Warning: Major Uncharted 4 spoilers ahead.
Last chance to turn back.
Hey, Sony! How's it going? Congrats on Uncharted 4, seriously. I've had my own ups and downs with the series, but A Thief's End is truly great; a fantastic, grounded adventure that explores the motivations and emotions behind some of PlayStation's most iconic characters. And hey, it seems to be doing really well for you, too, selling over 2.7 million copies in the first week.
That's why it's going to sound strange to hear this advice from me - especially considering your job as a corporation is to make money. The act of crafting meaningful, resonant stories is a wonderful side effect of that pursuit, but money’s the point. I beg you, though, please: Don't make an Uncharted 5.
It's stupid, right? 'Don't make more of the thing that made you a ton of money, that continues to make you a ton of money, that will make you even more money if you do it again'? Normally, I'd agree with you - money is good, people seem to like Uncharted, and making another should be a win-win for everyone. But this feels different. Ending it now feels… right. To continue on after a game that feels so final in its conclusion would go against everything A Thief's End, no, the Uncharted series has been through up to this point.
Over the course of four games, we got to witness our favorite characters start out as walking pulp adventure archetypes - the quippy hero, the wise-cracking sidekick, the plucky journalist - and watched as their quests tested their limits. In Drake's Fortune, these tests were mostly physical, as Drake overcame crumbling cliff faces and Nazi zombies alike, a sly smirk accompanying him on his trek. But by Drake's Deception, those tests became far more emotional, as the weight of Nathan's adventures weighed heavily on his marriage. He began to ask himself if all this treasure hunting was really worth it. A Thief's End finally gives this attempt at providing emotional resonance more room to breathe, as it trades non-stop spectacle for smaller, introspective moments. Now, characters who started out as tropey call-backs to adventure films like Raiders of the Lost Ark now feel like fully realized people.
All of this culminates in Uncharted 4's epilogue; one last but equally important glimpse into Drake's life. Nathan and Sam find the pirate treasure and escape with their lives. Elena buys the salvage company for Nate. They finally settle down. Take that Malaysia job. Start a family. Nathan's roguish adventuring days are capital-O over, and a new adventure has begun. It's a less grand adventure, but one that's no less important: Elena and Nathan are parents now, and their daughter Cassie has a bright future ahead of her.
The ending comes off as a bit schmaltzy, but it's certainly effective at showing that there are other paths to take than simply searching for glory or riches, and those paths can be just as honorable. The Drake family is happy just living, doing what they love - but, y'know, legally now, and with a much smaller body count. For Nathan, this is a fitting end, a chance to start over, and to yank him out of retirement for one more score - especially after the entirety of the previous game spends its 16-hour run-time addressing the personal costs and sacrifices that come from pursuing that score - would make this ending ring hollow. Nathan's earned this, so let him have it.
But what about Cassie, the new addition to the Drake family who we play as during the epilogue? She's got her own personality, her own quirks, and she seems just as interested in hunting down lost civilizations and hidden artifacts as her parents. Why not make a game about her, right? Put Nathan in the Sully role, and the sequel practically writes itself.
Should it, though? Right now, the future isn't written. Maybe Cassie pursues the family business and takes over her father's salvage company, or becomes some famous archaeologist. Maybe she decides to strike out on her own, so she goes off to college to become an environmental lawyer or a programmer. Maybe she and her dad get into a really big fight, and she storms out of the house and they never speak to each other again. All of these and none of these are possibilities that lay in front of her, and the moment you put that to paper, that mystery is gone. It's like the ending to the Sopranos - it may have incensed a lot of people to get shut out like that during those final crucial moments, but there's as much value in the not knowing as there is in getting all of the answers. In this case, perhaps Cassie's story is one best left to the imagination.
Besides, casting Cassie as an adventurer in her father's mold would just retread previous Uncharted plot points. She would go through similar arcs as Nathan in the first game as she discovers her thirst for excitement, or Sam in the fourth as she heeds the call of adventure while everyone who loves her explains why risking her life isn't worth it. For Nate to suddenly be gung-ho about his daughter going off and killing mercenaries would betray the choices he's made, and to do the opposite would just reiterate the plot of A Thief's End.
Then there's the bit where A Thief's End is the fourth game adding on to an established trilogy, and Naughty Dog already dodged a hell of a bullet there. Trilogies have an automatic symmetry to them. The introduction, the dark middle chapter, and the redemption; the beginning, middle, and end. And as we've seen with movies like Indiana Jones (Nathan Drake's cinematic contemporary), or even Sony franchises like God of War, that fourth entry is a common stumbling block. This isn't Star Wars, where you can simply make up a new planet or alien race to discover; there are only so many tombs on Earth to raid before you start running out of places to go (and no one wants aliens here, especially after what they did to poor Indy). The fact that Uncharted 4 is as good as it is is a triumph, and there's no point in tempting fate with a fifth entry.
In addition to exploring its characters with more depth and nuance and finally putting a bow on the Drake family story, Naughty Dog has wrung every last drop out of the Uncharted formula. The studio's expanded on the stealth mechanics, made gunplay more exciting, and added a grappling hook, but at the end of the day, you're still shooting mooks from behind cover and engaging in some light platforming as you move between story beats. When the biggest addition to your puzzle solving repertoire is the ability to push crates in the year of our Lord 2016, perhaps it's time to move in a new direction. And if you're doing that… maybe it's time to move on to a different story entirely.
Naughty Dog certainly is, as creative lead Neil Druckmann has said the studio is leaving Uncharted behind, that it would be "really hard" to make a sequel with Nathan Drake based on how A Thief's End wraps up. And he's right - Nathan Drake is the core of the Uncharted series, and to throw him into another adventure after everything he's been through would feel like a cheap, calculated cash-in. There's value to telling new stories when it makes sense, and I'm sure whatever studio ends up on an Uncharted 5 would do a great job with it. But there's also value in learning when to let go, to know when a story is finished, and to know when it's time to move on. Nathan Drake got out of the game on his own terms, and for once, it would be nice to let a video game character retire with some dignity.