The success of The Last of Us franchise has grown to the point of having a sequel, an HBO adaptation, a standalone multiplayer experience, and a well-received remake of the original. It has become one of PlayStation’s most prominent IPs, so it is no surprise that recent leaks suggest developer Naughty Dog is already hard at work on The Last of Us Part III. While the franchise is likely not going away anytime soon, in order to succeed, the third game needs to move on from the story of Ellie. Here’s why.
Trapped by the past — The story of The Last of Us changed the video game industry in ways that are still felt today. Nearly a decade later it is still the premier example of prestige video games, thanks to its intense story that follows the growing relationship between the hardened Joel and the brash teenager Ellie.
While the original game received massive critical acclaim, the sequel was a little more divisive. Some critics claimed that the story of The Last of Us Part II was derivative of the original. Saying it doubles down on a story of revenge that relishes in making the player feel bad for actions that are impossible to avoid. In addition, the story of The Last of Us Part II returns to Ellie as the narrative’s focus.
The original Last of Us leaves the players with a morally ambiguous ending but in many ways, it gives closure to the story of Ellie and Joel. But the potential of The Last of Us as a franchise lay in the world, its harsh post-apocalypse was a vessel for human stories. Ellie and Joel were just one of those stories. The Last of Us Part II more definitively wraps up the story of Ellie, but the franchise’s future is still beholden to the past.
Looking to the future — The second protagonist of The Last of Us Part II is Abby, a character intrinsically linked to Ellie’s story. She is motivated purely by the need to take revenge on Ellie and Joel for things that have happened in the past. By the end of Part II, the story leaves Ellie behind in favor of opening the way for Abby’s story to take center stage.
If The Last of Us is about the unending cycles of revenge, then the story is equally beholden to Ellie’s unending impact on the world. Abby’s future is the most likely next step of the franchise, but it continues to leave Ellie’s decisions as the motivating factor for the actions of the people within the world.
The Last of Us Part III should embrace how Part II leaves Ellie behind, and take this as an opportunity to forge a new path for the franchise. The Last of Us itself began as a way for the developers at Naughty Dog to do something new creatively outside of the Uncharted series, but in the time since the original game’s release, it has become constraining. To continue the franchise, it needs to explore new avenues.
While Abby being the protagonist is a good start that opens up new options, it isn’t enough when she herself is still motivated by events of the previous games. The Last of Us Part III should embrace the world that Naughty Dog built and its potential for other stories.
The Last of Us Factions, the standalone multiplayer, has the potential of doing this, as Neil Druckman has stated the game is “as big as any of our single-player games... The way we’re telling that story is unique.” Factions will take place in San Francisco, an area unexplored by the rest of the franchise. The mainline games should learn from this approach.