THIS POST CONTAINS MAJOR STORY SPOILERS FOR THE LAST OF US.
The Last of Us launched in June 2013 to both commercial and critical success, receiving perfect or near-perfect scores from numerous publications. Since then, The Last of Us has picked up more than 240 Game of the Year awards, received a “Game of the Year” edition on PS3, a remaster for the PS4, and of course the Left Behind DLC which focuses on side-protagonist Ellie’s backstory.
However, the game has returned to the media spotlight once again due to comments made by Nolan North (who provided the voice for David) claiming that he knows “they [Naughty Dog] are working on a Last of Us 2“, but not elaborating further than that. This information has come with a mixed response, with some fans wanting to see what more Naughty Dog can do within the world of The Last of Us, and others (myself included) feeling that the game is fine as a standalone, with a second game unnecessary.
One of the main reasons that I personally wouldn’t want to see a second game, presumably a sequel, is because of how well the characterisation of both Ellie and Joel was handled within the first game. Even from the start, you are able to emotionally connect with the characters, to the point where it no longer feels like they are a virtual avatar behind a screen – instead they are a living, breathing human being like you and are just doing anything they possibly can in order to survive amidst a zombie apocalypse. You grow to care for Ellie and Joel in a way that no other game has made me care. You feel the emotions they feel, be it scared, angry or happy, and often forget they’re not real. This is epitomised in an extremely moving cinematic between Ellie and Joel at the Ranch about half way through the game, with emotions between the two boiling over and resulting in an argument between them: potentially my favourite scene in the game.
Whilst there are opportunities to use Joel in the second game, such as detailing what happened in the twenty years between the prologue and the game actually starting, or a direct sequel detailing what happens to the two of them after the game when they join Tommy, there is also the opportunity to focus on new characters and build a story around them and how it is they’re managing to survive. It’s not like Joel and Ellie are the only human survivors of the apocalypse, since throughout the course of the game they meet numerous other people – including Sam and Henry, who they end up teaming up with for a portion of the game. That way, Naughty Dog would be able to expand upon The Last of Us’ world and give us new characters and back-stories to work with, whilst not ruining the connection that was formed with Ellie and Joel within the first game.
One of the main sources of both praise and criticism for the first game was how open-ended the ending of the game was, with the game closing as we see Ellie and Joel overlooking Tommy’s city, leaving you to imagine yourself what happened since then. It also featured one of the most iconic conversations within the game, with Ellie making Joel swear that everything he said to her about the Fireflies is true, which the player knows is a load of rubbish and Joel has lied to Ellie on numerous occasions. Despite this, Joel simply answers with “I swear” as the game fades to black.
This ambiguous finish of course leaves plenty of potential to fill in, specifically on whether or not Ellie finds out that Joel lied to her, or if she forgives him if she does. Thanks to The Last of Us One Night Live, a stage version of a handful of cut-scenes from the game, we know that a “farewell” scene to Ellie and Joel exists, in which it seems Ellie has either forgiven Joel, or is still oblivious to his lies. In it, we see Joel and Ellie joking around at Tommy’s after Joel announces he is set to be married to a woman named Esther. It ends with Joel giving Ellie a guitar, and Ellie playing it, strangely reminiscent of a conversation which happens in the game between the two of them, in which Joel promises to teach Ellie how to play the guitar once they have finished their “adventure” together.
Whilst that ending implies that Joel has been forgiven, it is interesting to think of the possibilities of what could happen if he wasn’t. We’ve already seen Ellie run-off in the game when she finds out Joel has tried to palm her off to Tommy, causing her to run away to the ranch house, which I’ve already touched upon in this article. Whilst you do play as Ellie during the course of the game as she tries to nurse Joel back to health, Ellie being alone is not without its problems. In fact, she gets kidnapped and almost killed because of her actions, so the thought of how Ellie would survive alone in the outbreak with nobody to help her could lead to many possibilities – even just in passing reference.
The Left Behind DLC fills in Ellie’s back story to an extent – detailing her life before the main part game of the game begins, including how she got bitten. This was a short and simple DLC at about 2 hours long on average, however in that short time it produces everything it needs to in order to fulfil its purpose. This style of DLC could also be used in order to give some back story to Joel. As mentioned earlier in this article, after Sarah is shot there are 20 years unaccounted for between the prologue and the game actually beginning. During the game, there are only seemingly two major references to these 20 years, with Bill owing Joel some favours for something that is never actually mentioned what and then Joel saying the last thing Tommy said to him was (I’m paraphrasing a little here) “I never wanna see your god-damned face again”. A DLC release for The Last of Us which focuses on Joel’s life in that gap, especially since his daughter has just been killed, throws up multiple possibilities as well, which would allow for more Last of Us whilst not going for a full-blown sequel, and could make Joel be made even more human than he is during the main game. How exactly did he cope after Sarah died? What was the reason that Bill owed Joel favours? Why did Tommy never want to see Joel again? All of this could easily be explained within another short DLC akin to Left Behind.
Whilst I wouldn’t mind playing a Last of Us sequel if it was handled the right way, especially since the original is my favourite game of all time, I personally feel that The Last of Us is perfectly fine as a standalone game, and the magic that it created shouldn’t be ruined at the expense of a sequel.