In this article, I’m going to analyse how Uncharted 4: A thief’s End deals with the past, nostalgia and how it relates to the overall theme and future of the series. As this angle already might suggest, there are big spoilers ahead, so if you haven’t played the game to completion, you might want to stay away from this. If you have played the game, I hope I can add some interesting perspectives to it here.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End focuses on Nathan Drake’s past a lot. This does not only become clear in the many scenes that take place in his childhood or at the beginning of his career, but also in the intro sequence, that shows us many drawings from the adventures from the previous games. Even the main theme has been remixed and seems a bit more nostalgic and emotional. But the most important way the game deals with its own past can be found in the attic scene at the beginning of the chapter called “A normal life”. The chapter is structured quite clearly: You start out in the attic, where you can look at all the relic you found in past games and have Drake give you a line or two about them. Interestingly enough, he refuses to address the items that relate most directly to his brother. Then you head down to Elena and have dinner with her, where you talk about your daily lives, which is pretty much the ‘normal life’ the chapter title refers to. But during this dialogue, Drake starts staring at a picture on the wall, showing off an exotic locale.
The scene didn’t need specific dialogue to address his need for adventuring, his longing to go back to the past, it shows it off in all these ways: He keeps his relics and nostalgia in the attic, where they are hard to access, but it’s bursting with memories of his many adventures. His longing for new adventures is very tangible, even in the scenes before, we are shown he hates his desk job and can’t get over the small rewards his diving jobs get him. However, he is very protective about his normal life and doesn’t want to go back adventuring, even when Elena tells him he doesn’t need to stay away from it because of her. But for him, adventuring is something that belongs to the past and is thus lost in time.
Interestingly enough it’s Sam, his brother he thought lost and refuses to address or speak about, that brings him back into the adventure. Sam is stuck in the past in some ways: He has some troubles keeping up with new technologies (however, he learns how to deal with smartphones) and he wants to find the treasure only because of its connection their mother. In a way, the entire adventure is about the two brothers finishing what their mother started. Sam is also one of the few characters that actively manipulate the past: When he tells Drake about how he escaped the prison, he outright lies to his brother in order to force him to help him. No matter how you put it, the past, family ties and nostalgia are all driving factors behind the adventure that Nathan refuses to have at the beginning.
Then there’s the ending: We play as Nathans and Eleneas daughter Cassie, who after some exploring, finds out about the adventures of her parents. All the relics and documents are tucked away in a locked cabinet and as far as we know, Cassie Drake has no idea at all what her parents were up to before they had their ‘normal life’ (though having two houses at the beach plus a boat is quite a stretch when it comes to normal, but I’ll led that slide for now). Elena references Nathan’s own childhood, where his adventures started, in order to convince him to tell her about their adventures, but Nathan is still reluctant. Apparently, he wants to be done with his past, put it away and keep it for himself. But Cassie, just like the players, who by this point might have played five adventures with Nathan Drake, want to know more, want to experience what they once experienced too. At that moment, Cassie becomes a perfect projection of the gamers who have enjoyed the Uncharted series so far, which is why I feel that the ending is so emotionally satisfying. The scene also mirrors an earlier moment, where drake tells his brothers about his many legendary adventures.
The Ending reverses some elements I mentioned too: While we were stuck in the past for a long time in this game, the ending clearly shows us the future. Cassie is a symbol of how the series and the stories it could tell could evolve. The thief’s end, which is Nathan’s end as an adventurer, might become the inspiration for a new generation.