An Honest Look at The Last of Us: Part 2 – Complete Review
Towards the end of Dostoevsky’s classic novel Crime and Punishment, the main character Raskolnikov remembers a dream that also perfectly captures the world of The Last of Us. “He dreamt that the whole world was condemnedto a terrible new strange plague. Some new sorts of microbes were attackingthe bodies of men, but these microbes were endowed with intelligence and will. Men attacked by them became at once mad and furious. But never had men considered themselves so intellectual and so completely in possession of the truth, never had they considered their decisions, their scientific conclusions, their moral convictions so infallible. Whole villages, whole towns and peoples wentmad from the infection. .
Each thought that he alone had the truth. They did not know how to judge and could notagree what to consider evil and what good; they did not know whom to blame, whom to justify. Men killed each other in a sort of senseless spite.” The first game introduced us to Joel, a survivor who lost his daughter 20 years earlier on what is now known as Outbreak Day. How was your morning? In this harsh post-apocalyptic world, Joel works a smuggler who, through a series of unfortunate events, is saddled up with Ellie, .
I want Joel to watch over her. a young girl who is immune to the plague. Together, they travel cross-country to reach the Fireflies, a group that wants to a create vaccine from Ellie’s immunity so that they can begin to rebuild the society that was lost. After everything we’ve been through, it can’t be for nothing. However, when Joel and Ellie finally makeit to the hospital, it turns out that the operation will cost Ellie her life, which Joel at that point is not willing to let happen. .
Jesus Christ Joel, what’d you do? I saved her. The Last of Us was a story about re-discoveringwhat it means to love in a hostile world, and about the sacrifices we are willing tomake to preserve it, but it was also very much a story about competing truths, and the conflicts that arise because of them. The Fireflies wanted to restore society asit once was, a goal that for them justified all the means necessary to achieve it. Joel on the other hand fell more in line withhis brother Tommy, a member of a small settlement that accepts the world as it is .
And simply tries to protect what little good they still have, which also happens to be the place whereJoel and Ellie eventually end up. Once upon a time, I had somebody that I cared about. And in this world, that sort of shit is goodfor one thing: getting you killed. Like the plague in Raskolnikov’s dream, The Last of Us presents a world where everyone knows with certainty what it means to survive, and what it takes to move forward. There is no other choice here. Whether they are remnants of government factionstrying to maintain law and order, .
Self-reliant individuals who see no other path but to close themselves off completely, or bandits and other predatory groups turned primal. You kill to survive, and so do we. Even the infected form a meaningful juxtapositionin this context. Originally, zombies became popular as a commentaryon mindless consumerism, but in The Last of Us, the fungus that infects people’s brains feels more analogous to this idea of how we can become so infected by our own convictions that we become enraged, blind and ultimately toxic to the world around us. And then came The Last of Us: Part 2. .
Set a couple of years after the first game, The Last of Us: Part 2 opens with Joel being murdered by a woman named Abby, and we then play as Ellie as she sets out on a new journey in search for revenge. While the death of Joel was already upsettingenough for a lot of people, what really divided the fanbase was that the game makes you play as his murderer for about half the story. In doing so, it doubles down on the previouslypresented themes in a way that is quite unusual and challenging, to say the least. Whereas the first game showed you a worldof competing perspectives, The Last of Us: Part 2 forces you to live them. .
It presents two subjective experiences thatare deeply in conflict with one another, and demands you to connect with and understand both. Does it work? Honestly, I’m not sure. When I first played The Last of Us: Part 2,I felt very conflicted. At times, it was exhilarating. Other times, it felt like a chore. It was painful, beautiful, it was moving,it was frustrating, and when it was over I… I couldn’t stop thinking about it. .
And so I played it again. I don’t think I have ever played a game where the second playthrough felt so significantly different from the first. Above all, and this is probably the biggest credit I could give the game, it got me thinking a lot about video games as an artform, and the potential of this medium that allows the audience to actively participate instead of merely observe. In this sense, The Last of Us: Part 2 definitelytried to push the boundaries, and to explore the unique possibilities for storytellingin video games. And while I don’t think it was fully successful,the effort sure is worth discussing. Before we can really dive into The Last of Us: Part 2, we first have to discuss the ending of the first game, .
And how its implications set the course for a coming tragedy. I told her they just ran some tests. I told her, her immunity meant nothing. As Joel confesses to Tommy in the opening flashback scene of Part 2, Ellie was unconscious when he killed the Fireflies and pulled her out of the hospital, therefore she has no idea about what went down, and still doesn’t. And she believed you? Didn’t say otherwise. We then get a nice little moment where Joeltries to connect with Ellie by playing her a song. .
Besides re-affirming Joel’s journey from a hardened survivor back to the caring father figure he once was, She’s yours. No, no, no, I don’t know the first thingabout this – I promised that I’d teach you how to play. You did. I think this scene also sets up what many people assumed the story would be about: Joel and Ellie finally connecting with each other. Goodnight kiddo. Is it a dinosaur? .
This is further emphasized in the second flashback,which you see a bit later in the game. Oh my god, it is a dinosaur! Here, Joel takes Ellie to a museum for herbirthday, and she absolutely loves it. Happy birthday, kiddo. This is where we see their relation in its purest form, Ellie, be careful. I’m climbing a dinosaur! Joel is the perfect father, Ellie is the perfect child, I do okay? .
Are you fucking kidding me? it’s pretty obvious why this is one of the game’s most beloved sequences. But then, Ellie wanders off for a little,and we see this. It is the logo of the Fireflies, and a stark reminder that while this may have been the story we had hoped for, it is not the one we can have, as it was all built on a lie. There was no cure. What I find especially interesting here is that even though I said that this is the story that we had hoped for, it really is the story Joel had hoped for. .
With him being the main protagonist in the first game, it is his perspective that we identified with, and I think the developerswere well aware that we would enter the sequel from the same point of view. And so they gave us this glimpse of paradise, exactly to emphasize that it was all bound to fall apart, that even though Joel had had the best of intentions, and was perhaps even justified in his actions, sooner or later, he would have to face the consequences of what he had done. He would not able to keep living in his illusion,in his beautiful lie. And neither could we. I had so many questions for them. .
Why did you pull me out of there while I wasstill unconscious. As times passes, Ellie grows more suspiciousof the story she’s been told. Eventually, she sets out to find answers,after which she once again confronts Joel, Tell me what happened here. who finally tells her the truth. Upon hearing how she was robbed of the meaningfuldeath she could have had, Ellie completely pushes Joel out of her life, and the relationship that came into being over the course of the last game, is broken. There’s a little more the story of Joeland Ellie’s falling out, .
But for now, let’s skip ahead to where the game actually begins; the day where Joel faces the wider implications of his actions. Sorry, I totally overslept, just give me aminute and I’ll get dressed. I heard you had quite a night after I left. We open with Ellie going on a routine patrolwith Jesse after what appeared to have been a tumultuous night involving lots of drinking, some arguments, and an ambiguous kiss from Dina. It was a strange night, man. Sounds exciting. Compared to the first game’s more simplisticlife of survival, .
Ellie now finds herself in a more socially complex environment where she has to navigate a multitude of relationships and the general dynamics of a larger community. Fine. Dealing with all this is perhaps not as romantic as the exciting world of smuggling that we met Joel in, but it forms a nice progression and maturation of the overall story. We also meet Abby here as the game cuts backand forth between her and Ellie’s point of view. Holy shit. It’s a fucking city. Together with some members of her group, Abbymade her way to Jackson in search of Joel, .
Where she runs off on her own and stumblesinto him and Tommy by accident. They help each other escape a horde of infected, and Abby leads them to her group where Joel soon realizes they know who he is. Y’all act like you’ve heard of us or something. It’s because they have. You don’t get to rush this. After sensing something’s wrong, Ellie chases after Joel but is overpowered and unable to help him. Left with nothing but grief and a burningdesire for revenge, Ellie decides to chase after Abby, .
And this is where The Last of Us: Part 2 truly begins. The main part of the game is set in Seattleand takes place over the course of 3 days. On day 1, Ellie arrives together with Dinaand the two try to find their way into the city. The environments of The Last of Us have alwaysbeen particularly beautiful to me, and traversing them reminded me of reading Kevin Lynch’s The Image of the City. Written in 1960, Lynch’s study on how people experience cities became one of the most influential works on environmental psychology, and it’s worthwhile to review his findings because they echo into modern game design as well. “Looking at cities can give a special pleasure,however commonplace the sight may be.” – Lynch writes – “Like a piece of architecture,the city is a construction in space, .
But one on a vast scale, a thing perceived only inthe course of long spans of time. City design is therefore a temporal art, but it can rarely use the controlled and limited sequences of other temporal arts like music. On different occasions and for different people, the sequences are reversed, interrupted, abandoned, cut across. It is seen in all lights and all weathers.” This chaotic and pluralistic nature of citiesis an obvious feature in the world of The Last of Us. At first sight, it is a world that is largely reclaimed by nature, but this isn’t necessarily what makes it beautiful, or for that matter, good level design. .
In fact, it could have easily functioned toits detriment. Lynch argues that one of the most importantproperties of a beautiful city is its legibility. “By this we mean the ease with which itsparts can be recognized and can be organized into a coherent pattern.” So in this sense, you would expect an environment that has been ravaged by conflict, time and nature like the one in The Last of Us to lack that exact quality. And yet, this isn’t the case. Basically, the game creates legibility by incorporating the same qualities that create legibility in real environments. .
Among other things, Lynch mentions paths,edges and landmarks, which a game like the Last of Us effectively translates into level design that always makes it clear where to go, and where not to. Even in the more open sections that Part 2 introduces, it’s extremely difficult to get lost. Landmarks in particular are really useful here, which The Last of Us frequently uses as points of reference that help you orient yourself. Oh shit, look. Hey, that round building, it looks like thetv station from your map. But legibility is about more than enabling someone to find their way around a physical space, .
It is also about forming a broader frame of reference about the meanings of that space. “On the basis of a structural understandingof an environment, one can order a substantial quantity of facts and fancies about the nature of the world we live in.” Of course, in this case, it’s not the worldwe live in, but the world of The Last of Us. And indeed, the legibility of this world isabout more than guiding the player forwards; it also helps to ground us into its story. By making the environments visually comprehensiveand relatively easy to navigate, I think it actually connect us closer to how this world is perceived and understood by the characters living within it. .
For example, while spotting a landmark in a real life city generally also suggests an easy route towards that landmark, in the world of The Last of Us, that same moment, every time it happens, increasingly fills you with dread as you come to understand the journey to it is not going to be as straightforward as it appears. Jesus, how the hell are we crossing this? It instinctively tells you that this is a world of obstacles and dangers, and subsequently trains you to look for appropriate ways to navigate it. And so instead of searching for streets, sidewalks or other pathways that are considered obvious ways of traversing our world, .
Your focus automatically becomes fixated on gaps, climbable objects and other tools that can be used to move around, just as the characters in this world have been doing for many years now. Watch the high spots. Understanding the landscape also providesinsight into social realities, as it forms the raw material for the symbols and collective memories of groups of people. Limiting myself to The Last of Us: Part 2, we immediately see distinctions between the heavily urbanized center of the WLF, the more primitive dwellings of the Seraphites, .
And the town of Jackson, which is somewhere in between. And we learn a lot about these different communities in the game just by the aesthetics of their safe spaces, of their homes. To be clear, most games use similar techniques to establish legible environments and to subsequently immerse us into their worlds, so as far as game design goes, this is not exactly a mind-blowing revelation. Nevertheless, I think that The Last of Ushas always succeeded really well in this regard, and the discussion is important because, as Lynch emphasizes, it leads to the role of the participant. “Moving elements in a city, and in particularthe people and their activities, .
Are as important as the stationary physical parts. We are not simply observers of this spectacle,but are ourselves a part of it.” This is also true in videogames, which distinguish themselves by allowing players to enter their virtual worlds, and through their engagement with them, become an active part of their stories. As mentioned before, playing The Last of Us:Part 2 left me very conflicted at first. I had issues with the story, I had issueswith the gameplay, but what was perhaps my biggest source of frustration was the relation between the two. Now, playing a video game always requiresa fair bit of suspension of disbelief, .
They are never truly realistic, and we generallydo not want them to be. Just as in films, there are elements that are simplified and dramatized for the sake of the story. And so, when discussing the relation betweengameplay and storytelling, I’m not talking about petty issues like the way charactersconveniently enter and exit the narrative based on what the game design asks for, orhow the handful of items needed for crafting always seem to be lying around, nor am I talking about the presence of minor glitches or other small moments that briefly break the immersion. What I am talking about is the more fundamentalquestion on the purpose of gameplay in storytelling: what does it really mean for us to not onlyobserve but also participate in a narrative? .
How can gameplay elevate or lessen the experience of a story? Let’s get a move on. The core gameplay of The Last of Us looksroughly like this: you enter a mostly linear level, search the abandoned places for supplies, sneak around or eliminate any hostiles you come across, be they infected or human enemies, and solve the occasional environmental puzzle. And to me, this worked pretty well in the first game because it was a loop that really supported the narrative. We’ve come this far, let’s just finish it. Do I need to remind you what is out there? .
The story begins with Joel as the underdogand things keep going wrong for him until he is basically forced to go out into the wild. And this feeling of constantly being down on your luck, of having no choice but to keep moving forward was effectively supported by the survival elements of the gameplay. You always seemed to have barely enough resourcesto make it past the next encounter, and you definitely felt the need to scavenge whatever you can. Searching through every drawer and cabinetmay have felt like a chore at times, but for me it was the kind of frustration that increasedmy connection to the experience of the characters, .
And ultimately elevated the narrative. In fact, those brief spaces of quietness in between the shootouts and conflicts may have been the high points of the game for me. Besides providing nice moments of character development, they also allowed me to simply take a breath and let it all soak in, and it is exactly this sense of being that truly made me feel like I was a part of this world and this story. Found some alchohol. Couple of rags. In The Last of Us: Part 2, the gameplay isgiven a significant improvement. .
Everything is much more streamlined and the meticulous eye for detail is unbelievable at times. But at its core, it still feels largely reminiscentof the first game, a little too much in fact, and this does pose an issue because it isframed so differently by the new story. We don’t have to do this, you know that right? In the first game, the end goal was to deliverEllie to the Fireflies, but because Joel, and therefore, we who play as and identify with him, didn’t really have a personal connection to that group, it was just something that had to be done eventually. And it was because of that lack of urgencythat the individual episodes, and the developing bond between Joel and Ellie, always felt more important. .
It made you want to take your time, to explore the world and stop to smell the roses, so to say. Part 2 begins with those same qualities, you get to experience a day in the life, as it were, and even after Joel’s death, there is a beautiful moment where you visit his empty house and have a chance to just mourn. But once you get to Seattle, the immediacyof the story is just overwhelming, which is understandable given that the goal of gettingrevenge is one that Ellie, and therefore again, we as the players, are so emotionally invested in that everything that gets in the way feels like wasted time. Even though there were beautiful open sectionsto explore, breathtaking vistas to behold, .
And tons of secret to discover, I didn’t want to do any of it. I wanted to move forward, I wanted to find Abby. Every distant landmark that once pulled meinto this world now filled me with frustration knowing I was probably going to have to waste an hour or so doing something that felt narratively useless, like getting some gate open or clearing places of infected, before I could go back to making real progress in the story. It’s out of gas.- Goddammit. This issue however was largely gone on mysecond playthrough. .
There were still sections that felt needlesslydrawn out, but already knowing how everything unfolds, I didn’t feel the same rush to hurry my way through the story and allowed myself to ease my pace and explore this beautiful world in more detail. However, there were other issues that persisted,and for that, we have to talk about a term that has gained some notoriety in video game discussions, and that is ludonarrative dissonance. Fireflies? Get down! .
The term ludonarrative dissonance was coinedto point out how the gameplay of a game can conflict with the story it is trying to tell. What would technically be an example of thisis seeing Joel being wounded and needing weeks to recover in the story, even though in the gameplay, you can take multiple bullets and still patch yourself up with bandages in no time. But I find this to be a bad example, because as with the other gameplay elements that require a bit of your suspension of disbelief, there is always going to be some dissonance that should be forgiven .
Lest you want a truly unenjoyable game experience. So when does ludonarrative dissonance matter then? For that we have to ask if a conflicting gameplay element is merely a small and understandable inconsistency, or if it truly detracts from the power of the story? In part 1, the core gameplay was far from perfect, but it felt generally supportive to the story. You play as violent man who slowly learnsto care for someone else, which in turn justifies, at least in his perception, the things heneeds to do to protect her. He doesn’t really seem remorseful aboutcommitting acts of violence, and so, we also aren’t made to feel that way when takingout dozens of enemies during gameplay. .
But part 2 tries to tell a more complex story. As Ellie makes her way through Seattle, her quest for vengeance slowly begins to take its toll on her. Are you okay? This becomes most evident in her relationwith Dina. Now, some people felt Dina’s unwavering loyalty to Ellie came across as rather sudden after just one kiss at a party, but if you go through Ellie’s journal in one of the flashbacks, it becomes clear that they have actually been close friends for many years. And based on some of their conversations, .
We also learn that their attraction to each other had been bubbling beneath the surface for quite some time. You should have kissed me then. I wanted to. These details are important because their relationship is quite significant to the overall story. Unlike the first game, we start off with two characters who already have a strong and loving bond. And given the circumstances of Joel’s death,and Ellie’s mission that resulted from it, what this all tells us is that this story is not about relationships being formed, this story is about what happens when it all falls apart. One section that I think works really wellto convey this is when Ellie is making her .
Way across the sea in a small boat, and thewaves crash into her with increasing force until she goes overboard and has to swim throughthe rough waters that keep pulling her down. To me, this felt like an effective metaphor of her mission, and how it is probably going to cost her more than she is willing to lose. But unfortunately, the majority of the gameplaydoesn’t really reflect this. The thrill of brutal combat might at firstfeel in line with your desire for revenge, but as the game progresses, the narrative and gameplay start feeling more and more divorced from each other. What is perhaps the best example of this is that, in the story, Ellie’s hand starts shaking because of the acts of violence she committed, .
But in the gameplay, you’re picking up bonus points that, among others things, actually give you a steadier hand while committing those same acts of violence. The game does make an effort to humanize enemies by for example having them call out each other’s name and by having them beg for mercy when you overpower them, but this not exactly something that directly affects the gameplay, and the impact of it is ultimately overshadowed by the game regularly providing you with new weapons that make you as eager as ever to engage in violent combat. In more general terms, the main issue is thatthe story shows a negative transformation, while the core gameplay lets you experiencea positive one. .
And in terms of storytelling, this is a problem. It should be taken into account though that mainstream games often come with certain expectations. Things like player upgrades, new weapons and a general sense of progression are pretty much the standard when it comes to gameplay. And yet, I cannot help but imagine what The Last of Us: Part 2 could have been like if the gameplay was as bold as its narrative. For starters, I think it would have been muchmore interesting if Ellie started out with all of her gear and all of her skills fullyor nearly maxed out. After all, she was now living in a safe andplentiful community. .
As she then journeys deeper into her heart of darkness, we could have actually felt the consequences of Ellie’s obsessive thirst for vengeance through the gameplay. For example, we could have lost skill points as Ellie’s physical and mental health deteriorates, we could have lost weapons that can only bereplaced with more rudimentary ones, reminding us that we are indeed far from home. And we could have had every kill increasingly punished with momentary instability or nightmarish visions haunting us later during moments of quietness. I can’t say this would have been more fun, but I do think the gameplay would have felt much more engaging and meaningful in this way. .
It would have allowed us to actually experienceEllie’s self-destruction, and made us question if the journey is worth the cost, which the narrative clearly wants us to do. I even think it could have fitted in nicelywith the game’s controversial structure. Because lest we forget, when we finally reachthe grand confrontation with Abby, we’ve only played half the game. We let you both live, and you wasted it. Dad! Dad! At what feels like the climax of the story,the game suddenly switches perspectives to Abby. .
You’re doing the right thing. Yeah. We get a brief flashback with her and her dad, who is revealed to be the surgeon who was supposed to operate Ellie, All the sacrifices, all the horrific.. all of that is justified with this one act. and who got killed by Joel in the process of getting Ellie out of the hospital. Besides revealing Abby’s motive for wantingrevenge on Joel, the scene also functions to create some sympathy, or at least empathy, for Abby’s side of the story. So far, so good, you’d think. .
Nothing we haven’t seen before. But then, instead of going back to the climax,we jump to the day Ellie arrived in Seattle, not for another flashback, but to re-live the entirety of those three days from Abby’s perspective. On my first playthrough, this sudden shiftdidn’t quite work for me for a few reasons. For one, all the narrative tension that had been building up to that point just grinds to a halt. You’re suddenly thrown into a new storywithout knowing that this isn’t a brief sidestep, and for me, this resulted in me not really being all that invested in Abby’s story, as I figured the game would lead me back to the climax any minute now. A second issue I had is that even when I didrealize I was going to replay the whole story as Abby, .
I was expecting it to quickly connectto that of Ellie, I was waiting to see when Abby would discover that Ellie was huntingher, and what interesting twists this could lead to. But this also doesn’t happen. Fuck these trespassers. What trespassers? In fact, Abby doesn’t know about Ellie’s presence until the very end, and as a result of that, it took me even longer to pay attention to Abby’s actual story. When I was introduced to Lev and Yara for example, who are two key characters in Abby’s story, .
I figured they were just secondary characters making a brief appearance. On top of that, when I did reach the climaxagain about 10 hours later, I had spent so much time with Abby, whose story I ultimately ended up liking and getting invested in, that I had almost forgotten that this was alsoabout Ellie. I’m the one that you want. All this confusion though was probably intended. At the very least, it had to be expected. It certainly was a bold narrative choice, one that almost demands a second playthrough to fully take in. In its form, Abby’s story goes far beyond merely letting you understand the villain of the story. .
Instead, it really is a separate story with its own separate protagonist, with its own main character. One that just happens to connect with theone you were previously playing. And this might be the most ambitious progression of the themes that The Last of Us originally set out the explore. Remembering Raskolnikov’s dream and the idea of the world of The Last of Us representing one that is torn apart because everyone is infected by their own righteousness, because everyone believes their own convictions to be infallible, this narrative form confronts us with this self-centeredness in the most challenging way possible. We’re done. It feels like after part 1, .
The developers noticed how, despite being shown a morally grey world of multiple competing perspectives, the audience still identified themselves so strongly with Joel. All it took really was just one sequence that portrayed him as a struggling yet beloved father, one who would do anything to protect his child, and one who experienced such a traumatic loss that he became almost unambiguously sympathetic. Just imagine how different the experiencewould have been if we were introduced to Joel as a possessive and abusive drunk who gotSarah killed because of his own negligence, how differently that would have framed an ending in which he forcefully takes away another girl. Either way, the point is to show how just a few simple narrative beats locked us into a singular perspective .
Through which we framedthe rest of the story. In a way, it shows how easily we are manipulated, how easily we too are infected with one way of looking at the world, with one way of judging the people within it. And how difficult it is, as Abby’s sectionrevealed in Part 2, to break out of it. But, before we get carried away with discussing the form of this story, let’s also review its content, and what Abby’s story really tells us. We could try another truce, but how long beforesome asshole on their side, or our side, unravels the whole thing. .
Abby’s story is set in the midst of a conflictbetween the WLF and the Seraphites, two groups that are both infected by their own ideological fanaticism, the former being of a more imperialistic nature, the latter a more religious one. Both groups dehumanize the other, and do notrefrain from committing acts of violence. On this particular day, Isaac, the leader of the WLF, informs Abby that they’re planning a grand assault on the home base of the Seraphites to put an end to the cycle of violence. There’s a big storm a few days out, we’regonna use it to mask our approach. Abby, however, also learns that her ex-boyfriendand former Firefly Owen has gone AWOL. .
Knowing that he is probably in his secrethideout at the aquarium, Abby sneaks away from her duties to find him. Seriously, watch yourself out there. See ya. To understand the journey that follows we need to understand how her character got to this place. As we are shown during a couple of flashbacks, the loss of her father made her entire world fall apart. The purpose-driven Fireflies she was a partof disbanded resulting in her becoming a grunt stuck in this perpetual conflict between two factions, a fitting metaphor for the conflict raging within herself. .
But Joel’s still out there, you know? We also see how this obsession with revenge affected her as she was suffering from frequent nightmares, ruined her relationship with Owen, and seemingly spent most her time in the gym, where she symbolically reduced herself intoa weapon with the sole purpose of inflicting blunt force trauma on the man who took everything away from her. Joel Miller. Who are you? However, the most important moment of her story, and the one that connects it to that of Ellie, .
Is that Abby actually achieved her goal of getting revenge, she already completed the mission that we were on as Ellie. But when we are once more brought back to this scene and get to witness it from Abby’s perspective, we immediately see how killing Joel doesn’t bring Abby any meaningful sense of fulfillment. And it is within this context that we begin her journey during those 3 days in Seattle. As such, Abby’s story is essentially anelaborate cautionary tale. It shows us what would happen if we were toget our revenge. For one, we see how it hasn’t stopped Abby’s nightmares, we see how it hasn’t fixed her broken relationships. .
In fact, her connection to her friends onlyseems to be suffering even more. Owen is increasingly disillusioned about beinga part of the WLF, I don’t want to fight over land that I don’tgive a fuck about anymore. and his pregnant girlfriend Mel is constantlyhaunted by her conscience. I just wish I didn’t part of it. But most interestingly, because we have already played as Ellie, we also know that on day three, all of Abby’s closest friends are going to be killed. It adds a sense of dread to her story that I think also helps to connect us closer to her inner world .
By emulating her feeling of having done something wrong, and therefore, her subconscious fear of a coming punishment. But there’s more to Abby’s story than merely showing us that revenge is bad and leads to more bad things, it also explores a possible road to redemption, which begins when she encounters Lev and Yara, two Seraphite children who are hunted by their own people for breaking the rules, though, we later learnthe real reason is that Lev is transgender and wants to be someone he is not allowed to be. Do you want to ask me about it? Do you want me to ask you about it? .
No. Okay. Despite Yara being badly hurt, Abby initially leaves them be, but when she later finds Owen her conscience gets the best of her and she goes back for them. In contrast to Ellie’s story, Abby’s journey throughout these 3 days is one that is ultimately defined by a positive transformation, and therefore feels much more in line with the gameplay in which you are again improving skills, finding upgrades, and eventually come out better then you were at the start. Playing as Abby does begin with some minor dissonance .
As we are introduced to a community of plenty, and yet we cannot take more than a handful of bullets when going into hostile territory. Again, I think this would have been more interesting if the game didn’t insist on you experiencing scarcity until it becomes actually meaningful to the narrative. Where Abby’s gameplay does really shinehowever is in its portrayal of her fear of heights. Every time you’re up high somewhere and look down, the game gives you a dizzying effect, Stop looking down. and this is naturally pushed to the extreme in a pivotal section when you have bridge a gap over a towering height. What’s going on between you and your friendOwen? .
Oh my god Lev, now? To me, this is an amazing integration of storyand gameplay. It takes an internal emotional state, a personalfear, and through gameplay, lets you feel what that experience is like. Plus, it also serves as an important momentin the story as Abby, with the help of Lev, is learning to embrace her vulnerabilities, to once again open herself up, as Joel once did, to a part of herself that she had soforcefully closed off. When she then descends into a hospital basementto find medicine for Yara, she even ends up in a place that is literally called the trauma center, .
A place where you fight what is easily the game’s most hideous creature, a monster that is not at all a metaphor for the pain and trauma Abby has been carrying around. The scene, as pretty much all other boss fightsyou encounter, still feels a bit game-y, a bit out of place in this otherwise maturestory. But I can appreciate the symbolism nonetheless. It is also thanks to Lev that Abby is able to break away from the WLF, and the warmongering disposition they represent. When the grand assault on the Seraphites’home base finally goes down, Abby is forced to chose between Isaac and Lev, between who she was, and who she can still become, .
Abby, move. Goddammit, he’s just a kid. a decision that at this point is easily made. Those were your fucking people. You’re my people! Abby’s real test of course doesn’t come till later, at the end of that harrowing third day in Seattle, face to face with the person who just killed her friends. .
We let you both live, and you wasted it. The final confrontation results in a one on one fight against Ellie, and is probably where the gameplay feels the strangest. Being so intimately familiar with both sides of the story, I don’t think I’ve ever felt so detached from the buttons the game made me press. I didn’t want either of them to kill the other. I wanted Ellie to go home with Dina, I wanted Abby to take off with Lev, but I also get that this couldn’t happen. I knew these two characters hadn’t placedthemselves in the other’s shoes like I had. .
I knew things would end violently, and they did. Abby eventually gets the upper hand, and is about to kill Dina despite Ellie telling her that she is pregnant. She’s pregnant. Good. Abby! Lev however, interrupts her, after which Abbylets them go. She breaks the cycle of violence, and it’s over. Except, it is not over for Ellie. .
Dina. I’m in the kitchen. We jump ahead a couple of months, and find Ellie and Dina living in a beautiful farm with their little JJ. We put on some music, watch the sunset, and tend to the animals. All is well, it seems. But like the illusion that Joel was living in after the events of part 1, Ellie too finds herself living a beautiful lie. There is definitely a lot to say here aboutthe unequal nature of cycles of violence, and how the belief that they can be brokenby just walking away from the conflict actually .
Covers up the more complicated reality inwhich not all those involved have the privilege to do so, and are therefore doomed to eithermaintain the cycle, or be annihilated. I’ll make her pay, that’s what you saidwhen we got back to Jackson. But going back to the overarching theme ofThe Last of Us, the one that we articulated through Raskolnikov’s dream in which everyone became infected by their own truth, I think what this final act shows us more than anything else, is that the real source of this infection, this plague that doomed us to ruin, is of a deeply emotional nature. .
We’re talking about love, hate, pain and grief, and anyone who has ever experienced any of these knows they cannot truly be engaged with, let alone resolved, through mere logic and rationality. Trauma is not a choice, you cannot will yourselfout of that kind of hurt. And this is true for Ellie as well. I don’t sleep. I don’t eat, I’m… When she once more decides to go after Abby, thereby putting everything she has left at risk, we are shown just how deep the infection runs. .
We understand she is not making a rational choice. We know it is not worth it. We’ve got a family. She doesn’t get to be more important than that. But this is exactly the point, it emphasizes just how powerless we can be in the face of overwhelming emotions, how feelings do not care about facts, how they can drive us to do things we know are destructive to us, how they, like an infection, overtake us against our will. .
When she arrives at Abby’s last know locationin Santa Barbara, Ellie encounters a hostile gang called the Rattlers, Wait, wait, wait! You said Abby, you’re looking for an Abby right? We picked one up a couple of months ago. and learns that they have captured Abby and Lev a few months back. Many people had mixed feelings about this final act that suddenly introduces a new group right before the ending, but I actually think it’s a section where the gameplay carries a lot of subliminal meaning to the narrative. For the first time in the game really, you’re facing morally unambiguous human enemies, and you are even given a submachine gun totake all these slave-owning bastards out. .
But what all this is really telling you, at least on a subconscious level, is that you are no longer on a quest for revenge, you are on a rescue mission. After making your way through their base,you eventually find Abby down on the beach, who has clearly gone through a punishment worse than anything Ellie could have done to her. It’s you. You cut her loose, and follow her as she freesLev and carries him to the shore. Ellie however, being reminded of the image of Joel’s dead body, is not yet ready to let things end, and forces Abby to fight her. .
This time, Ellie, despite losing two fingers,gets the upper hand, but then sees another image of Joel, now sitting on his porch, that finally makes her let go of her obsession. Abby and Lev sail off, and Ellie goes home to a now abandoned farm. Now, I personally felt this final fight crossedthe line of being gratuitous. It reminded me of the kind of boss battlethat was criticized by Death Stranding, where a similar fight is just a fake out followedby the real ending, one that actually utilizes the core gameplay to bring the main theme of the story to its conclusion. Here however, these final moments of gameplay,now reduced to dodging and punching, .
Feel rather unnecessary and not all that meaningfulto the story. I wonder how much more powerful it would havebeen if Ellie stormed the beach with that image of Joel’s body burned into her mind, but then saw Abby hanging there, defenseless, vulnerable, human. We then take out our knife, see that image of Joel on his porch, and have the last moment of gameplay be cutting her down. Again, it’s not the most exciting alternative, .
But I think it would be a more fitting one considering the final flashback scene we’re shown later. A scene that recontextualizes the entire story, and reveals what Ellie’s harrowing journey was truly about. At the very end of the game, it is revealed that Ellie came by Joel’s house the night before he was murdered, and that the two finally talked to each other. Ellie once more expressed her anger and frustrationover Joel pulling her out of the hospital, but we also see how she took the first stepin trying to fix their broken relationship. I don’t think I can ever forgive you for that. .
But, I would like to try. I’d like that. It’s a beautifully bittersweet revelation, and it seems obvious that Ellie’s recollection of this moment provided her with the emotional strength to also forgive Abby. But I think there is a little more to it than this. I know why you killed Joel. There is a telling moment during the first confrontation with Abby where Ellie believes all this was about her, about her immunity, and what this could have meant for the world. .
There’s no cure because of me, I’m theone that you want. But of course, as we later see from Abby’s point of view, for her it was not about Ellie at all, it was about her father, it was abouther friends. And Ellie’s failure to see this reveals just how strongly she believed that her immunity was all that matters, that this was the only way for her to mean something. I was supposed to die in that hospital, my life would have fucking mattered. However, Ellie’s fixation on her immunityreally served to hide a deeper fear. How is it that you’re never scared? Who says that I’m not? .
As she expressed in part 1, what she is mostafraid of has little to do with her immunity, or the vaccine that might be created because of it, I’m scared of ending up alone. it has to do with her being alone, with her being unwanted, unneeded, unloved. And therefore, her greatest obstacle is not about turning her immunity into something meaningful, as that was never really for herto decide. Instead, her real challenge is to let herselfbe more than her immunity, to allow others into her life, .
To love and to let herself be loved. I don’t wanna lose you. In this sense, her immunity only stood inthe way of this. For why would she open herself up to someone if there’s a good chance that person ends up getting infected? A lesson she, after all, learned the hard way when she lost her only childhood friend Riley. The promise of a vaccine made this even worse, as it allowed her not to have to do any work herself. Now she could just tell herself; “once thereis a vaccine, then all will be well, then people can’t be taken away from me anymore,” which also explains why she directed so much anger at Joel, .
As he was the one who robbed her of this lie, who forced her to face the world as we do, without any guarantees, without the promise of some miraculous intervention. How could love possibly exist here? But then came this moment on the porch, with Joel looking Ellie in the eye, and telling her that, despite her cutting him out of her life, despite her needlessly lashing out at him, despite her making him miserable, he still regrets nothing. .
I would do it all over again. And I like to think that at this moment, Ellie truly realized that was she unconditionally loved, that her immunity was not the only thing that made her life matter. She realized that even in this broken world, a world where people are so easily torn out of each other’s stories, where it is so much more difficult to understand than it is to inflict pain, where there is no promise of salvation, she could still mean something, .
She still had people to hold on to, she could still find hope. And this, I think, is what it took for herto finally let go. In her review, Julie Muncy described The Last of Us: Part 2 as the quintessential daughter game, implying that even though Joel was no longer the main character, his actions still defined most of Ellie’s story. And while I don’t agree with her that thiswas a flaw in the narrative, as I believe it was a story that was inevitable and necessary to tell before we would be able to move on, I do think it rings true for some aspects of the gameplay .
That weren’t quite able to escape the father’s shadow to evolve into something truly new. But who knows what the future holds, for as Muncy concludes, The Last of Us: Part 2 does feel like the end of something. And indeed, as Ellie returns to a farm that is now empty, save for her stuff and Joel’s guitar, it is once more emphasized that this was a story about leaving things behind, about finding the closure that is needed to begin anew. I’ll see you around. At the end of his great novel, Dostoevsky suggests that despite the punishment he endured, .
The true redemption of his main character lies beyond the reach of the novel, and will not be given for nothing. It will take hard work and commitment. And I think the same is true for Ellie, who at the very end, walks off into an uncertain future. As many have pointed out however, this future might be more hopeful than it seems, because just as there are hints that Abby and Levmake it to safety and find the regrouped Fireflies they were searching for, there are also hints suggesting that Dina is waiting for Ellie back in Jackson, .
Ready to give her another chance. But, to quote the last lines of Crime and Punishment, which, if we change the pronouns, seem fitting to these final moments with Ellie: “here begins a new account, the account of a woman’s gradual renewal, the account of her gradual regeneration, her gradual transition from one world to another, her acquaintance with a new, hitherto completely unknown reality. It might make the subject of a new story – but our present story is ended.” If The Last of Us: Part 2 proved anything, .
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