharted game can be so much more than just a series of linear puzzles, hallways, and battle arenas.
To put the chapter into context, let’s first look at what occurs in the lead up to the Western Ghats. Chloe Frazer and Nadine Ross are on the hunt for the Tusk of Ganesh, which they think is located within one of the ancient Hoysala capital cities after a map points them there. Upon arriving on location, the twosome are greeted by a vast open space of tropical jungles and rainforests, with a lone tower situated in the centre. Scaling the structure to its summit then reveals the main objective of the area, but it also places a small question mark on your map, and it’s this that hints at there being more to the region than meets the eye. Following up on the curiosity instilled in you by this discovery reveals a side-quest that tasks you with finding 11 Hoysala tokens, which are spread across the entire map.
What may seem like a fairly simple undertaking becomes far more engaging and tactically demanding thanks to the presence of Asav’s men in a number of the tokens’ burial grounds, and the variety in locations the side objectives take you to. One token can be found directly next to the initial tower in the ruins, where you’re burdened with using an age-old contraption to reveal fountains which need to be switched off in order to reveal the prize. Another has you shooting bells in order to open a locked door, while a further puzzle in the east surrounds you with cascading waterfalls and mud slides as you struggle to manoeuvre the jeep up the hill. One more can be found inside a hidden well, only for Asav’s men to ambush you just as you get your hands on the piece of Hoysala history.
None of these side goals are ever particularly complex, but they help to bring so much variety to the area. Every new location you come across has you doing something different which helps to keep the large district fresh and interesting at every turn. This sense of diversity also bleeds itself into the chapter’s combat encounters.
Asav’s goons are mostly positioned at the area’s main objectives, the three temples, and the engagements found here once again put the series’ counterparts to shame. A range of approaches are completely viable for every scenario, from sneaking through a domain unseen, going in all guns blazing to wipe out any foe in seconds, to making use of the grappling hook to cover great distances in a flash to confuse and lose sight of your enemies. The western most temple takes place high above the lake that flows throughout the ghats, with one slip resulting in certain death. Taking advantage of the grappling hook here proves useful as you swing through the air, avoiding the sight of the bandits as you land on your feet in tall grass to further camouflage yourself. And from high in the air to deep underwater, another confrontation allows you to perform takedowns from the water in order to stay out of the sight. But if you’re spotted on land? You can seamlessly jump back into the pool and break line of sight once again.
As you can probably tell, variety is the name of the game when it comes to The Western Ghats chapter. It helps to break up what is a linear game with a huge expanse of ground to explore, with so many things to do within it. The side quest itself is simple but a ton of fun to carry out as you probe the map for every last token, with each discovery feeling earned. And then there’s the encounters with Asav’s men, which manage to feel both distinctive in comparison to ones found throughout the rest of the game, and diverse thanks to the number of ways you can go about plotting their deaths. The chapter doesn't need the breathtaking set-pieces you'd find in previous Uncharted titles, because you create them yourself.
Naughty Dog is clearly a fan of incorporating these open spaces into its games and it’s likely that Neil Druckmann’s team will experiment with the open world format in The Last of Us: Part II, but what does this mean for future Uncharted games?
Picture this: an open world Uncharted game in the style of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. A main hub area, Egypt for example, could be where the protagonist sets up shop as they take on main missions within the city, and then explore age-old riddles within the pyramids and the outskirts, follow up on rumours of treasures buried in the sand, and go on excursions to uncover more Egyptian history in their own time. You'd still go on globe-trotting missions through the main story as it takes precedent, but during a lull, an open world environment to go back to could provide some much needed distractions.
Uncharted: The Lost Legacy’s Western Ghats chapter proves that Naughty Dog knows how to do open world right as it makes variety the sticking point of both its exploration and combat mechanics. If this was to be extended even further, I can see the described concept starting to take shape. The Uncharted series may well be going on an extended hiatus now, but if it is to return in the future, there’s so, so much room for growth.
Do you agree with Liam? What were your overall thoughts on Uncharted: The Lost Legacy's open world chapter? And could you see the concept of a fully open world Uncharted becoming a reality? Let us know in the comments below.