Lush blades of grass sway in the wind as I jog toward the tower. The sun’s warm, apricot glow is visible in a puddle’s reflection to my right. When I consult my map to ensure I’m trekking in the right direction, I look down at my fingers and notice they’re worn and stained with blood — a disquieting reminder of previous escapades. The scenery in Uncharted: The Lost Legacy is so striking that it borders on distracting.
Studio Naughty Dog’s latest action-adventure, out August 22 for PlayStation 4, looks at least as stunning as its predecessor, but the gameplay is also different in important ways. The most visible change is longstanding protagonist Nathan Drake’s absence, replaced by the deft and intrepid gun-for-hire Chloe Frazer, a fan favorite from past entries who sat Uncharted 4 out. Another twist: one of Uncharted 4‘s most formidable foes, Nadine Ross, has become an ally, teaming up with Chloe on a completely new adventure. These changes alone, along with a few new gameplay wrinkles, should make The Lost Legacy feel like the unique, standalone experience Naughty Dog wants it to be, though it still had the thrill-ride ambience of an Uncharted romp for the 30 odd minutes I spent playing a press demo.
That’s partly because it retains the spellbinding, processor-pushing graphics that Naughty Dog’s action-adventure series is known for. “It’s the first time on this generation of console that we’ve been able to go back to such ancient history and build these extravagant spaces in really beautiful locations,” says James Cooper, a lead game designer at Naughty Dog.
The Lost Legacy follows Chloe and Nadine through Indian ruins as they scour the Western Ghats in search of the prized Golden Tusk of Ganesha, a fictional artifact created by artisans of the Hoysala Empire. In real Hindu mythology, the elephant-headed deity Ganesha has a broken tusk, and there are numerous stories within the religion about what happened to it. “[We] took the one that applied to the themes we’re exploring in The Lost Legacy, and wove it into the background,” says game co-writer Josh Scherr.
Chloe, Nadine, and antagonist Asav all have their own motives for pursuing the tusk. Chloe and Nadine are driven more by monetary value. But Asav views the tusk as a rallying symbol that he hopes will help him topple the Indian government and restore a harsher rule over the region, says Scherr.
Originally developed as an expansion and later extended into a full game, The Lost Legacy is shorter than Uncharted 4 (a game that took between 15 and 20 hours to finish) but comparable to earlier titles in the series. “We started smaller and grew rather than we started bigger and pulled away from that,” says Cooper.
While you can’t play as Nadine, her interactions with Chloe appear to serve an important role in the game. There was a lot of banter between Chloe and Nadine in the portion I played, and I could tell that at this point in the narrative, they were still skeptical of each other’s choices. “There’s going to be conflict, there’s going to be difficulties along the way,” says Cooper. “And then there are going to be rewarding moments.”
Like previous Uncharted games, a large part of the experience focuses on exploration, puzzle-solving and combat. But The Lost Legacy contains what Scherr calls the most open area of any Uncharted game yet.
This was the portion I had the chance to play during my hands-on session: I chose to scale a colossal tower in order to get a better view of the surrounding area and mark relevant checkpoints on my map. But you could just as well bypass the tower and scour the region independently. Similarly, players have the option to travel wide swaths of land on foot or via the jeep from Uncharted 4. As in the latter, the jeep is sometimes mandatory: during my play session, for instance, I needed it to help me pull open the door to a temple.
“We wanted to experiment with, ‘Can we still tell a well-crafted story while allowing the player to pursue the goals in this area in any particular order?'” says Scherr. “You’re still going to get the same character building, the same story beats, regardless of how you choose to approach it.”
Most of The Lost Legacy, aside from this specific area, more closely resembles the style established in previous titles. Players have choices but will ultimately follow a linear route to reach goals, says Scherr.
One thing that hasn’t changed much are the climbing sequences. As Chloe, players must tactfully navigate between gaping ledges and expertly time leaps, using a grappling hook when necessary to progress upward just as they did when playing as Nathan.
Combat in The Lost Legacy also maintains parity with previous titles, requiring players to juggle sharpshooting skills with stealth, dexterity and resource management. The sequence I played involved plunging underwater to sneak past armed guards, cleverly bobbing above water at opportune times to strike. It requires players to wisely use the time they’re allotted underwater to plot their next move and escape fatal gunfire before drowning.
Playing as Chloe didn’t strike me as noticeably different from Nathan at first, but there are subtle ways in which Naughty Dog has tweaked the gameplay to fit her personality. One of the attributes Chloe offers is the ability to pick locks, like those found on chests and trunks, which can sometimes result in finding new weapons. “It was really an opportunity to take a step back and say, OK, what does it mean to be in this treasure hunting world playing as Chloe rather than Nathan?” says Cooper.
Nadine has a reputation for being a tough fighter, but she’s helpful in other ways, too. Chloe can request help from her companion when solving puzzles, a mechanic that’s new to this game. Without giving away too much, Cooper teased that Chloe and Nadine’s rapport will influence certain events. “They’re effectively strangers at the start of the story,” he says. “That relationship evolves and it’s reflected in the gameplay.” I’m hopeful this leads to twists that make The Lost Legacy as energetic, comprehensive and riveting as its predecessor.