Credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment

When Naughty Dog released Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End in 2016, they made it clear that it would live up to the subtitle and actually wrap up the story of dashing star Nathan Drake — but it didn’t necessarily mean the end of the franchise. Although it was originally planned as downloadable content to Uncharted 4, The Lost Legacy grew ambitious enough that the studio decided to spin it off into an independent retail and digital release ($40; PlayStation 4), and it seems designed to test the waters of whether the series can survive without Drake.

The answer is a resounding yes, thanks to two charismatic female leads, a more open-world design, and a tightly paced campaign. The Lost Legacy centers on treasure-hunter Chloe Frazer (first introduced in Uncharted 2), who teams with gun-for-hire Nadine Ross (one of the villains in Uncharted 4) as they explore India in search of the legendary Golden Tusk of Ganesh. The two make uneasy allies; Chloe is brash and impulsive, while Nadine is measured and methodical, and their personalities clash early and often.

Naughty Dog are the best storytellers in the business, and voice actors Claudia Black (Chloe) and Laura Bailey (Nadine) bring the characters vividly to life with crackling chemistry. Chloe featured heavily in Uncharted 2 & 3, but Nadine got short shrift in 4, so it’s nice to see her more fully fleshed out into an actual character. They engage in hours of conversation while driving a 4×4 around the Western Ghats of India, and you get to know the characters better as they bond, all while acing the Bechdel test.

The Lost Legacy largely follows the tried-and-true Uncharted formula, with platforming sections leading to enemy encounters, then moving on to spectacular action set-pieces, although it hews a bit too closely to Uncharted 4. There’s virtually no difference between controlling Chloe versus controlling Nathan. The series has always been rigidly linear, but this game finally brings some open-world elements to the series with the sprawling Western Ghats environment that you spend the majority of the game exploring. There are several main story objectives and nearly a dozen side activities that you can tackle in any order, and it’s a refreshing change of pace. Unfortunately, the side activities are a bit simplistic; the game definitely would have benefitted from more puzzles, as the few in the game are clever and rewarding while they last.

Previous games in the series have suffered from uneven pacing (Uncharted 4, in particular, felt overly long), but at around seven to nine hours total, The Lost Legacy never drags, keeping you constantly engaged throughout. Chloe and Nadine prove to be compelling leads, and Naughty Dog have proven they can continue the franchise without Nathan Drake, even if it treads largely familiar ground. Here’s hoping the next adventure pushes the gameplay, and not just the characters, into more uncharted territories. B+