“It’s time-consuming” – another slice of gold, courtesy of Joel Miller in The Last of Us Pt 2.
Our favourite fungus-dodging duo finally returned to the PS4 to continue with their story, several years later and I’m here to share my thoughts (contains spoilers!). I should warn you now though, this could go on a while…
Since we last saw Joel and Ellie, post-fleeing the hospital and on their way to Tommy, the pair have settled into a much more relaxed and positive lifestyle. They now inhabit an entire town full of people, resources and relationship dramas.
To date, they’ve still managed to encounter infected on occasion, as well as the darker sides of human nature – which ultimately leads to what may be one of the most shocking, terrible and yet unforgettable moments in videogame history. It’s even safe to say at that players have been left scarred.
I’ll be honest, I was forewarned to a degree, so in a way the blow was cushioned slightly, but all I had heard (thanks to some careless Facebook comment-skimming) was that a new character named Abby is going to kill Joel. I didn’t know how, why, or if it was just a rumour.
I had hoped for the latter, being one of the many people who loved Joel and his relationship with Ellie. I’m also not used to the idea of a favourited videogame character getting wiped out of a franchise… however, as we now know – that facebook comment was accurate.
Although I had an incling about it, which grew stronger when Abby and Owen conversed about the nearby lookout station, I hoped it would be optional (and maybe you could still save him as Ellie), or at the very least it would happen right at the end of the game as some form of closure on the whole “was Joel in the wrong” argument.
Maybe he could do more horrible things to survive until that moment at least, things that we haven’t had seven years to come to terms with…
…but to immediately actually have to take control of the murderer you don’t even know as a person yet, leading her to Joel, actually being saved by the now “seasoned and softened up” Joel and then watching a very graphic and violent slaughtering of the beloved character as he lays helpless – that was a very bold move from Naughty Dog, and a serious gut punch for us fans.
I won’t lie, I cried about this quite a bit, probably more than someone would deem healthy for a fictional game where I pretty much expected the death.
Not only was I distraught because the way it happened was horrific (even the WLF members who witnessed later had some comments implying of their aversions), but also knowing how many players out there would be absolutely devastated, and having to see Ellie revisit his house and smelling his jacket – it’s just very relatable and really upsetting.
There was a slight comfort in playing through flashbacks with Joel later in the game, seeing some of the good times he and Ellie had, such as on her birthday, because we all hoped for a lot more of him in the sequel, however it’s easy to understand why so many people felt short-changed after years of wondering about this game.
It also hurt to know that Ellie was just starting to patch things up with Joel after their timeout. When she discovered what he’d done, it took a lot to forgive him, but she’d finally decided to at least try. There was talk of a movie night for the two of them that never got to happen, and those little details just make it all the more painful.
It was additionally pointed out recently that Joel must have spent two years or so just eating alone in his house, watching over Ellie but not being able to mend those bridges, and that just tore me up, especially with his teary reaction when she said she wanted to try to forgive him on that porch.
I’m not crying, you are…
Now – on the subject of the murderer herself: Abby.
I get it! I seriously get how so many can hate her and hate the fact that so much of the game centred around her… it hit us out of nowhere and took a long time to even confirm our suspicions on why she did what she did.
Though she had her reasons, we just saw the angry, incredibly bulky woman that appeared out of nowhere and beat our favourite character to death.
Now that we know for sure why she did it, and got to know her a little better – can we forgive her? No. Probably not. We’re hurt, we haven’t known her all that long, her own “friends” don’t speak that highly of her in terms of ruthlessness/her brutish ways and it’s all too new. However, can we now feel for her a little bit too?… I hate to say it, but I can, just a touch.
I don’t think that just because we saw her sticking her neck out for a couple of young strangers, playing with dogs and checking in on her people, she’s now a standup person with a sweet soul; I think she’s been hardened by what happened with her father and she’s spent so long planning her revenge and taking down anyone that gets in her way that she’s become very willing to do unspeakable things.
But then again, so did Joel. So has Ellie!
I think that the main reasons Abby was brought into the franchise are threefold:
- Because as much as we love him, Joel hasn’t always been a good guy, or trusting for that matter, and this game showed both “him eventually getting his comeuppance” and that as sad as it is, letting your guard down and learning to trust more doesn’t always work in your favour, especially in their world.
- To show that humans are complex. There’s not always a good side and a bad side, nor is there always “just evil people” who kill and destroy without reason, sometimes it goes deeper than that and you’ll find out that they’ve been wronged and their motives change once they let go of their anger.
- To tug at our heartstrings/give the game more purpose. Once again, I still kind of wish that if he had to die it was at the end, keeping hope alive while we track him down, maybe in their WLF torture cells, but I guess that could be unrealistic and just as unpleasant to watch. You cannot deny though that this gave Ellie a serious mission for us to play out, with plenty of intent and fire to fuel our own acts of revenge. It’s also not unheard of for Naughty Dog to kill someone right at the beginning of a game in order to stoke the emotions and future goals of the protagonist (remember Sarah?)
What I’m trying to say is that I think I understand more now what they were trying to do with this gamer-enraging storyline to begin with, and I can at least empathise a little with Abby over other things.
You can tell they wanted to humanise her after the fact as well, when she mentions her feelings of guilt over past actions and “needing to lighten the load” by helping Lev and Yara; or with her crippling fear of heights, still braving that bridge in the sky to save someone’s life that she barely knows.
Besides, imagine if the tables were turned, and our first game was us playing through the story of Abby and her dad getting to the hospital/fireflies, facing monsters and losing friends along the way.
In this scenario, a guy and a young girl show up, and we need her to save the world, but he can’t let her go and kills us (the dad), as well as any fireflies who tried to stop him from getting to us, so all that was now for nothing and Abby is suddenly fatherless… would we not want to go after the strange man?
It’s hard to envision, because it’s Joel – we are Joel! And it was just hurtful to the fans even if it was to deliver a message. I also still feel like Abbys father couldn’t have done it if Abby was the immune one on the table for surgery. And there’s no guarantee it would have saved the world anyway, things are never that simple. But of course there was a chance and that’s enough…
So basically, I’ve gone back and forth empathising with either side. I still hate that it happened, but I chose to focus on the backstory and put myself in Abbys position for at least a little bit, still enjoying the play-through anyway (but silently enjoying when I’d get eaten by a clicker on my way to kill Joel or when I slipped up and Ellie shot me in the face at the theatre).
I just can’t help thinking when people say/said, “think how many lives we could save with a vaccine” – sure, that’s true, and if this was real life I’m sure all of us would want them to go through with it, Ellie even wanted to go through with it, she felt it would have given her life purpose… so it’s fair to say; but in their world, how many people are actually left at this point that deserve to live more than Ellie does?
Apparently no one in the world is capable of finishing the doctors work, the fireflies died out pretty fast, weird cults have started brutally killing and starting wars with other settlements and most people we’ve crossed paths with outside of our main circle have been violent assholes desperate for survival at any cost…
In conditions like these, traditionally, it’s usually the humans and not the infected that cause the most trouble; so do we really want to give up a pure-hearted 14 year old badass who has no idea what’s happening at the chance of saving whoever is left, rather than taking the Joel route of building a safe haven and regularly scouting for infected to keep things safe?
Its not foolproof, I know, but I still see Joels side. Its not fair that Abby lost her father/the world lost an amazing doctor, but he threatened Joel about taking Ellie and Joels heart couldn’t take it, he did what he felt he had to.
He’d refused to care about anyone in the past (since the loss of his daughter) until he found Ellie, and generally, so many people look out for themselves/their own over all of mankind, so you can relate. It’s definitely a grey area though…
Anyway! That part of the story has been debated a lot - lets talk about another part! Let’s discuss that ending… or rather, that sudden change of heart that gave us very little closure.
I honestly don’t know how I feel about the Ellie vs Abby saga at this point. On the one hand, I wanted Ellie to go after her again and for her and Tommy to be at peace with things, to do it for Joel. We came such a long way too, sacrificing so much and almost dying so many times… that option had its perks.
However, on the other hand, Ellie going back jeopardised her relationship and that final fight with what was now a shell of Abby’s former self was just uncomfortable to watch. Now we know what Abby has had to go through, you had to question whether shes suffered enough already (short answer for Joel lovers: NO!), but just think about it….
For starters: losing her father, her hope for human survival and her relationship (because of her undying need for revenge).
Then: losing sleep, losing friendships and being viewed a little differently, even by herself after letting her darkest side come out.
Also: facing her biggest fears, and to very extreme heights (pun intended) with near death experiences and several panic attacks.
Next: having to face that god awful monstrosity Rat King in ground zero whilst helping out strangers, meanwhile she was on the way to losing all her nearest and dearest, her comrades and furry friends.
She also had to take out some of her WLF members herself, as well as dozens more seraphites in order to save two good kids who wanted out of the wars. You could tell she was done with all the fighting but her hand was forced.
And: she eventually lost the man she loved in every respect because the people she let live that fateful day came for their revenge. This was when you saw her rage return.
That same rage that lead her to Joel and gave her the villainous reputation took her to that theatre. You could see it in her eyes.
Finally: being forced into slavery for months with Lev (literally the only person she has left), where they hacked off that braid she’s always sported, much of that muscle mass disappeared and she’s tied to a pillar and left to die, helpless to save her equally strung up friend.
So, when Ellie shows up, shows a little mercy and then after a flashback of Joels poor beaten face, challenges her to a fight to the death because she can’t just let her go, it gets iffy for me. I know she came all this way, nearly died in the process, but it’s uncomfortable to watch. Abby doesn’t want to fight, but is forced into it to save Lev – and she eventually loses the fight.
Abby’s now seconds from death, terrified and weak, until Ellie has another flashback with Joel which showed him on his porch, doing no harm, and she thought about how she’d decided to forgive what he did. I think it stirred thoughts about not only starting fresh and letting go of her anger, but of of how much she wanted to keep her compassion and humanity, especially after everything she’s done.
Ellie was clearly at breaking point after “making Nora talk” and (unknowingly/defensively) killing pregnant Mel, but to then leave Dina, suffer serious impalement, lose body parts in the process and near-drown someone while their friend lays aside helpless; she finally decided enough was enough and she couldn’t keep going like this.
After all, she never wanted to be a bad person or hurt anyone, as good as she got at doing so. Besides, it’s not like she didn’t make Abby suffer at all. Other than nearly drowning her, she stabbed her twice in the fight and got some pretty mean blows in. It just so happens that she saved her life from ending on that pillar as well.
It’s anti-climactic, sure, but it felt real, and it felt like Ellie. I couldn’t help but feel what she was feeling, sat there in tears, helpless to put an end to Abby, but pained by letting her go. Besides, Abby had the chance to kill Ellie and pregnant Dina at the theatre right after Owens death, but she didn’t, because Lev made her want to be better. Maybe Ellie felt that too.
Where it gets problematic for me is that we never saw a followup with Abby and Lev, even though we got to see Ellie return to the farm (after all of that getting to know Abby and playing out so much of her story). We can only assume where they ended up.
Maybe it doesn’t matter, because they lived a quiet life God knows where, keeping to themselves, maybe Abby died anyway from wounds and malnutrition, I don’t know, or, maybe it was intended as a way of leaving an opening for a Part 3 (with some sort of showdown with the not-so-dead Isaac perhaps?), but it was a bit dissatisfying.
I expected a little more Isaac to be honest, he was this scary, intimidating leader guy you always heard about, but he didn’t do a lot on screen. I honestly thought we’d have a one-on-one showdown or see him in the next game if there was one.
I assume the guy on the radio was right in declaring him dead though, I mean the island was up in flames anyway, however, if we could hop on a boat and escape, who’s to say he didn’t too? I only recall a gunshot (somewhere in his torso area I think) and our guys have survived a lot worse, so who knows?
Back on the subject of dissatisfaction- I can’t believe Ellie lost her fingers in that fight and can no longer play Joels song properly (or a few other songs, I would have thought).
That broken up guitar riffing hurt a lot to watch. I think the idea was that she now has closure because she’s no longer tied to those memories. After all, she wrote in her journal that she has no idea how Dina talks about Jessie all the time, because it hurts to talk about Joel, so I think her goal was to get over her PTSD.
Now, she can’t keep thinking about what she’s lost as much and getting angry or feeling like she owes him in an “eye for an eye” sort of way, so she gradually starts to lose that painful desire to find and kill Abby even though she fights with herself not to be that person. She’s let the rage go.
I can’t help but find it depressing though, because even though its healthy and she can still remember the good times, that song was a real bonding moment for the two of them. I loved that he got her to be so good at playing guitar and the song is really lovely.
I can only assume after she propped the guitar and left the farm that she heads back to Jackson to reunite with everyone, and that Dina and ‘Potato’ are already there, but who knows whether they’ll work things out, how Tommy will take Ellies decision, or if she’ll even tell him the truth about it.
Maybe she’s not even going there, maybe she’s decided there is no going back… it just ended. An excellent musical performance by Ashley Johnson and Troy Baker followed during the credits, that choked me up a bit, but I still felt unsure about everything and full of questions. The first game ended a little suddenly, but it had fewer loose ends.
I also intended to mention earlier, that although it was a very interesting angle and kicked things up a notch during stealth attempts/shootouts, the amount of dogs I had to slaughter, as well as getting to know them by name, playing fetch with them and running missions with them was a little harsh.
As a dog lover (and someone who felt sad chasing that deer through the woods with Ellie after shooting it up with arrows last game), it added to the unpleasantness of the story a little more. The same goes for that moment when the WLF bombed Ellie, Dina and their horse Shimmer, then shot the horse in the head.
That’s more my sensitivity causing issues though. Like I said, it certainly made things interesting, I could just see other players getting a bit upset about it too, especially because the slaughters are quite graphic and the dogs are cute, not like say, the aggressive zombie dogs that sprout stuff in Resident Evil 4.
I will try and wrap this up soon, I swear – but I would like to talk about the more positive areas of the story, such as friendships and romance. A lot of people had some negativity to direct at Ellie and Dina.
I admit, for a short time early on, it did feel like their story was stealing a lot of focus, because we barely knew about Dina and we were waiting for all these other story pieces to come together, and to have more Joel; however, I actually really like them two together.
Shannon Woodward portrayed Dina in a really great light, she was funny, laidback, willing to go out of her way for those she loved (even with morning sickness!) and she offered Ellie just what she needed: a normal life with someone she loved, who just ‘got’ her. She even took Ellies mind off of her sadness at times, though this added to Ellies guilt.
As soon as she started vomiting I wondered about a pregnancy storyline and I imagined her and Ellie growing old together with a kid, so their life on the farm was interesting to actually see, though the peace didn’t last long.
All in all, I grew to appreciate Dinas character a lot though and I understood her despair over Ellies choice to find Abby again.
There were lots of great supportive characters like this throughout the game. For example, in Abbys story while chasing down Tommy or fighting “Scars” with Manny by your side, missions with Yara and Lev and the occasional Seraphite insights/jokes, and of course in Ellies case again, there was Jessie.
I’ll be honest, whilst playing as Abby, every time I thought about what she did to Joel, part of me now and then would think, “but she let Ellie and Tommy live… she purely wanted to avenge her father and show Joel he made the a selfish choice against the world” and although I couldn’t quite justify it, or her methods, I’d consider for a second that she didn’t need to be hunted.
Then I’d think, “No, you know what? She just shot Jessie in the face.” He was a good dude, he showed up of his own volition, purely to help his friends and because he looked up to Joel…we had a good run taking out wolves together, he deserved better.
She also shot Tommy! She failed to kill him in the end, and in fairness he’d recently shot Manny right in front of her, spraying her with his blood and such (see, it’s never simple!) but for most of the game, I would remind myself of those additional “Bad Abby” moments or people commenting on her “killer” ways and think “Screw that, this bitch is going DOWN.”
Though, playing to the end and redoing the cutscene from the other side, again, you can understand the resentment.
I swear, playing this game either gets you mad and distraught and you don’t want to continue; or you’ll find yourself completely immersed, but in a constant struggle with your own emotions and opinions.
However, you really put your survival skills to the test (especially in the harder modes), and you see some beautiful imagery along the way. I just found myself determined to unravel the story, that was my main fuel to keep going.
I can’t say that everyone should love this game anywhere near as much as they did the first one, because it’s so controversial and has its flaws, but I can say that it has a lot of substance to it, some pretty achievable and fun trophy unlocks, and the story will really get you thinking. To follow the original was always a huge ask anyway.
I could go on and overanalyse even further because even after a second play through I’m still not entirely sure how I feel, but I’ve probably more than got my main points across, so I’ll start to wrap it up.
All in all, I have to take my hat off to Naughty Dog for another insanely well-made/well-cast game and for giving us such strong feels. This sequel may not be what everyone wanted it to be, but it’ll definitely be one to remember.
P.S: I loved the little easter eggs throughout the game, catching inside jokes I could share with those I know and exploring the museum etc – hence this little bombardment of screenshots….
I love that someones dog got Employee of the Month and that fact helps you open a safe.
Is that better than the regular My Name is Earl Crab Shack?
(Uncharted/PS3 references – there are more though)
I had to try and catch Joel getting some air.
P.P.S: Here is a summary of my top moments:
Scariest part: running away from the Rat King in the dark Ground Zero area
Toughest part: probably the Ellie and Abby theatre face-off, because I really didn’t want to fight Ellie and the girl’s too quick/deadly to sneak up on
Cutest part: probably Joel and Ellie on the porch, and her forgiving him after he stood up for her against Seth. Or Joels song. Or the space birthday present – Pretty much any Joel and Ellie moments that didn’t evolve murder….Though JJ petting the lamb on the farm and dancing was pretty adorable too
Grossest part: discovering shamblers… the noise, the growths, the movements, just ugh…
Most frustrating part: the fact that Ellie left that map next to Owen and Mel’s dead bodies with all their plans and locations marked. And fighting this guy – which was also pretty gross:
Most unnecessary scene: Abby and Owen “getting busy”, or of course the detail in which they showed Joels demise
Best/toughest target practice: shooting scars from Mannys moving vehicle
Most questionable part: Joel and Tommy not only helping complete stranger Abby, but offering to take other strangers back to stock them up
Funniest part: most of the museum visit commentary
Biggest surprise: in the apartment where you get mistaken for a “Wolf” by that small group of people, you get jumped at the workbench – I never expected a cutscene to happen whilst customising weapons!
Saddest part: that one’s pretty obvious.
Thanks for reading this far, and I hope you enjoy(ed) playing/watching, regardless of the controversy.