Naughty Dog’s decisions in the sequel to The Last of Us 2 were occasionally controversial, however, one decision addressing character death was correct.
Major plot points, including Joel’s death, were leaked on the internet just before The Last of Us 2’s release last summer. This generated a lot of negative attention for a game that had not yet been launched.
The Last of Us isn’t known for its mercy or kindness, so while it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that one of the favorite characters from the original game would die in the sequel, there was a general outcry over the news. Even though some fans of the franchise were dissatisfied with the decision, killing Joel was unquestionably the best choice for The Last of Us 2’s plot.
Many believe The Last of Us, which was published in 2013, to be a video game classic. Its tense and stressful gameplay, along with its intricate and devastating plot, was a huge hit, earning it Game of the Year. It’s no surprise that the game’s sequel was so eagerly awaited.
Despite initial criticism and mistrust, The Last of Us 2 went on to become the PlayStation’s best-selling exclusive launch and Game of the Year. It just goes to show that, while Joel’s death was terrible for many people, The Last of Us 2 didn’t suffer as a result of it.
Something that elevates The Last of Us above shock value is how easy it is to become engrossed in the tale. The first game made gamers care about Joel and Ellie, and it left a lasting impression. So it’s fair that some people are outraged over Joel’s death, especially given the manner in which he dies and the fact that it occurs so early in the game. But it is part of what distinguishes the game from some of its contemporaries: it seeks to touch the player and make them think. With a plot as challenging as The Last of Us’ devastating narrative, it’s unlikely that everyone will come out undamaged.
Killing Joel was heartbreaking, but it was necessary for The Last of Us 2
Joel’s activities eventually set him up for the fate that developer Naughty Dog had planned for him. The first game makes it quite evident that Joel is a flawed hero. He took decisions to further his own interests, even if he sought to rationalize them, including torture.
And, while it’s not quite fair to pass too harsh judgment on him given the state of the world in The Last of Us, the truth remains that he did questionable things and enraged a lot of people.
Perhaps his most heinous deed was deciding to save Ellie in The Last of Us’ ending, which resulted in the death of every doctor on the premises. It’s debatable if he did the “correct” decision because Ellie had become like a daughter to him, but in the course of rescuing her, he virtually wrecked humanity’s chances of surviving the virus. This was clearly going to have serious implications, as evidenced by the sequel.
Because Joel was killed so early in the game, The Last of Us Part 2 was able to tell a different plot. In video games, the player is rarely required to consider who they are murdering or to ponder the ramifications of their actions. In general, basic enemy NPCs do not have lives, families, or even names. That was not the case in the plot of The Last of Us 2.
Enemy NPCs would shout out to each other by name or even seem distraught when one of them died, and this was done on purpose. The game seems to want to repeatedly remind gamers that the victims Joel and Ellie killed had lives, names, and possibly daughters.
Perhaps even daughters who would seek retaliation for what had been done to their families. So, while killing Joel was an unpalatable option, it was an essential element of conveying that frequently difficult message.