For a worrisome amount of time, Uncharted 4 feels like little more than a familiar, obligatory sequel, existing the way Mario Karts and Halos do to continue bolstering one faction in the ongoing console wars. Excellent, fresh ideas for these kinds of automatic sequels are not a prerequisite.

Thankfully, after nine chapters, Uncharted 4 dramatically improves and hits a great stride for much longer. By the end, it justifies the creation of a sequel in this nearly decade-old series beyond the need to check off the box between Ratchet & Clank and Wipeout on the PlayStation platform franchise list.

The early levels on Uncharted 4 have what we’d expect. We play as Nathan Drake in a third-person, world-spanning quest to find treasure. We explore ruins and fight thugs. We climb walls, shoot guns, and take cover from streams of enemies. We solve some puzzles and banter with a buddy character who sometimes helps us boost up to higher ledges. We do this in beautiful locations. The levels are linear, the action dramatic.

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