Polarizing Opinions on Naughty Dog’s Most Recent Release
The Last of Us: Part II released almost a month ago now, on June 19th, and has been marred by controversy ever since. Naughty Dog, the developing company of the game, did much to hide the game’s biggest spoilers and the general plot line for the years during its creation. In fact, most players didn’t know much of the game besides a few gameplay trailers, and the general description that it followed Elli, a beloved character from the first game, on a revenge plot. Most assumed through well-designed trailers that her girlfriend, also announced in trailers, would be killed, and therefore she and her adopted-father Joel would go on a journey to find her killers and make them pay.
That was, though, until Naughty Dog was hit with an unfortunate hack in late April, just weeks before the game’s release, that revealed much of the story inside. It revealed that, early on, it was instead Joel that would meet a grisly fate, at the hands of a girl named Abby. It also revealed that, at about the game’s mid-way point, the character a player controlled would switch instead to Abby herself.
A message from the studio: pic.twitter.com/f0TzIZXUIB
— Naughty Dog (@Naughty_Dog) April 27, 2020
This sent the fans into an uproar. Joel was one of the most beloved characters to the post-apocalyptic zombie game’s fanbase, and many felt that killing him off early, and then having the player have to control his killer was cruel, and nonsensical. Within days after its June 19th release, The Last of Us II was “review-bombed”, a now common strategy among unhappy consumers where they will head to review sites and purposely give a game or movie negative reviews, hoping to overload any positive ones that appear. Many players, including some of the more popular YouTube sensations, stopped play completely after Joel’s death, or when they were given control of his killer Abby.
Even the voice actress who plays Abby in the game, Laura Bailey, has received death threats based on her portrayal of the character, which have since been openly condemned by Naughty Dog.
Man. I try to only post positive stuff on here… but sometimes this just gets a little overwhelming. I blacked out some of the words cuz, ya know, spoilers.
Side note. Thank you to all the people sending me positive messages to balance it out. It means more than I can say.❤️ pic.twitter.com/kGyULWPpNu
— Laura Bailey (@LauraBaileyVO) July 3, 2020
Now, I tend to be the type of player that pays little-to-know attention to leaks. Often times I will read them, yes, but I try not to let leaks spoil my opinion or vision for a game, especially if I have yet to play it myself. With the Last of Us Part II, my hesitancy to play came not from the leaks, but more because I was such a huge fan of the first game, and was afraid that the second would not live up to the hype I myself had for a sequel.
By a stroke of luck, someone bought the game for me, so I did not have to make the decision on my own. All I had to do was log on and play. Out came my PS4 again, brushing off the dust it had accumulated since Death Stranding, and in went my digital code.
At the beginning of the game you follow Joel and Elli on separate patrols, as they cover the area around Jackson, a new town they have been living in. Jackson is a quiet town, safe from the overwhelming zombie horde, but the patrols keep the hordes from wandering too close to the town. Joel has been out with his brother Tommy for a few days, and did not report back for his relief, and so Elli and her new girlfriend Dina travel off after him.
The viewpoint shifts between Elli and another girl, soon revealed to be Abby. Abby eventually runs into Joel and Tommy in search of a safe haven, and so Abby takes them back to her group of survivors, the very group that has been trying to hunt Joel down. This eventually culminates into Elli arriving at their hideaway at the exact time that Abby is enacting her revenge on Joel, the scene ending with his death.
It is after this that Elli leaves Jackson with Dina in search of Joel’s killers, having identified them as a group living in Seattle, the Washington Liberation Front. The following sequence after their arrival in Seattle is a three day bloodbath. Elli murders a lot, and I mean a lot, of the WLF. She’s on a path of vengeance, and she cuts it right through the people that were there the day Joel passed.
The sequence ends with Abby cornering Elli and Dina in the theater they have been using as a safe house, shooting one of their allies and holding Tommy hostage.
…And then the prospective switches to Abby. We learn the reason why she’s hunted Joel down and killed him. Joel murdered her father, and several members of her father’s surgical team. In seeing, however, Abby’s point of view, we see that she holds regret over Joel’s death. She believes it made her a monster, and ruined her relationship with the people involved in the killing. She spends her three days in Seattle trying to mend the fences with her friends, while teaming up with two reject children of a rival group, the Scars. With the help of the two teenagers, she begins to atone for her previous actions, only to watch them be systematically murdered during Elli’s revenge plot. Every person she held dear to her after her own father’s death is ripped away from her, the final deaths being her ex-boyfriend, and his current, pregnant girlfriend.
This, of course, leads Abby to track down the unidentified intruder that has killed so many of her friends, and we return to the sequence of Abby cornering Elli and Dina inside the theater. We then, as players, hunt Elli through the theater, eventually incapacitating her and holding Dina hostage. Abby intends to kill Dina in the same fashion that Elli killed Abby’s friends, but Elli’s revelation that Dina is pregnant gets Abby to falter. It is then one of the kids, Lev, that Abby picked up, that convinces Abby to let Dina go. Abby tells Elli that she never wants to see her again, and leaves the two laying on the floor.
The end of the game follows Elli and Dina building a life together with Dina’s son, only for Elli to find out where Abby and Lev retired to. Elli then leaves Dina despite the woman begging her to stay, and sets out to end things once and for all. Once she finally has Abby cornered, she forces the woman to fight by threatening Lev’s life. It is only once she has Abby pinned down, fully meaning to kill her, that she remembers Joel, and how he would not have wanted any of this. She then lets Abby go, who immediately retreats with Lev far, far away.
Elli attempts to return to the farmhouse she and Dina had settled, but finds it empty, and sets off to find Dina again. The game closes on her walking off into the horizon.
The focus of The Last of Us: Part II is not the revenge story players thought it was. It is not about killing off a favorite character and killing more people in return. The point of the game is to illustrate the Circle of Violence that revenge can incur.
Abby wants revenge for her father’s death, and in doing so makes herself a monster, even in her own eyes. Elli’s thirst results in the murder of several people, one of whom is pregnant like her own girlfriend, causing her to throw up in horror at her own actions. Elli pursues this even further, hunting Abby down after the woman has given up, losing her girlfriend and child as well.
The WLFs and the Scars show how deep this Circle can go. Abby illustrates the exact same situation, but after years of conflict. It all started with a singular killing, which was retaliated with the killing of a larger group, and then larger, and larger, until both groups were at an all-out war. Abby begins to realize through her interactions with Lev and his sister that revenge NEVER pans out, and that in the end, someone has to realize when to say no. Someone has to make the circle stop, and in The Last of Us: Part II, that person was ultimately Abby, not Elli.
Players have had so many issues with Abby’s thirst for revenge, and her seemingly cold and unfeeling killing of Joel. They call her a monster, without having finished the game. The unfortunate problem with that, however, is that Abby is not the villain of this tale. Neither is Elli. The villain is not the WLFs, or the Scars, or Joel.
There is no villain in The Last of Us: Part II. Because if there was one, than nearly every character would be considered one. Joel murders an entire hospital (including Abby’s father), to save Elli. Abby kills Joel for killing her father. Elli kills all of Abby’s friends for killing Joel. The WLFs kill Scars for killing WLFs. The Scars kill WLFs for killing Scars.
The killing is pointless. That’s the point. There is always going to be someone killing someone else, over something someone did. In a way, Abby realizes this and attempts to stop the cycle. Elli does not. But that does not make Elli the villain, anymore than it makes Abby.
There is no villain in The Last of Us: Part II, other than abstract conceptions. I could write article upon article around things like humanity, revenge, sin, repentance. But as far as concrete people, no. There’s no villain here. Only people in pain, and hurting, who want it to stop in various ways.
Everyone should play The Last of Us: Part II, to experience the story themselves. They should play it in its entirety, no stoppage, just play it until the ending credits role. It’s a masterpiece of storytelling, and a breath of fresh air from the usual shoot and loot with no consequences games of today.
Because The Last of Us: Part II makes you face everything you do. It shows you the guilt and pain from the affected, and the affectee. And it does not let up.