How The Last of Us 2 will push the boundaries of gaming

“The Last of Us” was one of the best games of the last generation of consoles. It brought together all the technical and storytelling prowess Naughty Dog learned during its time developing for the PlayStation 3 and was a tour de force for the console.

“The Last of Us” influenced gaming in a way that can still be seen today. Critically acclaimed games like “God of War” were directly inspired by the game’s dark, intense, journey across the United States in ruin.

The game wasn’t the first to feature an intimate adventure revolving around a parental relationship. However, Joel and Ellie’s perseverance over the elements, Cordyceps zombies, and hostile survivors made “The Last of Us” a pivotal title during a critical phase in gaming history where big-name studios were starting to invest in emotionally challenging titles. As such, “The Last of Us” was a pioneer among AAA games that weren’t afraid to delve into dark subject matter.

Despite its dark tone, “The Last of Us” has a poignant message that centers around the surrogate father-daughter relationship between Joel and Ellie. Joel lost his daughter before the events of the game, and Ellie’s parents died when she was young. The two have massive trust issues and are understandably anxious about opening themselves up in a world where other survivors are as likely to try and kill you as the infected.

The original game is about the love between Joel and Ellie conquering the odds. Despite the repeated dangers, they find themselves in, they persevere. At the end of the game, they find themselves in a place they can finally live in peace.

Just as the original pushed the boundaries of what games could be, “The Last of Us Part II” is poised to have the same impact upon its eventual release. During the game’s reveal during PlayStation Experience 2016, Neil Druckmann, creative director and lead co-writer on the game, said that “The Last of Us Part II” would be the counter to the original. Instead of love, the story would focus around hate and how it can twist and impact even the best of us.

We only have snippets on how this theme of hate will play out. Five years have passed between the first game and the sequel, and a 19-year old Ellie is faced with a new confrontation. We know that she and Joel will be facing a new faction of survivors, the Seraphite cultists.

Presumably, these cultists will attack the village that Joel and Ellie settle in at the end of the first game. However, unlike the altruistic journey, the two went on in the original, “The Last of Us Part II” concerns revenge and the physical and emotional toll the violence takes on the two.

The mirrored narrative in “The Last of Us Part II” has the potential to be a breakthrough in storytelling. Very seldomly do we get the chance to play as a “bad guy” in a game, and it looks like that’s what Ellie and Joel will drift towards.

Most games that have you killing in cold blood work in some sort of justification to smooth things over. From what we know of the game so far, though, it looks like “The Last of Us Part II” will examine the morality of taking a life, even if it seems warranted. Few games truly take on ethics in this way, and seeing Joel and Ellie’s descent into darkness will be as exciting as it is heartwrenching.

Also, groundbreaking for “The Last of Us Part II” is the fact that Ellie is gay, and it looks like her relationship with one of the survivors may play a part in the inciting action in the game. During the E3 2018 trailer, we see Ellie dancing with and kissing Dina, another woman. While Ellie previously kissed a girl in the prequel DLC to the original game, this trailer (along with comments from Druckmann in interviews) seems to confirm that the writers intend for Ellie to be gay or bi.

Considering how few LGBTQ+ protagonists there are in gaming, Ellie starring in a AAA game is a huge deal. If Dina’s death at the hands of the cultists is one of the things that makes Ellie swear revenge, it may be the first gay relationship so prominently featured in a major title.

“The Last of Us Part II” is poised to lead the way in narrative design for the next generation of gaming. Titles like this have taken video games from being considered toys to art on the level of cinema. It’s an exciting year to be a gamer, and a big part of that is the upcoming release of this highly anticipated title.

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