By the time I finished watching the first trailer for The Last of Us back in December, I was really interested in the game. And this wasn't because it was a new Naughty Dog project. I became interested because the trailer made it seem that you were going to be playing as young Ellie and not as Joel, the grizzled survivalist. This made me think about how the game’s narrative would be presented and how the playable character would affect gameplay.
Narratively speaking, Ellie seemed to be a perfect foil for the player since she doesn’t seem to know much about the world, let alone the way it was before the apocalypse. Joel seemed like he would be a great fit as a mentor to both Ellie and the player. He could help you get an understanding of the world and also teach you the skills you would need to survive.
Gameplay wise, Ellie, as a 14-year-old girl, wouldn't be able to physically go toe to toe with a zombie (something even Joel seemed to have some trouble with). The same can be said for her ability to use firearms, which she might be able to do but probably not super effectively. This would mean that the gameplay would be less focused on you engaging in combat, and it would be more focused on things Ellie would actually be able to do — like platforming and puzzle solving.
You still could have gameplay related to combat, but it would be in more of a support role than one of direct confrontation. While Joel would fight zombies or humans in one place, Ellie could sneak or jump to a place where she would be able to cause some rubble to fall onto an enemy or find a way to destroy that hostile element's cover. Basically, she could do things that would make it easier for Joel to fight.
Ellie could maybe use a rifle to snipe at enemies, which would potentially lead to some interesting choices for the player. Maybe you would have a choice between shooting at an enemy and using some of the little ammo you have or maneuvering to a place and helping Joel fight the bad guys.
Recent information about the game has indicated that you, in fact, will be playing as Joel with Ellie being controlled by the game’s artificial intelligence. And after reading a bit about how the title is going to play, I can understand why the developers chose to go with Joel.
From the sounds of it, they want to have physical close-quarters combat between the player and the zombies, which is obviously only something Joel can do. There also seems to be some sort of mystery to Ellie since she hired Joel to smuggle her out of the safe zone, which has apparently caused the military to pursue them. Having that sort of major plot thread is pretty difficult if you are playing as Ellie and can affect immersion and congruency.
Obviously, the title is a long way from getting released, and we still don’t really know all that much about it. I still can’t help but feel disappointed in what I think is a missed opportunity. Naughty Dog could have tried something new in terms of gameplay. By moving the player from being in the role of the most-powerful character to the role of a supporting figure could have resulted in a new experience. I don’t know if what I just discussed would have led to a better game, but at least the player would have had a setup that could have made everything a lot more interesting.