Naughty Dog has grown into one of the most popular gaming studios with its top-notch technology and limitless resources. Its next game will inevitably draw eyes to the PlayStation 5 and draw upon its power to great effect. However, it remains a mystery exactly what their subsequent work will actually be.
For all we know, it could be another entry in the studio’s post-apocalyptic Last of Us franchise, or even an entirely new property. It’s likely, though, that Naughty Dog is not interested in resurrecting their older franchises. Crash Bandicoot already came back under Activision, while Naughty Dog has shown no sign of interest in a Jak and Daxter reboot.
Consider that Naughty Dog has been creating iconic games for PlayStation consoles since 1996’s Crash Bandicoot, in which the titular marsupial collected apples, smashed boxes, and ran away from boulders. Thanks to Crash Bandicoot’s success, Sony officially bought the studio, and they started a new franchise with Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy. When that open-world platformer series ran its course, Naughty Dog transitioned to more serious games like Uncharted.
Uncharted’s Nathan Drake quickly became a PlayStation mascot, and his cinematic adventures were a big draw for the consoles. Though Uncharted was story-heavy, it struck a whimsical tone. The same can’t be said for Naughty Dog’s next franchise The Last of Us, built as it was upon a dark world fueled by revenge, hate, and sorrow.
For many, it was a masterpiece, but Naughty Dog followed it up with a controversial sequel. Now that The Last of Us Part II is in the wild, Naughty Dog is working on a new project and all bets are off. Thus, the question becomes: what is next for this prestigious studio?
The Last of Us 3
When the credits rolled, The Last of Us’ story felt complete. It was a perfect ending for Joel and Ellie’s journey, perfectly balancing ambiguity with deep character analysis.
That’s why fans felt a mixture of excitement and unease when The Last of Us Part II was announced – they feared a sequel may undermine the impact of the first game. To make matters worse, Naughty Dog said it was a direct continuation of the original. In other words, they were two parts of one larger story, rather than two distinct works that could stand on their own merits.
The Last of Us Part II may not be as universally acclaimed, but it did bring the story to an end. Nevertheless, The Last of Us Part 3 predictions came from the big man himself, director and co-writer Neil Druckmann. In an interview, Druckmann admitted that his mind drifted to The Last of Us Part 3 as he finished the sequel. While Druckmann doesn’t definitively confirm it, another Last of Us title is not out of the question.
If The Last of Us Part 3 is a reality, then there are specific things we would want. Ellie’s journey ran its course, so Naughty Dog should explore other stories. Preferably, we would play as Joel before he meets Ellie, during the period of time right after The Last of Us’ opening that has yet to be explored.
After all, Joel’s brutal measures caused tension between him and his brother, which would be a fascinating dynamic to explore. Beyond just a Joel-focused prequel, The Last of Us should take players to new locations and focus on new characters. At the very least, it would be wise to leave the Fireflies behind and start anew.
A Full Last of Us Factions Game
The original Last of Us launched with a methodical and strategic player-versus-player mode called Factions. The limited ammo, stealthy gameplay, and low health served to make Factions an intense experience. It was an underrated portion of the original, and fans were eagerly awaiting the next installment.
Unfortunately, Naughty Dog delivered frustrating news in September: Factions won’t release with The Last of Us Part II. The studio discussed the campaign’s ambition and their desire to make the best game possible, revealing that Factions “grew beyond an additional mode”. The news was frustrating in itself, but raised the possibility that Factions could become a full-scale game.
Naughty Dog revealed they are not working on a single-player expansion for The Last of Us Part II, creating a content void that Factions could fill. A full co-op campaign could expand Factions into a full-length multiplayer game. Naturally, the Infected also need to make an appearance in PvP games, especially given how the terrifying sound of Clickers could intensify and interrupt any encounter. Lastly, settlement preservation would need to return with a greater emphasis on online mechanics and deep customization.
An Unexpected Genre
After three successful Crash Bandicoot games, the series took an unexpected turn when Crash jumped into a kart to race his friends and foes alike on wacky courses. A racing game was the last thing that fans expected from Naughty Dog, but the studio managed it with grace.
Now, Naughty Dog has a clear-cut formula with the linear, third-person adventure game. We’ve seen this through four Uncharted games and two Last of Us games. We feel that it’s well past time for another switch up in genre.
Last month, Druckmann teased a new project by posting a list of job openings, promising that the studio is working on something “very cool” but otherwise remaining tight-lipped. In addition, the studio has seen numerous transitions within the staff. Lead game designers Richard Cambier and Vinit Agarwal were promoted to game directors, While Druckmann became the co-president of Naughty Dog. All this upward mobility would seem to suggest that the studio is gearing up for something new and exciting.
We’re not looking for a racing game specifically, but rather something unique and different from Naughty Dog’s previous projects. Uncharted 4, The Last of Us Part II, and Uncharted: The Lost Legacy started experimenting with more open environments, perhaps in preparation for an open-world game. The studio could go even bigger and make an open-world RPG; we all know Sony is lacking on that front. Whatever it chooses to do, Naughty Dog has the resources and backing to pull almost anything off.
A New Fantasy IP
January brought fans what might be the clearest picture of Naughty Dog’s next potential game. Hyoung Nam, content artist for Naughty Dog, shared concept art on his Artstation account. Interestingly, the art did not surface because of leaks, but rather due to a conscious effort to share them. Nam named the selection “The Woman of North”, which prompted several outlets to respond with plentiful speculation.
The most prominent piece of art is of a woman sitting atop a slain dragon. The other two images show the same woman wearing an outfit infused with bones, indicating an overall studio shift towards fantasy. The fantasy genre is certainly new to Naughty Dog, but we feel that their past work has prepared them enough that they could nail it.
In particular, the dark tone of The Last of Us suggests that the studio could make a perfect transition to fantasy. On top of that, their excellent writing and characters could liven up a fantasy world and create a strong character-driven storyline.
Of course, concept art is not a confirmation. Nam suggested the images were influenced by Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and created for fun. While this could just be the internet going overboard for no concrete reason, there remains the distinct chance that it could be a clue of what’s to come.