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The Issues Plaguing The Last Of Us Part II

via IGN

Like many gamers out there, I have a soft spot for The Last Of Us. It's a game I've referenced several times here on the blog, even dedicating an entire post to the giraffe sceneand with good reason. Its storytelling is masterful and its characters are so compelling. It's hard not to fall in love with Joel and Ellie and become invested in their surrogate father-daughter relationship as they travel cross-country amid a zombie-ruled wasteland with the fate of the world resting on young Ellie's shoulders.

The ambiguous ending was one of the most talked about elements of the game, leaving players with so many questions. Where do Joel and Ellie go from here? Does Ellie know the truthand that Joel is keeping it from her? Is he doing so out of the hope of protecting her after everything they've endured together, or is it selfish or even driven by desperation to prevent losing this new daughter figure the way his own daughter died on the day of the outbreak?

Did Joel make the right choice in the end?

For a while, it seemed that those questions would go unanswered. And, like Ellie, we accepted it, conflicting emotions and all.

Seven years later, Naughty Dog released The Last Of Us Part II. When the sequel was announced, fans of its predecessor were almost ravenous in their eagerness to reunite with their beloved team. Ellie was much older in this new installment and seemingly out for blood, leaving players champing at the bit to see what was driving the formerly chill, budding survivor of a girl into a vengeful woman on a mission.

Once The Last Of Us Part II was released in 2020, it was polarizing. While some players had a good experience, others were seething with rage and disappointment. From a leak spoiling a pivotal plot point to another unfavorable twist and a misleading trailer, fans of the first game had a hoard of grievances to air.

Among the most common critiques was regarding the game's pacing, which was the root of my own frustrations with it.

Back then, I considered writing a blog post exploring my feelings towards the experience but it never came to fruition. And that may be for the best. Sitting with this game for as long as I have has given me a greater appreciation for what Naughty Dog set out to do with this game and a better understanding of what specifically irked me about it.

Now that we're coming up on the fourth anniversary of Part II, I think I'm finally ready to write this post.

A couple of things before we get into it, though...

As you've likely guessed, I'm going to be breaking down the flaws of The Last Of Us Part II. One thing that you will not find on this list is the inclusion of queer characters. While I do have some issues with their storylines, the simple fact these characters are part of the LGBT+ community is not an issue whatsoever. The Last Of Us Part II saw a wave of review-bombing, much of which pertained to these characters being featured prominently. While there are flaws aplenty (and I will be critiquing many of them here), the inclusion of queer characters is far from an issue. As a cishet woman, I cannot speak on these elements from the same perspective as a queer woman like Ellie and Dina or someone who is trans like Lev. I am glad to see representation in gaming, however, I am not the right person to speak on how authentically The Last Of Us Part II portrays these lived experiences.

And to my LGBT+ readers, know that you are valid. Your experiences are valid. Your stories are worth telling.

Along with the unnecessary bashing of the game for the inclusion of queer characters, several reviews at the time of release set out to bash Laura Bailey, who played Abby, because they didn't like her character or her role in the story. This is unacceptable in any circumstance, no matter the actor, character, or media. While I will be discussing several issues with Abby's storyline, these critiques have absolutely nothing to do with Bailey as a performer or as a person. Also, this post is not intended to throw any shade at the Naughty Dog team.

Finally, and perhaps the most obvious disclaimer of all, massive spoilers ahead for The Last Of Us Part II (a game that we can't even begin to talk about without also spoiling Part I).

The Last Of Us Part II

For a bit of context, here's a brief recap of the game's premise:

The Last Of Us Part II opens with a prologue that picks up shortly after the events of the first game. Joel and Ellie return to Jackson and attempt to make a life there. Things are a bit awkward between them, in part because they've never found themselves in a place where they can just exist as civilians together, so they kind of have to get to know each other again. Ellie is still grappling with her survivor's guilt and her immunity from the cordyceps virus. There's also the matter of Joel's big secret: upon learning the Fireflies would have to sacrifice Ellie's life in the surgery to potentially create a vaccine that would cure the zombie virus, Joel killed the head surgeon, Marlene, and anyone else who stood in his way before fleeing the hospital with an unconscious Ellie. The final cutscene of The Last of Us hints that Ellie has suspicions but doesn't outright confirm anything.

Fast-forward four years. Ellie and Joel are still in Jackson and aren't on good terms. As the player, we don't know why.

The game then introduces us to a brand-new character named Abby, who is camped with a group of survivors outside of Jackson and is looking for someone.

Abby and her team eventually cross paths with Joel and Tommy, and doesn't take long for things to go south.

Seemingly out of the blue, Abby shoots Joel in the knee.

Ellie eventually finds them and is restrained as Abby murders Joel by bludgeoning him with a golf club.

Shortly after, consumed by her grief, Ellie sets out to find and kill Abby and avenge Joel's death.

In short, The Last of Us Part II is about the vicious cycle of revenge.

What Worked Well - The Fate Of Joel

While I wasn't enamored with the story of The Last ackof Us Part II, I wasn't enraged by it, either, and I want to start this post off with one of the things that did work for me as a player (who also happens to be a storyteller).

I have to commend Naughty Dog for what they sought to do with this game, even if it wasn't received well by players. Killing off Joel, the main character of the first game who players have built such a bond with, was a bold choice, one that I think they knew would incite outrage among fans. That works to the story's benefit because it aligns players with Ellie's mission of vengeance only for them to (ideally) have a change of stance as they see things from Abby's side or feel less and less comfortable with the lengths Ellie is willing to go to in her violent pursuits. It was the right call not only thematically but the right call for continuity within the world established by Part I.

The Last of Us is set in a world of consequences. You get bit, you die. You trust the wrong people, you die. Any wrong move might be your last.

This isn't like Naughty Dog's other hit series Uncharted. Nathan Drake has been dubbed by the internet as the worst thing to ever happen to archeology. The man has a habit of destroying significant historical sites in grand (often explosive) cutscenes. He kills hundreds of NPCs to get to wherever he's going and hardly anyone bats an eye (save for antagonist Zoran Lazarević calling him out on it in a moment that got an audible laugh from me during my playthrough). As fun of a protagonist as he is to play, Nate gets away with pretty much everything—and that especially got on my nerves in the fourth installment as its premise is built on him concealing information from and lying to his now-wife Elena.

Joel's lie to Ellie, however, comes back to bite him in the ass. It was gutwrenching to see him brutally murdered by Abby but, in a way, it felt inevitable. By rescuing Ellie, he damned the fate of humanity. You can't excuse that.

It all becomes even more inevitable once we learn that the head surgeon that Joel shoots, the one medical professional that players cannot spare even if they want to, is Abby's father.

Joel has likely killed a staggering number of people since the outbreak. We don't know much about his life in those twenty years before he's tasked with smuggling Ellie cross-country, but we get the feeling he's done some bad things simply out of the need to survive. This continues throughout the game, as he's not afraid to take down anyone who threatens him, no matter if they're infected or human.

Stealing Ellie from the Fireflies is not a survival-driven choice. It's out of his love for her. Within the context of The Last of Us, this was the most selfish thing he could have done. Joel might be the protagonist, but that doesn't make him a good guy.

Had Joel escaped consequences for his actions, it would have been unrealistic. We can go back and forth on how heedless it was for him and Tommy to reveal their names to Abby and her crew before they knew anything about them, or how many conveniences and contrivances would have to fall into place for them to be in the same place at the same timebut his fate was sealed the instant he pulled the trigger in that operating room.

Joel's death was something that got a lot of backlash from players, but it's not something I took issue with; that said, I do have some issues with the Joel flashbacks, but more on that in a bit...

The Big Shift

Perhaps the greatest issue with The Last of Us Part II was its pacing and its story structure.

After Joel's death, Ellie sets off to find and kill Abby in return. With Dina in tow, we follow her story through Seattle for a total of three days. Battles are fought. Revelations come to light. There are occasional flashbacks to times with Joel that gradually unravel what happened between them to leave them at odds with one another. Ellie tracks down several members of Abby's crew and kills themand it's not long until Abby finds her.

Jesse, a companion of Ellie's and Dina's ex (not to mention the father of Dina's unborn baby), is shot and killed by Abby. Tommy, Joel's brother, is also wounded. It seems that the cutscene will be leading into a boss battle against Abby. Your hands are clutching your controller, ready to spring into action.

And the screen goes dark.

Another cutscene plays, and you realize you're playing as Abby, in a scene set four years earlier.

For a few players, this was the point of no return. There had been a little taste of playing as Abby within the first hour of the game, but it feels different now. Maybe even wrong. Before we were trying to figure out who she is and what her deal is. But now, we know she is the one to kill our collective "digital dad" Joel. And, like Ellie, we as the player probably hate her guts for it.

I don't entirely dislike the choice to play as Abby, even after she murders Joel. Shifting POVs isn't anything new for The Last of Us. In Part I, there is a chapter in which you play as Ellie; you also play as Joel's daughter Sarah during the prologue's outbreak sequence. However, these sections were a fraction of the time we spend as Abby in Part II (more on that soon). The problem partially lies in when this shift to Abby's POV and how long we stay there.

This first Abby flashback introduces her father, who is quickly revealed to be the surgeon Joel killed at the end of Part I.

After a conversation about prepping for the surgery, we cut to the absolute mayhem throughout the hospital. Joel has stolen Ellie, whose immunity to the cordyceps virus was believed to be the cure to save the remnants of humanity, and Abby's father (one of the few if not the only surgeon capable of performing the vital surgery) is dead.

We then skip back to the inciting incident of Part II and watch Abby kill Joel. This time, however, we hear what her crew is saying. Several argue she's gone too far and should spare Ellie as she's come for Joel alone. Reluctantly, she leaves with only Joel dead.

At this point, the player likely gets what the game is trying to tell us. Revenge only begets revenge. Joel killed Abby's dad. Abby killed Joel. Ellie now wants to kill Abby. And, if you're like me, you assumed you'd be switching back to Ellie's POV.

That's actually far from the case.

Instead, we play through the same three days in Seattle—but this time, through Abby's POV as she tries to track down her ex Owen and gets caught up in a conflict between her faction and a religious cult.

Dual POV narratives can be hard to pull off well. You're balancing two storylines, two separate characters, and need them to both be interesting and likely connected in some capacity.

With The Last of Us Part II, this sudden shift to Abby's POV causes the story to come to a grinding halt. And it takes a while for it to get going again; when it does, Ellie's story feels more and more forgotten about.

It wouldn't have taken much for us to get the message of "Revenge is bad." It's fair to argue that we understand this by the first Abby flashback.

For me, I think the most significant problem with the dual POV in The Last of Us Part II isn't that we play as the woman who murdered Joel, but that we're in her POV for way too long. We become more and more removed from what had been the main storyline. Ellie becomes kind of forgotten about until Abby finds her in the theater.

The Abby-phant In The Room

Even though I don't dislike the shift to Abby's POV and don't entirely dislike her as a character, there are still things in her storyline that I don't love.

The aforementioned pacing issues hinder the player's experience in Abby's story (even without their possible vexation towards her from the onset). If they are able to get past the initial confusion and potential irritation towards the POV shift, players are asked to spend time getting to know Abby and her Washington Liberation Front crew (aka the WLF or Wolves).

The developers want to hammer home the concept that Abby's life isn't that much different than Ellie's. They've both lost their father or father figure and are just trying to survive in an unforgiving world. They're caught up in complicated love triangles; Ellie is in the early stages of a budding relationship with longtime crush Dina, who just so happens to be pregnant with Jesse's baby; Abby still has lingering feelings for her ex Owen who is now in a relationship with Mel and expecting a child with her.

However, we've had ample time to build up a relationship with Ellie. Even if Part II is your first The Last of Us game and you had absolutely no knowledge about the events of Part I, you would have still had an entire game to get to know Ellie and her side of the story. And, perhaps as importantly, you have gotten a chance to form a bond with Ellie's people. Even with his limited screen time, we probably like Jesse enough to feel something when he is unceremoniously done away with.

In Ellie's POV, we've already killed Mel and Owen, so it's harder to form an

attachment to them while we play as Abby. We cannot invest in them as easily because we know they won't stick around long enough. Yet the story is begging us to care because of all of the similarities to Ellie's story in Abby's.

It feels especially heavy-handed with NPCs calling out their friends' names whenever we kill them. It's like the game devs screaming at us, "See?! They're people, too! They have their own lives and backstories and friends! And you've just killed them! Feel bad about it!"

As a player, things in Abby's story only began to get interesting for me when Yara and Lev were introduced. Unlike the rest of her companions, we don't know their fates when we first interact with them. Abby first encounters them as she is captured by the Seraphites, a religious cult to whom Lev and Yara used to belong. After Lev came out as trans to his sister, they left the settlement in the hopes of sparing Lev from becoming a child bride. The group doesn't take kindly to apostates and injures Yara after capturing Abby; in the subsequent scuffle, Abby helps them flee the area. While Abby initially parts ways with them, a nightmare prompts her to seek the kids out and bring them to Mel for medical care. Abby then travels with Lev to Seattle to retrieve supplies for the amputation of Yara's compromised arm.

This is where the parallels to the original The Last of Us kick in, and it feels forced. Abby is now in the reluctant chaperone role as Joel was, travelling with a young survivor who doesn't know the way of the world. In Ellie's case, it's because she'd been sheltered in the Boston safe zone, while Lev was raised in a cult. There are some cute exchanges between Lev and Abby, between his not understanding social cues or (for lack of a better term) secular slang and his helping her work through her fear of heights. Also, I really appreciated how they didn't dive into Lev being deadnamed. Abby asks if he wants to talk about it, he says that he doesn't, and they move on. Like I mentioned at the top of the post, I cannot speak authentically speak on Lev's experiences as a transgender character, but I enjoyed the simplicity of that conversation.

At the same time, it's less of an homage to the first game and more of a Xeroxed copy of a Xeroxed copy, in that it's very clearly an imperfect duplicate of the original. Hardened survivor finds themselves softening and beginning to heal from trauma as they traverse the apocalyptic landscape with a child who can somewhat fend for themself but is still innocent in many ways. But it lacks the charm of Ellie and Joel's adventure. The Last of Us doesn't emphasize who Joel was or the brutal things he likely did before meeting Ellie and instead focused on who he becomes along this cross-country journey; with Abby, the game doesn't let us forget that she killed Joel while simultaneously groveling for sympathy towards her.

Coming after Abby kills Joel, this arc reads as the game groveling for our sympathy towards her. Abby has friends like Ellie. Abby has a complicated love life like Ellie. Abby lost her dad like Ellie lost her father figure. Abby's not that different from Ellie and Joel.

But by making the similarities so on the nose, it only leaves us missing Joel and the first game that much more. Everything in Abby's redemption arc feels foisted upon us rather than deserved by the character.

The other problem is how quickly Abby develops this bond with Lev and Yara. One nightmare about their bodies hanging in the hospital room where her dad was shot was all it took for her to go back for them. Guilt is a terrible thing, and it's a theme carried throughout The Last of Us, but this change of heart felt rushed. Joel took months to accept the fact that he cared about Ellie, and it was only after nearly losing her that he embraced those sentiments. It was earned.

Abby suddenly telling Lev, "You're my people now" in the midst of their factions clashing, after only knowing him a few days compared to the years spent with the WLF comes across as one last plea from the game for you to care about them the way you cared about Joel and Ellie when he first calls her "baby girl," the endearment he used for his late daughter. It lacks that poignant impact.

Abby VS Ellie

While there are an abundance of parallels between Abby's story and Ellie's from both the first The Last of Us and Part II, there are differences in how they are portrayed.

From their first scene together, Joel's murder, it's clear that we are meant to side with Ellie and hate Abby. Why wouldn't we? She killed Joel. Of course we'd want to avenge him.

This is where things get complicated. As far as the intention goes, I sincerely commend Naughty Dog for taking that risk, knowing that a good portion of players and fans would outright hate it. If done well, these themes of cyclical revenge of narratives about there being more than one truth to a story can be impactful. The thing is, The Last of Us Part II kind of fumbles that ball. Rather than presenting us with the facts of Ellie and Abby's sides and letting us determine where we stand, we are encouraged to view the events from a specific angle.

As our initial player character and the character we've known since Part I, we are initially inclined to take Ellie's side. After seeing how Joel is brutally killed, setting off on her revenge quest seems inevitable. While Ellie most wants Abby dead, her revenge quest expands to include every member of the group that was there with Abby, considering them guilty by association.

Ellie's POV takes us along on what is portrayed as her calculated killing spree. She has pictures and names of everyone in that cabin, and she is out for blood. The game wants us to question our allegiance to Ellie as she becomes more and more consumed by her mission. She pushes friends away, snapping at Dina when she admits to her suspicions of pregnancy, and grows increasingly violent as her arc progresses.

Over Ellie's three days, the game asks us to wonder if she has gone too far in her desperation for vengeance. If losing everything including her humanity is worth the bloodshed. Like I said earlier, it's a premise I can get behind.

Part II doesn't shy away from making Ellie out to be the bad guy, even compared to Abby. This is where the game falls on its own sword. As we see through Abby's flashbacks explaining her reasons for wanting to kill Joel, we cannot take violent acts at face value and must be willing to consider the why driving them.

Over the three days, Ellie kills several of Abby's friends. It's not a simple matter of making them pay for their involvement in Joel's death, but in self-preservation. The first of these kills, Jordan, is stabbed as he tries to attack Dina. Nora attacks Ellie first, and a chase scene leads her into a spore-filled room, meaning she's dead no matter what; being immune, Ellie offers to make her death quick or do it the hard way by letting her turn. One might argue this is almost a mercy killing, up until Nora provokes Ellie by speaking ill of Joel. Day Three sees Ellie attacked by Abby's canine companion, Alice, and Ellie has to kill her.

It's worth noting that, despite pre-release claims from director Niel Druckmann that you will not have to kill any dogs in Part II and that the game wouldn't judge you for it, that's not the entire truth. While Ellie can choose to spare most of the WLF's dogs, one named Alice cannot be saved. Killing her is a scripted event in Ellie's POV, meaning that you cannot avoid it. This only fanned the flames ignited by an intentionally misleading trailer in which Joel appears when in reality, it's Jesse who appears and delivers the same line of, "Think I'd let you do this on your own?"; this seems to have been done in order to conceal Joel's death from players.

In Abby's POV, you get to bond with Alice and the other dogs, even playing fetch with Alice twice. Meanwhile, Ellie kills dogs. Are we meant to view Abby in a better light because the dogs of her faction don't treat her as an enemy while Ellie has to slaughter one of them at a minimum in self-defense?

Ellie may be immune to the cordyceps, but she isn't immune to remorse after killing Abby's friends. She is visibly shaken up by killing Nora and has an emotional breakdown when she realizes Mel was pregnant after stabbing her in self-defense. It's reminiscent of her first human kill back in Part I, which was also in self-defense; prior to this incident, she made it clear she did not want to harm Mel or Owen, and that she was only looking for Abbyn specifically.

Ellie might be seeking revenge, but she's struggling with the her current means of getting it.

Abby is a different story. When confronting Joel, she shoots him in the knee so he can't escape, then orders Mel to tourniquet it so he can't bleed out before she is done tormenting him. "You don't get to rush this," she sneers. We can make all the "Joel In One" jokes we want or argue that she was simply taking the melee route to save the precious commodity that is bullets, but the fact is Abby draws out his demise for as long as she can. Four years of rage and grief building up will do that to someone.

Once Ellie finds them, the WLF pin her down but also talk Abby out of harming her, saying she's got nothing to do with it and that it won't be long before all of Jackson finds them. Owen is the only one able to intervene and talk Abby off that ledge.

Abby also doesn't appear as disturbed in the aftermath of killing Joel as Ellie is following the deaths of Nora or Mel. Maybe that can be attributed to her upbringing in the Fireflies or her life after joining the WLF, while Ellie seems to have been more sheltered in her childhood, but others in her group aren't as unfazed. Nora tells Ellie she can still hear Joel's screams. Owen struggles with guilt for his role, distancing himself from everyone involved, and casting himself out of the WLF after deciding to not kill a defenseless man aligned with the group's enemies.

In the theatre, Abby doesn't give Ellie's friends the same option to give her up that Ellie gave Mel and Owen. She kills Jesse upon arrival and injures Tommy soon after, almost as a warning to Ellie. After the ensuing fight, Ellie begging Abby to spare Dina because of her pregnancy seems to encourage her to kill her, and Lev is the only one who gets her to back off.

The game makes an overwhelming effort to garner sympathy for Abby through her storyline and make Ellie out to be the bad guy in the equation, but when you compare the two, Abby remains more heartless and intentional in her killings than Ellie. Both are flawed, certainly, and consumed by their hunger for revenge, but Ellie comes across as the more sympathetic character—making the second half of Abby's story, in which The Last of Us Part II puts her in the same sudden-guardian role as Joel, feel more forced. It's harder to stand with Abby, and therefore harder for us to like her as a character or want to spend ten hours playing as her.

The Flashbacks

While the grinding halt on Ellie's Day Three and the shift to Abby's POV the most-criticized pacing issue of The Last of Us Part II, it's not the only one. Throughout both Ellie and Abby's POVs, there are flashbacks to break up their three days. Ellie's are about her relationship with Joel and how she eventually uncovers the truth he kept from her about the Fireflies and the events of the first game, which explains why they weren't on great terms with one another in the opening of Part II. Abby's revolve around her romantic relationship with Owen and how her determination to find and kill Joel overshadowed everything else she cared about.

Many of these flashbacks are sweet. Joel surprises Ellie with a trip to a science museum so she can see dinosaurs up close and even gets to pretend to be part of a space launch with a cassette recording he found.

It's the best moment of the game without a shadow of a doubt. Rewatching this scene as write this post has me tearing up all over again.

This flashback in particular serves as a reminder of how much Joel loved Ellie. It's likely that he would have taken museum trips with Sarah before the outbreak, and he made it a point to treat Ellie to something she was passionate about. As is the case with the beloved giraffe scene of the first game, it's touching to see Ellie have a moment of childhood amid all she has been through. And in the sequel, it succeeds in making us miss Joel.

Flashbacks aren't new to The Last of Us. Part I has an accompanying DLC titled Left Behind, in which you play as Ellie and see her friendship and near-romance with her friend Riley. The two explore an abandoned shopping mall as one last hurrah before Riley is supposed to leave for training with the Fireflies, and after everything we know Ellie endures in the main game, it's nice to see her just be a kid for once. They check out a Halloween store and try on masks, pretend to be playing video games in a powerless arcade, have a shooting competition with water guns, and even get a carousel up and running.

The fun doesn't last long. A horde of infected descend upon them, and both girls are bit. As players quickly realize, this is the incident that prompted Ellie to discover her immunity from the virus and the start of her survivor's guilt. Like she tells Joel in the final cutscene, Riley was "the first to die."

As much as I love putting hats on dinosaurs as Ellie or the scene with Owen and Abby on the Ferris wheel, they don't feel as connected to the overall story (though Ellie's feel more story-relevant than Abby's because they help fill in the gaps when it comes to her rocky relationship with Joel and help answer some of the questions posed by Part I's ambiguous ending). The flashbacks feel like their purpose is to either make us miss Joel and want Abby dead or further the game's efforts to make us like Abby.

Personally, I think they could have worked as a DLC bundle in the same fashion as Left Behind or be unlocked once the player beats the game. Inserting them into the main game only worsened the disjointed nature of Part II.

Santa Barbara

With the end of the boss fight against Ellie in Abby's Day Three, things felt like they were wrapping up for real this time. There is a time jump, and we now see Ellie and Dina on a ranch raising Dina and Jesse's son. They seem to be doing okay in spite of everything and have made a decent life for themselves. Ellie, however, struggles with PTSD, though Dina insinuates that it's getting better over time.

At this point, I sensed the game would follow its predecessor and leave us off with an air of ambiguity, with questions about Abby's whereabouts and whether or not Ellie could ever truly let it go.

That was, until Tommy came 'round.

As Joel's brother, Tommy also wants vengeance and has a lead on Abby's location. However, due to his injuries from the theatre incident in Seattle, he cannot pursue it and comes to Ellie instead. Though she hesitates, and Dina is adamant about leaving everything in the past for the sake of their new life together and pleading with her to stay, Ellie eventually sets out for Santa Barbara.

Again, I was thinking this would be where the story ends, cementing plans for a Part III. But, again, I was wrong.

We as Ellie track down Abby (who we play as again briefly), after she and Lev have been captured by slavers. Much to her own chagrin, Ellie frees Abby who in turn frees Lev and plans to go. And I would have been accepting of that. Maybe Ellie would have seen the Joel resemblance the game emphasized and left them be with a modicum of forgiveness.

Ellie has other plans and demands Abby fight her, or else she kills Lev. Abby acquiesces and we get one last boss fight, in which Ellie nearly drowns her, only stopping when a silent, mini flashback of Joel changes her mind.

Abby takes Lev and goes, leaving Ellie alone for good.

In the fight, Ellie loses two fingers—specifically two fingers she needs to play chords on the guitar properly, which was the last remaining connection she had to Joel. She returns to the ranch defeated, finding that Dina stayed true to her word and left with her son. Having lost everything, Ellie is now confronted with the reality of her greatest fear: being alone.

The Last of Us Part II's pacing problems are not just about the choppiness of the storyline. The game overstays its welcome. The Santa Barbara chapter extends the game an estimated 1-3 hours depending on your play style. The story, however, already felt over. Like some of the Joel flashbacks, it felt like the game wanted to give fans a little more time with Ellie to make up for the ten or so hours spent in Abby's POV, but this fan service only drags the game out even more.

That's not just a problem in The Last of Us Part II because I wasn't a fan of it. It's actually one of the flaws in my most-loved game, too.

If you've had even the shortest gaming conversation with me, you know Red Dead Redemption II is my favorite game of all time, but I can still recognize its faults. Without getting into spoilers, after the main story with Arthur as protagonist concludes, you enter a two-chapter epilogue in which you play as John, the protagonist of Red Dead Redemption; it also mirrors the first game, as once its main story is over, you play as Jack.

I'm glad the game didn't end with Arthur's story. For one thing, it makes sense mechanically, as Red Dead Redemption II is a massive game with so much to see and do outside of the van der Linde gang. As a player who is very story-focused in her first round of any open-world game and typically saves the exploration for later, I appreciate the chance to continue working on the various Challenges and filling out as much of the Compendium as possible. Unlike Cyberpunk 2077's "Nocturne OP55N1" Point Of No Return message, Red Dead Redemption II doesn't warn you when you're about to embark on the final mission of the main storyline so you don't have a chance to wrap up any loose ends as Arthur before you proceed into "Our Best Selves" (and subsequently "Red Dead Redemption").

Once Arthur's story ends, there is a time jump, and the player now takes control of John as he, Abigail, and Jack struggle to adjust to plain 'ol civilian life now that they have left the gang. Abigail wants to leave everything in the past, whereas John struggles to give up that lifestyle. They find work on a ranch, and you spend a lot of time doing farm chores in non-skippable missions. John and Abigail continue to have marital issues that lead to a separation after he takes part in a shootout against thieves (which isn't too dissimilar to how things play out with Ellie and Dina on their farm), and you spend the next chunk of gameplay completing missions and saving up to buy Beecher's Hope, the plot of land where the Marstons reside in the original Red Dead Redemption. All in all, it's just a super-long backstory for how John acquired the ranch.

The epilogue also gives closure to characters who don't appear in Red Dead Redemption and involves one last showdown with Dutch and Micah before the game draws to a close.

The epilogue is two chapters long, but I think it could have been condensed into one. For context, I played the prequel-sequel before the original Red Dead Redemption so I didn't have the same attachment to John that a lot of players might have, and that's why it felt a little fan service-y to me. John does make sense to be the character you play as in the epilogue, but he was a secondary character in this game. It was Arthur's story for a bare minimum of roughly forty hours (and that's if you don't do any side quests or exploring beyond the main plot); for me, it was likely closer to a hundred. I didn't mind the shift to John, but spending that much time milking cows and building things after so much action and so many shootouts was an odd diversion to me as a player. That's why, as pretty of a place as Beecher's Hope is, I hardly spend any time there post-epilogue.

John's epilogue chapters felt underdeveloped compared to the rest of Red Dead Redemption II, and that's the same problem with the Santa Barbara segment of The Last of Us Part II. While it wants to add a layer to finality to the story while leaving some ambiguity for a third game, it only feels like something that could have been a DLC that got tacked on to make up for all of the time you didn't get to play as Ellie.

Ellie's sudden change of heart about killing Abby was also a detriment. In the final cutscene of Part I, she tells Joel, “After all we’ve been through. Everything that I’ve done. It can’t be for nothing.” But that's what we are left with. After all of the bloodshed, our vexation towards the game for its pacing and heavy-handed messaging, it culminates in a hollow feeling. Nothingness.

Thematically, that's the point. Violence only begets more violence. Had Ellie succeeded in killing Abby, would Lev go after her next? Who's to say? By stopping here, it's an end to the cycle. However, as a player, it feels like the hours we committed to this game were for nothing.

Could It Be Saved? (IE, My Alternate TLoU2 Concept)

For the most part, The Last of Us Part II isn't what I would consider a bad game. I think some of the criticism stems simply from it being a sequel to a game that so many players have loved for more than ten years now. Part I is so cherished by gamers because of Joel and Ellie's gradual bond from strangers stuck together to surrogate father and daughter. There was an unrivaled magic to it. The ambiguous ending left the audience with questions that we made peace with.

Now that we have answers to those questions, they weren't necessarily the ones we wanted. It's kind of like when a film adaptation is made of a book you loved reading and you're disappointed because it doesn't line up with what you envisioned in your head. Longtime fans of the original game might have had their own headcanons for Joel and Ellie's future and, chances are, they didn't plan on Joel being killed so harshly and so early on in the story. And they certainly didn't count on playing as the woman who murdered him.

In conversations surrounding the pacing of The Last of Us Part II, many people suggest reordering events in some capacity. Some might have the flashbacks woven in differently, others wish they had used them for DLC in the same vein of Left Behind.

I think the flashbacks feel more cohesive in Ellie's section than Abby's but they're equally needed. They just feel out of place. Not to mention so much of Abby's relationship with Lev feels forced compared to Joel and Ellie's bond.

There are definite rewrites I would have made to the story. I like the concept of seeing your enemy's POV and the dual narrative, but I would have blended them together. I'd likely have Abby get separated from the WLFs as she's looking for Joel and end up in Jackson somehow while Joel is away on some mission per Tommy's request. Ellie would grow suspicious of her but wouldn't want to get involved, whereas Dina would likely encourage her to try and make friends because she "can't be angry at the whole world because she's at odds with Joel." There might be some foreshadowing about Abby's plans to kill Joel, but this would be kept from the player until Joel returns to Jackson and all hell breaks loose.

In this scenario, she would have to choose between her new friends in Jackson and the WLF, and she would go through with killing Joel as planned because, as we see in her flashbacks with Owen, she is consumed by her hunger for vengence, and seeing Joel would spark that insatiable rage in her.

I think this idea would be a better execution of the "two sides of the story" narrative Naughty Dog set out to share with players because we would be able to know Abby as more than Joel's murderer before it happens and therefore feel all the more betrayed when she swings that golf club. It might also deepen Ellie's desire for revenge because Abby would have betrayed her trust as opposed to hunting a stranger.

Were I in charge of making The Last of Us Part II and adhering to the canon outline that we have, I would have potentially taken an approach similar to The Evil Within. Throughout the game, you have occasional run-ins with Julie Kidman, who Sebastian is training and it seems as though she has some ulterior motives. Two of the game's DLCs, titled The Assignment and The Consequence, offer insight into Kidman's past with Mobius and let you experience parts of the main game from her POV; the latter also sets up her role in the sequel and hints at Sebastian's estranged wife's involvement with the organization. The truth is, Abby's half of the game feels like an extended DLC, something totally separate from The Last of Us Part II and disconnected from Ellie's story.

There are other issues I could go into concerning The Last of Us Part II, and maybe I'll delve into them another time. For now, I'm going to keep holding out hope for a third game because, despite the nature of this post, I don't entirely hate Part II. It's flawed, but at the end of the day it's an imperfect excecution of what could have been a well-crafted look into the complexity of human nature and asking the question of "how far is too far?".

Instead, the final product feels like something that is trying too hard to be profound. It misses the mark and leaves players feeling some type of way. ranging from confused or empty or even angry.

I'm choosing to hope that we not only get a third The Last of Us game, but that we get one in which Ellie's story can have a more fufilling end than losing everything, including herself.



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