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Druckmann was the co-director on The Last of Us, and now he is a vice president at Naughty Dog and still very much involved in the creative leadership of The Last of Us: Part II. For the past 16 months, Druckmann and Naughty Dog have been quiet about the game. Sony didn’t show up at 2019’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in June, and so the team was heads-down working on it. Expectations are stratospheric, as the original from 2013 won countless awards. It became my favorite game of all time.
But Sony showed a group of press the game on Tuesday in a warehouse in Los Angeles, and Druckmann finally got to talk about the vision behind the game.
“We’re in this lucky, privileged position where Sony lets us make the game we want to make,” he said.
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The Last of Us focused on the relationship between two characters, the 40-something Joel, who lost his teenage daughter in the fungal outbreak that triggered the apocalypse; and Ellie, a 14-year-old who was immune to the virus and grew up quickly in her trek across the country with Joel.
Their daily existence was about survival in a dangerous world full of zombie-like creatures and human predators. As Joel and Ellie journeyed on and learned to count on each other for survival, they formed a bond. As I played that game, I was so fearful I was going to lose one of them.
“The question was like, ‘How far are you willing to go to protect the ones you love?'” Druckmann said. “And by the end of the first game, Joel was willing to sacrifice himself, his friends, all of mankind, and even his own relationship with a girl who had become a surrogate daughter — in order to protect her.”
He added, “Everything we did in the game — from the gameplay to the music, to the mechanics, to the cut scenes, to the pacing, to the genre that we picked — was all done in service of creating that feeling, provoking that emotion, and then playing with.”
Now, Druckmann said, the second game is different.
“We wanted to explore this tangential feeling that sometimes comes up with love, which is hate,” he said. “And just to give you a glimpse of this thing, we’re talking about this feeling” of wanting to get someone back for doing something to you or the ones you love.
The question now becomes, if someone does harm to someone you love, how far are you going to go to get revenge? How much of yourself are you willing to sacrifice as you bring the people responsible to justice? Is there any coming back from this emotion around revenge?
Naughty Dog crafted its second game and the whole experience around these ideas.
“And without giving too much away, just like in the first one we didn’t give a lot away,” Druckmann said. “We feel like we have a story that’s in a familiar genre, the revenge genre. But it’s very unique in how we’re telling it.”
The Last of Us took place 25 years after the viral apocalypse (the year 2013 in its story). And The Last of Us: Part II takes place five years later, when Ellie is now 19. She has grown up and become a ferocious killer, with plenty of post-traumatic stress.
And she and Joel have fallen in with a group of survivors in a town called Jackson in the middle of the country. Nature is reclaiming cities. Infected human monsters roam the countryside, and humans are left in small enclaves.
Jackson is one of the beacons of hope, a refuge of civil society in a world of chaos and lawlessness.
“This is where Ellie and Joel ended up,” Druckmann said. “Elle is trying to live without trauma and get past it. And she has hobbies, she has friends, she has a job she has crushed. And she almost lives a normal life in a way that we know.”
As we know from the previous trailer from E3 2018, Ellie is infatuated with a young woman named Dina, who kisses Ellie on the dance floor. Ellie and Dina go out on a patrol together to help keep the Jackson colony safe.
But Druckmann says that something happens to turn her life upside down. And as you can see from the new trailer, Ellie’s ferocious and violent side returns later in the game. Her story becomes about one of retribution. Ellie is pursuing those who have wronged her.
After I played the Jackson level, I moved on to a scene in Seattle, which is run by a paramilitary group that is after Tommy, Joel’s brother. Ellie goes there to save Tommy, but she must deal with a bunch of very hostile and xenophobic soldiers, who shoot outsiders on sight.
Druckmann said the gameplay has new options, like a chance to dodge a blow in a melee battle, and new enemies like dogs who can sniff you out of a hiding place.
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