Obviously there are spoilers for the first game, so if you’ve not played it please do not read on.
Ok, so we’ve had more than enough time to take in the news, the news that the much loved modern classic The Last Of Us, created by the brilliant minds of Naughty Dog, is getting a sequel. In a lot of ways this was inevitable. The game was a hit with both critics and fans alike, garnering rave reviews, strong sales and being one of those titles that seemed to transcend the typical attention that video games receive. This is a title that could be discussed by people outside of the gaming community and cherished for its thrilling premise and beautifully dark script. Because of this, a sequel did seem like a likely prospect, but not one that I believed would actually be a reality. The “Should We Be Worried?” headline isn’t a poorly chosen title Naughty Dog are running with, but more a question I’m bringing forward to you all: Are we going into another bold and emotional adventure with characters we love, or are we as players going into a game that could potentially lessen the impact of the original?
I remember quite some time ago that there were rumblings that a sequel could be happening. I was skeptical, as The Last Of Us was a game that I found to be an incredible and original experience. I was hooked to the story, I found the world fascinating and the characters, even those we only met for brief moments, had so much personality and nuance, it was quite unlike anything I’d experienced up until that point. The ending of this game in particular was one that left me speechless, processing what I had just played and going over the ethical quandary that the character of Joel had just committed to.
As I’m sure you know (and if you don’t, that means you haven’t played this game, making why on earth you’re reading this when you could be playing the game!), The Last Of Us is a post-apocalyptic vision of a dystopian future in which the world has been ravaged by zombie-like creatures. The game follows Joel, a broken man who lost his daughter early on during the outbreak, and Ellie, a young girl who’s only known life in the apocalypse, who holds a potential cure for the virus that has destroyed the world and sent civilization back to its most basic, primal instincts for survival. The journey the two take is one that changes them both, in each other they find someone to care for and connect with in this lonely world, and to experience this as a gamer is one that feels believable while also making for a great gaming experience. On delivering Ellie to the hospital in which the resistance group the Fireflies have requested Ellie be brought for examination, it is discovered that to find the potential cure that could save humanity, Ellie would not survive the operation. Not wanting to lose someone else, someone whom he has come to love like a daughter, Joel battles his way through the hospital, killing any members of the Fireflies who get in his way, and rescuing Ellie, potentially dooming all of mankind. On the journey back, Ellie asks what had happened, having been unconscious the entire time in the hospital. Joel lies, saying that the Fireflies were unable to find a cure and so they headed back. Reluctant to accept this Ellie prompts Joel further, with Joel swearing that this is the truth. Ellie, looking back at Joel, unsure what to believe simply says one thing. “Okay.”
Now, of course a paragraph is not going to capture the beauty and emotional resonance that you would get by playing this game, and I’m not going to be winning any awards for my prose any time soon, but there was a reason for my little synopsis. The Last Of Us feels like a story that does have a beginning, middle and an end, and it is an ending with a strong emotional thud that leaves us thinking about what had transpired throughout the player’s experience with the game. We can look at this and wonder if Joel right to save Ellie, or whether his motives were purely selfish. We can look at that final expression on Ellie’s face, and wonder whether she believed the lies that Joel had told her, or whether she knew the truth deep down, and had to bury it knowing what Joel had gone through. Similarly, we can think about the characters we spent little time with and wonder about their pasts and futures within this unforgiving world. Its a game that invites discussion and thought, which is what makes this game so beloved.
My main fear in creating a sequel is that some of these questions will be answered, and by showing us more of this world and the characters that inhabit it, there will be less for us as players to ponder and discuss. The ending of The Last Of Us feels so definite, I do wonder how following these characters once again will give players the same feelings of wonder, excitement and love that we experienced in the first game. When it became all but confirmed that there would be a sequel I was hoping on something set within the set world and continuity, but with new characters and showing a new part of America. This way I felt that the game could still be fresh and new, while also giving players something they are familiar with that they can be excited about. On the reveal of an older Ellie and the hinting towards a more revenge-laden story, I found myself both excited at the prospect of playing as one of the most interesting characters in gaming, but also fearful that it would not live up to the acclaim of its predecessor.
This is however a fear that Neil Druckmann, the creative director behind the first Last of Us, Uncharted 4 and now The Last Of Us: Part II has acknowledged. In addition to confirmation that you do indeed play as Ellie, now aged 19, he has confirmed that this sequel was something that was not made solely because the original was so popular. “So much thought went into this and I know there’s a lot of people that feel this trepidation” He says, “about coming back to these characters and revisiting what that ending means and worrying whether that’s going to spoil the first game.” He adds that “You have to understand we feel all those things as well. No one loves these characters more than we do, and we would not do this if we didn’t feel like we had the right idea. The ‘Part II’ is really doubling down on that to say we believe in this so much. We’re not trying to avoid it.” Druckmann also advised in the same discussion about how they tried so many different ideas with different characters that never felt right, and that The Last Of Us could only ever be the story about these two characters Joel and Ellie. He advised “The Part II is saying this is a complementary story to the first game, but the two together are going to tell this larger tale.”
In all honesty I have no doubt in my mind that Naughty Dog would not have made this game if they didn’t believe in the story and the characters, or felt that this was something that would resonate as highly with players as the first game. I’ve adored Naughty Dog’s games since I was six years old, getting my Playstaion and spending hours on Crash Bandicoot and its sequels. Over the years I’ve continued to play their games, from Crash to Jak & Daxter, Uncharted to The Last Of Us, and there has always been a high quality both artistically and in making games that are entertaining and enjoyable. Over time their games and their writing have matured so much that I believe they are telling some of the most interesting and enjoyable stories in any media, so I have no doubt in my mind that the sequel is coming from the right place.
Whether Naughty Dog can recreate that same energy and heart that I felt in 2013, buying The Last Of Us and exploring a new world with new characters to care about remains to be seen. We do live in an age in which sequels and reboots are everywhere, both in film and video games, and there having been notable examples of this over-saturation having detrimental effects on the originals that we loved. What I do believe however, is that this sequel is coming from the right place, and that Naughty Dog will put their talents to use in creating the best possible story they can imagine to compliment the original. Our fears for a poor sequel stem from what we’ve all seen happen to other franchises that have fallen into this trap and also from our love for the original. I have faith in Naughty Dog creating something great, but creating something with the same emotional power as the original is something that will not be an easy feat.
So, what are your thoughts on the sequel? Are you excited? Nervous? Filled with the rage and fire of a thousand suns? Let us know what you think in the comments section, and also your hopes for the direction that the game takes.
By James Burch