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Hopelessly Flawed, or a Work of Art? What a Second Playthrough Taught Me About TLOU2

After letting the game sit for a while, as well as reading all the criticism of it, I decided to go back for a second playthrough to see if my views on the game had changed at all.

***Spoilers Ahead***

Like so many other gamers out there, the first installment of The Last of Us was, without a doubt, one of the greatest video games I ever had the joy of playing. For starters, the gameplay was extraordinary. The gunfights often played out slowly and methodically, and had a more realistic feel to them than other games where the player could just run-and-gun through entire levels. The story, though, was the true hero. Watching Joel slowly find redemption for his past through Ellie as they traveled the country, and watching him learn to love again, was something special.

So, like so many other gamers out there, I was foaming at the mouth to get my hands on the second game. I avoided reading anything about the game to keep myself from being spoiled on it. In the days before it came out I went back and replayed the entire first game again to have the story fresh in my mind. I played through the The Last of Us Part II at breakneck speed, spending that entire weekend doing nothing but playing the game, eating pizza, and getting very little sleep.

I absolutely loved it. I thought it was one of the most emotionally draining and hard to play games I’d ever put time into and I spent days afterwards thinking about the ending and how awful it made me feel. It was only then that I started looking at reviews and the tidal waves of criticism that had been launched at it.

There’s no denying that The Last of Us Part II was, for many people, just one more terrible element of a horrific 2020. The game was about as divisive as any that I have personally ever experienced. Even now, eight months after the game was released, there is a sharp divide in the gaming world over whether the game is genius, or whether it’s garbage. The game has a score of 93 on Metacritic , showing that the critics loved it. The fans, though, are still divided. I mean, look at this…

The audience rating from Google.

The game is the true definition of “You either loved it or you hated it.” I’ve never in my life seen a game so evenly split, with the overwhelming majority of votes being either 5 stars or 1 star.

So, with all of that in mind, I recently sat down and replayed the game, keeping all the criticisms in my mind to see if maybe, just maybe, I had been blinded to the reality of the situation.

I’ll just throw it out there now. I still fucking loved it. I think the game is brilliant and a work of art that explores obsession and the value of seeing the world from more than one perspective. It forces the player into uncomfortable situations to make us examine our ideas of justice, love, and sacrifice. The gameplay is fun, the story is engaging, the flawed characters make me think about my own flaws. It’s still a 10/10 after my second playthrough.

Below, I’ll go more into depth on some of the criticisms of the game and why I think they’re all bullshit.

Joel

This is one criticism that I always thought was a little petty. People were mad about Joel for two reasons. First of all, he died. Like, right away. Yes, it was very sad, but everybody dies and it was his time. I was upset to see him go but I’m not going to trash the game because somebody I liked got killed. That’s just how life is sometimes.

The biggest thing, though, is that people were furious that Joel went to the house with Abby and her friends and then told all of them his name.

For starters, they were being chased by a pretty big horde, so going to the house makes perfect sense. It’s not weird that he chose to live over being eaten by zombies. So that’s a dumb argument.

Mostly, though, people were furious that Joel seemed to trust them immediately and told them his name. But, yeah… why wouldn’t he? I get it that he was more distrustful in the first game, but he was also a depressed maniac through most of it with little to no morals. Lets not forget that before he was the rugged smuggler, he starts the first game as a gentle loving father. It’s only after the death of his daughter and the end of the world that he changes into the character we all know and love. Is it so unbelievable that his love for Ellie turned him back into the man he’d been before the world went to shit? On top of that, he’s also spent the last few years in Jackson, where he spent his time keeping people safe and helping his community grow.

“Hey, thanks for saving me from the ravenous horde outside. But you all can go fuck yourselves now because I’m Billy Badass and I ain’t gonna tell y’all nothing about myself because I don’t want video game fanboys to cry and have to deal with the concept of growth and development in a character.”

People change. He changed. Get over it.

Abby

Where to start with Abby…? She got so much hate and slander thrown her way that I honestly don’t even want to get into it all. It makes me feel dirty just reading some of the things people have written about her. I’ll just make a few quick points.

First of all, she wasn’t trans so chill the fuck out. Even if she was, who cares?

Secondly, yes it makes sense that she wanted revenge for her father. The game makes it impossible to forget that Joel murdered Abby’s father in cold blood to save Ellie, possibly eliminating the chance for humanity to ever find a cure for the infection.

Now, I’ll admit that I hated Abby when I first had to play her, so much so that I initially refused to level up any of her skills. But, by the end, I did care about her and I understood her side and knew that she was just as right, and just as wrong, as Ellie. Both of them are flawed people. You know who else is flawed? You. Deal with it.

Ellie

Ellie requires a ten page paper to fully flesh out. Nobody wants to read all that, so I’ll try my best to be quick here.

Everything Ellie does makes perfect sense when placed into the context of the time and place of the game. She was full of hate for Joel because he took her away from the hospital. She says herself that she should’ve died there, that she should’ve helped saved humanity, but Joel stole it from her. He chose one life over millions. It’s a moral quagmire and the entire point of the first game, and I don’t understand people who freaked out because Ellie hated him for it. What he did was incredibly selfish, and only other incredibly selfish people would think saving Ellie was 100% the right thing to do. It’s not that clear cut, people.

Yet she finally decided to forgive him and start trying to build their relationship back up. But then he’s murdered the very next day. People don’t seem to understand her pursuit of revenge, but I like to think of it as being akin to an alcoholic or drug addict where she knows she should stop, but can’t. Even after she barely escapes Seattle. No matter how much time passes, she can’t stop thinking about Abby and revenge. It’s her heroin, and it consumes her every thought and action.

Ellie going back to her dealer for just one more score. One last hit before she gives it up for good…

People were mad as well because Ellie, like Joel, acted differently in this game than she did in the first one. But she’s the perfect example of an anti-hero. She’s the person we’re all supposed to root for, but she’s ultimately a flawed and morally bankrupt character. She kills hundreds to avenge the death of one person. She destroys everything in her life to get revenge for Joel. Instead of growing as a character, she shrinks. Her hate and anger make her barely human, and… THAT’S THE WHOLE FUCKING POINT! I’m sorry she’s not the quirky little girl anymore but, much like Joel, people change. She grew up and got angry. Angry that Joel took away her chance to help cure the infection. Angry that people judge her for who she loves. Angry that she lives in a post-apocalyptic world. Just angry about everything, much like damn near every other teenager in the world.

The only difference being, of course, that she’s a trained killer with a singular focus of revenging her adoptive father. Besides that, though, identical to teenagers all over the world today.

Lev

Lev was awesome. I truly feel sorry for people who are so small minded that they couldn’t handle the fact that he was trans. I doubt that anybody who feels that way would read anything I write, but just in case…

You’re a piece of shit.

Grow up and realize the world isn’t all about you and people are free to be whoever the fuck they want to be. The game did a good job of showing that as well, with the Seraphites still using Lev’s old name and refusing to acknowledge who he was. Just to be clear, they were one of the bad guys. A closed minded cult detached from reality. Just like anybody in the real world who got pissy about a trans character in a video game.

The Story

I think I’ve covered this for the most part, but I’ll summarize. The game is an emotional rollercoaster that forces the player into uncomfortable situations where they are forced to examine their own ideas and prejudices, all while watching a beloved character slowly sink deeper and deeper into obsession and madness over her misguided ideas of justice and revenge. The game is literally painful to play at times, even the second time around. I still didn’t want to fight Abby again at the end. I just didn’t. I was emotional wrecked and I only wanted to let her go.

Speaking of which, I think the ending was the vital piece of the story and I don’t understand how people don’t get that. So many negative reviews said the ending was unnecessary, but I completely disagree. It shows that Ellie is still obsessed and only comes to her senses and realizes that Joel would never have wanted her to do any of the horrible things she’s done until it’s too late. She lost everything, and she truly lost herself.

In the End

In conclusion, I think the game is a masterpiece and that most of the negative hype was from people who lack introspection and abstract thinking capabilities. That and homophobic assholes. But, as we all know, people are quick to jump on a hate train so large amounts of people decided to shit on the game without even knowing what they were talking about. I don’t agree with any of the major criticisms of the game and The Last of Us Part II is absolutely going down as one of my top 10 favorite games of all time.

I’m already looking forward to playing it for a third time some day.

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