It turns out all Uncharted’s multiplayer needed was some reversals of fortune. The series has had some form of competitive online component to it since Uncharted 2, though I would argue it hasn’t been anything necessarily to write home about. Multiplayer is often an acquired taste, at best, and hostile to everyone who isn’t hardcore about it, at worst; and Naughty Dog’s older attempts didn’t stray from those parameters.
Uncharted 4’s multiplayer is different, and that’s partly the fault of The Last Of Us. For its first foray outside of the series, Naughty Dog’s hunters versus fireflies narrative premise meant you could revive teammates in a match, something they brought over the Uncharted 4.
It completely changes how multiplayer matches work. Running around a corner you might get blindsided by enemy; in a fury, you manage to down them but get dropped yourself in the process. In most games that’s it, but here you’ve got a chance to be revived, if a friend can save you before your life runs out. Given Uncharted’s thematic tendency to play the odds, it’s a nice touch. If an enemy drops you, then you suffer a humiliating death by booting, but that too is a reversal if you’re able to return the favor later.
Of course, Naughty Dog has talked about making the multiplayer experience a fair one for every player, and that works with the core of its design, too. Having, say, an infinite supply of grenades with a cooldown timer balances matches out between players while forcing more strategic play, if you choose to put grenades in your loadout at all.
Another boost that can turn the tide quickly are mysticals, game-ified versions of some of the artifacts Nate Drake has chased over the years (including one, interestingly, from the only Uncharted novel, The Fourth Labyrinth). To use one fairly common example, after getting swarmed by a group of enemies, you can use an El Doradian sarcophagus against them, causing homing damage. If you want a more direct approach, you can use one to temporarily become a lighting fast fire djinn.
If the best kind of multiplayer is a tug of war between teams, Uncharted 4’s systems create opportunities for some really satisfying turn-arounds. Actions are largely governed by cash that you can pick up or earn through offensive actions as well as defensive ones (kills, special actions, revives and assists) but instead of just equating cash to XP used to buy new weapons, perks and other things for your loadout between rounds, you’re able to pick up mysticals, NPC allies and other goodies during the match itself. Give everyone that ability at any time and you have a much more level – and dynamic – playing field.
There are a number of other systems (and some free-to-play elements, though you can generally ignore these) in play as well that strengthen the game’s philosophy of balance, but overall, Naughty Dogs design essentially promotes an ever-changing meritocracy. The better you do, the more cash you get, and if you play your cards right, the better a position you’ll be in to regain the upper hand. That’s a lot more fun than just getting repeatedly rocked by the barrel of a shotgun.