– This article was originally posted on 5th December 2016. With The Last of Us Part II now released, it’s fun to go back to the conversation Ashley Harrison and I had just after the initial reveal of the game back at PSX 2016! You can read our full spoilers discussion about the game here. –
So, if somehow you didn’t hear, The Last of Us Part II is a thing. That’s right; Joel and Ellie are back on PS4 with another story. The reveal at PSX caused quite a stir, and also quite the discussion amongst fans of the original (of which there are many). Ashley Harrison is one such fan, and so he and I had a good ol’ talk about the idea of a sequel and all the details that have come out about the game.
From whether a sequel is something we want, to who Ellie is so set on killing, we hit quite a few topics. Let’s get into it!
WARNING: SPOILERS FOR THE LAST OF US AHEAD
William Robinson: Well, I didn’t expect PSX to be such a big deal. When that trailer for The Last of Us Part II started rolling, I started getting vibes of the first game – quickly resulting in pandemonium amongst friends and I. What was your immediate reaction to it?
Ashley Harrison: My immediate reaction, to be completely honest, was “HOLY SH*T”. I was watching it alongside my friend and we were joking from the beginning of the conference that everything was a sequel to The Last of Us, even when it clearly wasn’t. So, when the trailer began to play, I was completely ecstatic. It was supposed to be a joke with the announcement as I didn’t really expect it, but when it was obvious it was real I just couldn’t contain my excitement and legitimately started crying tears of joy. As you said, I didn’t expect an announcement at PSX, I thought something as big as this would have been saved until E3. But, I’m so happy that it wasn’t, because amongst everything I think the crowd reaction helped to make it feel like an even bigger deal, and I doubt that you would’ve gotten that at E3.
WR: In the Panel Discussion afterwards, Neil Druckmann [Creative Director, Naughty Dog] even said himself that they discussed saving it for E3 but felt that this crowd of gamers was more suited. You could really feel that with the reaction to the Firefly logo – it was insane! Both of us have been cautious of the idea of a sequel before, as The Last of Us was such a complete game. Even now, despite my excitement, I’m a little worried about losing the amazing ambiguity of the ending. How’re you feeling on this topic?
AH: I’m feeling quite happy about it, actually. Despite the cautiousness I originally had about the idea of a sequel, I think this makes perfect sense. We know that Ellie is out to seek revenge on some group, as evidenced by the line “I’m gonna kill every last one of them” within the trailer, and whilst we’ve differed on who it is that is meant by that sentence, I’m fine with the story of this game being based off the idea of revenge. We’ve seen her go through a ton of sh*t throughout the first game, so she has plenty of reasons to be out for revenge. I’m still slightly cautious about how they’re going to pull it off, however I have full faith in Neil Druckmann and the guys at Naughty Dog to pull off yet another stunning game.
WR: I’d say she’s going after Firefly. Joel and Ellie caused some serious high-up loss in that group at the end of the last game, and they may well be after them. Could be why she has the tattoo covering her scar [from her Infected bite, which she is immune to].
AH: This is where that difference comes in. I personally don’t see it being the Fireflies, I feel that she was more talking about the Infected. Whilst I can see where you’re coming from with the idea that she’s after the Fireflies, and although they caused a ton of cr*p for both her and Joel within the first game, I don’t see any reason that she would still be angry with them 4 years later. Especially since Joel kills Marlene at the end of the first game, surely she’d have more reason to hate Joel than the Fireflies? Especially after how many times he lied to her? It’s for that reason that I believe that she’s going after the Infected. Having seen her best friend get bitten and turn in the Left Behind DLC, then Tess and Sam in the main game, I believe that she’s out for revenge against the Infected in order to restore peace to the world, so that nobody else has to die. Since she’s immune to the effects of the Cordyceps virus, she’s the only person that can. And that’s why she has the tattoo to cover the bite – she doesn’t want to be reminded of what has happened to her in the past. So by getting the tattoo over the scar, it shows she’s stronger than the Infected.
WR: That’d be some crazy mission though – the whole apocalypse by yourself? That does, however, fit in with Joel asking: “What’re you doing, kiddo?” She could be trying to do something too big, and he has to come and talk her down. Look at us, theorising already; there’s years to wait, and we are already on tenterhooks. At least we know – again from the PSX panel – that she is 19 in The Last of Us Part II, so Joel is around 55, and the playable star is Ellie rather than Joel. I wouldn’t be surprised if we play as Joel or another character in a sequence or two, like in the original [where you briefly play as Ellie], but do you like the sounds of that? Ellie has always been the heart of the story for me.
AH: Ellie’s already shown in the first game that she doesn’t exactly think rationally at times, so I don’t think trying to save the world from the apocalypse is too far fetched. I’m absolutely fine with the idea of Ellie being the main playable character within this game. The Winter sequence in the first game where you get to play as Ellie is my favourite gameplay sequence in the whole game, so the idea of playing mainly as Ellie in this is great to me. Druckmann himself said that although Joel is the “main” character in the first game, by the end of it Ellie is the main protagonist, so I’m hoping that this continues that strong, female role that Naughty Dog got so right the first time around.
WR: Joel does have to calm Ellie down at points in The Last of Us, like after the tense and rather creepy showdown with David. So I imagine without Joel, she could easily resort to – and I am of course guessing – killing all the people in that house. That would be an interesting dynamic to see. Going back to the topic of it being a sequel, though; I think it’s so important they named it The Last of Us Part II rather than just adding a 2 or even a subtitle. Naughty Dog has an extremely tough job to make this feel worthwhile and not something born of business, where the commercial success of the first meant a sequel was always on the cards. If this is any less than the 10/10 a lot of the audience will expect, there could be a backlash. Part II makes it sound like a natural part of the story, rather than a sequel, if you know what I mean? It helps me to trust the purpose of the project.
AH: It definitely would be interesting, and again, not too far fetched either. Who knows what effect seeing and killing all the people they have done throughout Left Behind and the main game would have had on Ellie, especially at such a young age. The David fight especially helps to add a bit of potential behind this point. It was implied (at least how I took it) that he was going to rape her, which is what caused Ellie to flip out. Would it really be that surprising if she had killed all those people in the house? I’m a huge fan of the Part II naming moniker, for exactly the reasons you just described. I also think that by calling it that and using Joel and Ellie as the main characters again, it’ll help the team focus on creating the best game they can. In the panel, Troy Baker said that Joel is the character he misses the most and is always thinking about what’s happening to, and Neil Druckmann said that the team at Naughty Dog have become as attached to the characters of Joel and Ellie as much as the fanbase have, so by having them return it means that the team won’t want to ruin the characters for themselves, let alone their fans.
WR: They really did try and get the point across that they were doing it for the right reasons at that panel. What did you think of the actual trailer as a reveal, though? The next-gen (well, current-gen) shine on the direction of Naughty Dog is sublime, and it’s great that Gustavo Santaolalla is back with that iconic music. Already got too much choice for my desktop wallpaper…
AH: I actually cried tears of happiness seeing the trailer; I thought it was a perfect reveal. Even though it was a CGI cutscene, I’m assuming it’ll either have been made purely for the reveal or it’ll be at the start of the game, you can tell the clear difference in terms of graphics from the first game. Everything looks so much neater and crisper, to the point where I’m genuinely considering upgrading to a PS4 Pro and getting a 4K TV purely so that I can play it with the best visuals possible. There were just so many throwbacks to the first game, hell, the whole thing is a throwback, and I think that’s the reason I like it most. Joel taught Ellie how to play the guitar, and even though that was just a side conversation towards the end of the game, I’m so happy that they’ve gone and done it to keep Joel’s promise. And of course, Gustavo Santaolalla returning to score the game is a fantastic addition. His score for the first game just helped to add so much to the atmosphere, since the track always seemed to suit the area. For me, he’s as much a part of The Last of Us as Druckmann, Baker and Johnson [Ashley Johnson, who plays Ellie] are, and it wouldn’t feel right to have The Last of Us Part II without his music playing in the background. I’ve luckily chosen my background already, but it was a hard choice for sure. Everything just looks so gorgeous, but in the end, I’ve settled for the shot of Ellie on the bed playing guitar, since I feel that sums up what we’ve seen so far the best. I can soon see it changing, though!
WR: Man, yeah. This is one game that might tempt me to the PS4 Pro down the line, just for the complete experience both visually and audio-wise. One of the few game soundtracks I own is The Last of Us, so I’m excited for more from Santaolalla. From what I’ve heard, it feels like an in-game cutscene. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End shows the quality Naughty Dog can achieve, so I’d say it’s almost certainly from the game at the moment. When in the game the cutscene is excites me a lot as a question… I have a feeling it’s a little ways into the game, considering there is a sense of conflict going on. Yeah, we were saying how the only way to make the reference better might’ve been Ellie swimming! If we see that in a later reveal, it’s gonna get a cheer; Joel always having to fetch rafts for Ellie is practically a meme at this point. Talking of Joel’s promise, I wonder how much of the sequel will deal with that ambiguous ending to The Last of Us. When that conversation inevitably comes between Joel and Ellie, there’s gonna be fireworks.
AH: I really need to get around to buying The Last of Us‘ soundtrack myself, it’s a sin that I don’t already own it! Might have to ask for it for Christmas seeing as we’re so close to it. I can see why you would say that it’s a little into the game given the conflict being shown, the only reason I’m saying it’s gonna be at the beginning is because it, to me, seems like this is what’s going to set up the rest of the game. Those God damned rafts, I swear to God. If I have to find another blo*dy raft in this game I’m giving up haha! (Not really, I’m gonna see this through without a doubt.) I really hope we do get to see Ellie swimming at some point though, it feels like it’d be the perfect way to bring the first game full circle. Plus, I’m a sucker for references to past games, so something as big as Ellie swimming would be great for me. Oh man, that inevitable conversation. Wow. I have chills just thinking about it. You know how much I love the ranch house cutscene from the first game, but I’m going to come out and say it – that inevitable conversation more than has the ability to top the ranch scene. I’m 110% sure already it’s going to be one of my favourite parts of the game because, let’s be honest, there’s no way on Earth that they’re going to leave it out. Also, I just thought of a reason why it could be the Fireflies she’s after. Given that the Cordyceps grows on the brain, the fireflies were going to kill her to be able to reverse engineer a vaccine. I know that it contradicts what I was saying about her wanting to bring peace to the world by killing all of the infected, as a vaccine would’ve done that, but what if Joel has somehow spun it around and that’s why she’s angry at the Fireflies?
WR: Well, they were likely going to kill her on that operating table. If Joel’s lie spins out of control, that only means that the stakes are going to be raised for when the secret comes out. Honestly, we could theorise all day – and we likely will elsewhere – but for now let’s start talking release date. I personally can’t see The Last of Us Part II anywhere before 2019, with the packed first-party PS4 slate (Horizon Zero Dawn, Days Gone, God of War, Gran Turismo Sport, Spider-Man… ) and also how early they stress this game is in development. Yes, they say this scene was filmed one and a half years ago, but they had a huge focus on a small, niche game called Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (joking) to focus on during that time. Even now, they have people working hard on The Lost Legacy, a new Uncharted chapter. Until that’s done, Naughty Dog won’t be able to put their full focus on this. Games take time, especially ones as important as this.
AH: I’m still gonna stick to my original idea of a 2018 release, purely because I’m stubborn. As you said, they’ve filmed that scene a year and a half ago and although they’ve been working on the Uncharted games, I find it hard to believe that they haven’t been working on this alongside that. Although I can see a 2019 release as well, I think it’s further into development than the Naughty Dog team are willing to let on.
WR: Sony will know not to rush them. They need the time to make this game right, and it’s not like there’s a shortage of games until then. I could see a 2018 date which is pushed into 2019, but I would rather no delay once a date is set. Well, it’s been a pleasure, Ash. I’m sure as we get more tidbits of info, we’ll have plenty more to discuss. Despite my slight anxiety of going back into the story that was crafted so masterfully before, I can’t deny my anticipation to see more from these two characters. As a final note, when do you think we’ll see more of the game? It’d be nice to have them disappear for a year or two, but do you think we’ll see something as early as E3 2017?
AH: Thanks for having me, it’s been great. I’m sure we’ll have more and more conversations like this as we dissect any little tidbit of information that we get. I think we could get something at E3 this year, but it won’t be anything substantial. Possibly a small look at a section of gameplay, but I don’t mind if we don’t see anything. I’d love for them to disappear for a bit and then, when the game is ready, do the whole “This is The Last of Us Part II in its final form, enjoy!” schtick, then announce it’s available sooner than anyone would’ve thought.
WR: I’m sure we’ll get some info, small or large, before too long. Until then, I’ll watch that trailer… again. See ya!
AH: And again, and again. Like I totally haven’t done…
A sequel to The Last of Us was always going to spark a lot of discussion. Is there anything you think we haven’t covered? Have you got any theories on the game? Let us know in the comments!