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.
Great article, Liam. I really enjoyed this chapter, too: it was clearly an experiment but I think they made it work well. I agree with you that we'll be seeing areas like this in The Last of Us 2, and like your idea of future Uncharted games working from a hub.
I like that on foot exploration isn't discouraged. I like off-roading as much as the nest guy, but the environment feels so real and vivid, it's a joy hiking through it up close and taking it all in.
It looked nice I suppose, I wasn't all that impressed. It still for me jusg felt like an extended area to get from puzzle a to puzzle b.
Picture this, more of Hub world - like Tomb Raider with additional quests and treasures to find - like the reboot of Tomb Raider... LOL
The Egypt setting could be good but it sounds a bit like Assassins Creed: Origins - just set in the modern era. Not that I would be disappointed . I am sure Naughty Dog would excel in whatever direction they went. Instead of horses and camels you have a jeep, instead bows and melee weapons, you have guns and fists but then you have something ND excels at and that's characters, interpersonal relationships and that incredible attention to detail that sets them apart from many other devs. I wouldn't hesitate to pre-order - whatever direction ND wanted to pursue with Uncharted. Its gone for the 'very' linear to a more wide and open world game - putting exploration and 'adventure' into the game and Uncharted, especially with all the 'dialogue' between characters whilst just driving or exploring etc makes this perfect for a more open world experience. Of course it wouldn't necessarily benefit from being 'totally' open world, but each new 'chapter or so' could be a big open area as you travel the globe hunting a specific treasure and clues but could also add more exploration and additional treasure hunting etc in these Hubs whilst looking for the clue(s) to the final goal.
For some though, that may not be a good thing - especially those completionists or those that want to 'find' all the collectibles without having to rely on a guide - some of those in 'Madagascar' where particularly well hidden...
I really enjoyed the chapter, but I don't want Uncharted to ever be a fully blown open world game. Every game nowadays seems to be open world. Linear games are OK! Lends itself to much better storytelling.
However, there was an awful lot of: 'I'm not spending $30 on a 6 hour game', so ND or Sony mightt be forced into it.
Semi-open world like how The Lost Legacy or...wait for it...FFXIII did I can get behind .
I loved chapter 4 I spent like two days and five hours just on that one chapter and loved every minute of it
Great article. When I played the open world section in UC4, to be honest I just looked for the narrative elements I needed and then wandered off. However, Western Ghats was great and I did the side quests. I started worried I would get lost but actually, lots of routes and really fun driving around.
I think a few levels like this broke up the story and then made me appreciate the narrative heavy chapters afterwards even more. It gave you time with the characters and their growing banter, admiration for each other without slowing down the more exciting story.
@BAMozzy But written by people with half a brain. 😏
I certainly enjoyed both the Tomb Raider games and love the way they have given Lara a more 'human' character and introduced the more RPG elements. Both Tomb Raiders I have bought more than once and enjoyed playing through each to 100%.
I can't comment yet on the AC: Origins game and how that works as a big open world - with the Narrative of course but I am still looking forward to having fun in Ancient Egypt.
As I said, ND can do no wrong at the moment. I know the Last of Us didn't really connect with me - either on the PS3 or the remastered PS4 edition (I did try...) but I cannot fault the production values and attention to detail that ND put into their games. Whether People think the Last of Us or Uncharted 3 were the 'best' looking games of last gen, regardless of whether you preferred PS3 or XB360, ND proved that they could get stunning looking games with limited hardware. Now with more power to play with, they yet again set new standards.
Stories are quite 'difficult' to assess, If you can't connect to the character etc, it can be 'hard' to get into a narrative driven game and then its the 'game-play' that becomes more apparent. If the Story and characters make you want to see what happens next, where the story goes, the 'game-play' becomes more secondary - unless of course its unstable and glitchy which takes you out of the story. To a degree this is where I fell with LoU. The story and characters didn't connect.
I tend to want more narrative driven game-play or at least 'some' narrative rather than just playing a game because its 'fun'. Some may say that they don't think ND games push 'game-play' forward but I feel their characters are characters I want to spend time with, find out where there journey takes them, the interpersonal relationships and dialogue add more to the game than the majority of cut-scenes can. The other aspect that Naughty Dog excel at is the way characters 'evolve' and 'grow' through a game, through a franchise and nothing shows that better than Uncharted 4 and where Nate was by that point. Obviously I followed his journey through each game and there is a progression through the games that led us to U4 and the Nate we had then. The Lost Legacy also shows how 2 characters evolve through the game - the little things like the dialogue that brings Nadine and Chloe closer together and how that dialogue develops over the course of the game. I am not going to say more because of spoilers but if anyone is looking to play, pay attention to all the dialogue whilst playing and how that changes over the course of the game...
These Games are more 'interactive movies' than 'games'.
Great article, Liam, and I have to agree. It was a great segment of a great game. I really enjoyed hunting down the hoysala tokens. Such a well designed area, and I really like the idea of your hypothetical hub based Uncharted. I could definitely see that happening, and it could be really good
The open world bit reminded me of MGS V, looking forward to see how open TLOU2 will be
This chapter was actually my least favorite part of the game. I felt that it really bogged down the pace that I love and expect from this franchise. I really hope that the Uncharted series does not expand in this direction, because while I like the same idea in other games, open area exploration just isn't what Uncharted has ever been about. I hope the franchise stays true to itself and continues to keep what sets it apart from other similar games. And yeah, I did post a similar comment in another article on this website.
I actually hope there aren't a lot of BIG open levels in TLOU2, I think a more linear path certainly holds its own in games like TLOU
@BAMozzy that sounds incredible. I'd be very interested!
@BAMozzy "If the Story and characters make you want to see what happens next, where the story goes, the 'game-play' becomes more secondary - unless of course its unstable and glitchy which takes you out of the story. To a degree this is where I fell with LoU."
Did you mean TLoU was glitchy? Or you couldn't connect with the characters? TLoU really doesn't shine until after a third/halfway into the game. For me, it all clicked falling in love with Ellie when you play as her. Like you said, you can get to know the characters better when the story pulls you into who they are more and more. For me, if you haven't completed the whole game, it's hard to connect with Ellie and Joel and understand better their choices.
@starhops The Last of Us played just as well as any other Naughty Dog game so it wasn't the game itself. I really couldn't connect with Joel - not once through out the entirety of the game did I feel any affinity to the character I was supposed to be for 90% of the game. Ellie also was 'annoying' - especially in the early stages. Throughout the entire game, I also felt that it was going to end in pretty much the way it did. I can't deny that some of the environments were 'impressive' if somewhat empty and many areas looked similar to each other. By the end I also couldn't care less if either/both didn't survive.
Because I had no affinity to the Characters, it showed up the 'game-play' and its 'problems', repetitive sequences, the 'life expectancy' of any characters you met on route, how shallow they were etc etc.
I have beaten the game so I know exactly how it ends and the game-play in between. The over-used 'horde' sequences. Sequences where you are limited to a certain area, whether that in a trap were you are 'upside down', in a top floor sniping the enemies as they run down the road, trapped in a log cabin (as Ellie) etc. There are also a number of areas that you have to get through were you cannot progress until ALL enemies are defeated and miraculously, the Door at the end suddenly unlocks. The AI is very poor too of the enemies - especially in those areas. For example you could walk up behind someone and kill them, yet any enemy 2m away don't react. I ended 'clearing' an area, trying to progress. After bullets had been flying etc, 1 enemy near the start hadn't moved and it took me 10mins+ trying to work out why the route forward wouldn't open. It was only after I went in every building, looking for an alternative route, and was just about to reload the level thinking it was 'glitched' or broken after examining almost everywhere, when, right at the start, where I had killed 2-3 guards, there was one stood in the shadows oblivious to me. After killing him, I started to head back to the door, when out of nowhere, another wave of enemies arrived. I also got fed up with the over use of the pallet - everytime I got near 'water' because Ellie can't Swim.
Like I said, if you don't have any affinity to the characters, the predictable outcome for 'any' characters you met en route, the repetitive sequences in the game - like the Horde mode sequences, the 'water' sequences, the kill all to progress sequences etc become much more noticeable.
I know its 'hardly' a spoiler now Last of Us 2 trailer has dropped, but I knew from an early point, the outcome of that journey, what would happen to Joel and Ellie ultimately. The supporting cast were also incredibly weak and ultimately forgettable. I can picture some of them but can't remember anything about them, their names etc but I know what happened to them as it basically happened to everyone. Be around for a level or two, then die.
Even all the dialogue collectables really didn't add anything significant - well all but the 1 I missed somewhere didn't and can't imagine that '1' was the key to adding that missing bit of information to transform my impression.
I could go on and on but I think you get the idea. I have the game on PS3 and PS4 so its not like I haven't given it a fair chance on both consoles. Joel is still a jerk, still someone I wouldn't wish to know in real life so spending 90% of my time with him and the inconsistency that Ellie shows - one minute a vulnerable child with pathetic jokes, the next a killer, jumping on the backs of enemies and taking them out, then back to a vulnerable child again who can't swim...
@BAMozzy Thanks for the reply! I don't disagree on any of what you wrote. I don't want to take over the Uncharted thread here. TLoU is definitely dated in gameplay and storytelling. I enjoyed it more a with a couple play-throughs. I really enjoy all the Uncharteds and I'm with you on the new Tomb Raiders, I really enjoy them.
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