Why The Last of Us Part II fell short

How old is Ellie in The Last of Us Part 2? |Back in June of 2018 when this website was barely getting off the ground I wrote a rather longwinded article about Naughty Dogs post-apocalyptic shooter The Last of Us. Not very long after that a sequel was confirmed to be in development and was going to release sometime in 2020. Fast forward to 2020 and the world is now in shambles. America is on the brink of another civil rights movement and Donald Trump is still somehow president. To top it off the agony that came before the release of The Last of Us Part II was very fitting with the times and was equally as frustrating.

Back in 2017, Kotaku’s Jason Schreier released an article revealing a poor experience a former Naughty Dog employee had with the company. In the article, the employee explained that two years prior they had been sexually harassed by a lead at Naughty Dog and was even bribed by Sony to keep quiet about the experience. Prior to this, he was allegedly fired for speaking about his experience with Sony’s HR team.

Three years later, Jason Schreier would again write a feature on Naughty Dog employees, this time focusing on the time crunch that occurred before the release of The Last of Us Part II. Schreier wrote, “Even in an industry where overtime is ubiquitous, where it’s near-impossible to find a game that isn’t the result of weeks or months of crunch, Naughty Dog stands out.”

According to the article, some employees were pushed to their breaking point while working on finishing The Last of Us Part II. Most of them had to work twelve-hour days, on the weekends, sacrificing family, friends, and their personal lives.

If this wasn’t enough, the game also had one of the most damning leaks in gaming history, only being matched by Valve back during the development of Half-Life 2.

Due to Covid-19 the follow up to The Last of Us was initially delayed indefinitely, missing its original release date of February 21. However, things quickly became muddled after a youtube channel uploaded gameplay and cutscene footage of a near-final build of the game. The cutscenes spoiled very major plot points and twists for the game’s story. The build also included a debug menu full of level names and other data.

The internet of course got a hold of all this information and quickly began judging the game before it had even come out. The pressure from this leak subsequently caused Sony to announce a new June 19 release date for the highly-anticipated title, which was followed up with an official statement from Naughty Dog.

This was the maelstrom that led up to the very complicated official release of The Last of Us Part II. Fans waited seven years to experience the game, sat through several pushbacks, leaks all while being quarantined. And you know what? It wasn’t worth it.

For all of its strengths, The Last of Us Part II has a number of weaknesses that seem to glare at the player from beyond the screen. It’s an abundantly flawed experience with so many twists and turns that forcibly yank the player from all directions as they desperately trudge through its most decrepit depths. I know I’m making it seem like it’s horrible, but it’s not. I think the greatest disappointment with The Last of Us Part II is actually the fact that it’s so unremarkable. It’s mediocre, average, and dare I say uninspired.

I have a lot of feelings toward this game, both negative and positive. So as I’m delivering them please just think about my experience for one moment. I’m not a die-hard fan but I did have expectations. I’m not close-minded, but I did not care for some ideas. I’m neither here nor there about the game to be quite honest. And yet, I still feel the need to talk about it. Because it’s true, I wasn’t content with just a good experience. I truly wanted something greater.

The first two hours of the game were rather boring up until Joel met his demise at the hands of Abby wielding a seven iron. There were a few moments, like when Joel plays the guitar for Ellie that was great to watch. The delivery from both Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson really shines during this moment. The tension and awkwardness between the two characters can be so clearly understood, it’s amazing. This is probably where many people, including myself, said to themselves, “Yeah, this is going to be great.” Then once you’re thrown into the game the tutorial segments for Ellie and Abby are heavily marred by its poor pacing and strange character dialogue.

The dialogue, while playful at times, borders on Netflix original levels of corny. I don’t know who’s choice it was to make every character in the game the most charismatic person in the world who knew exactly what to say one hundred percent of the time, but allow me to be the first to admit; it was a bad idea. This is more noticeable on Ellie’s portion of the game but there are plenty of bad cuts from Abby’s as well. It just surprises me that every character can be so upbeat and quip with each other constantly despite being apart of the most devastating event in human history. Every character has killed and must kill to survive, some like Ellie from an incredibly young age. So how could they be so cheerful and personable all of the time? While I do understand some characters were already born into it and others have possibly gotten used to it already, you’d think during some more serious moments they’d understand when the right time to fool around is.

This wouldn’t be an issue if it was a few characters like Jesse or Dina, who due to their young age may not have become as hardened as say someone like Joel. However, it’s not and affects nearly every character in the story, even characters who have every right to be hard-boiled. This is just scratching the surface of strange out of place dialogue choices the game is littered with. I would say this is most noticeable during the first two hours of the game but I can understand Naughty Dog trying to create a certain atmosphere before deconstructing it. There are points where this does slow down but this was a feature that heavily colorized my initial thoughts on the game itself. While charming at times it just seems rather out of place and sometimes even forced. For a game so heavily reliant on character dialogue it’s incredibly disappointing seeing it done poorly here when its been so easily achieved before by Naughty Dog.

I would say the moments where dialogue really carries its weight is during some of its more indirect moments. You really get a feel for some of the characters based more on their actions and offhanded comments. For instance, after stealth killing a character you’ve subdued Ellie will carelessly drop them to the floor and often cuss at them or make some dark remark. It’s a nice touch and while depending on the playstyle one may find it annoying (she only has so many dialogue options) I liked what it revealed about her character. The same goes for how Ellie would go about opening doors and searching for items. During some sections, she would do so quietly and methodically. Other times it would be haphazard and irregular. It’s one of those things you notice over the course of the game and grow to appreciate over time.

After Joel’s death, the game launches into a three-day structure one focusing on Ellie searching for Abby in Seattle and the second focusing on Abby herself. I must admit its a compelling way to deliver a story and something not many games have explored before. With that being said the execution itself is rather sloppy.

The first day as Ellie while fun at stages ultimately amounts to almost nothing. During this day the player is meant to connect with both Ellie and Dina through their character dialogue and the moments they share together but during this point a lot of the forced conversation between the two quickly becomes apparent. Very few moments feel authentic between the two however there are a few choice bits of dialogue that do make their relationship grow, specifically Dina talking about her Jewish past and her sister.

Day one of Seattle is also what introduces the player to segments, or the main way the game is progressed. Each level is broken up into segments focusing on different set pieces based around two methods of gameplay: exploration or combat. For example, the beginning of day one sets Ellie and Dina on the outskirts of Seattle where they have to explore and solve puzzles. Once they get inside a building it launches into a sneak and combat section. The game is completed almost exclusively through this system and I must say it’s pretty enjoyable. In some ways it makes the game feel a lot less linear than it actually is and that could be really appealing to some players. In other cases, it can also just be an incredibly digestible form of storytelling. It allows the player to move at their own pace and perhaps in some cases add some artificial lengthening. Even if it admittedly doesn’t need that I would still consider it good game design.

While day one is easily the most uneventful day of Ellie’s story that’s not really saying much as there are a fair number of twists and turns it takes before we reach its end.  Toward the conclusion, there are a few choice segments that really make the player feel tense and takes full control over some of the game’s more interesting mechanics. Like during the underground segment where you can pit the clickers against the WLF members trying to hunt you down. The dynamic use of shadows also adds a lot of new interesting layers to sneaking making it much more entertaining.

The day ends in a rather somber conversation between Ellie and Dina that once again fails to make the player care about either of them. Dina, after revealing to Ellie that she is pregnant, jokingly says to Ellie, “Don’t worry, it’s not yours” as tears began welling in her eyes. It’s yet another textbook example of how the dialogue attempting to humanize these characters can really just take me out of the whole experience. I am trying to sympathize with an utterly difficult scene. Both parties feel as if they’ve been betrayed, it’s melodramatic but still dramatic. Don’t take me out of it by using some cheesy one-liner.

Another thing this scene does with or without the player knowing is set up one of the main motifs that will be showing up a lot throughout the game. The theme of duality. At the beginning of the game, Owen reveals to Abby that his partner Mel is pregnant which blindsides her. With this we now in a similar scene under a similar context where two close characters who are also romantically involved revealing that one of them is pregnant. It’s one of the most in your face moments that tries to connect Ellie to Abby. I suppose in some cases it works and in others, it really doesn’t. It’s my belief that this is an attempt to get the player to understand and emphasize with Abby more due to the fact that the player would natrually care about Ellie more since we’ve had a full game to understand her character. However, a lot of it just feels like lazy writing to me. Now keep in mind, this isn’t the only way Druckman and Gross attempt to make Abby a more humanized character. There are a number of flashback sequences that explain some of her past which may or may not be another attempt at creating a link between her and Ellie. However, as a whole duality as a way of making Abby a more fleshed out character truly fails in what it hopes to achieve.

As a way of storytelling, however, it’s not a horrible way to go about things. In many ways, it’s a decent method of driving home some of the finer points the game tries to instill in the player. Namely those about forgiveness and revenge. Does that mean any of those themes are good on their own? Not necessarily. However, the use of duality is an absorbable way of making those ideas more salient. Something I wholeheartedly understand and appreciate about the game. While these aren’t exactly obtuse concepts for the player to understand it makes sense considering the game’s tone and overall presentation. Yes, they’re in your face about it and that isn’t the worst way to go about things. While it may turn off a few video game elitists your core demographic is always going to be the ultimate judge.

Day two begins after a nice flashback sequence between Ellie and Joel. It’s a rather somber moment considering what players experienced earlier and a good example of this game doing storytelling right. I really like this sequence and Joel’s self-referential humor. The sequences afterward traveling through some commercial districts in Seattle has a lot of really nice gameplay moments. I would argue this day is the most gameplay oriented and I really like this too. While the story may fall flat on its face gameplay is truly where The Last of Us Part II shines brightly. Every improvement upon the original mechanics is beautiful. Changes to the crafting and upgrade system make combat seamless. The ability to go prone and hide in the grass makes sneaking significantly more viable than in its previous entry. AI improvements make the world feel much more fleshed out and give some of your enemies more depth. Some may try a direct approach and snuff you out. Others keep to their post to cover blind spots and exits.

Sometimes after killing an enemy another may call out them by name making the world feel much more real. It may even subconsciously cause the player to question their own actions. The game gives you a number of rather unique ways to go about taking down the WLFs and Seraphites ranging from clean and quick to downright cruel and unusual. At time’s it can get pretty ludicrous so small moments that make the player realize exactly what they’re doing are excellent methods of worldbuilding.

Day two ends in Ellie making a solo trip to a WLF hospital to kill Nora. It’s a bittersweet conclusion. Yes, Nora dies and Ellie fulfills one part of her revenge scheme but there’s not much catharsis in doing so. This is a running theme that’s going to continue throughout the rest of the game and for better, or for worse its probably the biggest idea Druckman and Gross were trying to get across. Whether it works or not is really up to the individual player but for what it’s worth I can appreciate the theme for its consistency if anything else. After killing Nora Ellie returns to the hideout bruised, bloody and uncertain. There’s one more flashback sequence before the next day which explains the strained relationship between Joel and Ellie and to be quite honest, despite the fact its well-acted, the whole thing feels incredibly rushed and out of place. The player isn’t given enough time to breathe and absorb the information that’s already been given to them. I believe it would fit much better at the end of day three.

Day three feels arguably the shortest out of all of Ellie’s story but its also packed with the most amount of information and to be honest that can be a little jarring to a lot of players. As a whole, there’s enough gameplay to space out some of the segments but there’s little climax to when Ellie kills Owen and Mel. I suppose that’s probably the point of it but this one, in particular, is meant to make the player feel somewhat guilty. The only issue is that there is really no way of feeling that. Even looking back in retrospect after playing Abby’s section I feel nothing. No, I don’t care that Mel dies with her baby inside of her I have no connection to these characters, there were honestly points where I felt like Mel was written for me not to like her.

Going back to what I said about this game and duality the parallel between Mel and Dina also really meant nothing in the grand scheme of things. Dina was a character I already didn’t like and the same I have already said about Mel. And as if we couldn’t push the bar further on the topic of duality the end of Ellie’s arc leads to Abby’s.

Abby’s three-day struggle begins very similarly to Ellies. The game ingratiates the player into one of the WLF bases drawing a lot of obvious parallels between it and Jackson. For instance, both characters are given food at the beginning of their journey and go through a shooting-based tutorial. There are also a few not so subtle comparisons like how classrooms are presented differently in both sides of the story. As I mentioned previously, I like this I think in cases like these its subtle enough to where it doesn’t completely force-feed the player undeveloped themes and characters.

As a whole, I am not going to go over everything that occurs in Abby’s story because a lot that can be said about Ellie’s arc is what can also be said about Abby. However, that doesn’t mean nothing happens. In fact, Abby’s section for all of its faults is honestly the better half of The Last of Us Part II at least from a gameplay perspective. Abby boasts a better arsenal of weapons, her upgrades are a lot more useful, and the set pieces she encounters are much more memorable than Ellies. In a strange sort of way, it feels like Naughty Dog went out of their way to make you like Abby more than Ellie. Or at the very least make her segments a lot more enjoyable to play. However, in a strangely ironic sense, it also suffers a lot of the same problems that Ellie’s arc does.

In its simplest terms, Abby’s three days are spent borderline recreating the experience of the first game in the series. I know for many people that thought kind of sounds enticing in its own way since it’s a game we all know and love, but allow me to explain how that tried and true formula can be broken down and beaten into a million little pitiful pieces. Abby as a stand-in for Joel and Lev for Ellie on paper is a half-decent idea, both of them are just different enough on the first glace to seem like a compelling duo and they both have a wide range of skill sets that complement each other gameplay and story-wise. Being from rival groups there are already are a lot of tensions prebuilt behind the characters.

This odd couple has every reason not to be together and yet they are, similarly to Joel and Ellie. However, the biggest separation between them and our other odd couple is the fact we have an entire game to understand their relationship. Abby and Lev have just a couple of segments and while they are pretty amazing segments the same can’t be said about how their relationship develops. Abby already being a haphazardly written character with motivations and feelings so run-of-the-mill its sad is not a good foil for Lev. However, out of all the characters that appear in the game one of the few I actually enjoyed at times was Lev. Lev is fragile with a hard exterior, Lev has a complicated but simultaneously mysterious backstory, Lev also has a clear motivation and moral compass which is clearly defined throughout the story. It’s a nice change of pace considering the only interesting thing about Abby is that she has a fear of heights, something you notice only because it directly affects gameplay.

To me, this only makes her parallel story that much more ill-considered, for if it were more competently handled it could have lead to a much more climactic scene at the end of her three-day arc. That’s not to say that her entire story is horrible, there are a few interesting bits of dialogue between Lev and Abby that feel pretty real and don’t suffer the same issues as the conversations between Ellie, Dina, and Jesse. However, when you really break it down there also isn’t a whole lot to chew on. It’s wholly self-contained and honestly quite predictable despite the dramatic irony. The only thing that caught me off guard was this game’s Game of Thrones-like ability to kill off main characters at random times. The only difference being that most characters who die, I really couldn’t care less about.

Even when Ellie and Dina nearly die at the hands of Abby at the end of her segment I really couldn’t care what would happen to any of these characters. At that point I was so done with the game I was just going through motions to finish it. At the most climactic moment where things were actually beginning to clash, it was hard for me to even feel anything. That’s when a story truly fails and that’s probably the biggest travesty here. I knew it wasn’t supposed to be about revenge. That much was clear, but the way they spun it to be about forgiveness was equally as disingenuous. This became even more of an issue during the final moments of the game.

Both Abby and Ellie had a lot to lose over the course of their adventure. The sacrifices that were made while plentiful were never really enough to satisfy any sort of meaning. For such a colorful cast of characters, you’d think one of them would command any sort of feeling but they don’t. Ellie sacrificing her relationship with Dina didn’t matter to me because I didn’t care for it in the first place. Her trauma while relatable ultimately went unappreciated.

Santa Barbra for its nice visuals really feels the last minute and rushed. By that point, the player is so tired from being force-fed a bland story full of featureless characters they’re just trying to finish it and gain something. I knew what the ending was before I finished the game, not because I had looked at spoilers but because everything was so predictable. I can empathize with those who wanted it to go the way it didn’t. Regardless of how you feel about one character over another, there’s a clear pick of who you’d want to see fulfilled and for most players who don’t really care about a richer storyline at this point, this is all you’d really want to see after enduring a 24-hour game. On that front, I can see where a lot of the fans criticism comes from.

The Last of Us Part II is a lot of things and sadly satisfying isn’t exactly one of them. For every beautiful set piece, there’s a dreadful character meant to explore it. For every beautiful performance, there’s a piece of half-baked dialogue. For every breathtaking moment, there’s one wicked eternity. All of this balances out to form an average gaming experience. One that will leave you with your arms crossed, indifferently staring at the screen. I implore those who are fans of the series to give this one a shot regardless of what some amateur critics like myself might say.

It’s always best to judge something with your own eyes than with a set of someone else’s.

The Last of Us: how to make fictional characters come to life

better last of us

One of the vows I made this summer was to start playing video games again. Video games are an art form not many people are able to recognize as such, and the fact I was even marginally taking part in that viewpoint by not playing them really bothered me. They provide an opportunity to tell immense immersive narratives with some of the worlds greatest minds behind them. Yet, many simply write it off as nothing but violence and nonsensical power fantasies. On the surface perhaps that’s what many games may seem like, but to the people who are actually experiencing them, they’re much more than that.

It’s true that numerous video games are a type of escapism for particular individuals however, I believe they can also ground us back in the space we inhabit, maybe even with a greater appreciation than we had before. They provide unforgettable experiences the player could have never even dreamed of. I’m aware this sentiment doesn’t hold true for all titles, but the one we’re talking about today could not be more fitting of my previous declarations.

When I asked my friend Noah to let me borrow his copy of The Last of Us I wasn’t aware that by the end of it I would be ashamed I didn’t spend a cent on it. The game warrants the utmost praise and acclaim for masterfully blending a heart-wrenching story with creative survival style gameplay. I’m going to attempt to analyze as much of the narrative and overall style of the game itself as I can in this article without ruining the integrity of it. I would love it if everyone were to experience this game in its entirety on their own. However, there will be some spoilers in this appraisal. So if you don’t want it ruined for you. I suggest you turn back now.

I’ll never forget the title screen for The Last of Us. It’s just a simple window with some foliage peeking out with and a mere, “Press Any Button To Start” message at the bottom, but for some reason, it holds so much thematic purpose. The area around the shutter is very damaged due to the overgrowth, but at the same time, it’s so gorgeous. It’s almost as if it’s trying to say that despite the dire straights the world is currently in, life continues to flourish and go on as if nothing happened. There’s a level of poignancy there that shouldn’t be lost on the player once they begin their journey as it’s carried throughout the duration of the game. It’s also incredibly tranquil which is a stark contrast to what directly follows.

The very first scene between the main character; Joel and his daughter Sarah, portrayed by Troy Baker and Hana Hayes respectively, sets up The Last of Us and Joel’s character perfectly. You see one of the few times where he is truly happy and then you get to see how that side of him was broken. Not just because of the death of his daughter but also due to the broader implication of the outbreak itself.

I’ve always found the use of a virus as a plot device to be hackneyed and contrived, very rarely is it ever done with a level of elegance that warrants recognition. However, this is something that The Last of Us is able to brilliantly subvert. The outbreak is reduced to a backdrop to allow the blooming relationship between Joel and his eventual sidekick Ellie to come into the spotlight. The focal point isn’t the infection; it’s the characters. In its purest essence, The Last of Us is quite literally about the last of us. The hardships one must undergo to survive in a cruel world, and how pure love can still blossom from it.

There’s twenty-year gap following the prologue where the player can observe how far the world has fallen. The camera quietly focuses on Joel as he sharply rises out of his bed in his dimly lit room. Given his stunned reaction, it’s reasonable to assume the prologue cutscenes are what he was dreaming about. However, what’s clear just by looking at him is that a lot has changed after the twenty-year lull. The shift in his demeanor and the tone in his voice implies he’s being haunted by his past. This will be the first of the many scenes where the player watches him awake from desperate slumber. The creative director and writer of The Last of Us; Neil Druckman later added in a commentary released for the game:

It’s another one of those moments…. where its like; it just feels like Joel is just always exhausted. Like this world is just bearing down on him.

The world itself has been utterly destroyed by the outbreak and now society has opted for a community-driven democracy with military-controlled quarantine zones. For once in a post-apocalyptic setting the antagonist is not a tyrannical ruler or society itself. In fact, The Last of Us does not have a set antagonist leaving a lot of room for moral ambiguity in Joel’s often heinous actions. There’s even room to question Joel whether he’s even the protagonist at all. This gives the player the option to decide on their own how they feel about the various characters present.

The topic of ethics is made more complex by the introduction of Ellie; the secondary protagonist and foil to Joel. When she’s first revealed to Joel and his partner at the time; Tess their relationship is non-existent, in fact, he barely acknowledges her in their first meeting. When he’s asked to smuggle her, both he and Ellie both put up a fight and Tess retorts by saying she’s “just cargo.” It’s an amazing and simultaneously unusual starting point that their unbreakable bond will eventually build upon over the course of the game and it’s not very long before the two are able to connect.

The first time Ellie opens up to Joel occurs as they make their way towards the capital building where the fireflies are supposedly located. They reach as roof where Ellie then remarks at the view of the horizon. Joel is sure to take note of her childish wonder and crosses his arms looking down at his watch. The watch is of particular importance because it was what his late daughter got him for his birthday, before the outbreak. The watch serves as his single connection to home and humanity despite the fact it’s broken, which Ellie also makes casual note of. When he looked down at his watch after Ellie admired the view it was because that moment reminded him of Sarah, and by extent; home.

This is one of several pivotal moments throughout The Last of Us where Joel’s tried and trusted methods of surviving are questioned. The player has no idea how long he’s probably closed himself off from that old side of himself, but all of a sudden when Ellie comes into the picture it’s as if it never left. Even after the death of Tess, his longtime partner, Ellie is still there to serve as the single link between them. Even if he isn’t very receptive to it. Druckman later explained why Joel reacted to Tess’ death the way he did once again in the commentary:

Joel knows what he needs to do to survive which is let go. He needs to let go fast of these things or it will kill you.

Up until Ellie’s arrival, Joel was able to keep this routine up successfully for at least twenty years. He had even become estranged from his younger brother, Tommy, during that time but once more Ellie is able to inadvertently bring them back together during the Fall chapter. Joel and Ellie actually meet up with a lot of new and old faces through their dangerous venture. Two people, in particular, Henry and his kid brother Sam mirror our main duo in dignity.

To put it bluntly, both Henry and Sam end up meeting a horrible fate by the end of the Summer chapter. Which causes a multitude of internal struggles within Joel. As he begins to wonder if he and Ellie will share the same fate. This is why he attempts to leave Ellie with Tommy and also why he inevitably fails to.

Joel realizes Ellie is his second chance at living again. Ellie symbolizes everything he wanted that was taken away from him at the beginning of the game and after all this time he finally has a reason for surviving other than just doing it for the sake of doing it. Druckman later said:

It’s kinda this theme, like this idea of; I’ve done all these crappy things but it’s all okay if I can do this one thing right.

There are two scenarios where Joel’s connection with Ellie is put in jeopardy. The first of which is when Ellie is captured by cannibals and the second is at the end of the game. Both of which are defining moments for our two budding companions.

When Ellie is held captive, Joel rushes to go find her turning back to his older roots to do so. He tortures two men and brutally murders both of them just to get simple information. Here the player is able to empathize with both sides of him. The player has had time to connect with Ellie at the same rate as Joel making their sentiments identical. When he eventually finds Ellie they share their first true tender moment together in a sweet embrace and the player is able to partake in that experience with them.

Game designers typically want their players to share the emotions and thoughts of the protagonist they control and the developers at Naughty Dog are able to capture this perfectly. You play as Ellie when she escapes and murders her captors to participate in the anger she feels toward them, but you play as Joel when you end up finding her to share the distress in possibly losing her. Point of view continues to play a major role chiefly in the final moments of The Last of Us.

The conclusive chapter; Spring marks the inception of Joel’s new relationship with Ellie. We’re once again treated to some playful dialogue between the two as Joel promises to teach her how to swim and play guitar. He is once again able to relish Ellie’s innocence as they gaze at a passing tower of Giraffes. It’s in this chapter where he seems to be the most content just spending time with her. However, their good times don’t last for very long as they both find themselves in another bind that ends up landing them in a hospital controlled by the fireflies. However, what happens here changes everything.

Ellie’s original caretaker; Marlene explains to Joel that in order to extract the cure from Ellie they essentially must kill her. This obviously doesn’t sit well with him and the player is then treated to one of the most crushing moments in gaming history as he singlehandedly fights through the hospital, killing off the fireflies, and preventing the cure for the outbreak from being made. Prior to this event, it was unknown how far Joel’s attachment to Ellie stretched but in this single moment, the player is able to witness just how far he will go to stay with Ellie. He sacrifices humanity itself in order to desperately hold on to someone to fight for. The entire reason why you were with Ellie in the first place is reduced to nothing in a mere chapter. It then cuts to an epilogue where you appropriately play as Ellie.

As Ellie, you question Joel’s actions at the hospital asking if what he said about what transpired was true. Joel, in order to save himself, looks her in the eyes and lies to her. Ellie’s final, “okay” in response to Joel’s farce can be taken a number of different ways with different implication and is said by Naughty Dog to be up to interpretation. It’s a true testament to the overall effect this title has had on the industry as a whole. Seeing the way Joel and by extent, I was able to connect with Ellie over the course of the game and then at the end watching it culminate into this beautiful lie is one of the greatest gaming experiences I’ve ever had.

To me, The Last of Us is the benchmark all other video game developers should aspire to reach in terms of writing. There are so many nuances, so many subtle touches within its characters that make it such a gratifying adventure. I can only think of a few games that are able to match and even fewer games that have surpassed its level of prowess.  It’s mindboggling to think it came out five years ago back in the Summer of 2013.

I desperately await the release of The Last of Us Part II in hopes it will capture even a modicum of the vitality present in its predecessor. My only wish is that this is not the last we get to see of Joel and Ellie’s relationship.