The Last of Us is a story based game set in USA twenty years after a pandemic apocalypse. It's one of my favorite games in terms of mood, drama, feeling and tension. I'm going to assume you have played (or watched) both The Last of Us and tLoU 2.
Spoilers for The Last of Us part 1 and 2!
The Last of Us part 1
You and the world start out broken and isolated. Not wanting to have anything to do with Ellie. During the course of the game you slowly learn to know and trust her. At the same time, you are searching for the Fireflies with the hope to find a cure for the world.
When you're lost in the darkness, look for the light
It's the hope of rebuilding a better world that makes me want to play the game. The Fireflies are the group in the game that shares that hope. That makes the game a journey from darkness to light both in the inner and outer world. And this is also the basis of fantasy. That is that the surrounding environment is a mirror of your inner world. This is strengthened by the parallel of the seasons with the hero journey, with winter being the low point in the story. Ending in spring with the new hope of a new home in Jackson.
Nature is reclaiming the world of humans, giving perspective of our place in the world. The cities are in ways beautiful with grass, trees and lakes with new life growing in the ruins of mankind.
Ellie is new to the world outside the home city. Learning about the life form before the outbreak and how to survive in the new world. The players growth of experience with the world is shared with Ellie and the players growth of connection with Ellie is shared with Joel. And this is the good moments that stays with me that I would like more of.
I like stealth games that give me time to hide and think about the safest way to continue. Since the game does not give you any choice in the story it's important that you share the motivations with your avatar. This works for me since I want to protect Ellie, find safety and save the world.
This game was one of the reasons I started watching Critical Role. Ellie is played by Ashley Johnson who plays the gnome cleric Pike Trickfoot in Critical Role campaign 1. The whole cast of Critical Role is also part of the Last of Us part 2. All eight of them!
The Last of Us part 2
The gameplay of part 2 is very much an evolution of part 1. If you liked the exploration, stealth and tactical combat of the first game, you will probably love the gameplay of part 2. The graphics, sound, animation, traversal, combat, ai and pussels has improved. But it's a completely different kind of story.
This was definitely a very interesting game. There hase been a lot of discussions and a lot of polarized views of the story. I avoided the spoilers and prioritized to finish the game in order to have the experience unspoiled and participate in all the discussions online.
I think that the comments on the games length comes partly form people who wanted to finish it as fast as possible in order to review it or in order to participate in the public discussion. A long game is not bad in itself. It's about the pacing of the story and the variety of the environments and activities. I finished the game in 42 hours. Thats slower than the about 28 hour expected playtime. Probably because I moslty walked slowly through the gorgeous environments and spent a lot of time hiding from threats.
Very few games evokes strong emotions for me, besides simple excitement and fear. I cried deeply at the end of The Walking Dead. I cried at the end of the Last of Us part 2. The best part of this game and the parts that actually evoked my emotions was the same parts that was the perfect continuation of the story from part 1. It was the new home in Jackson and the continued relationship between Joel and Ellie. Take all the flashbacks with Joel and the story up to the love confirmation with Dina in the growth house and then just jump to the happy ending in the farm house with JJ. It would be a shorter game but a perfect happily ever after epilogue to the first game.
The story was created by Neil Druckmann with a lot of input from other people, including co-writer Halley Gross. It's a big game with hundreds of people involved. I love the ambition of what they tried to do. It has many more things going on than in part 1 and that makes it more complicated and harder to get right. More factions. More people. More themes. More plot twists.
There are a family of cognitive developmental theories popularized by Ken Wilber with the Integral theory. Simplified, a child develops from egocentric to ethnocentric at year 7 and then to worldcentric in adulthood. But the ability to take the perspective of the other differs depending on the issue. Many people has a hard time of understanding the perspective of members of other political parties, religions, or even in questions of the worth of specific works of art such as music, movies of video games. The ability to understand and sympathize with the other side can be even harder if you are threatened or experienced trauma and grief.
The goal of this game is to have you take the perspective of and understand the thing you hate the most. Is it possible to use video games to train people to transform their hate to love? Can video game help solve the many conflicts we have in this world? Could it possibly help heal the israeli-palestinian conflict? Doing so would involve taking the player through all the stages of grief from denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. Look at the discussion of this game and you can see all those stages expressed.
You can read and listen to Neil Druckmann talking about this. Here is what he said in a interview by GQ magazine.
I don’t want to go into specifics about it, but I saw a video of a lynching when I was much younger. It was like an actual... like a news thing. And then, feeling intense hatred for the people that committed the lynching and thinking, like, ‘Oh, man if I could hurt these people in some horrible ways then I could.’
I was like, ‘Oh, we can make the player feel that.’ We can make you experience this thirst for revenge. This thirst for retribution and having you actually, like, commit the acts of finding it and then showing you the other side to make you regret it. To make you feel dirty for everything you’ve done in the game, making you realise ‘I’m actually the villain of the story.’
One of the things they did was to make the violence in the game even more brutal and real. I don't think it's a good idea to desensitize the player even more with hyperrealistic depiction of violence. Especially not in a game where you have absolutely no influence over the story. If you play the game, you have no choice but to be filled by hateful vengence killing everything that stands in your way. You are supposed to be disghusted by the violence and the vengence. This game could give you trauma. This game is not for everyone.
I am personally multiparadigmatic trying to see things constructively optimistic. I would prefere to not kill the infected runners in the game, since they seem to be sick normal people in great pain. It could be possible that a cure can be developed that could save the runners. I'm even less inclined to kill uninfected people. There are a lot of false choises in the game in order to serve the story and the gameplay. The choice in the game is between kill or be killed. I would prefer resolving the conflict by talking, trading or running away or at least using measured de-escalating violence rather than leathal violence. You could tie people up. Or give them brownies. Anything.
I never hated Abby. I was never on board with the quest for vengance. I was hoping that Ellie would find Abby in order to talk to her so that she could resolve her grief. They could help each other through the process and be friends. I love what Neil Druckmann tried to do with the game. But I did not need this. And I hated that the game forced me to participate in this violence and in killing hundreds of people totally unecessarily. And I mourn for all those people and especielly for Joel and Ellie that I loved from part 1. I'm sad that Ellie now is a monster that should be stopped because she is dangerous.
There are lot of parallels between part 1 and part 2 and between the different factions. The Jackson, Fireflies, Wolfs and Seraphites. Too many similarities and references to try to cover them here. But the the story sort of ends with Abby and Lev in the same spot there Joel and Ellie began in part 1. Lev found a new mother in Abby and they set out into the world searching for the fireflies and a new home.
When you're lost in the darkness, look for the light.