The funny thing about A Thief’s End – an entire game of an ending – is that it worked in reverse direction to the other games in the series. It’s usually a potent case of final act syndrome that plagues an Uncharted game. Those last three or four chapters always amp things up with more. More goons wearing more armor, more explosions, more bullets. It’s exhausting. The story is usually more or less done as well; you’re often just asked to shoot your way out at that point.
A Thief’s End seems to be an ointment. It’s as if Naughty Dog wanted to ensure that the series wouldn’t end in the dwindling way each of its predecessors did. It worked as well, but there were a few falters in the lead-up to that pay-off; sadly, one of the casualties that lie under the foundation of Uncharted 4 is one of the series’ most interesting villains. The main reason to be excited for the upcoming DLC, The Lost Legacy, is that it might do justice to Nadine Ross.
The villains in the Uncharted series are a sad bunch. It’s a testament to how great the games are in all other areas, perhaps, that there isn’t much talk about the often lackluster antagonists. Broadly, they can be split into two camps: the developed but dull, and the intriguing but under-cooked. Lazarevic was a bit of a dud. He was a shallow, Ex-KGB grunt bent on world domination through the consumption of some blue gunk. It’s fine: we didn’t need much to have fun with Among Thieves.
In this same vein comes Rafe Adler. Rafe was a bit of a package deal with Sam, and we didn’t have much time to get acquainted. We didn’t need it: he was a trust fund brat with an undercut, a sadistic streak, and all he was after was more money. He would have been pretty easy to hate if it wasn’t so difficult to feel anything towards him.
Gabriel Roman is maybe the most effective villain – he might even deserve his own camp. You knew everything you needed to know about him from genre expectation, Simon Templeman’s charming and evil voice, and the fact that there were Nazis involved in his plan. Two dimensional? Absolutely, but dull? Never. Naughty Dog never made out as though you were going to get anything more from these villains.
Things got muddy with Marlowe and Talbot. Who else remembers Marlowe and Talbot? They were good weren’t they? She was a Helen Mirren-type who exuded icy malevolence and he was a classic Bond henchman – possessing Batman’s ability to stylishly teleport. And what was all that about his brainwashing dart gun? Marlowe knew about Drake’s past and she shared one with Sully; we didn’t know where Talbot fit in but we had all sorts of questions for the both of them.
That is until both Marlowe and Talbot were swallowed up in a sinkhole of sand and plot, never to be heard from again. Case closed. But like a jaded detective who never got to the bottom of the big case, I’m haunted. I never really got to the bottom of Drake’s Deception. This was the first time Naughty Dog had attempted an end game of real weight. Whereas before they were happy to lean on genre, here they seemed to tease us with promise, to lay the groundwork for a truly rich payoff – only they wrote a check they didn’t cash.
It is within this camp that the far greater sin is committed, and it’s in this camp that Nadine Ross tumbles into. Consider Nadine: a strong, silent type with a very imposing physical presence, an enigmatic quality, and a private militia at her disposal. There’s a shadow looming over her and it’s what casts that shadow that harbors so much promise. Nadine is a woman about her father’s work. He ran Shoreline into two civil wars and into the ground, losing both of them. She inherited the messy legacy. Her resolve doesn’t betray a lot, but she is clearly trying to prove something, to her army, to herself, to her father.
But it’s the same old sin: the check written but not cashed. Her Shoreline troops are partly stolen from her by Rafe (money talks with mercs) and the rest are killed. After trapping Rafe, Sam, and Nate in a burning treasure chamber (fitting) she just leaves. It isn’t as blunt as being swallowed by a sink hole, but there is a matter of unanswered questions with Nadine, of anti-climax; there’s the distinct feeling of a legacy left unfulfilled.
See, the thing about Neil Druckmann is he was brought in as lead writer to end this juggernaut, and sure enough he unpacked his surgical tools and went to work. There’s nip and tuck all over the place: take Sam for instance.
Sam Drake didn’t return. He may well have come back into Nate’s life but he didn’t come back into ours. He arrived into ours for the first time, a walking squawking McGuffin. It’s testament to the chemistry between Nolan North and Troy Baker that it worked as well as it did, but it still felt for me a bit of a suture job, a gravitas tap that was given a quick and dirty blast over Uncharted 4. If we didn’t hit the ground running with the gang, if we stopped for a moment to survey the surroundings, the wheels might not have turned so smoothly. We are asked to care about Sam because Nate does; only Nate – nor anyone else – had ever mentioned him up until that point. A couple of flashback chapters laid some hasty groundwork but it all smacked of late-game ret-con.
It’s the same with Nadine. Elena gave us a succinct summary of Nadine in Chapter 17, as if she were reading from a character bio sheet. We’re expected to go with it and we do; we hit the ground running like we always do. But the thing is there’s promise there with Nadine; there are hints which point to a far richer character, forced to jump off the train as it picked up momentum toward Druckmann’s euphoric terminus.
You’re left with a fantastic closing salvo, but one that relies on a run-up as fleet-footed as it is forgetful. When all’s said and done you might wish the two would dovetail more gracefully. For all his finesse and restraint, Druckmann crafted a game that asks you to make bigger leaps than Nate sometimes. I don’t mind Rafe falling by the wayside because there was never much there; I don’t mind Sam being so Ex Machina because he had a touching part to play in the story; but a character as intriguing and clearly unfinished as Nadine Ross? Well, that’s a crime.
So here’s to The Lost Legacy; I really hope that they do right by Nadine and save her from languishing in the under-cooked camp. And who knows, perhaps even lift her out of the villain camp altogether? Now then, it looks like I’m going to have to wait a while yet for that Marlowe and Talbot DLC … seriously though, he had a brainwashing dart gun.