(Warning: The following may contain spoilers of The Last of Us)
There is a discussion in the air concerning The Last of Us (TLOU) 2 right now. In that the original is such a perfect and memorable title, that some groups don’t ever want to see a sequel. As if to say a sequel would taint the memory of the original, or it’s bastardisation into a franchise would wear thin. While the other side are foaming at the mouth rabid for a sequel to one of the best games of all time. With a combined 247 Game of the Year awards from publications and industry bodies around the world, TLOU is currently the best game ever made.
But therein lies a problem. Over eight million copies of TLOU have sold under industry sales tracker approximations. Again 247 major awards, over two generations of a platform. Earning Sony & Naughty Dog and anyone in between a share of almost $500 million.
Then consider Sony released a statement declaring TLOU a ‘success’ after just 3.4 million sales. Meaning the project was already comfortably profitable. With 8 million that means it more than doubled its profitable projection margins. Which meant a sequel would be inevitable.
Now, the issue isn’t, will it sell. It is beyond obvious it will. Provided a) it’s polished with little to no bugs and b) has a justifiable story. Naughty Dog face a rarely encountered challenge in raising their own bar of excellence. They will certainly have the budget to do it too. But would it be like catching lightning in a bottle?
Naughty Dog just have to say ‘sequel’ to catch most TLOU lovers to guarantee a sale, and that’ll be enough to be yet another success. Then there is that ‘word of mouth’ audience the original captivated. Be it the high and mighty ‘PC Master Race’, the non-gamers who are captivated by story and try them anyway when these one in a few thousand must experience games comes along. Along with all the casuals in-between to even the rival hardware fandom who will seek out a friend who has a copy, just to say they played it. These are the people that would need to be enthralled by a sequel.
‘Sequel’ implies its own set of unique problems. Because to the uninitiated there is a sense of, ‘Oh I didn’t play the first one, so I don’t need to play the second one.’ Versus marketing a sequel with a brand new cast of characters. You can’t use the same set of character tropes or heart string plucking set-ups again. You also have to get an entire audience to love or hate the characters. Versus using the established cast of survivors and presenting new dangers and problems.
While the sequel is a guaranteed certainty for a tease around E3 2016-18. Most naysayers air on the side of extreme caution, and naturally so. But others show a lack of imagination for one. Pigeonholing one of the main characters on a single act showing their personal ignorance. Yet while these characters are being treated like people. The diverse opinions, popular or not, showcase the talents of Ashley Johnson & Troy Baker in being able to spark these discussions in the first place. TLOU will likely be touted with a Game of the Decade award come late 2019 somewhere. For now however a sequel needs a story, so let us assume Naughty Dog sticks with stories based around Joel & Ellie.
As hinted at earlier, one of the key points in the Left Behind add-on/prequel story for Ellie is the kiss she shares with her best friend Riley. Neil Drukmann has stated Ellie is gay. And that the love story between her & Riley is meant to be in stark contrast to a moment during the main game. When Joel is at the end of his rope with Ellie and scolds her for not knowing what real loss is. When she does as you know both Ellie’s fate & Riley’s within the first hour of her revealing her bite. Weather Ellie is pigeonholed forever as a lesbian over a single kiss with her best friend remains to be seen.
But there is a potential for a build up for a new love story for Ellie. The possible consequences of cure seekers wanting to take a possible future child from Ellie. Due to the fact it could be an uncompromised vaccine/cure to the virus. Not to mention Ellie being pregnant could possibly lead into visions of a clicker baby inspired by some pregnancy fever dream. It could also be the first high profile triple AAA title to have you surviving as a pregnant woman. Throw in the letter you can only find in Ellie’s backpack which is from her mother just after giving birth to Ellie. Explaining how she feared she would be a terrible mother, but how much she loves Ellie.
Ellie’s mother supposedly died a day after giving birth to her. But with only hearsay and a letter, any conspiracy theorist could come up with a good plot line. The best of which would involve a story forced on a prequel with a pregnant Anna, Marlene & Ellie’s unknown father. Anna becomes pregnant post-outbreak so discovering this news alone would seem like a travesty. In a world that no longer existed the way it used to, a woman who doesn’t care for children in a place when the weak get killed so the strong survive. The plot possibilities are a wash and with the previous games timescale of using seasons to map out the year the game takes place in. Using a system of months mapping out the progress of a pregnancy fits in the system. The hardest part would be turning up the sluggishness of the controls to a player controlled pregnant woman, without frustrating the player. before then handing control over to another character.
This potential storyline not only has plot twists galore which could be exploited to adapt the originals storyline. It could shine a light upon Marlene that makes her story’s end just as heart breaking. Even something as simple as having a love triangle between Anna and two different men. Who share possible likeness traits with Ellie, could be a plot twist. As you discover who the father is in a player controlled sequence which leads to the death of one of the men towards the end of the game. All before throwing in a great twist ending in that Anna might still be alive for reasons unknown. Or she is dead but because she was bit before giving birth to Ellie explaining her immunity.
Then there is Joel. Who may or may not still have an ex-wife out in the wasteland. The circle of the original story was Joel coming to peace with the tragedies in his life. But he has outlined many separate storylines that could be explored from the fallout of his daughters untimely demise. From how a Texan ends up in a Massachusetts safezone on the east coast. Joel never felt like the type of man to leave it to a secondary party to tell Sarah’s mother about the death of their daughter. Along with admitting he was even a highwayman for a time. There could even be a story leading to how Ellie as the player learns to trust others. Adapting the story to who, and who not to trust in the storyline after Joel dies.
The stories emanating from these two characters alone exist in spades. Some of them, I’d genuinely love to see. Yet while a sequel might need treating with caution, there is no need for kid gloves in the world of TLOU. because if it’s one thing the title of the game tells you as a gamer, or consumer of entertainment. It’s that – you haven’t seen The Last of Us yet.