So The Last of Us Part II has just been released… and the majority hate it. There is a large dissonance between critics and users that cannot be ignored even by those not really paying attention to all the controversy. But why is it exactly so divisive among the masses? Most of the gripes and critiques from the user scores have something to do with its narrative and how Part II executes its plot.
Amidst all the hate this game has been getting, I’m not really ashamed about liking it. I loved the first game, and while I feel that the sequel didn’t match up to its predecessor, I still really liked it nonetheless. And it’s a bit of a shame that many speculate that I’ve either been paid to give the game a good score or am catering to an agenda as to why I gave The Last of Us Part II such a high score. Check my review here if you’re interested.
However, it was difficult to talk about my primary gripes with the game without breaking the embargo. As we have been given the condition to remain silent of the later sections of the game. And for the most part, I understood why that was there, and I am fine with it.
But I couldn’t really talk about the narrative until now. So if you’re interested in getting The Last of Us Part II, haven’t played the game yet, or just don’t want to be spoiled then now’s your chance to close this article.
That being said, I believe that there is a problem with how The Last of Us Part II executes its plot.
How does one make a likable character?
The Last of Us Part II boasts interesting people to get to know, but never truly gives us the time to take a shine to them. Many of the named characters can feel like somebody we occasionally meet in a convenience store. Or coworkers from the same company that works in a different department that we occasionally go out to drink with.
We see small snippets of their character that imply they have lives beyond the story of Ellie and Abby. But the implication isn’t enough to truly make them memorable or for us to care of them. In fact, some deaths in Part II can feel like a cheap swing of shock factor.
Dropped a Bridge On Them…Then Forgot
To give an example, take a look at Jesse and Manny. Two individuals from Ellie and Abby’s social circle.
Jesse is a likable down-to-Earth young man with a helpful personality. It isn’t hard to get attached to him, but then the game does him dirty. He is killed without much fanfare as he immediately gets shot in the head by Abby the moment he barges out the door. My issue with this isn’t so much that he died without a dramatic ending. My issue is that he is immediately forgotten by the plot and characters and he is never mentioned again. A tad bit ironic considering he died in a theater.
Manny is treated with even less respect. He barely gets any screen time and dies without Abby or her friends mentioning him ever again. He’s a local Casanova who frequently sleeps with girls and has a father to care for. Despite his charm, he gets shot in the head by Tommy as he is helping Abby and is never mentioned again.
Perhaps one could say that their deaths were realistic. After all, we’ve been killing people in this game without much issues that it isn’t too surprising seeing the main cast be subjected to the same rules. However, from a storytelling standpoint, this is a terrible way to treat your cast.
What Could’ve Been
Some already established characters feel like a waste of potential not to use. Tommy, an ex-member of the Fireflies, never truly has any interaction with the WLF, who some of them were former members. In fact, the man barely even has any interaction with the game.
Tommy Miller, who is Joel’s flesh-and-blood brother, is placed into a background role in Ellie’s quest for revenge. Instead, we get Dina, who despite being likable, wasn’t really much of a memorable character. To be honest, Dina doesn’t really have much going for her than being Ellie’s girlfriend. Well, she’s pregnant but what did that do for the story? Dina feels like a character with no real ties and the plot could’ve probably proceeded without her. She didn’t feel as impactful as Naughty Dog was clearly trying to make her be.
And while Dina did ultimately save Ellie’s life a few times and over, there doesn’t seem to be any real attachment from the players to her. As the game focuses too much on hate and revenge, to get us attached to the character. She’s charming, but not memorable and ultimately replaceable.
Perhaps it could’ve been better had Tommy been the one to accompany Ellie. Or perhaps rendezvous with her halfway throughout the game. It could’ve been an interesting contrast to see how different the dynamic between Joel and Tommy was. Tommy already has ties to the Fireflies and an even more understandable reason for wanting to hunt Abby down. Instead, he gets shifted into a few cutscenes and mentions that barely flesh him out.
And of course, I can’t ignore the elephant in the room.
Joel Miller, the character we’ve played as got attached to and journeyed with gets killed brutally with a golf club to the head. For fans, this is the biggest issue with Part II. Not Joel’s death, but how he died. Watching a character we grew to love from a title we all revere get beaten to death feels like the most disrespectful way to go. But I believe that was the point. The fact that he died in such a manner fuels Ellie’s, and by extension the player’s, desire for revenge.
The problem is, is that this doesn’t help make Abby more sympathetic. No matter how hard Naughty Dog tried to humanize her, fans have already decided to hate her. Nothing she did could’ve changed their minds. And while I myself found her likable, I still couldn’t forgive her for Joel’s death nor did I ever want to play as her.
Fans of the original seem to universally hate this character, and she might have been more likable or at least divisive had Naughty Dog portrayed her better. Perhaps allowing us to take control of Abby before she starts her revenge quest and showing what her group was like before they left for Joel would’ve given players time to get a different impression of her.
There are several key factors why Abby is so easy to dislike by many. Right from how she was introduced, her own conflict, and the execution of her character. Her chances for a good first impression are marred even more considering her killing Joel was already leaked some time before the game’s release.
Abby’s a bit whimsical in the worst of times. And some of her more reckless decisions had placed her and her group into worse shit. Not even touching that she gets her group of friends killed as a consequence of her revenge on Joel, but she leaves her station and commits insubordination for the sake of an old flame. And much later on, starts turning on them and kills members of WLF without any internal conflict. Her own brothers-at-arms killed by her own hand and she doesn’t show an ounce of hesitation doing it. To add insult to injury, she also betrays her pregnant friend by having sex with said old flame while he was in a relationship.
It feels a bit that her character is a bit of a wild card and has no real attachment to her group. She has no real sense of loyalty to the organization who raised her despite living with them her whole life. And she abandons them for an old flame, who for some reason shot his comrade for the very enemy they’re fighting against.
At times, she can seem downright unsympathetic. Her motivation for wanting to kill Joel was understandable, but very difficult to agree with. Not just because we, as the player, are attached to him. But because of the brutal way she kills such a beloved character, who mind you saved her life. She comes off as unnecessarily ruthless and it’s honestly understandable that some fans would want her dead.
Her one truly redeeming trait is her sisterly protectiveness towards Yara and Lev. That and her sparing Ellie’s life were the sole factors of why I’d probably chosen to spare her life in the ending if Naughty Dog ever gave us the option.
Perhaps we would’ve been much better off if The Last of Us Part II gave us the final decision and the final say. The resolution between Ellie and Abby’s animosity towards each other were the primary complaints of many. With quite a bit of the player base believing that Abby got off scot-free while Ellie’s life is in shambles.
I know that when it comes to story, Naughty Dog has always been adamant about having it their way. It’s a narrative driven plot, I can understand that. There are no alternative endings--no true say from the ones playing the game. We’re just there to guide Ellie and Abby to finish their journey. The destination is the same and the route is fixed. But despite all that, I can’t help but feel it’s a wasted opportunity.
Lack of Communication Kills
Another part that would irk many is the broken dynamic between Joel and Ellie. Particularly relating to the events of the first game. Was Joel right for what he did? The ending leaves that open ended.
However, in this game Joel seems to be portrayed in the wrong. Or at least, it comes off as such. Many variables of his decision to save Ellie’s life has never been given a mention. Such as the Fireflies not really waiting for Ellie’s consent to have the operation and them threatening to kill Joel if he interfered. With these factors, it honestly seemed that Joel was in the morally right to save Ellie from the Fireflies, whose decision to kill a little girl for a shot of at a cure seemed inherently desperate and selfish.
That’s not touching arguments from the more medically well versed individuals, who point out the impossibility of creating vaccine from fungi. But that’s a discussion far above my league to explain.
With all these factors that would make it understandable, why doesn’t Joel just go ahead and explain that to Ellie? While the fight between the two did add some tension and drama between the original dynamic, it was almost unnecessary. If Joel had just explained to Ellie that the Fireflies tried to kill both of them, only sparing Joel because of Marlene’s insistence, then perhaps an argument between the two would’ve erupted but it wouldn’t be anywhere near the tension both of them feel for each other now. Instead, Joel hesitates and Ellie treats it as if it was an entirely selfish decision on his part.
Admittedly, Ellie was most likely raised around the Fireflies and Marlene was her mother’s friend, whom Joel killed. So it’s understandable that the two would have some tension after the final events of the first game.
It’s honestly a bit of a shame that the interaction with Joel was kept to a minimum. We only ever get to truly bond with him in Part II during flashbacks. But by then, he’s already dead. And for newcomers who never played the first game, they might not understand or be able to sympathize as to why Ellie wants revenge so badly enough to cause the destruction of so many groups.
Of course, that’s not touching some of the controversy surrounding the game that further alienated players from it.
Neil Druckmann is infamous for his strong political beliefs. And even more so for statements online that further push others away. This isn’t to say that he’s in the wrong for expressing himself, but political ideologies have always been the most divisive sort on any entertainment medium.
One statement from the creative director had him praising one of the gaming communities’ biggest enemies, Anita Sarkeesian. Druckmann expressed admiration for the feminist which earned him quite the ire from the players. And there’s been heated debates on the web as to whether or not Anita really did have influence when it comes to the works of Naughty Dog.
There’s also a sex scene in the game which I feel is in poor taste. In the heat of the moment, Abby and Owen do the nasty right in front of the camera. And while there’s a discretion shot of the act happening, it did show Abby’s nipples even for only a flash of a second. This entire sex scene felt out of place and unnecessary, not to mention uncomfortable.
Not to mention that it reveals a double standard when it comes to Sony. The Japanese tech giant that was adamant on censoring sexual explicit content somehow allows this as an exception past their guidelines. I feel there is hypocrisy present that players understandably took ire in.
Another final controversy I should note is Naughty Dog’s deliberate false advertising in the trailers by replacing character models shown. I understood that they wanted to keep people in suspense for Joel’s death but giving your players false information isn’t helping your case.
My Final Thoughts
There are a lot of narrative decisions that I can criticize The Last of Us Part II for, but I ultimately winded up enjoying the game for what it was. People might not like me for doing so, but I do acknowledge where the strong dislike is coming from. And I feel that these factors are what contributed to why players show a strong distaste for the game.
Contrary to what defenders are saying, I don’t believe that most people who hate the game are transphobic or homophobic in any way. They do have legitimate criticisms as to why they found the game’s story to be too dark and depressing. At the same time, I don’t agree what attackers are saying when they justify review bombing a game for something they haven’t even played.
Could the story have been done better? Sure. Would I have loved to spend more time with a beloved character? Hell yes. Naughty Dog definitely took a large gamble by taking the characters that we love and treating them in such a brutal fashion. Which understandably earns the ire of the fans who have come to love them. And ultimately I believe this is where your mileage my vary. Do you think Naughty Dog did these characters justice? Or did they portray them poorly?
I would love to hear what people think about controversies surrounding The Last of Us Part II. Do you agree with me? No? Leave us your thoughts so we can have something to think about.