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  • Writer's picturezandaleeindigo

The Last of Us ll and Storytelling

I think I'm one of only ten people who actually enjoyed The Last of Us ll. Or at least that's what it feels like. For whatever reason I can't find more than a handful of people discussing the game right now saying anything other than negative things. The ratings are low and people have even created a petition for Naughty Dog to rewrite the narrative into something "better." It's ridiculous to me that full blown adults would beg and plead for something like this, just because a game didn't turn out the way they wanted it to, but it especially astounds me because this game isn't that bad? Like sure, it's not perfect and I definitely don't love everything that happens, but it's not a bad game. It had a clear vision and whether or not I agree with where the developers chose to take Ellie's story, I can appreciate what they were trying to achieve.


Let me preface this post by saying a few things. I'm not a "gamer" but I do really enjoy video games. I don't play them myself, but I watch YouTubers that I like and I feel like I can tell if a game is legitimately good or not if I can watch someone else play it and it holds my attention. Especially narrative games like this one, if I connect with the characters even when I'm not the one doing the action I consider a game to be good on some level. This is also entirely my thoughts, I haven't been able to stop thinking about the game since I finished it and I feel as though there aren't enough real dissections of the game online right now. I had to get my thoughts out somewhere, so here we are.

I remember watching Pewdiepie play through The Last of Us when I was in seventh grade. I was going through a phase of being super into zombie things (The Walking Dead, Warm Bodies, etc.) and The Last of Us was just next on my list. I ended up loving the game, having a strong connection to Ellie and being almost dumbfounded at the ending. Joel's moral dilemma of saving the world or Ellie was heavy, and I, like most others, ended up agreeing with his ultimate decision to save her.

In preparation for the new game coming out I wanted to get reacquainted with these characters, because I hadn't seen them in so long, so I watched Cryaotic's play through and was reminded of why I loved the game so much. Joel and Ellie's complex relationship and that morally grey ending crafted a super engaging narrative. This time after I finished the game I ventured to the comments section where various people dissected the game. A lot of people commended The Last of Us for its realism, showing us that people don't always make the "right" decision and are usually selfish. One comment in particular though, referenced one of Joel and Ellie's last conversations after Joel tells Ellie the fireflies didn't need her. They said, "Ellie wasn't asking 'Are you lying?', she was asking 'Would you lie?'. And she got her answer."

Immediately after my rewatch of the first game I started watching Jacksepticeye's series playing the second game. For the last few weeks my life has been basically consumed by both games so now that it's over I have so many thoughts to touch on.

Firstly, no one seems to be able to engage with this game in any productive manner. I'm not sure if it's just because the game was released recently but a majority of what I see of discussions involving the game is just outrage and that's frustrating. I feel like this game is getting The Last Jedi treatment where the story deviated from what audiences expected and in turn, many people just proclaimed their hatred for it instead of actually critiquing it for what it was. So let's discuss.

The Last of Us ll was a really interesting look at how people deal with trauma and grief as well as the toll holding on to things can take on someone. Naughty Dog made some really bold choices throughout this game in order to really solidify these themes and while some are a bit heavy handed, many are well crafted and effective.

One thing so many people have been upset about is Joel's death. Honestly I was upset about his death until I had a chance to really process it. I can't say it was surprising that he was killed off but him being gone within the first few hours of gameplay really stung. It did however seem inevitable that he would die. We spent an entire game with Joel already, so now it was Ellie's turn to go on her own. In my opinion his death happening felt as earned as Lee's death in The Walking dead game, and it served as a catalyst for the journey Ellie would embark on. Although I'm still not entirely sure I like the way the game handled his death, I will admit Joel's demise helped contribute to one of the most impactful parts of the game, the stakes.

The death of Joel not only served to set up Ellie's arc of revenge and eventual forgiveness but it also helped set the tone of the game. Even though I'm unsure if I like the way it was handled, the writers made a clear decision to make his end brutal and swift. His death hits you like a punch in the gut and the intensity doesn't stop there. Ellie kills so many characters on her road to Abby it makes how far she's willing to go evident.

The stakes are really heightened in the theatre when Abby finds Ellie toward the middle of the game and Jesse is killed. Although he was just a side character the quickness of his unexpected death rocked me to my core. I was upset that he was killed off, he was a character I was excited to see more of and I was sad that we didn't get any time to mourn him as we were flung into the next section of the game. But it also gave the rest of the game this underlying sense of anxiety for me. The unpredictability of the game actually had me fearing for Ellie's life because they'd demonstrated they will kill off characters like it's nothing. Now whether or not I liked that creative choice is one thing, but I can say it made me more invested in the story to not always be sure of the fate of our main character.

R.I.P. Jesse :(

The game was INTENSE. This definitely comes with watching someone else play it because I had no control over how the combat/stealth sections went, but I found those to be my favorite parts of the game. The way they mixed enemies in some sections was interesting, like having the undead and the WLF in the same area and being able to get them to attack each other. It brought in this sense of realism the first game didn't have and was entertaining to see. On top of that, the cutscenes were extremely well acted, and the game looked amazing so the violence was gory as hell. I found especially in the latter half of the game I was actually exhausted after a 2 hour episode of Jack's because of how brutal some parts are.

Going hand in hand with brutality is the complexities of the characters. The characters in this game are extremely fleshed out and I feel like that's one of the reasons I really enjoy it. I mean that's the point, neither Abby nor Ellie is the bad guy------it's not black and white they're both operating in varying shades of gray. So as we watch these two hurt each other and deal with the trauma of losing loved ones we are meant to sympathize with them and it makes us conflicted.

Speaking of both the characters, the aspect of the game getting the most scrutiny is the "twist" of the game. After 10 or so hours of playing as Ellie, at the climax of the story, we are forced to play as Abby. I remember as soon as this switch happened I was upset. I was confused, I just wanted to know what happened to Ellie, and I had a feeling the game would try to get me to sympathize with Abby early on. "It's not gonna happen," I thought "I don't care about this woman I only care about Ellie." Every scene Abby got I rolled my eyes, every conversation Abby had with a friend Ellie had killed I groaned.

Eventually though I realized we'd be spending a lot more time with Abby than I thought. About 10ish more hours. And after a few hours I warmed up to her. I was still very unsure how I felt about the game but I acknowledged this was an extremely bold choice of the developers to make and I was very interested to see where the game would go from here. Abby's side of the game introduced us to members of the WLF but also introduced us to Lev and Yara, two escaped members of a crazy cult and two of my favorite characters. We learned Abby's motivations for killing Joel and also get another example of two parties being morally gray.

I will admit here I felt the game was a bit long. It seemed like we were getting this "there's two sides to every story" theme over and over again between Ellie and Abby and the WLF and the Seraphites it started feeling heavy handed. But I will say using the Seraphites to cultivate a relationship between Abby and Lev that was very similar to Joel and Ellie's is one of the only reasons I was able to sympathize with Abby. It got to a point where I didn't necessarily root for Abby because she had a justified reason for killing Joel, but also because I'd connected to this little boy she was with the same way I'd connected with Ellie. So even though the plot seemed a little bloated I can't say it was all unnecessary.

I guess the main thing I wish more people could understand and appreciate about the game is how nuanced the characters are. There are a lot of arguments regarding the plot full of people saying "It doesn't make sense Ellie did this!" "It doesn't make sense Abby did that!" And I think people need to look back and remember that they loved the first game because of how human the characters are. How real it felt. They're imperfect and sometimes they do things that don't make sense.

Abby did what she did to Joel not only because his actions doomed humanity but also because he killed her father and all the people she'd grown up with (the Fireflies). She let her anger consume her for years, gets her revenge, but still suffers from nightmares about her father. Ellie goes after Abby not only because she killed Joel but because she feels guilt about never forgiving Joel for what he did. She's battling internally with herself and thinks that killing Abby will somehow help her grieve and forgive herself, but we know from playing Abby's perspective that it won't. Which is why Ellie's decision to spare Abby in the end makes sense and is the most logical. She knows killing Abby won't make her feel any better about losing Joel. She needs to actually work through her emotions in order to ever get over his death. The same way Abby had to after she spared Ellie and Dina at the theatre.

I understand why people had trouble being open to Abby's story, I feel like the structure of the game really screwed her character over. Introducing her as this revenge driven character, having her kill Joel directly after being saved by him, and then forcing us to play as her once we reach the apex of Ellie's story definitely made her less sympathetic. Not to mention her section really throws the pacing of the game off. I've been thinking about how I'd rearrange the plot in order to make the narrative flow better and I honestly can't think of a solid solution, but if there was one thing I would change it's definitely that. Also get rid of the Rattlers we already had two gangs and we explored them and their values we seriously didn't need a third.

But overall? I really enjoyed the game. When I first finished it I seriously didn't know how I felt but after a few days of thinking about it I can say I liked it. The new characters were well introduced as I stated earlier I loved Jesse, Yara, Lev, Dina, and even Owen. The gameplay was really engaging and the graphics were gorgeous. I love a good sapphic relationship so Ellie, Dina, and little J.J. were definitely my favorite parts of the game. And the recurrence of the guitar throughout the story as well as pretty much every flashback with Joel made me cry. The game just really made me feel things and it left me with these ideas of moral ambiguity and processing grief and trauma; and I know if something can get me talking this much, it's gotta be good.

wlw for the win!

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1 Comment

Jul 05, 2020

I appreciate a well-balanced exploration of a game that clearly causes controversy amongst its gamer fans. Thanks for sharing what's on your mind. :)

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