The Last of Us Part II
I’ve finished the game last night. I haven’t stopped thinking about it ever since. It was, to be very honest, a transformative experience, as far as videogames go. I understand why some people hate it and I’m sorry because I understand how much it sucks when you want to enjoy something but can’t. Art is subjective and no one is right or wrong.
That said, I want to talk about what I’ve experienced. Again, this is my experience with the game. I’m sure yours will be different and it is fine. If you hate this game, you’re not wrong. You feel what you feel.
With that out of the way, let me begin with the least controversial theme: the gameplay.
I thought the gameplay was an improvement on the first game. I don’t mean only the added functionality like ropes, and dogs tracking you. But the mission structures were more varied and some of them were, well, epic.
The sky bridge was awesome. So was trying to get near the sniper (Tommy) by advancing behind cover. The stalkers were a fun addition which gave me a lot of jump scares. That huge new infected monster at ground zero was… argh! Kill it now! The entire time spent on the seraphite island was amazing.
I also loved little things like figuring out the code for the safes.
This is what is dividing people, and it’s fine. Art that everybody agrees on is boring. The way I see the story, it is one of mirrored character journeys (as much of popular culture is.) Through three characters, we see the same journey at different points. I think this is genius. Here’s how I figure.
First all all, yes, it sucked to see him killed. That’s the point: we are supposed to be angry that he’s dead, that he’s killed in such a way. This is very much intended: it puts us in the place of Ellie. It is perfectly expected that you’d feel rage towards his killers. I think it becomes a problem when that rage is instead directed towards the game itself, a work of fiction, because then it makes it really hard to appreciate the rest of it.
Let’s talk about his character journey, shall we? In the first part, we meet Joel at the onset of the pandemic. We don’t know much about him before then but all signs point to an average joe and a good dad. Then his daughter gets murdered and we skip 20 years, by which time we are to understand that Joel is not a good man anymore. We learn that he was a killer, a robber, smuggler. He says he killed innocent people, he robbed (and presumably killed) good samaritans. He absolutely did not care for Ellie in the least at first. He wanted to abandon her to the soldiers and run when they caught up to them in Boston. It was Tess who made him stop.
In the first game, Joel was a “bad person,” a broken man who then had his redemption by protecting (and ultimately caring for) Ellie. (More on the “bad person” in quotes later.)
Abby’s journey is the same as Joel’s. Her dad gets murdered by a smuggler and that breaks her. She becomes a bad person. We’re made to understand that prior to the events in Seattle, she was a cold-hearted killer. She rose though the ranks of the WLF by becoming the “top scar killer” and even her friends think she’s, to steal Mel’s description, piece of sh*t. She’s a murderer.
And then comes Lev. At first, she too doesn’t care too much. He is just a scar. You see how Abby dehumanizes the seraphites all the time, the difficulty she has with ever calling them anything other than “scars.” She leaves them there but then she feels guilty and, reluctantly at first, goes back to them.
Abby was a “bad person” who had her redemption by protecting and caring for Lev. In a way, Abby’s journey is what we would have seen if we were able to follow Joel through those 20 skipped years.
This is where things get interesting. Ellie is living in Jackson the life that Joel and Abby lived before their own traumatic events. When Joel dies, this matches the deaths of Joel’s daughter and Abby’s father. This is where Ellie is going to turn bad.
And we see that transformation unfold. We see our Ellie slowly go down the same path that Abby and Joel took years before and that we never got to see. She is consumed by rage.
Ellie is now becoming a “bad person” as well. But she’s not all the way there yet.
She’s also consumed by remorse. When she tortures Nora, she comes back to Dina visibly shaking and saying “I made her talk…” She’s devastated about what she’s done. Later she kills Owen and pregnant Mel, and again, that breaks her. And yet, she cannot stop.
Ellie vs Abby: why didn’t Ellie kill her?
The final confrontation is amazing. Abby is now in a different place, she’s now where Joel was after Ellie. It’s hard for us to forgive her, because we have seen her kill Joel, but nevertheless, that’s the place she is in. When Ellie cuts her down from that beach post, her first reaction is to run and cut Lev down. Lev is her Ellie. She doesn’t want to fight Ellie, she only wants to save Lev, just like Joel only cared about saving Ellie at the end.
But Ellie still can’t let go. She needs this! Or so she thinks. And so they fight. The fight fell heavy and, to me, very real. It was amazing and painful to watch and even worse to participate in. I did not want to fight Abby. All I wanted was for those two women to find peace now.
And then Ellie is about to kill her and she remembers Joel. More specifically, she remembers her very last conversation with Joel, about her inability to forgive but willingness to try. She also sees the changed man, who changed for and because of her, the man who went from “bad” to a “good” person. Killing Abby — who’s now on her own redemption path — will only turn Ellie into the bad person that Abby and Joel were.
And Ellie stops the cycle. She will not go down the same road. She honours Joel by refusing to become a bad person, something Joel would never have wanted for her. She will honour Joel by going back to the life both of them wanted for her.
Will she get it? Will JJ and Dina be waiting back in Jackson? We may never know, but I sure hope so.
I think the biggest takeaway for me in this painful, yet wonderful journey of a game is how none of the protagonists were good or bad. Everybody is the hero of their own story. Since we played the first game as Joel with Ellie, that is our story and we are entirely on their side. But they were not “good,” not when it comes to the many lives they took over the course of their journey. We saw all those kills as completely justified: they were goons, they were going to shoot us! But then, from their perspective, they were doing the same thing we were. And the thing is, that doesn’t mean everyone is equally justified. It only means that from their own points of view, Ellie and Joel were the villains.
If doesn’t matter if we believe Joel was justified in taking Ellie from the hospital: from the point of view of Abby, her loving dad was murdered. It’s also not about convincing you and me that there are not moral absolutes. It’s that none of this matters to the characters themselves.
Again, I’ve finished this game almost 24 hours ago and I am still thinking about it. This game made me feel so many feelings. It made me mad, sad, and happy. Art that gets you to feel something is, well, good art in my book.
If you hated this game, it’s fine. We can’t all love the same thing. I am not trying to convince anyone, just sharing what I felt. I absolutely loved it with all my heart. This game will stay with me for a long time.