10 years in the past, The Final of Us’ surprising and morally divisive ending made historical past. Selecting to land in a spot of uncertainty, the conclusion bucked what many different video games selected to do, and infrequently nonetheless do: current an easy, neat, conventionally satisfying finish the place the great guys are the great guys and the dangerous guys have been vanquished. Strains between protagonist and antagonist blur over the course of its 15-hour marketing campaign, and the ending refuses to offer us a neat takeaway, to sharpen the point of interest on a transparent assertion or consequence, however as a substitute has its primary character arguably doom the world after which lie about it. Once I first reached that ending 10 years in the past, it left me pacing anxiously forwards and backwards, determined for somebody to speak to about its startling ambiguities and contradictions, and I used to be hardly the one one. To this present day, it stays maybe essentially the most provocative, talked-about, hotly debated ending in sport historical past.
It ought to go with out saying, however this piece will dive into some spoilery territory, masking the conclusion of the unique sport and the premise of its sequel.
The Final of Us first arrived on the PlayStation 3 in 2013 as a gritty trial of perseverance in a doomed world, albeit one the place maybe there’s a sliver of hope on the horizon: Perhaps Ellie’s immunity can be utilized to create a treatment for a world-ending plague. The sport was notable for a lot of issues: the traumatic deaths of varied characters; a gradual grind of gameplay targeted on stealth, determined crafting, and brutal violence; however maybe most of all for its strikingly ambiguous and difficult ending. Relatively than doing the plain and wrapping the whole lot up with a neat bow, the conclusion throws the participant headfirst right into a liminal house. The world isn’t restored, but the heroes stay; however at what price? Informed that Ellie will probably be killed in pursuit of the doable vaccine, Joel intervenes, stopping the surgical procedure and killing everybody who stands in his means, leaving the world to persist in its state of break. He then lies to her about what he did with an unconvincing story. Ellie, clearly in a spot of uncertainty about what she’s listening to, presses him to guarantee her that the whole lot he simply mentioned is true. “I swear,” Joel lies. Roll credit.
It’s not a clear decision. Within the final 10 years, the selection to finish the sport with one character mendacity to a different has left many to reach at cynical conclusions about Joel as a personality or the sport’s narrative solely, with some critics feeling that The Final of Us is finally a vacuous show of gore or a story with out a lot of redeeming worth to say.
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A traditional story unconventionally advised
For all that The Final of Us did otherwise, nevertheless, observations on the time highlighted simply how a lot the sport shared in frequent with others. Reviewing the sport for Polygon on the time, Philip Kollar famous that it was constructed on “the identical post-apocalyptic situation as dozens of different video games.” Kollar provides, nevertheless, that “its strategy is starkly its personal.” That’s possible why the conclusion hits so arduous. A lot feels just like what we all know from different video games, and even works in different mediums. However TLoU took a unique strategy, one intimately targeted on its central relationship, with a reasonably typical, linear narrative construction which may’ve given the impression that it will additionally resolve itself in a standard means.
Narrative alternative in 2013 was one thing many got here to worth in video video games, however as Adam Sessler famous in his evaluate of the sport, TLoU has a selected story to inform, with out your enter save for a number of moments of alternative over simply how brutal you could be within the sport’s ending. An absence of alternative was one thing Sessler characterised, on the time, as “old school.” (Certainly, a lot dialog on the time of launch was rooted in how uncomfortable some gamers have been with Joel killing sure characters he arguably didn’t have to kill, the strain between the participant eager to do one factor and the character demanding to do one thing else. Whether or not this can be a flaw or a part of the sport’s energy is only one extra fascinating factor to contemplate.) And maybe that “old school” strategy was what led many to count on a extra conventional conclusion. There’s quite a bit that’s typical and old school in TLoU, however its strategy betrays a dependable belief you’d ordinarily place in such a rigidly constructed narrative.
That “strategy” Kollar highlighted is felt, maybe, most saliently on the sport’s conclusion, which is very the place it principally clearly pulls away from “the identical post-apocalyptic situation” as different video games. Examples of extra typical endings on this style would come with these in video games like Gears of Warfare 3 or the Resistance collection of shooters on PlayStation 3, each of which finish with close to deus-ex-machina options to the world’s issues.
In different video games with related excessive stakes and fallen world situations, there’s usually some present of sci-fi mumbo jumbo utilized, usually proper on the finish, to set the whole lot proper; and if not, like within the newer zombie drama Days Gone, there’s nearly zero ambiguity as to who did the suitable factor. iIf the great guys don’t get their means, it’s an unlucky act of god, however you continue to have the great man protagonist to nonetheless place your belief in.
The Final of Us wasn’t having any of that. And it additionally wasn’t involved with “a number of plot twists and the bending of all of the legal guidelines of physics,” as Paul Tassi famous for Forbes compared to the conclusion of 2013’s BioShock Infinite. Tassi continues, “the ending of The Final of Us isn’t fairly so mind-boggling.” It’s a tragic ending to a tragic sport, one which takes place at a decidedly human scale, not a grand cosmic one.
The ending of The Final of Us didn’t want to dazzle you with its spectacular world-building or wow you with intelligent fantasy epidemiology. You don’t get the “lore dive” that many video games try and do, and also you don’t get a transparent indication that the suitable issues have been finished. Relatively, the sport says the alternative. The world isn’t saved, and the great guys have been stopped not by the antagonist, however by you, the “protagonist.”
As Tassi notes, that’s not essentially a shock revelation on the finish. It’s not a sudden plot twist. However, moderately, it’s the tip level of a sport that’s slowly telling you that you simply’re probably on the incorrect facet, and that’s considerably surprising, even for video games that do flip the script on you on the finish by revealing the protagonist’s wishes to be suspect. To its miserable finish, TLoU’s grind challenges you to consider who you’ve been the entire time. “Simply since you’re taking part in as somebody in a sport,” Tassi writes, “that doesn’t make you the great man. In reality, the clues are scattered throughout [The Last of Us] that you simply’re actually not man in any respect.”
Returning to Kollar’s evaluation of the sport, the sentiment that you simply’re the dangerous man all alongside was and nonetheless is a well-liked one; and the ending doesn’t change that, it simply reinforces it. “By the tip,” Kollar writes, “I used to be pausing as a result of I felt like a foul individual doing dangerous issues. It’s a seemingly intentional alternative, however the sport struggles to justify it with the identical ease that Joel justifies homicide […] I couldn’t discover any deeper which means within the horrible occasions in The Final of Us.”
However the place others have since criticized Joel, and even the sport, for the brutality on show, others have taken completely different stances. For Kotaku, author Tina Amini expressed as a lot in relation to placing your self within the sneakers of an individual who stands to lose the closest factor it’s a must to household in a world that’s already taken it from you:
“Had Ellie been my daughter, or somebody who had grown to turn into my daughter determine, I’d by no means sacrifice her life even to save lots of the lives of thousands and thousands of others. Sorry, guys. Nothing is available in the best way of household.”
Many is perhaps fast to treat that as egocentric. However as Amini mentioned, there are some important particulars within the conclusion that shouldn’t simply be swept apart as a result of Joel maybe acted too swiftly and instantly. Amini writes:
Let’s recap. The Fireflies hit Joel over the pinnacle whereas he makes an attempt to save lots of Ellie’s life. Then, he wakes up in a hospital and is advised that no, you’ll be able to’t see Ellie and sorry, she’s going to die whether or not you want that or not. No discussions. No questions. Simply shut up and take it. After you went above and past the deal you made with Marlene, after you virtually get your self killed spending a yr monitoring these bastards down, and after they nonetheless don’t provide the provide of weapons promised in alternate for Ellie’s supply, the least they may have finished was supply the courtesy of a dialog. With Ellie current within the room, ready to make her personal determination. That looks like the truthful factor to do. However it’s nowhere close to what occurred.
With a scarcity of clear certainty as to what might occur with Ellie’s surgical procedure, and a fast dissolution of conventional methods of wrapping up a story, like Amini, I too seemed on the finish of TLoU and requested, “what if this have been my daughter?” Or in my case, “what if this have been me?”
The sentiment of “no discussions. No questions. Simply shut up and take it,” jogs my memory of my very own expertise having been hospitalized underneath a misdiagnosis at roughly the identical age that Ellie was within the first sport. Forcibly given medication by individuals who claimed they knew what they have been doing by swiftly locking me up in a collection of white halls and protecting me sedated, with out dialog or concern for my consent to such a factor, I keep in mind the phobia of sitting with the thought that possibly I’d by no means see house once more. And in contrast to Joel, although I wouldn’t have wished them to bloodbath a hospital of individuals (we’re additionally not dwelling in a zombie apocalypse), these near me selected to simply let it occur. It will take every week earlier than the medical doctors realized “whoops, you don’t have what we thought you had, sorry for the childhood trauma, however good on you all for listening to the consultants.”
The morally ambiguous nature of The Final of Us’ ending meant that when Marlene tried to guarantee Joel that the whole lot could be high-quality, I used to be free to not purchase it—as a result of I keep in mind what it’s like when individuals answerable for your autonomy and life take daring, restrictive actions and others simply stand by and settle for it. Joel’s aggression, in some ways, was my very own catharsis for a way I used to be wronged in a hospital some 20-plus years in the past.
A troublesome act to observe
However even for individuals who weren’t as cynical or pessimistic about TLoU’s ending or better narrative, the affect of the ambiguous ending was so harrowing and had defied a lot of what many had anticipated, that some felt it didn’t warrant a return journey by means of a sequel. Those that discovered displeasure in TLoU’s story might stop being attentive to it, however even for individuals who did get pleasure from the place the sport went, there was a transparent want for it to not go wherever else. Lightning not often strikes twice; and a sequel could be too typical. Talking to that very sentiment in 2013, former Kotaku author Kirk Hamilton mentioned:
I don’t really feel like I have to return to this specific post-apocalyptic world. I don’t want to listen to any extra tales from it. I don’t have to see what Joel and Ellie rise up to now that they’re secure at Joel’s brother’s wilderness retreat. I actually don’t have to battle off one other clicker, or make my means by means of one other hunter camp.
Expressing a scarcity of want for a sequel to TLoU wasn’t nearly this singular sport, but additionally stems from a paranoia over media, notably video video games, to franchise issues to demise. What even would a sequel do? Wouldn’t it simply be vignettes of fan service? I suppose we’ll see Ellie study to play guitar? Perhaps Joel will lastly get his espresso? Or would it not simply be extra of an industrial want to mine a well-liked property underneath the guise of “extra tales,” efforts which generally diminish what magic stays of the preliminary sport that caught everybody’s consideration?
Those that beloved the ending and the sport actually wouldn’t need that; this world deserved higher. And those that have been turned off by it undoubtedly wouldn’t need that; that they had had sufficient of this place. To perpetuate this story felt like it will lower towards what made it so distinctive, as Hamilton wrote in 2013, there’s “an excessive amount of decision in video video games as of late, and [we] might do with a bit much less surety.”
However The Final of Us marched on with an expanded story DLC that explores the demise of Ellie’s childhood buddy, after which a sequel with much more demise. Half II meditates solely on Joel’s actions, with justice (or baseless revenge, relying in your perspective) served for his reckless damnation of the world by the daughter of a person he killed years in the past.
Half II is an extremely lengthy sport. In reality, given that you simply play half the sport as a wholly new character, it’s virtually two video games in a single. Dialog about it upon launch was additionally muddied by infantile, aggressive reactions and harassment campaigns from these upset by the presence of queer individuals, trans individuals, and girls whose our bodies have been deemed by some insufficiently female and fascinating; it’s a firestorm that also burns to this present day. Exterior of conversations in regards to the sport with different critics, I usually really feel like I nonetheless have to wade by means of such nonsense.
Discussing whether or not or not TLoU Half II makes essentially the most of its alternative as a sequel to do one thing worthwhile with the anomaly of the unique’s ending would require an extended dialog a few very lengthy sport. However I feel the truth that the sequel makes use of Joel’s actions to set the stage for an additional exploration of how and when violence perpetuates itself makes the case for it as a worthy observe up—even when I, very like others, would’ve been very happy with a one-and-done journey into this world.