Spoilers for The Last of Us follow.
The Last of Us is almost universally regarded as a masterpiece. Its writing is a not only outstanding within the realm of its medium, but also within writing itself, it’s no surprise that news of a sequel has some fans nervous. TLOU2 definitely has big shoes to fill. Living up to a game such as TLOU is not an easy task, but what is it about the first game that made it so magical? What caused TLOU to become an instant classic? While I don’t claim to have all the answers, I know where it started; the “hook”, if you will. Sarah. The nature of her introduction,brevity of her presence, and the power of her death set the stage for an incredible journey. This may seem like an obvious observation… Because it is. But it does beg the question of “What will be TLOU2’s Sarah?” Unlike the first game, these two characters have no one else they care about. The outbreak has already begun, Joel and Ellie have already completed their journey, and over the course of said journey, lost literally everyone else they care about. In an interview, Neil Druckmann said that the first game was, at its core, a story about love; however TLOU Part 2 is a story about hate. The theme of love is prevalent throughout the first game. Part of the journey is watching the love between these two characters blossom. When Druckmann refers to Part 2 being about hate, its somewhat confusing, as hate can only be result of one thing: loss. But what loss could be so harsh that it would give rise to hate strong enough to fuel a story. There’s a couple of possibilities.
The first is the obvious answer: Joel. It has been confirmed that Ellie will be the one we’re playing as in Part 2 so losing Joel would be a loss worth developing hatred over, but there’s a problem with this theory. In the reveal trailer, Ellie already seems to be filled with hate. Between the cold look in her eyes and her promise to “find them, and kill all of them” Ellie has already experienced something at the hands of whoever “they” are. Of course, she’s talking to Joel at this point so he obviously isn’t dead. I’ve heard all the theories that perhaps the trailer was a dream sequence or a grief induced hallucination caused by Joel’s demise. I just don’t buy into any of that. It’s not Naughty Dog’s style to pull a stunt like that. The closest they’ve ever come was in Uncharted 3, but that was in late game, not in the trailer. No, I think Joel is alive and well in the trailer. Don’t get me wrong, there’s no way Joel walks away from this game, in fact, I’d say he’s at least maimed, if not dead by the third hour. Ellie’s probably gone by the end too, but that’s besides the point. If Joel does indeed die in TLOU2, it’s probably not the inciting incident.
My second theory is far less obvious, but far more difficult to pull off correctly. Naughty Dog could recreate Sarah. By this I mean they could introduce an entirely new character and somehow cause us to care about him/her to such a degree that their loss would serve as an effective start to the story. Introducing and subsequently killing that character to serve as the emotional jumpstart to a story is hard enough. Doing it a second time, AND living up to the sheer gravity of the first. That’s near impossible, but if any studio can pull it off, it’s Naughty Dog.
Of course, these aren’t the only possibilities. It’s possible that it is the loss is of a known character, perhaps Tommy, that drives Ellie to hatred. I’ve even heard a theory that she learns that the outbreak is man-made and is finding the ones responsible. All I can say for sure is I am eagerly awaiting to see just what Naughty Dog has in store for us.