As the Uncharted and Dark Souls franchises finish up this year with Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End and Dark Souls 3, respectively, one Game Rant writer looks at why this a good thing.
When I got my hands on Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception on launch day, I fully expected to it to be my game of the year. To my surprise, I thought Uncharted 3 was underwhelming at best, and I found myself rushing through Nathan Drake’s latest adventure, just so I could get back to the world of Skyrim. Spending a few hours with Nathan Drake and his shenanigans is enough in one sitting, but the Naughty Dog development team spent 2005 to 2011 focusing on nothing but Uncharted. Even the most overzealous Uncharted fan would get tired of coming up with new adventures for Nate, Sully, and Elena after six intense years, and this sense of burn out seeped into Uncharted 3.
It may have been ‘only’ the third game, but it was immediately clear that Uncharted 3 had already settled into some kind of established formula: Nate gets wind of a treasure, set-piece, ropes Sully and Elena into it, overcomes tremendous physical and emotional stress in getting the treasure, set-piece, and everyone reconciles at the end. If I felt a sense of groundhog day with Uncharted 3, I can’t imagine what the Naughty Dog team must have been feeling while making the game. So when Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End was announced, all I could muster up was a simple “why?”.
Naughty Dog seemed rejuvenated after embarking on a brand new creative endeavor with the critically-acclaimed The Last of Us, and while I understand the whole thing about sales and fan demand, Naughty Dog has generally developed its games from a creative rather than a commercial standpoint (though there’s never been a problem with sales). It just seemed like the studio was ready to move on, and Uncharted 4 seemed like a step sideways to me. When Naughty Dog announced that Uncharted 4 will be the final game in the series, fans understandably reacted with disappointment, but I thought it was the best decision the studio could’ve made.
The Last of Us‘s success proved that there was no need for Naughty Dog to go back to Uncharted‘s pool of diminishing creative returns, and the studio is smart enough to know full well that Nathan Drake’s story can’t go on indefinitely without compromising the quality. So rather than drag Uncharted out akin to the way most big-name developers do with hit franchises, Naughty Dog has gone the other way by taking all the lessons learned from The Last of Us and effectively setting upon Uncharted 4 in a similar manner to how The Beatles approached their final record: go out with a bang. And you know what? I’m perfectly fine with that.
But beyond concluding Uncharted on its own terms, this is also a chance for Naughty Dog to try its hand at something new. Seeing as how the studio has always come back strong with a new IP after spending time with a franchise – I mean, there’s Jak & Daxter, Uncharted and The Last of Us – there’s no reason to think why it wouldn’t happen again. I’m as excited as anyone for The Last of Us 2, but I’m even more excited to see what new IP Naughty Dog can come up with. Admittedly, a small part of me will be sad to say good bye to Uncharted when May rolls around, but this feels like the start of a new phase for Naughty Dog, and I have no doubt that the studio can create a new game that’s on par with some of its best work.
It’s not all about Nathan Drake’s final adventure though. Most of what I’ve said about Uncharted and Naughty Dog is also applicable to Dark Souls, another franchise that’s on a similar trajectory to Uncharted‘s.
Whereas Uncharted was all about the characters and the set-pieces, the fandom behind FromSoftware’s Dark Souls has primarily revolved around its crushingly-difficult gameplay. While FromSoftware hasn’t exactly been pumping out Dark Souls games comparable to what Activision does with Call of Duty, it’s worthwhile to note that the developer has put out three Dark Souls games in the span of just five years. Dark Souls hasn’t reached its “jumping the shark” moment just yet, but as I was wandering around some random forest or decaying fortress in Dark Souls 2 and killing (or getting killed by) some annoying Manikins, there was a sense of deja-vu as it just felt like I’ve seen it all before. Seeing as how Call of Duty quickly got stale, there was a worry that FromSoftware’s “difficult-gameplay” mechanic was going to run its course, but, thankfully, my worries were immediately wiped away when FromSoftware released the brilliant Bloodborne.
Just as how Naughty Dog took a risk on The Last of Us, FromSoftware took a big risk on Bloodborne and it paid off critically and commercially. But beyond all that acclaim, Bloodborne was evidence that FromSoftware could have its cake and eat it too. Fans got a new setting and some more of that renowned challenging gameplay, and FromSoftware got to demonstrate that not only can it still deliver what fans want, but it can do much more than just make absurdly-hard games. Just as how The Last of Us proved that there’s life after Uncharted for Naughty Dog, Bloodborne showed that FromSoftware will be perfectly fine without Dark Souls. While no Dark Souls game has yet to disappoint me like what Uncharted 3 did, I was just as glad when FromSoftware announced that Dark Souls was ending this year, as this meant that I – and many others – won’t have to witness the inevitable decline of the franchise should it have continued. And based on how good Dark Souls 3 is, it seems like FromSoftware has delivered the perfect ending on what’s occasionally been a frustratingly-entertaining series.
Video gaming is riding a wave of creativity at the moment, thanks to some innovative indie titles like The Witness and the upcoming No Man’s Sky, as well as some new hugely successful triple-A titles like Quantum Break and The Division. While I don’t expect Naughty Dog to suddenly start making space-exploration epics, or FromSoftware to suddenly start crafting atmospheric puzzle games, I believe the time is right for both studios to move on from its established IP, and set about shaking up the gaming world with something new once again.