Welcome to the Western Ghats.
A few minutes into my demo of Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, I realized I was experiencing something I’d never felt before in an Uncharted game: total freedom. Even in dozens of hours exploring with Nathan Drake, Uncharted has never given me the sense that I can do whatever I want in any order, but in The Lost Legacy, that changes.
The section of the game I played – chapter four in The Lost Legacy’s overall story – dropped me into an expansive area of Southern India’s Western Ghats. As new protagonist Chloe Frazer, the world was my oyster, with the franchise’s first completely non-linear experience and the largest single area ever in an Uncharted game.
While my ultimate goal to advance the story was clear (finding a few statues that match corresponding symbols on an artifact), the game never forced my hand. From exploring ruins to searching for treasure to just shooting down groups of enemies, there was never any pressure to do anything but wander. While Nadine Ross – Chloe’s reluctant partner on the journey – would occasionally give me a hint that could lead to an objective, I was able to discover everything from actual story moments to hidden treasures at my own pace.
While treasure hunting is nothing new for Uncharted, The Lost Legacy introduces new Hoysala Tokens, slightly harder-to-get treasures that generally require a puzzle or complicated platforming in order to unveil. Finding all of them will eventually introduce a gameplay-related reward, but Naughty Dog wouldn’t reveal what that is just yet.
In switching from Nathan to Chloe, Naughty Dog has also added a new set of tools for her to use. Drake’s trademark journal is gone, replaced by a map that Chloe can use to mark her place in the environment. While you can’t place waypoints, the map gives a rough idea of the direction you’re heading in, and Chloe will jot down points of interest as you discover new treasures. Chloe can also take cell phone photos and review them later to look for new clues.
Chloe also brings a new skill to the Uncharted series: lockpicking. Supply crates that appear throughout The Lost Legacy have weapons or treasures hidden inside, and Chloe can use her lockpicking skills to crack them open and loot the contents. While the lockpicking mechanic itself is fairly simple (move the left stick until it vibrates, then repeat the process for each pin in the lock), Naughty Dog has created a wonderful balance of risk and reward for attempting to use it.
Multiple times in my demo, I saw a locked supply crate near a group of enemies. Approaching it to try to pick the lock meant the risk of alerting the enemies and losing my stealth advantage, but opening it could yield a silenced pistol, which would make the entire encounter much easier to finish stealthily. A few times I just barely opened a lock in time to avoid raising enemy alerts around me, creating a great sense of tension that helps keep combat more interesting than just pointing and shooting.
Another major new factor in combat is Nadine. While Uncharted 4 had plenty of work for companions like Sam and Elena, Nadine seems to dial every setting to eleven. As you’d expect from the leader of a rogue mercenary group, Nadine is aggressive, proactively taking out enemies and staying in lock-step with Chloe as you explore.
Uncharted games have always been good at achieving a sense of momentum. Nathan Drake always seemed to be part of a continuous, unrelenting series of events that propelled him into his next adventure. Even with this huge open section, The Lost Legacy doesn’t seem to break that mold, and the rest of The Lost Legacy will still contain plenty of traditional Uncharted adventuring for Chloe.
But even just a taste of sandbox-style gameplay has me excited to see what else Naughty Dog has up its sleeve. The Lost Legacy clearly has plenty of new adventures in store for Chloe and Nadine, and I can’t wait to play more.
Andrew is IGN’s executive editor of news and is probably bad at lockpicking. You can find him rambling about Persona and cute animals on Twitter.