by Anthony Herring
Words cannot express my love for Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series. I first played the initial three games—Drake’s Fortune, Among Thieves, and Drake’s Deception—back in high school, and wow, what a ride. The adventures of Nathan Drake and his friends captured both my imagination and my attention for months on end; I couldn’t stop playing them (resulting in play sessions that I labeled “Uncharted Days”).
It was around this time that the next Uncharted game, titled A Thief’s End, was announced. The first teaser released for the project held a dark tone, with Drake waking up wounded in a jungle. While doing so, a voice over of his mentor, Victor “Sully” Sullivan, was playing; he asked Drake if he was willing to continue on the dangerous quest that he’s currently on. The trailer then ended with the title card.
As the release date drew closer, Naughty Dog announced more about the game: Drake had an older brother named Sam, who was never mentioned before. Along with that, this was to be the final entry in Drake’s story, and the series creator, Amy Hennig, was no longer helming the project. Taking her place was Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley, the two directors behind the critically acclaimed, survival horror masterpiece The Last of Us. Needless to say, this game was shaping up to be familiar, yet different from its more light-hearted predecessors, and I couldn’t have been more excited.
With A Thief’s End having celebrated its fifth birthday this past May, I wanted to discuss why I feel that this is the best installment in the series.
For Libertalia and Justice for All
The central plot of the game takes place several years after the events of Drake’s Deception. In that time, Drake and his wife, Elena Fisher, have been living a normal life in New Orleans. This sense of normality is disrupted when Sam returns from the dead—having been presumed to be so fifteen years earlier—and needs his brother’s help. Wanting to keep Sam safe, Drake embarks on another global adventure to find the fabled pirate colony of Libertalia. Unfortunately, he has to contend with millionaire Rafe Adler and mercenary Nadine Ross, who are also searching for the colony.
On paper, this is typical Uncharted fare: Drake and company have to track down a lost city or treasure before villains find it and use its untold riches for nefarious purposes. However, what elevates A Thief’s End above the others is its emotional core. Previous installments—Drake’s Deception in particular—had moments that were of this caliber, but they were either scattershot or weren’t executed properly. Here, the emotional beats between Drake and his loved ones are present throughout the entirety of the story. You are shown time and time again the physical and mental toll this journey is taking on everyone, and whenever the wrong choices are made, you truly feel the pain that these characters are experiencing.
Case in point, the relationship between Drake and Fisher. These two characters had an endearing friendship in Drake’s Fortune, a budding romance in Among Thieves, and a broken-then-fixed marriage in Drake’s Deception. The couple have been through a lot over the course of the series, and Drake comes pretty close to destroying their marriage in A Thief’s End. Rather than tell his wife about Sam and Libertalia, Drake lies to her, culminating in a heartbreaking scene where Fisher discovers his deception and confronts him about it. Since the relationship between these two have been incredibly crafted over the course of the series, this entire scene is very hard to watch—and casts Drake in a pretty selfish light. (Thankfully, their marriage manages to be saved by the end of the game.)
The Bold and the Beautiful
A Thief’s End, like the previous games, has a stellar voice cast. Franchise veterans like Nolan North (Drake), Emily Rose (Fisher), and Richard McGonagle (Sully) share the stage with equally talented actors such as Troy Baker (Sam) and Laura Bailey (Nadine Ross). They all turn in excellent performances, particularly North and Rose, who provide the poignancy and depth necessary to make Drake and Fisher’s relationship as believable as it is.
Last but certainly not least is the game’s overall presentation. The Uncharted series has always been a technical marvel, but A Thief’s End takes it to the next level. Since this installment was built from the ground up for the Playstation 4, it has the advantage of having advanced hardware to play with. The jagged cliffs of Scotland, the plains of Madagascar, and the abandoned city of Libertalia all come to life. Not only that, but these gorgeously detailed environments help aid in visual storytelling. Libertalia, for instance, has architectural structures completely enveloped in vines, illustrating just how long the city has been abandoned; the inclusion of lost trinkets, dilapidated houses, and old statues help give a sense of how the colonists lived their lives as well.
An Article’s End
Ultimately, A Thief’s End is my personal favorite of the franchise. I love almost everything about it, save for some early segments that suffer some pacing issues. I genuinely believe that it’s a masterpiece of storytelling and presentation, which is no surprise as Naughty Dog are masters of their craft when it comes to these things. Considering that this was the end of Nathan Drake’s story, it delivered on everything that it promised to do and more.