When The Last of Us Part 2 was announced at Playstation Experience last year the internet exploded with theories of what the trailer could possibly mean. Who was Ellie killing? Why? Was that really Joel or a figment of her imagination? The prevailing theory among many people is that Joel is dead and Ellie’s anger has something to do with that. But I don’t think that’s the case because The Last of Us needs Joel.
First I quickly want to point out Naughty Dog’s history of deception. Is the scene showcased in The Last of Us Part 2 trailer even going to be in the game? Probably not. If you all remember Uncharted 4′s first cinematic trailer, there was a scene showing Nate on the beach, exchanging dialogue with Sully in the background. That exact scene wasn’t actually in the game and that dialogue sequence was absent as well. It was a way to set the tone for the new game and give fans an idea of what was going on. It’s likely that The Last of Us trailer shown at PSX is similar in fashion.
And now, why the game needs Joel. I’ll come clean and confess that Joel is definitely my favorite character from The Last of Us. Maybe it’s the fact that he’s an overprotective male figure and that’s basically me, or maybe it’s because he’s just a nuanced and interesting character. Either way, I love him to a fault.
But with that said, the reason The Last of Us Part 2 needs Joel isn’t because I like him, but because he’s an integral part to the story. When talking about making the sequel to the acclaimed game about entirely new characters, Neil Druckmann, creative director on both of The Last of Us games, is quoted to have said, “I played with so many other ideas with other characters and it never felt right. The Last of Us is about these two characters specifically.”
And that’s the crux of it. The Last of Us isn’t Joel’s story and it isn’t Ellie’s. As much as we get a glimpse of the old man’s life before Ellie, and as much as the little girl steals the show later on, The Last of Us is about both of them and their story together. It’s about their relationship with one another and them taking on the world together.
What made The Last of Us such a great game wasn’t exemplary graphics, the beautiful score, or solid gameplay. It was the story and interactions between the characters, most especially Joel and Ellie. The bond that they built as they trekked across the remains of the United States was emotional and impactful and it’s something most of us want to see continue.
Now whether Joel and Ellie are getting along well in the upcoming game. . . That might be another story. Neil Druckmann also said that while the first game was about love, this new one is about hate. And maybe that hate is directed at Joel, given the fact that he lied to Ellie about there being no way to get a cure from her. And maybe we won’t be seeing as much of Joel, given that it seems Ellie is the playable character in the upcoming sequel. But, when everything else is stripped away, The Last of Us is about the father-daughter relationship between them.
The Last of Us isn’t the same without Ellie, and it won’t be the same without Joel. Neil Druckmann knows this, we know this, and that’s why I think we’ll be seeing our favorite angry dad again.