The Last of Us sits near the top of the list of my favorite games of all time. From the incredible performances by Ashley Johnson and Troy Baker to the haunting and hopeless score by Gustavo Santaolalla, everything about this masterpiece redefined what I thought video games could and should be. I’ve talked about The Last of Us so much since we’ve been together that my wife knows what it is. Yes the same poor soul who requires The Ludovico Technique when I start talking about video games got me a PS4 just so that I wouldn’t miss out on playing the sequel: The Last of Us Part II. The last seven years have been slowly building hype for the highly anticipated follow up to an almost fever pitch.
While many gamers, myself included, can’t wait to reconnect with Joel and Ellie after 7 long years, there are still some fans who are unhappy about the upcoming release and the circumstances surrounding it. Some of the fans’ criticisms about The Last of Us Part II may be valid as the road to Naughty Dog’s highly anticipated sequel has been mired with frustration and controversy. The Last of Us Part II has seen multiple delays some of which have been accompanied by concerns about working conditions for Naughty Dog employees leaving some fans worried about supporting poor development practices, such as crunch time.
Further complicating the delays and reports of terrible working conditions, spoilers for both gameplay and significant story elements were leaked and subsequently spread on YouTube and Twitter in effort to ruin the ending for players prior to release. These leaks and their spread has led to speculation that they were the actions of a former Naughty Dog employee disgruntled over the developer’s crunch culture, though Sony has stated that this was not the case. Other rumors have hinted that the leaks were the result of a hack by former fans who became upset with the story’s direction and executed the reveal out of protest.
Needless to say, there has been a lot of controversy surrounding this game in the months leading up to its release but there’s some cause for good news. Early reports indicate that The Last of Us Part II has already reached Gold Status for pre-orders which is a sign that plenty of fans can’t wait to get back out there will Ellie and Joel to chuck bricks at the infected. Director Neil Druckmann has come out to say that the spoilers, while heartbreaking, don’t tell the whole story specifically saying “the ending is not out there.” With the release drawing closer, I wanted to add to some of that good news by talking about the top 5 reasons why I’m still excited for The Last of Us Part II and why, if you enjoyed the first game, you should still be, too.
Top 5 Reasons to Be Excited for The Last of Us Part II
***WARNING: The remainder of this article contains spoilers for The Last of Us.***
5. There’s More Story to Tell
This one might seem obvious, but The Last of Us ended with… some questions needing answered. Aside from each individual player’s choices of whether or not to perform unnecessary surgery on unarmed Firefly doctors, Joel’s decision to rescue Ellie and lie to her about the circumstances of her liberation are noble, selfish and dangerous both to his life and his relationship with his newfound surrogate daughter. The best part about the first game’s ending though is that it wasn’t specifically designed to set up a sequel. It is designed to propose morally ambiguous questions that it wants the player to answer. While those questions are definitive in a self-contained story, they are also open-ended enough to hint at the potential consequences of Joel’s actions leaving the player able to envision where their journey might go next. Those consequences will undoubtedly be what defines the next chapter for Ellie and Joel and how they will address the consequences as individuals and as a family.
4. Potential for New Characters
One of the most underappreciated aspects of the first Last of Us is the supporting cast. While Troy Baker’s Joel and Ashley Johnson’s Ellie are what brings you in and ground you to the story, the characters that they meet and interact with throughout their journey are what make the world around them feel rich, immersive, threatening, and real. From Joel’s relationship with both Tommy and Tess, to their encounters with brother’s Henry and Sam to the always lovely Bill and his questionable methods, the supporting cast of the first game is as well acted as anything you’ll see in any title. Not only can we expect new characters to add to enrich the story and challenge Joel and Ellie in new, powerful ways, but with Naughty Dog’s track record we can also expect that they’ll be wonderfully voiced and acted with the same care and caliber as we’ve seen in previous titles from the studio.
3. Another Score from Gustavo Santaolalla
Unlike their film counterparts where the musical score can help to underline, drive and define a movie’s narrative, video games seldom rely upon music to play as integral a role in the overall experience. Every so often a game will come along with a score that is beautiful, powerful and helps to build the world of the game so perfectly that setting it to any other musical composition would be a detriment. The Last of Us is one of those games. The minimalist electro-acoustic score backed by the subtlest of orchestral swells come together and grow beautifully much like the untamed vegetation slowly overtaking the buildings in the game’s backdrops. Santaolalla has returned to compose the music for The Last of Us Part II and the small samples of music that have been revealed show that he has prepared a follow up score that’s equal parts haunting, hopeless, striking, and elegant.
2. The True Faith Trailer
It may seem like cheating listing a trailer, a tool specifically designed to build hype for a game, as a reason to be excited about a game – but hear me out. This trailer is spectacular. It starts with Ellie playing acoustic guitar and singing a potentially stolen cover of True Faith by New Order before a smash cut shows Ellie running from someone through an abandoned building. In this brief 55 second sequence, we see her avoid multiple encounters with human enemies as well as clickers before ending up outside where she imagines herself being back playing that guitar with her friend/lover before readying herself with her handgun. Not since the original Gears of War trailer has an acoustic cover of an 80’s synth-pop song set as the backdrop to a post-apocalyptic battle made me so amped. If you haven’t had a chance to see the trailer yet, check it out below.
1. Return of Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson
Not many performances in video games have stuck with me the way that Troy Baker’s Joel and Ashley Johnson’s Ellie have. While Ellie and Joel’s journey from being strangers to becoming almost father/daughter can be easily credited to the fantastic story and script, the evolution and believability of their chemistry and interpersonal dynamics are owed entirely to Ashley Johnson and Troy Baker’s performances. Everything about their characters comes through perfectly in both of their performances, from their growth to every subtle nuance and facial expression. Plus it just seems like both actors share great chemistry outside of the game. From their reminiscing about their meeting during the first game to their live musical performance together, they seem to work well together and like each other and that always gives me good feelings. Ashley and Troy truly bring Ellie and Joel to life and it is very exciting to see where these two end up on the next chapter of their journey together.
The Last of Us Part II is scheduled to release on June 19th, 2020.