The Last of Us: Part 2 – A solid game, a messy story, a beautiful yet undeserved ending…
[There will be Spoilers]
“When you’re lost in darkness, look for the light.”
The world as we know it is bleak. This year alone showed us that humanity is doomed to destroy itself. The year 2020 should’ve been the year of perfect visions for the future, but instead we see the dark truths lurking in the shadows. I don’t think anyone could’ve been prepared for what 2020 had to offer. We sought some sort of light in this darkness and funnily enough, the light we sought was a game whose world was filled with despair, hardships, and raw humanity, both good and bad, with small twinkling fireflies of hope.
The Last of Us: Part 2 was released on June 19 and it has been the most divisive entry in a franchise since Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The divide between critic and player reviews is beyond unbalanced. Metacritic gave the game a glowing 95 based on 103 critic reviews, while a good majority of players gave it a scathing 4.1.
What happened? This was one of the most anticipated games of the year. Why did it fail?
Many points that the story is to blame.
I played this game twice. The first time was to basically absorb both story and gameplay, mostly gameplay. While the second was to absorb the story with the mindset of it being a feature film. I am willing to admit that I enjoyed playing the game, I enjoyed the story on my first run but definitely did harbor some confused emotions about the choices made for this game. The Last of Us: Part 2 had that new toy smell and I wanted to be amused by it, considering it is a follow-up to arguably one of the best video games, and feats of storytelling, ever made and told.
Personally, I did not want a sequel. I felt that the first game was beautifully crafted from beginning to end, that a sequel was unnecessary and can potentially tarnish its legacy.
Unfortunately, my fears were realized.
My general impression of this game is that it was beautifully crafted, but not very polished. I loved playing through the game (on my first run) for one simple reason: I wanted to know what happens next. However, playing through the game a second time, I feel that this sequel left much to be desired.
I want to start with the good things about this game as it did many things right.
Graphics wise, this game is phenomenal. The settings are captivating and it is definitely an improvement. The environments of The Last of Us were stunning cityscapes that were slowly being devoured by nature. In this sequel, nature has almost eradicated most of the human-made structures that once stood proudly over the land. The combat feels refined and more personal, as each melee hit and gunshot delivered a satisfying yet uneasy feeling for the player. Facial animations have come so far in the industry that enemies killed feel like real people, and you, the player, are responsible for every brutal kill. Everyone has names for God’s sake, though one drawback to that is that they all look alike. Emily of the WLFs look like Tabitha of the Scars–er, I mean Seraphites. Immersion breaks at that point, but otherwise pretty neat. Combat has been improved, providing the player with a dodge mechanic to avoid enemy attacks, and a variety of new infected enemy types provided some heart pumping changes in pace. Particularly Shamblers, which are a variation of the Bloater enemy type that charge towards you to deliver an explosion of noxious and acidic spores.
Though combat has improved nothing major has really changed. They gave you the ability to go prone and jump, but I find that those additions didn’t really provide anything memorable or worthwhile. The jump button particularly was sometimes unreliable when trekking through cityscapes and other platforming sections of the game. Crafting hasn’t really changed much either. You are still required to gather supplies to craft items, and upgrade your weapons, but nothing new has been added. The weapons you craft are still pretty much the same items you make in the previous game, and I expected that they would introduce new items and supply types in the game. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.
Stealth has been improved significantly, and players can seamlessly transition from one play style to the other in a single encounter. I can go from crawling all fours to shooting an enemy. And when I get discovered I run away and hide and proceed to stealth through an enemy force. I found myself choosing stealth over combat more than anything. Dogs are a new enemy type that adds a fresh breath of air to the stealth mechanic as they can sniff out your location when close. It made for some excellent problem-solving moments, and cruel decision making. (Poor doggos… it’s either them or me. RIP Bear and Alice.)
I think The Last of Us: Part 2 is one of the best designed games of this generation. Though, I would’ve liked to see them explore the open-world aspect more. Early in the game, you get the option of exploring buildings to look for supplies and secrets before you move on to the next area. I remember comparing this exploration to Resident Evil, specifically Resident Evil 2 Remake’s GCPD section, where you unlock rooms to solve puzzles to unlock other rooms to progress. Now, as I’m writing this, I would actually compare this game to Resident Evil 3 Remake in terms of game design. Both have open-world sections early in the game before falling into a linear path.
Gameplay-wise, I thought that The Last of Us: Part 2 was a pretty fun game to play, as it provided you with good combat and stealth mechanics, secret items to collect (Sic Parvis Magna… That’s all I’m going to say about that), and a beautiful yet desolate world to explore. Puzzles are non-existent and lackluster, but otherwise, combat and stealth more than make up for it.
Story-wise, however, it is not perfect. And because of the story, the gameplay experience begins to suffer.
The story begins with Joel brandishing a guitar and telling Tommy what he’d done: he killed the Fireflies to save Ellie. I love how this game opened with this scene between the two brothers. We know that Joel and Tommy shared a deep and dark history and relied on each other to survive the apocalypse. Joel and Tommy trust each other, and in this scene, Joel trusts his brother to keep his secret. Tommy, although conflicted, agrees to “take it to the grave, if [he] had to.” This prologue takes place roughly about a few weeks after the events of the first game. Joel checks up on Ellie and gives her a guitar as a present and promises to teach her how to play. I found this scene quite poignant as we notice that Joel and Ellie’s relationship has changed. Ellie is visibly doubtful of Joel’s claims that a cure was not possible, and is sort of struggling with the idea of whether or not Joel is telling the truth.
I love this moment with the guitar, all the moments with the guitar, actually. In fact, the guitar is such an important part of the game as Ellie associates the instrument with memories of Joel. Plus, we get to practice playing the guitar throughout the game. The prologue ends with Ellie holding onto the guitar, strumming a few strings, perhaps a song in mind, without the ability to play.
As much as I want to talk about Ellie, I won’t.
I want to talk about Abby.
We need to talk about Abby. Big, muscular, Abby. She is the reason why this story is hated by fans. You can’t discuss what ent wrong with the story without talking about Abby. In fact, Abby is the story.
Who is Abby?
We are introduced to her as someone in search for a man, and not in the romantic comedy kind of way. Her intentions are obviously personal, and dark as she is willing to accomplish her goal at any cost, unlike the rest of her team. We get to play as Abby shortly after Ellie goes out on patrol. We basically learn the game’s combat mechanics and stealth with her. As we progress through this tutorial section, Abby is overwhelmed by infected and almost die. Until Joel shoots her would be zombie predator. Abby is saved by Joel and Tommy who are out on patrol, and the three of them work together to escape this nightmare scenario. She suggests to regroup with her team where they would be safe behind an iron gate and plenty of ammo. Joel and Tommy agree and follows her, and she leads them back to her base camp.
Joel and Tommy introduce themselves to the travelers and Abby reintroduces herself by shooting Joel in the leg with a shotgun.
Abby is Joel’s murderer. Plain and simple.
She is established as the game’s main antagonist, actually she’s supposed to be the game’s new protagonist, considering we play half of the game as Abby. However, it’s hard to accept a protagonist who is also Joel’s killer. Now, I saw Joel’s death coming a mile away. In fact, I expected it. Even when the reveal trailer dropped, I knew Joel was dead, or was going to die, in this game. I had a theory that Joel’s death caused Ellie to hallucinate her father figure while playing the guitar, and that she would have conversations with his ghost. I was half right. Still, I’m not sure exactly what the developers were thinking making Abby feel like the game’s protagonist after killing Joel, but I was intrigued. A little pissed, a little uncomfortable, but intrigued.
Yeah, Abby kills Joel, but not in a quick and honorable way. No, she ensures that Joel died a very slow and very painful death by having one of her group members (Mel) tend to his shot off leg, before she beat him to death with a golf club. What sucks even more, is that Ellie finds them just in the nick of time for Abby to deliver the final and heartbreaking blow.
The player is meant to hate Abby at this point, as she had just killed everyone’s favorite character. So, all hate is towards her. After playing the game, I went to read all these reviews that I have avoided until the game came out, and one of the things I noticed is that people are not happy with how Joel’s death was handled. Many are angry that Naughty Dog lied in their promotional material advertising that Joel had a bigger role in the story. They did this by altering scenes like changing character models in specific parts of the game, and though I understand why fans are angry, I understood why Naughty Dog did this as a way of avoiding spoilers. It’s not unheard of, Marvel and Disney has been known to do that with their Avengers trailers, so I’m not surprised they would do that. Needless to say, it was sleazy and the fans are pissed.
Many criticized that it is out of character for Joel to fall for an ambush like this one, the same Joel who can spot an ambush a mile away. He is a hardened survivor. I can see where they are coming from, however, I’ll defend this execution with this mindset: Joel has changed since then. He’s been living in Jackson, Wyoming for a quite a while, and has been living a pretty normal life, considering it is the post-apocalypse. When we visit his house after his death we learn that this man makes guitars in his spare time, and whittles as a hobby. It is possible that living a relatively secure and quiet life in Jackson have softened him up and that he has become willing to give strangers the benefit of the doubt. Recall, his story about trading with passing travelers. Through in-game dialogue, Ellie mentions how Joel was willing to trade his belongings to obtain coffee. It is also implied that he would often trade his guns for coffee. Joel even confirms this in the game’s epilogue. To me, that is a sign of Joel becoming tired of conflict and being on the run, he just wants to live a quiet life on Jackson. Considering what he’s done, I figured, he’d want to lay low. Guns are a symbol of danger while coffee is a symbol for domesticity. It is completely possible for Joel to have fallen in the clutches of Abby’s treachery because it has been some time since he’s had to encounter that scenario with passing caravans. According to Tommy, Jackson has its shares of travelers from time to time. So it would make sense that Tommy would suggest that his “saviors” resupply at Jackson. But, Jackson also gets its share of Raiders and bandits, so Tommy should’ve at least suspected the WLF group before completely being open with them, right? Yes. Upon playing the game a second time, I noticed that Joel was not very trusting of the group. It’s actually super subtle. When asked if they wanted to get the saddles off their horses off, Joel says that it’s all right and they are just there to “ride out the storm and get out of [their] hair.” In other words, they did not want to get comfortable. Perhaps Tommy has softened up a lot, but Joel still is a bit suspicious of people. There’s also the horde of zombies to consider. They were presented no other option but to follow Abby, or they would end up being food for the undead. They had no choice but to trust her in this situation. It’s a Catch-22 scenario. Contrived? Perhaps, but let’s see where this goes.
On my first run, I was willing to give the story the benefit of a doubt when it came to Joel’s death. It may have been played for shock value and as a means to get the plot going, but I am relatively okay with it, just so we can see where this story goes. I would rather focus on the story as a hole than focus on one tiny detail of the entire canvas. As my high-school art teacher would say, “Look at it from a distance.” By the time of my second run, and now that I have the entire canvas, I would agree that Joel’s death bothered me. I did feel that it wasn’t earned and that much build-up was needed before we could let the old man go. It was all because of Abby. I feel that if Abby was built up as a character we could trust in the beginning, then we would be okay with Joel’s murder at the hands of Abby. Joel’s death would have been more tragic, than shock.
Abby’s backstory is quite tragic, I will admit. Her father was the head surgeon tasked to operate on Ellie in the hopes of developing a cure. He was killed by Joel during the climax of the last game. Abby swore to hunt down Joel for revenge by any means, even going as far as joining a heavily militarized group known as the Washington Liberation Front aka WLF aka “Wolf” to train her body into a massive killing machine. The game gives you these moments with Abby, to sort of see things from her side, but it doesn’t work. If you were watching a film, or reading a novel of this story, it wouldn’t be much of a big deal, but considering that this is a video game, the player is forced to inhibit the skin of the murderer that killed their beloved Joel, and I think this is what rubbed fans the wrong way. Abby is problematic as a character because the audience was not able to establish a strong connection with her. The failure of creating a strong bond between Abby and the player is why many do not like the story. Players don’t like the story because half of the time the player is forced to inhabit the role of someone they despise rather than spending time with Ellie, whom the players sympathize with more.
A good half of the game is dedicated to sort of absolve Abby of her crimes, but considering what happened and the fact that she exhibited no signs of remorse for her actions regarding Joel’s murder, these attempts feel hollow. They provide you with this story arc of Abby encountering Yara and Lev, two runaway Scars—I mean Seraphites— who saved her life. Seraphites are the WLF’s worst enemies and have put in motion a plan to wipe them out. Yarn and Lev became outcasts when they questioned their tribe’s cult-like practices, and find themselves forming an alliance with Abby. One would argue that this story line is meant to show Abby feeling remorse because her act of saving them was her way to balance out her “guilt”. It is no accident that she finds herself in a similar situation as Joel did in the first game. They want you to make that distinction. But if I’m telling the truth, I didn’t quite buy it.
Consider Abby’s confrontation with Ellie at the movie theater. Ellie had just returned from murdering Owen and his pregnant girlfriend Mel, in an attempt to locate Abby. Upon noticing Mel’s now lifeless, and very pregnant body, Ellie went into a state of shock and regret. She realized that what she’s done was wrong and goes against her principles as a character. She begins to question herself despite Tommy’s reassurance that she was only defending herself, but that wasn’t enough to put her at ease with her actions. One can say that Ellie pictured herself killing Dina when she ended Mel’s life, as it was revealed to us earlier that Dina is indeed pregnant with Jesse’s child, and risked her baby’s health to help Ellie in her quest for revenge. (What is it with pregnant women going on suicide missions in this game?) Killing takes a toll on Ellie, whereas killing seems like second nature for Abby.
Cut to Abby’s fight with Ellie at the theater. I did not like having to play Abby and hurt Ellie in that boss fight. I hated it. I didn’t want to end up killing Ellie as Abby. I was on Ellie’s side. So, I guess, that’s one of the few reasons people also hate Abby.
Just as Abby is about to end Ellie’s life, Dina comes to Ellie’s rescue. Abby, however, bashes Dina’s head and prepares to slit her throat, but decides to do it in a way where Ellie would witness the gruesome scene. Ellie pleads to Abby not to do it, and tells her that Dina is pregnant. To which Abby replies with a cold-hearted, “Good” only to be stopped by Lev’s pleas. Who the hell says that? I thought we’re supposed to learn how to forgive Abby? This scene really cemented Abby as an irredeemable character; borderline evil. Unlike Ellie, Abby had no qualms killing a pregnant woman. Whereas Ellie is shown to be capable of feeling regret after killing Mel. Abby doesn’t even bat an eye.
Abby is a cold-blooded psychopath.
If you think about it, Abby doesn’t give the murder of Joel a second thought either. Joel saved her in an act of kindness early in the story, and they worked together to keep each other alive while being attacked by an unstoppable horde of zombies. Her entire mission was to seek her revenge on Joel, whom she perceived to be a selfish smuggler who killed her father. When it came time to return the favor, Abby did not hesitate killing him, even after being saved from certain death by the same man she depicted as a monster. I know that seeking vengeance for your father’s murder is justified in some way. It’s a noble motive, Inigo Montoya can attest to that, but would you not question yourself, if that same man showed you some semblance of kindness? Would you not feel conflicted slowly killing a man who spared you from a slow and agonizing death yourself? Remember, Abby slowly tortured Joel before brutally ending him. Would she not at least consider giving Joel a quick, painless death after he saved her from a very gruesome and painful death at the hands of infected zombies? The fact that Abby doesn’t have these internal conflicts with herself and resorts to torture, without hesitation, shows the player that she is an irredeemable character. No matter how tragic Abby’s character backstory is, the fact that she didn’t second guess her decision to maim and torture Joel, immediately placed her on everybody’s shit-list. Abby, at this point in the story, very early on, if I might add, is no more a monster than how she pictured Joel, if not more. In order for an action with such heft to be accepted by an audience, there must be a precedent that equals or exceeds the gravity of that action. Although Joel’s death would have been equal to Abby’s loss, there wasn’t much reason to torture him to death. Joel shot Abby’s father in the head, effectively giving him a quick and painless death, whereas there was no precedent for Abby’s excessive torture of Joel. It was excessiveness for the sake of excessiveness. The fact that flashbacks to Abby’s history occurred after the murder of Joel, and gave no justification that warranted torture, did not do anything for Abby but paint her as an evil character, which was probably not the game’s intention, considering we play as Abby for a good majority of the game.
One thing I did not like about this game’s pacing is the fact that there were so many flashbacks within flashbacks. It’s not a good way to tell a story. If this game opted for a more chronological plot, I feel that the story would have been stronger. Instead, the only thing the flashbacks accomplished are giving the players multiple feelings of uneasiness and restlessness to get back to the main story. We don’t want to know what happened years ago, we want to know what happens next. The Last of Us was captivating in that regard, as Joel and Ellie’s journey always progressed forward to a common goal. The Last of Us: Part 2′s reliance on flashbacks to tell a story showed signs of a lack in focus and direction of where the story needed to go. Though some flashbacks provided real wholesome moments like Ellie and Joel’s flashbacks, others, mostly involving Abby, slowed down the story. Abby’s Seattle sections was basically one big extended flashback. If the game had both Ellie and Abby’s Seattle sections broken up into alternating sequences—Ellie Day 1, then Abby Day 1, then Ellie Day 2, and so on—the story would not have had moments where progress was being held to introduce information that should have been presented beforehand. The pacing fails the story, and it adds nothing worthwhile to Abby’s character that would make the player, at the very least, accept her.
A rearranged, almost chronological plot with Abby as the initial main focus of the story, would allow players connect with her and empathize with her. If we played as Abby, or picked the story up from Abby’s point-of-view at the very beginning of the game, and learned everything about her, leading up to Joel murdering her father, we’d come to realize that she’s not an evil person, but someone who experienced a great loss and unable to get over it. This would provide the player a series of events that would justify Abby’s descent into a dark path culminating in her murder of Joel. She would have been painted as a tragic character, and by the time we come seeking for revenge, we would have felt conflicted over killing Abby rather than being complacent. Letting her go at the end would feel bittersweet, rather than downright sour. Unfortunately, there were too many flaws to be found in Abby, that the game was working against her rather than working in her favor, even if you were to rearrange the game’s plot.
Abby is not a very likable character. She exhibits behavior that of a pouty child who wants and craves attention. She is very competitive and selfish. Consider the archery game. There’s a section in the game where Owen introduces you to an archery game that he plays with Mel. If you’re a trophy hunter like me, you’d want to get the high score. The ironic thing here is, Mel has the high score. Throughout the game, Mel and Abby are at odds with one another, competing for Owen’s affections. If you get the high score, Abby demands to be “put on the board.” Owen says that he’d do it later, implying that if he did, it would upset Mel. Abby bullies Owen to writing her name on the board.
It is heavily implied that she doesn’t really like Mel. Mel was a student of Abby’s father and considered her to be his favorite student. I have a feeling that Abby may have been jealous that her father dotes on his star pupil. It may be a possibility. The fact that Owen is now dating her, and even got her pregnant, annoys Abby to all hell because she had feelings for Owen, but never really acted on them. Regardless, it is hinted that there is a lot of baggage between the two, and I kind of hoped we got to explore that a bit more.
There’s a scene between Mel and Abby in the third act of the game that reveals to us that Mel never truly liked Abby either. Mel believes that Abby’s intentions of saving the children were selfish and an act to get on Owen’s good side. Granted, it is implied that she knew what happened between Owen and Abby the night before (some rough, manly sex), therefore she may have her own justified biases, but assuming that she wasn’t aware of Abby and Owen’s infidelity, it is revealed that Mel always viewed Abby in a negative light. Mel even bravely calling Abby a “piece of shit” and that she doesn’t buy the fact that “Isaac’s top Scar killer” suddenly had a change of heart. This seemed like a huge fight, years in the making, but it wasn’t properly built up enough for it to add anything new that the player didn’t already know about Abby. We only get awkward in-game dialogue moments between the two, and nothing more. It frustrates me that their hatred for one another was not explored more, as it could really have fleshed out Abby’s side of the story, and would have at least made Mel interesting enough for the audience to actually care when she dies at the hands of Ellie. Mel had the most potential of being the moral compass for the game. But that’s not the case. Owen was the same way. He’s the most conflicted guy in the room. He should have been the one to convince Abby to make Joel’s death quick rather than allowing her to do as she pleased. Owen’s reasons for killing Joel would then be about justice for a good, but lost, cause, rather it be a willingness to be a part of someone’s bloody vendetta.
There’s another moment in the game that comes to mind when discussing Abby’s selfishness. When Manny suggests that Abby talk to Mel about what happened in Jackson, Abby refuses and stubbornly justifies her actions by saying that Mel also wanted Joel dead. Manny points out that Mel “hasn’t hurt people like that before.” Abby counters by saying Mel “kills Scars all the time”, but Manny points out again, “not the way [they] killed Joel.” I feel that Abby, in this case, is the type of person who would use others as a means of excusing and justifying her misdeeds. In a sense, said or, in this case, done what others were thinking.
Abby’s group felt like a list of people on a hit list, rather than actual people. I don’t give a rat’s ass about what happens to each of them. i don’t think anybody did. When Manny died, I admit, I was kind of sad, since he was the only one with some semblance of a personality, but when the sniper who shot him was revealed to be Tommy, I cheered. I know i wasn’t the only one who yelled, “Go Tommy!” I knew that sniping tutorial with you wasn’t just for show. Abby’s supporting cast were just as shallow as she was and offered nothing of substance to Abby’s character. While Ellie’s supporting cast weren’t all that impressive either, she at the very least had people at odds with one another on how she should approach a situation (Dina v. Tommy). Initially, I felt that Dina was an enabler, making excuses for Ellie rather than criticizing her even if the truth hurt. Though, she redeems herself by making that point loud and clear in the third act that revenge gets you nothing but more pain, when Tommy pleads with Ellie to go after Abby for him. I would have liked more of that conflict between Ellie and Dina, more push and pull, rather than having Dina foolishly follow Ellie to certain doom while carrying an unborn child in her womb. I get that she’s supposed to be a supportive character for Ellie, but when that character is also pregnant, you have to wonder why Dina didn’t push Ellie enough to go back home to Jackson. It should have felt more like this…
Could Abby have been a redeemable character?
To be honest, yes. She could have been, but the structure of the story, and the order of which information about Abby was presented, hindered that from happening. Here’s a cool thing about any film, or story: you can have the same scenes beat-for-beat, word-for-word, but depending on how you arrange them you create different stories, and convey different messages and themes. There was no way you can get players to like Abby right after she killed Joel in a brutal fashion, it’s just not happening. Abby has a “shoot first, ask forgiveness later” mentality that doesn’t work in the context of the story, especially since we are forced to play as her later on in basically a “this is my story, forgive me, please” section. Imagine Joel taking Ellie away from the surgery early on in the first game, then show flashbacks of Sarah. It doesn’t have the same impact. However, due to the nature of the story being told mostly in flashbacks, it muddles The game tries to make her a sympathetic and tragic character, but all those attempts don’t land as intended, which consequently paints Abby into more of an unlikeable person. The addition of her quest to save Yara and Lev as a form of atonement becomes shallow and disingenuous, because we do not trust her intentions to be as noble as she claims it to be. We don’t believe it, because at this point in the story, we just want to see Abby die. But even players are denied that satisfaction.
Let’s discuss the ending, because it is the most divisive part about this game.
After the events at Seattle, we fast-forward to Ellie, who is now living in a small farm with Dina and her newborn son, JJ. The couple has been living a fairly quiet life, but Ellie is still haunted by visions of Joel’s death. Tommy, who miraculously survives after being shot in the face, arrives for a visit and tells Ellie about new information about a well-built woman traveling with a boy with scars on his face. Seeing as he is now physically incapable of doing the job himself. Tommy suggests that Ellie should go after Abby like she promised. Ellie is hesitant and Dina tells Tommy that Ellie wouldn’t do it. Tommy leaves disheartened, but more frustrated than anything. Ellie is left to her thoughts, until finally decides to go after Abby in the middle of the night. Dina, however is adamantly against this, considering that Ellie now has a family to care for, to live for. She gives Ellie an ultimatum, if she leaves and comes back, if she comes back alive that is, Dina and JJ would not be waiting for her upon her return. Ellie going after Abby would come at a great cost. She leaves anyway in the hopes of finally putting her nightmares to rest.
We cut to Abby and Lev who are in search of a Firefly outpost in Santa Barbara. They discover a hidden barrack in a basement and contacts any surviving Firefly outpost using an old radio transmitter. Luckily for them, some Fireflies picked up their signal and they make plans to rendezvous with them. Just as they exit the house, Abby and Lev are ambushed and captured by a group called The Rattlers, a militarized group of people who capture travelers and put them to work as slaves in their plantations. Personally, I feel that the Rattlers were far more interesting as an enemy group considering they enslave survivors and even keep infected runners and clickers around as some form of sick torture. Plus, their sections in the game made for interesting gameplay decisions, such as saving ammunition in favor of letting loose their infected guard dogs to wreak havoc in the plantation.
Ellie picks up the trail and follows suit, but she falls for a trap that gets her injured and captured by Rattlers. With quick thinking, she is able to use a captured clicker to her advantage and interrogates one of her captors. He reveals that Abby is being held at their base and points her in its direction. Ellie kills her captor and make her way towards the Rattler base. Ellie pushes through her injury and fights her way through the holding cells. She frees the prisoners and demands answers to the location of Abby. They inform her that Abby tried to escape the plantation and was subsequently captured and left out to die at “The Pillars.”. When we get to the Pillars we see a weakened, much skinnier Abby tied up to a wooden pillar, as if crucified. Abby recognizes Ellie and expects her enemy to kill her where she stands, but Ellie cuts her down from the pillar instead. Abby rushes to a nearby pillar where Lev has also been strung up, and cuts him down. Abby tells Ellie that there are boats nearby that they can use to escape. Ellie follows them, and just as they are about to part ways, Ellie gets that same haunted image of Joel and challenges Abby to a one on one fight to death, but Abby did not have the resolve to fight Ellie anymore. Ellie threatens to kill Lev if she doesn’t fight, and Abby reluctantly agrees. The two vengeful women trade blows, but Ellie gets the upper hand and proceeds to drown Abby. But before she can finish the job, she gets one final image of Joel, not the same bloodied image she sees in her nightmares, but a memory of the final time she spoke to Joel. Ellie holds on to that final memory, before letting Abby go. Ellie sits in tears at the shore, unable to go through with her revenge and allows Abby to escape with Lev.
Personally, I love this ending. I played this game twice, but for some reason I still love this ending. I do, however, believe that this ending was undeserved and too good of an ending to be used in this game. I feel that Abby did not deserve this ending because of how the story was paced and structured. Let me rephrase that: The Last of Us: Part 2‘s ending, in the context of Abby fell flat due to its poor build up, weak execution, and mishandling of the character. Whereas in the context of Ellie, the ending was as fitting as it could get. The uneven distribution of catharsis could not be supported given the game’s weak plot structure. Everything was leading up to this bittersweet ending, but the path to get there was so convoluted that by the time we got to the conclusion, we are left confused and tired.
Here’s why I like this ending: it’s a dissection of the Firefly motto, “When you’re lost in darkness, look for the light.” It’s a hopeful message present throughout the series. Despite inhabiting a bleak world, our characters have room to grow, to interact, and socialize like normal human beings and have genuine wholesome moments. Moments like Sam and Henry sharing a warm fire and telling funny stories, in the first game; Joel taking Ellie on a trip to an old museum for her birthday; small moments of hope that humanity hasn’t completely rotted away. Abby gives Lev the same advise later in the game after Yara’s death. Ironically, Abby didn’t take that advice and instead of looking for the light after her father’s death, she embraced the darkness.
When I got to Abby in that weakened state, I almost felt bad for her. Seeing her fight Ellie was kind of sad and pitiful. This isn’t the same cold hearted, mountain of a woman we’ve come to hate; this wasn’t the same Abby who was capable of killing Ellie by herself. Instead, we see Abby in her darkest moment– malnourished, weak, and all but hollow. To kill her in that state wouldn’t have been an act of vengeance, but an act of mercy. The opposite of what Ellie, what we, the player, wanted.
Also, think about how much Abby actually cares about Lev in this scene. We sort of get this confirmation that Abby does indeed care about Lev and doesn’t parade him around like some trophy child of virtue. She actually cares for Lev, and if she didn’t before, she definitely does now, considering what both of them went through. They survived together, and now, at the verge of death together. Abby was completely traumatized at the hands of the Rattlers, that we absolutely cannot consider her the same person. Everything that she were, everything that we hated about her, is gone. Killing her, as she is, in this state, wouldn’t have meant anything but another dead body in the beach. It is such a tragic realization for Ellie. This is such a fitting end for Abby, that I feel that it was wasted and would not have been wasted if the players cared about Abby as much as they cared about Ellie. The problem is we didn’t. We really didn’t. We wanted her dead as much as Ellie did. Therefore, the ending did not pay off as intended.
I felt that this conclusion belonged to a different story than the one currently being told. I felt that the game could have ended with Ellie leaving Dina and JJ to go after Abby, and it would have been a satisfying ending. Abby and Ellie encountering the Rattlers felt like a different game to me. I mentioned that the Rattlers were far more interesting than the tribes presented in this game. Perhaps, this ending would have benefitted from being told in a third installment, but they chose to place it here. There’s a purpose for it here. Unfortunately, it did not live up to its potential, because the path we took to get here was confusing and took us on too many detours. It’s frustrating to me, especially as an artist, to be able to see this great story Naughty Dog had in mind, but fail in properly presenting it to the audience in a clear manner. This ending is just too good to be mishandled in the way they did. There are many ways one could improve this story, some simple changes, without changing too much of what is already here, but those choices were not made. Perhaps this game was trying too hard to be ambitious, and in its ambition, it couldn’t support the load. But this is what we got, this is the canvas we were given to examine. It is messy, and uneven, almost as if it is at odds with itself. You can’t change it, to do so would be a disservice to the original vision. In the words of my friends, “It is what it is. Whatcha gonna do?”
This divide in the fanbase could be remedied by giving the player a choice: drown Abby or let her go. The player would have the choice to make the decision themselves. However, that would completely undermine the underlying theme of forgiveness present in this game. A lot of people complained that Ellie accumulated too large a body count to just let Abby go. Players believe Abby deserved, if not needed, to die. But, here’s the thing: I never saw Ellie as someone who would kill for selfish reasons. She was willing to die for mankind in the first game, revenge isn’t really her cup of coffee, she hates coffee. That was more of Joel’s shtick. Whenever Ellie handled a situation the way Joel would handle it, it would take a significant toll on Ellie, because it goes against her optimistic nature. It’s what made Joel and Ellie’s dynamic so interesting. Joel was cynical, and saw ugliness in people, while Ellie, though aware of the bleak nature of the world she lives in, sees hope at the end of the tunnel. The question here becomes: how much of herself is Ellie willing to sacrifice to keep the memory of Joel alive? Despite her love for Joel, is she willing to take on his traits–the good, the bad, and the ugly–at the cost of her own identity, optimism, and peace of mind? In her quest for revenge, Ellie obtained a K/D ratio that would make Call of Duty players jealous. but this story was never about revenge, it’s about forgiveness.
Just as Ellie is about to drown Abby to death, a memory of Joel comes to her It is not the same haunted image of Joel that she’s become accustomed to, but a more pleasant memory. Ellie visits Joel for the first time in what seems to be years, in an attempt to reconnect with him. She is angry with him because he lied to her about the Fireflies, and believed that she should have died at the hospital. Ellie believed that by dying for a cure, her life “would have mattered.” Joel admits to Ellie that, if given a second chance, he’d “do it all over again.” In other words, Ellie’s life mattered enough to Joel, that he would risk everything to give her another day to live. I don’t think, she could disagree with that sentiment. Since Ellie knew the truth, she also knew the consequences of Joel’s actions, what dark fruit it would bear. Joel committed a crime against humanity; a selfish crime that would definitely get him killed if anyone knew, especially in Jackson, and he was willing to risk that for Ellie. The crime Joel committed was as human as it could get. Joel already lost a daughter once, he’d be damned to lose another one.
“I don’t think I could ever forgive you for that,” Ellie says. “But I’d like to try.” Joel responds with a heartfelt, “I’d like that.”
Tragically, Joel would die the next day.
Ellie letting Abby go was in no means forgiving the woman who killed her father, but forgiving the man who took everything that mattered to her and attempted to replace it with something new. In the end, Ellie never got the chance to forgive Joel, but I’ve come to think of Abby as Joel’s sins personified. When Ellie lets her sworn enemy escape within an inch of her life, in some twisted and disheartening way, it would be like letting go of Joel’s mistakes, Joel’s betrayal of her trust, and any anger Ellie harbored against the very man whom she trusted. It was like letting Joel go. In a sense, this would be Ellie’s own way of forgiving him. It is an unfair ending, but, at this moment in time, the only logical conclusion.
In the epilogue, Ellie returns home only to find an empty house. Dina and JJ are gone, presumably back to Jackson. In the end, she realized too late that her selfishness strained her relationship with Dina in the same way Joel’s selfishness strained his relationship with Ellie. They left Ellie’s belongings in her office including her guitar, a gift from Joel. Tragically, Ellie lost two fingers in her final fight with Abby, crippling Ellie’s ability to play the guitar. Ironically, learning how to play the guitar is the one memory of Joel she had left, and one she deeply treasured. It is tragic, it is cruel, and it is a fitting cost for her revenge. In her vengeful attempt to keep the memory of Joel alive, she’s lost the ability to make that happen. The epilogue ends with Ellie holding onto the guitar, strumming a few strings, perhaps a song in mind, without the ability to play.
In this writer’s own honest opinion, I wouldn’t have had this tragic, unfair, solemn, yet satisfying conclusion any other way.
A petition to remake the game has already been made, and I think that it’s ridiculous. Many of the reasons on the petition is laughable, moot at best. Some of the reasons I’ve heard people bash this game for is that it was too depressing, that it made you do evil things, like kill dogs. True, but did you know that you can actually avoid dogs or killing people in general by using stealth as an option? This is a post-apocalyptic world. Literally dog-eat-dog. If you had problems with its dark content matter, or felt uncomfortable with the choices given to you, then the genre is not for you, I’m afraid. This genre is arguably a dark and depressing world to explore the disgusting and evil nature of humanity, with small glimmers of hope. Nothing about it is perfect. nothing about it is fair. It takes guts to approach it. Remaking the game is a knee-jerk reaction that many of us experience when we don’t like something. In truth, remaking this game would only be a betrayal of artistic expression. Something that is becoming a rare thing in our society, specifically one obsessed with homogenous thought and remakes and remasters. Remaking something for the sake of changing the narrative would almost be a form of censorship— it is a dangerous practice, especially in the realm of art. And art is not for everyone. Art is not easy to understand or compartmentalize in easy to digest helpings. It is in fact a means to cut, to hurt, and to tell a very disappointing truth. It is meant to disappoint as much as it is meant to give fulfillment.
The Last of Us: Part 2 is a phenomenal video game, but disappoints in its convoluted narrative. The character of Abby proved too problematic and too ambitious to execute properly in a video game format. It would be a crime to dismiss the game’s ambitions, and what it was trying to accomplish, so I choose to applaud the developers for their attempt. It’s not easy to create a sequel to a story that people already deemed perfect as is. Naughty Dog did their best, unfortunately it was not enough this time around. I never asked for a sequel myself, but I took this one with an open mind, and yet with a sorrow heart. I still do feel like there’s something I’ve missed, and that there’s more to say, but it’s difficult to think of one with a game so divisive as this one. Perhaps, Naughty Dog learned a lesson with this game. There’s a good story to be told, it just wasn’t told well. Hell, I can’t say I would have done better. After all, I’ve pitched an idea for an Uncharted sequel set in space to my friends. Despite not living up to my expectations, I’m still puzzled by this game, in a good way. It was an experiment that didn’t pay off, but I welcome experiments. And I’m eager to see what Naughty Dog has planned next.
Until then, we’re left with memories of a guitar gently weeping…