Spoilers for Last of Us Part II follow. Proceed with caution! You've been warned.
Last of Us Part II had released on June 19th, 2020 after numerous delays. I, however, had the opportunity to play the game only a month later. By this time, the reviews were out and more. Many had finished the game too. Despite having blocked tweets related to the game, they was still that occasional tweet that slipped through. Not only did it reveal a beautiful world but hints of a conflicting story. The fanbase was divided on their opinions of the game. I was intrigued and excited.
There was one thing that seeped through for sure: "Last of Us Part II was a revenge story." Being hyped up for the game for ages, I speculated that someone close to Ellie gets murdered and she sets out on her journey for payback. I thought that it would be her girlfriend, Dina. I shuddered to even think about the alternative, the other rumour: that it would be Joel. Hope. I hoped it was not.
On the night of July 17th, 2020, I booted up the game (after the extended install of the double disc, of course). I was greeted by this desolate scene of a foggy night over the ocean with a single boat floating in the waves. This laid the seed of the darkness that was to follow. The night is darkest before dawn (or say that saying goes) but I did not read much into it.
My sister joined me this time as well. She was invested in the first story and was excited about the second game. She was looking forward to see Joel again. I was too. The game picks up what seems like a few months after the events of the first game. Right at the opening was Joel cleaning a guitar and sharing the events of the first game with his brother, Tommy. Then, we made our way back to camp on our horses. Yes, it was like the same old game again. Me controlling Joel in a beautiful, post-apocalyptic world.
It continued on a hopeful note with Joel meeting Ellie and promising to teach her to play the guitar. Cut to 4 years later and we are slowing introduced to new characters in town, Jesse, Dina, Maria (Tommy's wife). Joel and Ellie seem to have settled in well though there seems to be some unsaid tension in between them. Did Ellie find out the truth of what had happened?
Another new character introduced to us is Abby and her team, Owen, Mel, Nora, Manny and Nick. We soon learn that they are scouting Jackson to find someone and are working out a plan to lure him out. It did not sound good. Is it Joel? Are they here to take him out?
Abby is left alone to make her way back to camp, when she encounters Joel and Tommy on the way, who help her fight off a horde of infected. They make their way back to Abby's camp together and what follows is one of the most heart-wrenching parts of the game. It seems that the person they are after is Joel after all. Abby's team holds down Tommy and she proceeds to bash his skull in with a golf club. This is witnessed by Ellie, who had made her way to the camp too but being held down and unable to help. They leave Ellie and Tommy alive.
We know it has to be done. Revenge has to be taken. This is how Ellie's journey starts.
Tommy discovers the group that Abby is affiliated to is WLF (Washington Liberation Front) and that they are based out of Seattle. This prompts Ellie to makes plans to depart to Seattle and she is joined by Dina. However, Tommy beats them to the punch and leaves for Seattle early.
Soon, we traverse through Seattle trying to retrace Tommy's footsteps and discover where Abby is in the city. The journey through post-apocalyptic Seattle is dotted with dangers of the infected and enemy gangs. Not only the WLF inhabit the area but they fight for control with the Seraphites (Scars), a cult formed around the teachings of a religious fanatic.
In true Last of Us tradition, there is so much tragic beauty in the destroyed city. This is further emphasized by the music that Ellie plays when she finds a guitar. It seems that Joel did get around to teaching her to play.
After multiple encounters with the infected, getting caught by WLF and escaping, and slowly getting closer to finding Abby, they come to rest at a theater, just as Dina reveals that she is pregnant with Jesse's baby.
Dinosaurs and Spaceships
And then, there come the flashbacks. You get to see Joel one more time through memories of the past, a year of after the events of the first game.
When I finished Last of Us and wrote about my experience, I wished for a happy ending after what Ellie had been through. I guess they should have left it at that. The end of the first game was perfect in many ways and left a lot to imagination. It seems this game did explore that avenue. It did give Ellie the happy ending she deserved, albeit a brief one.
Joel has planned a special surprise for Ellie. Dinosaurs and Spaceships. You can see throughout the smile doesn't leave Ellie's face. She always was curious of the creatures that came before us and her amazement at seeing the dinosaur at the first time, that wonder, reminded me she was still a child.
Then, Joel takes her to the space exhibit and makes her sit in a space shuttle. He asks Ellie to close her eyes and simulates lift-off. Such a beautiful scene! In an alternate world without the virus, Ellie wished to be an astronaut and this was Joel's way of having her experience the dream. Of what could have been?!
But now, Ellie was ruthless and relentless in her pursuit. Even after, she finds out that Dina is pregnant, she sets out to find Abby. She seems to be blinded by revenge. She sets out to find Tommy based on reports of havoc among WLF, only to find Jesse.
It is all seems justified, the lengths that she goes to find Abby. There is the scene with Nora, after which Ellie confesses that she had tortured her before killing her to get the information of where Abby was. Did she become Joel? How far was she willing to go for revenge?
After Ellie discovers that Abby is at the aquarium, she sets out to find her. In her place she finds Owen and Mel and just as threatens them to find out where Abby is, Owen rushes to her. Ellie kills him in self defense and Mel as well. She then discovers Mel was pregnant and is shaken up, but Jesse and Tommy arrive at the time and persuade her to leave. In her pursuit for revenge, so many lives were lost.
Abby seeks her out soon after, finds her based at the theatre and kills Jesse, while having Tommy pinned. She wants Ellie to give herself up. Revenge begets revenge. That is when the game switches to Abby's journey in the past 3 days.
The second part of the game deals with Abby and her journey. The story shows us the parallels to Ellie's own with her own flashbacks and her motivations to kill Joel.
It turns out she was the daughter of the lead doctor, who was killed by Joel, when he rescued Ellie from the operating theater at the end of the first game. As we journey through with Abby, we see her friends, Nora, Owen and Mel and how the Abby seeking revenge on Joel has strained their relationships. They were people with their own lives and hopes and dreams. Their deaths had much more deeper impact.
The importance of the aquarium to Abby is further expressed through the story. It is the place where Owen and Abby escape to, discovering it early when they had just joined WLF. We learn of Owen's hopes to fix up the boat and get to Santa Barbara and find the remaining fireflies and how Nora knew where Abby was (It seemed like a plot-hole of how she knew it when Ellie tortured her).
Now I see Abby's part. Her motivations. Was it right? There are parallels between Ellie's past and Abby's, the aquarium and museum.
As Abby makes her way through the city, we see the Seraphities through her eyes. They are the enemies of the WLF, the group she is affiliated to. She is making her way to Owen, who is hiding out at the aquarium fearing retaliation for killing a WLF fellow member.
In her journey, she gets captured by the Seraphites, but is freed by Lev, who had come to rescue his sister, Yara, who is now injured by them. Both Lev and Yara are former Seraphites on the run for some unsaid reason. They make their way to the aquarium, where Mel has also arrived and by her analysis, it seems that Yara will need medical supplies. Abby and Lev make their way back to the WLF camp to get the supplies and in their journey you can see Joel and Ellie's from the first game. After saving Yara and planning to escape the city, Lev hopes to get his mother as well and sets out to the island base of the Seraphites.
When Yara and Abby set out to get the boat, they face off against an unknown sniper the docks who has just killed off Manny's platoon. Manny and Abby make their way towards the sniper. I was super annoyed by sniper and couldn't wait to kill him, esp. since he also kills Manny on the way. But just as we get to him, we find out that it's Tommy and he almost kills Abby, who gets saved at the nick of time by Yara.
After making our way to the island, we find Lev, who, after being shunned by his mother, kills by accident to silence her. We find out the reason they needed to run was because Lev is a girl, who shaved her head, a tradition only followed by the men. As they make their way off the island, Yara gets killed.
Now, Abby and Lev set out on their own and on discovering the death of Owen and Mel, they both find the theater together by a map that Ellie left behind.
By the time the storylines join, I could not decide between whom to support. Every time as Abby when you had to fight Ellie (in the theatre), and every punch from Ellie to Abby was just painful because now you are invested in both the characters. You want them to survive and evolve.
Just as Abby is about to kill Ellie, Dina rushes in, gets injured when trying to stop Abby and when Ellie begs her to not kill Dina because she is pregnant. Abby reminds Ellie that Mel was also pregnant when she killed her. But it was only because of Lev that Abby does not make the killing blow.
The Second Happy Ending
Ellie gets another chance at a happy ending with Dina and her baby. It all seems so good. I felt that this was the end of the game: Ellie finally getting the ending she deserved. A normal farm life with family.
Revenge finds a way
Tommy disrupts their farm life with news that he has found rumors of Abby at Santa Barbara. This time it seems that Ellie would not chase her and as Tommy storms out, he calls her a coward. That night a restless Ellie packs her bags and makes her way to the rumored location to find Abby.
Ellie finds Abby is captured by a local gang and in trying to find her location comes to the execution ground where Abby was left to die.
She proceeds to cut down Abby, who then runs to save Lev.
As they make their way to the boats to escape, Ellie confronts Abby by the water and forces her to fight. I did not feel at all like fighting in that last fight. Every punch was because the game was making me. Here is Abby already beaten and tortured, now on the verge of death in a fight with Ellie. Abby gives a good fight, even biting of two of Ellie's fingers.
But Ellie manages to beat down Abby. Just as she holds her head under water suffocating her, there it flashes back briefly and then Ellie stops.
That was heart wrenching. That one flash just... I could feel what she was feeling for a moment. This stops Ellie from killing Abby and she allow her to escape with Lev.
But now, Ellie can never play the guitar. It is so symbolic. The price you pay for revenge is high.
My Thoughts on the Ending
Every conflict has two sides of the story. The people you killed have lives of their own. Naughty Dog has showcased this beautifully through the Last of Us Part II. They say when you go out for revenge dig two graves. This game just took it to the next level.
I knew they could have gone the Red Dead Redemption route and ended with vengeance in a bad way, but what actually happened was worse and better in many ways. It is easy to finish to death, but much more difficult to continue living with your mistakes and what you lose.
In the end, I can't help but think that the game started out with Ellie as justified in her actions, but turned into a monster in pursuit of revenge. On the othr hand, it started out with Abby as a monster, who found her humanity and peace in the end with Lev. I find Abby's story was more loss filled and redemptive than Ellie. In her, I could see Joel. Esp. the Joel-Ellie => Abby- Lev parallel stories they had going. Ellie did stop from making the final kill, but she lost everything on her way to get revenge.
Maybe she should have taken a cue from Abby's story but then this game would not have happened if she was introspective and self-aware enough.
One of my friends suggested an alternate ending with Lev being the sole survivor. It would have made a good but even more heart breaking ending. Though in some ways it wouldn't have been as deep because in the end, you get so invested in Ellie and Abby's story that their redemption arc is properly concluded in some ways.
At times, I felt like I was playing two games, with the two storylines. So much so that I kept forgetting I was playing Last of Us during Abby's part until the music kicked in or when there was a parallel moment in the storyline.
Overall, I am glad that Naughty Dog took this opportunity to tell this story. It was a flawed story but deep and impactful in it's own way. It made me ponder about the consequences of actions in pursuit of revenge. "Blinded by revenge" has a new meaning based on this game.