K. Elizabeth Cargiulo
My Real Thoughts on The Last of Us Part II
One thing I’ve learned about myself over the years is that if I am going to put 30+ hours into a game I have to be invested and emotionally tied to the characters of the story. I am a huge RPG game fan, and that’s because I truly like to feel and establish a connection with the characters. I want to play through their story, and learn what their ending is, no matter what that ending may be. Those facts about myself are exactly what made The Last of Us Part II such a hard game for me to play, and stay committed to through the end, in great contrast to it’s predecessor.
If you’re reading this I’m going to assume you have played The Last of Us and The Last of Us Part II through to the end, therefor you won’t find any summaries here. Only my reaction to the long winding road and emotional rollercoaster that is The Last Of Us Part II.
*SPOILERS AHEAD FOR The Last of Us
and The Last of Us Part II!*
There is no denying that the visuals of The Last of Us Part II are beautiful. The sprawling decaying city of Seattle and the lush greenery and small town vibe of Jackson make the player feel as though they are really engulfed in the post-apocalyptic and infected ridden world that our main character, Ellie, survives in. When I played through The Last of Us I was hooked. I wanted to rush home each day to play through one more part of Joel and Ellie’s journey together. Their developing father/daughter bond and the constant danger around them made me concerned for their survival, and also hopeful for their eventual future – no matter what that may be. In the end when Joel chose to save Ellie from the Fireflies, despite her being the only hope for a cure to the virus that plagued the world, I felt that choice with him. We couldn’t let Ellie die at that point. They had been through too much together. He loved her. I spent weeks afterwards living with, and questioning the morality of that choice. Do you save the one you care about, or sacrifice them for the good of the many?
Jumping into The Last of Us Part II I expected to be equally captivated by the intensity of the characters’ choices. Instead, throughout the game, I just felt a bleak emptiness. Ellie’s revenge quest after the murder of Joel, by an equally vengeful new character Abby, feels hollow and empty for a majority of the game. It isn’t until the end of the game via flashbacks where we finally see what Ellie has truly lost. She lost her chance to make peace and start a new relationship with Joel after finding out he took away her choice to sacrifice her life for the good of the world. Personally, I think if we would have learned this information at an earlier point in the game it would have made Ellie’s motivations to commit such atrocities as killing dogs (c’mon Naughty Dog), a pregnant woman, and even getting one of her best friend’s killed (Jesse) would make more sense. She was sacrificing everything, even the pieces of her humanity for not just the father-figure she lost, but the future they would have had after a horrible falling-out that left many unspoken words and unresolved feelings.
Playing through Abby’s equally bleak story was torture in the second half of the game. I found myself rushing through her version of events, despite her character development paralleling with Joel and Ellie’s journeys. Joel killed Abby’s father while rescuing Ellie from the Fireflies, so she had to kill Joel for revenge. Ellie is now after Abby for revenge. The “redemption” arc that then ensues when Abby meets Lev, and Lev bringing back pieces of her humanity runs a similar course to Ellie and Joel in the first game. The thing is, Abby isn’t a likeable character. Not only was she framed as a villain from the start, but outside of her saving Lev she isn’t the best person. She crushes her life-long love Owen’s heart and then decides to sleep with him even though he is dating, and expecting a child with their mutual friend, Mel. She doesn’t think twice about betraying her community on a regular basis to find a means to her own end and exploits her friends’ connections to do so. Beyond all of this, her friends are picked off one by one execution style, and we only ever see her reaction to Owen and Mel’s deaths. Her other friends are just fleeting memories in her dreary story. I did not like Abby. I did not feel bad for her. I did not care what her ending was outside of it's tie-in with Ellie.
When we finally do get to the end of the story, and the final battle between Ellie and Abby. Ellie has sacrificed even more of herself by leaving her girlfriend (Dina) and their child (JJ) to finish her quest, and she is haunted by PTSD and all that has happened up to the point. Abby is weak, and moments from death due to being captured and tortured by slavers. The final battle is anti-climactic when Ellie eventually lets Abby and Lev leave on the boat. Not only did she lose her two fingers, making her unable to play guitar and connect with Joel after his death, but she also lost literally everything to revenge. Likewise, with Abby. When Ellie returns to her home Dina and Baby JJ are long gone, Ellie attempts to play guitar one last time, but realizing she can’t she then abandons everything she has ever known and leaves the farmhouse alone making a desolate walk through the fields.
After the conclusion I did not feel the same lingering questions and sense of connection with the characters that I did after the original game. I felt empty, maybe the same type of emptiness that Ellie felt walking through that field. We did all of this together. We murdered, we suffered, we inflicted pain, and felt moments where we lost all hope. The hope was never returned…in the end it all seems to be for nothing. Maybe that was the writers’ and creators’ point?
Is the The Last of Us Part II a work of art? Absolutely. Play it through and form your own opinion! I only hope that if there is a The Last of Us Part III that we are able to return to that same emotional connection that resonated throughout the first game. I don’t think I can handle another 30+ hours of nothing but depression.
For more of my commentary follow me on Instagram @kelizabethbooks.
DISCLAIMER: I was in no way compensated for this post. I am just a woman who really enjoys gaming. All images are property of Naughty Dog.