Do we Need a Sequel to The Last of Us?
Opinion: it’s hard to say goodbye, but sometimes it’s for the best.
By Lucy O’Brien
Last week, Polish artist Marek Okon posted a portrait on his Facebook page of a girl who bore a strong resemblance to The Last of Us’ Ellie, around five years older. It was quite a striking picture, capturing a post-adolescent attitude that felt apt for the lively character we’ve grown so familiar with.
“Let me tease you something…” read the broken English accompanying the image. “Its coming… ;]”
Spoiler alert for The Last of Us ahead.
It turns out Okon, a freelance artist who worked on many of the key promotional images for The Last of Us, was indeed teasing. It was a personal image, made for fun, because like many of us, Okon is a fan of the game.
“Is it about TLOU2?” he wrote later, after the internet inevitably exploded into a garrulous chorus. “Not really… Maybe… Its classified ;P But seriously its gonna be just a fan art ;]””
The feedback on Okon’s picture was similar across every site on which it was re-posted.
Tell us what happens to Ellie and Joel.
Immerse us in that world once again.
More, please, Naughty Dog.
Even in the face of Orkon’s subsequent emoticon-studded reveal that he was joking around, the comments kept coming: more, more, more.
As gamers, we expect more. The industry, which makes its money on more, has conditioned us to.
But do we always need more?
The Last of Us was an anomaly. With its graceful storytelling and beautifully rounded characters, it stood out from most video games concerned with post-apocalyptia and the general annihilation of the human race. The common practice with such an anomaly – particularly if it is a commercial success, as The Last of Us was – is to build a sequel which is ever so slightly less of an anomaly. Then build another, and another, until that original freshness is forgotten, and the game becomes a brand associated – sometimes unfairly, sometimes not – with triteness and commercialism.
The Last of Us was an anomaly. The common practice with anomolies is to build a sequel which is ever so slightly less of an anomaly.
Of course, that’s a little cynical. Sequels aren’t always bad news, far from it. Plenty of sequels have completed the half-formed ideas of their predecessors, or evolved them into something more interesting. BioWare’s Mass Effect 2 improved on the gameplay of Mass Effect in almost every way while adding great depth to its lore and universe. Naughty Dog’s Uncharted 2 was an even more thrilling action adventure than the first. Kojima Productions keeps morphing the Metal Gear series into something new. There are many, many more examples.
But unlike so many of these games which told unfinished stories, The Last of Us told a very rounded story with a very conclusive ending. In the video game medium, which is so focused on clear cut cliffhangers tinged with the promise of “More”, that is a rare and powerful thing.
Do you want to see an older Ellie?
Ellie and Joel start off as strangers. She is headstrong but vulnerable; he is a shell of a man after the death of his daughter. As the game progresses and they are forced to rely on one another to survive, we see their relationship evolve, tentatively and tenderly. From a thematic standpoint, much of The Last of Us is about opening oneself up to love again, about that most basic and important human emotion thriving in the most horrific of situations.
But by spring, everything changes. In order to save the life of the daughter he couldn’t save the first time around, Joel dooms the human race, removes all of Ellie’s agency, and then lies to her about it. It’s a transparent lie, and Ellie suspects it’s a lie. They move onwards towards the horizon under the lie’s shadow, and the credits roll. The end.
The Last of Us told a very rounded story with a very conclusive ending.
It’s the bleakest ending we could have been given; in many ways much worse than the riotous pulp we all feared. Nobody died. Ellie didn’t have to murder Joel or vice versa. Instead, Naughty Dog chose to end its game on a note of ambiguity so real it felt almost personal, one that also brilliantly brought Joel’s character arc – and indeed, the game’s central narrative – full circle. From life to death to life again, at an irredeemable cost.
I don’t want a sequel to come along and undermine that. The open question the game ends on is something Naughty Dog should be proud of, one that should remain untouched by the industry’s usual expectations of a heroic conclusion tinged with the promise of More, of merchandise and a special limited edition of the fifth installment: There Were Many More of Us Than We Thought.
Naughty Dog would only embark on a sequel if there were a story “worth telling.”
Not that I believe Naughty Dog wouldn’t do a sequel justice. In an interview back in February, The Last of Us’ Game Director Neil Druckman explained that his team would only embark on the project if there were a story “really worth telling…that’s not repeating itself.” Its Left Behind DLC certainly showed that a wonderful story could be told away from that central relationship, and indeed perhaps that is the route Naughty Dog will take.
But to revisit Ellie and Joel? I’m not so sure that’s something we need. Maybe, just this once, it would be nice if the future remains untold and the past unsullied.
Or better yet, left to the imagination of fans.
Lucy O’Brien is Entertainment Editor at IGN AU. Follow her ramblings on IGN or Twitter.
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