Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is, from the title alone, the final act for Nathan Drake — a clear intention to complete the Drake saga. It seems that the developers set out to distinguish this game as an experience slightly different from the original trilogy, establishing finality from the get-go, the execution of this finality is part of what makes this game memorable.
Establishing a Same-Same but Different Foundation in Uncharted 4
The game opens with a somewhat familiar scenario, presenting Drake as usual in another life-threatening situation. Beginning like the previous titles before it (i.e. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves), A Thief’s End seems to follow the precedent of “act now, talk later.” However, the expectation quickly subverts when presented with a young Nathan Drake from fifteen years in the past. This is the first proper demonstration of ‘same-same but different’ concept.
‘Same-same but different’ regards the way a sense of familiarity is changed to tell a different story. Throughout the first three titles, fans of the series could expect different plots, but generally, the same method of telling them — and Nathan grows superficially as a character throughout those stories. However, the series had never truly given the audience an in-depth understanding of who Nathan Drake really is. How did he come to call himself Drake? Does he have a relation to Francis? Why is he so obsessed with ancient history and treasure hunting?
Enter, Samuel Drake — Nathan’s brother, and the catalyst to discovering Nathan’s origins. Samuel establishes himself as the difference from the same-same, because he introduces a type of storytelling unpredicted to those familiar with the series. His character is a tool to tell a story about Nathan Drake: their interactions as kids establish a relationship between the brothers, while at the same time defining a backstory for Nathan. This is something different.
A common mistake made by other games and media trying to tell a story is a lazy writing technique that uses a new character as a well of exposition, without giving the audience any reason to care about what they are saying. A Thief’s End goes the extra mile by introducing an established relationship within an environment that adds to the story itself; childhood Samuel breaking his brother out of an orphanage to steal their mother’s belongings is a far better way to help the player connect with these characters on an emotional level than simply introducing Samuel in the present. Because of his relationship to Nathan, Samuel Drake is an integral part of how introducing something different leads to a more interesting and well-rounded conclusion.
Uncharted 4: The Hero’s Journey
Due to these well-established character-arcs from chapter one, as well as the setup for the main conflict in the following two chapters, the foundation is laid for many choices that the writers can make to create a fascinating story. However, they decided to take it a step further by adding in elements of the Hero’s Journey in the present.
A Thief’s End picks up two years after the third installment, seeing Nathan work as a diver for a salvage company. Although better than a desk job, Nathan has clearly fallen into the day-to-day, nine-to-five routine to which many can relate. He also makes it abundantly clear that his days of chasing adventure are over when his boss attempts to convince him to take a bigger (not quite legal) job in Malaysia. Afterwards, there is a deeper look into Nathan’s personal life through his home. Now happily married to Elena, a crucial spotlight is shined on their relationship, helping solidify the audience’s understanding of what Drake’s current “known” world is to him.
The Hero’s Journey is a device used throughout literature and media to outline the story of a traditional protagonist. Established at the beginning of their tale, the hero (Nate) resides within the “known” world — a place that is comfortable for him. In order to cross the threshold into the “unknown,” they must sometimes be pushed. Nathan’s brother, being the catalyst for change, appears to serve in this role, impelling his brother into the “unknown world.” The dramatic irony comes from the fact that Nathan now knows this world all too well, the call of adventure. This highlights the importance of the previous fifteen years of Nathan’s life, and creates the structure for which a satisfying conclusion may be constructed.
The Hero’s Journey device is a key factor in the further characterization of Nathan Drake. He has changed his world from the state of what was the norm. The change creates a unique setup to introduce his brother, whose presence is a representation of Nathan’s former life. Once introduced, Sam foreshadows conflict to come throughout the rest of the story. Overall, the foundation of the relationship between Nathan and Samuel Drake is what establishes the structure of the story to push Nate back into the world he abandoned. What follows is an experience with higher stakes and deeper ramifications incomparable to previous adventures.
Uncharted 4 and Tying up Loose Ends
Throughout the rest of the plot in A Thief’s End, there are several twists and turns which call Nathan’s character into question, but discovering Henry Avery’s lost treasure remains the consistent goal. The plot expects to reach its conclusion just like every other adventure, but the writers pull double-duty in this regard, reaching conclusions for more than just the story. The strong foundation and story structure established for this particular plot makes A Thief’s End stand out among the previous iterations in its ability to close the arcs of each character.
By the end, the characters have reached mutual understanding in the directions each one’s life is heading. Nathan and Elena are free to return to their lives together, Samuel and Sully seem to agree on a mutual partnership for the future, and there are transparent changes resulting from the events of the plot. On a broader scale, Nate completes his Hero’s Journey after transforming from the previous events. He now has a better understanding of his life and his relationships, and there is true palpable change that is absent from the previous games. This all hearkens back to the setup from the foundation and structure for the story. Long-lasting resolution to Nathan’s story is possible by establishing of his life at the beginning of the game, then introducing change via his relationship with his brother. These factors ultimately add depth to Nathan’s character, and help the audience care more when the story finally reaches its true conclusion.
The true conclusion comes in the form of an epilogue with Nathan and Elena’s daughter, Cassie, in a display of unexpected poetic justice. Perhaps that is a strong phrase for a simple scene, but the weight behind it makes it justified. No other Uncharted installment contains this chapter of finality, because it is meant to encompass the entire franchise. After four different adventures, hours of gameplay, and following these characters the whole time, the reward is a look into the future — a place only the imagination would have led had the game ended where it was expected. The scene is a visual representation of Nathan’s long-lasting resolution; there is no physical proof that Nathan is now and has been living a fulfilled life since the end of the main plot. A sense of contentment accompanies hope for the future, and coming full circle, that same feeling of contentment is a true reward for the player to enjoy.
- Garrett Holton