The Last of Us series has always been highly anticipated since before its release. The series’ ability to weave fantastic gameplay and storytelling made it a definitive gaming experience for anyone who owned a PlayStation console. After a series of setbacks, the sequel, The Last of Us II, was announced for a June 2020 release. However, before its launch, a massive leak regarding the game and its story flooded the internet, spoiling the title for thousands of eager fans, as well as disappointing countless more with what the game’s story had in store.
Massive Last of Us I and II spoilers ahead. Please proceed with caution.
Remembering the Foundations
The first The Last of Us chronicled the journey of a hardened smuggler named Joel in a post-apocalyptic world. Unlike his previous stints, his most recent job has him delivering a living person, a girl named Ellie. Tasked with taking her out of the quarantine zone and to a group called the Fireflies, Joel begrudgingly begins his job.
This unlikely duo and their journey across havoc-stricken United States was what made many gamers fall in love with their story since 2013. It is a tale that details innocence lost, angst, vengeance, and unconditional love, under the guise of being a survival horror game. The game carries a vibe akin to that of the X-Men film, Logan, which also features a similar premise, leading many to meme about the two.
The first game ends with Joel escaping with Ellie from the people that hired him, killing any who stood in their way. The game’s resolution highlights the transformation the two characters underwent throughout their trials and acted as the perfect segue for a sequel.
However, the sequel had other plans.
According to The Last of Us Creative Director Neil Druckmann, The Last of Us II noted the shift in tone the sequel would have.
While the first game had a focus on unconditional love and the lengths to which Joel and Ellie went to protect one another, the sequel would instead hone in on the darker elements of said love. It would detail the intricacies of that sort of love and how it could give rise to a dark, twisted hate given the right, unfortunate circumstances.
With this in mind, The Last of Us II wanted to tell a darker tale from what it was already telling. The gratuitous violence in the trailers are testament. However, fans have to look no further than the series’ co-protagonist, Ellie.
From the trailers, demos, and teasers, viewers all noticed the remarkable shift in her character. Gone is the plucky teenage girl from the first game, replaced now by a ruthless killer, with the body count to rival even Joel’s. In a way, she has turned into a mini-Joel, or how he was from the first half of the previous title.
In an interview with lead game designer Em Schatz by the Verge, Schatz spoke about how the game is designed to make players—not Ellie—question their own acts. Ellie doesn’t feel remorse for the violence she is dispensing but the graphic violence on display will make players second guess themselves.
“We want the player to be asking these moral questions all the time,” Schatz said, regarding the levels of escalating violence and hate players will witness.
This narrative build-up was one of The Last of Us II’s strongest story points. It set the foundations of a grisly tale about a character gamers were familiar with—and cherished if they weren’t a total monster in-game. Ellie’s similarities with Joel was a notable point of interest, especially with how the first game ended, leaving many fans to speculate what could have gone down between the two. Due to the complex layers of both Joel and Ellie as protagonists, discussion and theorizing was rampant.
It was all fans could do, really. The game was still out of everyone’s reach.
With all these loaded themes and a darker tale than the first game, The Last of Us II was looking to be a sequel that would be on the same scale, both narratively and gameplay-wise, as its predecessor, with maybe a chance to come out on top.
However, once the leaks came out, that seems like a tall order.
Subverting Expectations—now in video games
With Ellie taking on a more central role in The Last of Us II, fans were curious to see how the story would unfold around her. They are the series’ dynamic duo and one that is widely recognized even outside of gaming. They left quite the legacy in the first Last of Us, leaving other games to try to cash in on the “disgruntled older person meets optimistic youngster” trope.
The game was set up once again to show the potential changes and rifts that could have occurred since gamers saw these two last.
However, on April 27, a leak surfaced online, detailing major story moments and plot twists, showing eager fans The Last of Us II may not be what everyone expected.
This will be the final warning. Key story details of The Last of Us II will be spoiled in the following paragraphs. Reader discretion is advised.
For the first portion of the game, players will take control of Ellie—business as usual. The player will spend an adequate amount of time with the grown-up character to be fully caught up to speed on what sort of shenanigans she and Joel have been up to in the five years since the first game ended. That includes Ellie’s new relationships and the strange cult with which she’s entangled.
However, within the first few hours, Joel will meet his untimely end at the hands of a new character, Abby. She is the daughter of one of the Fireflies Joel killed in the first game and she’s here to take her revenge—and Joel isn’t the only name on her list.
Once the game reaches its midpoint, players will relinquish their control of Ellie and take over Abby, embarking on her personal quest to kill Ellie. With the recurring theme of boss fight finales, Ellie will be the final boss of The Last of Us II and will most likely meet her end. Afterwards, Ellie’s companions will continue the fight, hunting down Abby.
This brief glimpse into The Last of Us II’s story shows the cycle of vengeance, and how it only gives birth to more violence and bloodshed. It is a meta take on the “vengeance” angle of the story.
The move to kill both main characters is bold—if not foolish.
It is a subversion of expectations in the worst way possible. Fans have been eager for The Last of Us II for Ellie and Joel—this is their story. To kill off one of the central characters and then replace the main protagonist with a virtual nobody is a move that will only blow up in Naughty Dog’s face.
In an interview with Fandom, Joel’s voice actor, Troy Baker, expressed his thoughts on the game.
He said, “I don’t know whether people are going to like it or they’re going to hate it, but they definitely will not be ambivalent about it,” and it’s easy to see why.
Fans are attached to Ellie and Joel—not Abby. People will play these games for Ellie and Joel—not Abby. This will be a divisive move that may alienate a huge portion of the fanbase and jeopardize the future of the franchise as a whole.
After all, it wasn’t Abby alone who killed The Last of Us. It was Naughty Dog, too.