CW: Death/Personal Trauma
I want to begin by providing my external perspective separate from the discourse below. The viewpoints detailed below are my opinions, but they are expressed while taking into account that I:
Loved this game
Follow and have great admiration for many of the talented VA as well as a love of previous ND games
Am/Consider myself heterosexual, cisgendered, and a white lower-middle-class college-educated male who has grown up in and around Seattle
Have a partner who is gender fluid and pansexual.
Am more of a podcast listener than review-reader
Am not a professional writer, nor have I written anything outside of legislation or anthropology essays in almost a decade.
Played along with jacksepticeye’s playthrough
- I do this because I find that games that have scavenging and world-building collectibles overwhelm me. I love the worldbuilding in this game, personally, but I tend to try to find everything and it leads me to not play the game how I want to, and I don’t have the attention span to play a game twice and find myself dropping off… That’s on me.
- While I don’t agree with all of his commentary, I do have it in mind.
Have done my best to not read through ongoing discourse, but have read headlines and seen clickbait youtube thumbnails all over.
None of these points lend me qualifications to be an expert, but will inform my bias/incoming understanding
I think I might disagree with almost everything in this review. That is of course overdramatic, but I was almost shocked at how differently we came away from this game. This game felt in many ways like pulling a splinter. I honestly mean that in the most positive way possible. During the game I felt pain, fear, shock and, just as in every time I’ve ever tried to pull out a splinter, my tweezers decide differently than what I tell them, no matter how many times I curse them under my breath. Importantly, however, is that I felt the gratifying sensation of having come out the other side of that experience. Sure, it’s gonna be tender for a minute and there were probably better ways to achieve the same feeling at times, but it feels worth it. This game, to me, is a poetic dovetail of two separate, but forever intwined, fates.
The first few hours of the game are some of the most I have ever been engaged by a story. It felt, genuinely, like I had been dropped into the middle of Ellie’s life. A life that she had been actively living. Even though it all gets fleshed out in journal entries or flashbacks, I begin the game truly in media res and can only sense the underlying tensions. I couldn’t, but one may be able to, draw clean lines through from the Last of Us part 1 to the beginning of this game. Clearly, much has happened. Joel is behaving differently, and he and Ellie are on the outs. I can draw assumptions, but the reality is much more complex. I follow these characters through a budding romance that left my heart warm and very quickly my heart was broken. This speaks volumes to the randomness of trauma. You don’t always know that tragedy will happen, you don’t always get to say goodbye. But, in a life surrounded by repeated and regular trauma, tragedy is expected. Even when you expect it, a surprise-left leaves your jaw hurting. CW: Death/Personal Trauma I’ve dealt with death many times in my just under 30 years, and this game hit close to home with one of my deepest tragedies. He was a Marine. He died unexpectedly about 8 years ago. Niko was to be deployed in the fall after his 23rd birthday, but he died in February. You worry when a solider is overseas – and this is not a commentary nor a place for commentary on military – but you let that worry go a bit when they’re home. You don’t expect that phone call at 4am With my anecdotal experience in mind, Joel’s death is not unexpected in this tragic world, but fuck, I’d need a physics degree – or to watch much more of The Expanse – to explain the forces of that complete reverse of emotional momentum. The world fell out from under Ellie and that hit hard with me.
The game, in many ways, spends Ellie’s story hunting closure. From my knowledge of Ellie’s life, the only natural response is to fight back. She’s been hunted, and has hunted. This search is personal to her, if not to me. I don’t think I agree with many of her choices, but I can sure as hell understand a lot of them.
Ellie kills for survival. Or at least you can play it as such. The game suggests there are relatively few mandatory deaths, and most of these happen in cutscenes. These deaths take agency away from the player, much like dealing with trauma may drive you to take actions you wouldn’t choose otherwise. These are the deaths that have true consequence on the story. Ellie is, in simplistic terms meant without the misogynistic connotations, lashing out. Through her life with Joel, her view was kill-or-be-killed. Even as she begins to accept a life of communal kinship, she is torn back into this “it’s me or them” mentality. Ellie has a loving group of people trying to support her through this process. At times they don’t agree with her decisions, much like the player might, but they know it is her journey to take. This is not justifying mass murder or the killing spree that most likely occurred during most playthroughs. That is justified in-game by the, in my opinion, wonderful little breadcrumbs of contextual narrative you find in notes and the various settings. Unfortunately, to an extent, one feels pressured to kill everything in the arena to explore and grab all the goodies.
This review reads that “Nobody ever reconsiders their quest for vengeance”. Which I think, and while I appreciate Rob’s viewpoints and am not in any way saying that these viewpoints are invalid, is not taking into account the wonderful acting and facial animation work that was done on this story. I can see the pained looks in Ellie and Abby’s eyes and you can hear it in their voices. This is a struggle. This is a battle at much with themselves as it is with the world around them. The overarching question is really, “how far would you go to feel better?”. Abby hunts Joel, with her friends questioning her along the way, to bring closure to her father’s murder. Ellie hunts Abby in the same way. Owen faces the same question, Issac does, Yara does, Lev does, Tommy does and so on.
Ellie, much like many of the most violent/intense moments in the game, goes farther than I, as the observer, am comfortable. The game, and there can be argument to the success at this, is attempting to make the viewer sit through discomfort and know that the paths these characters walk are not clean, they are not perfect. I pleaded internally as I watched Ellie continuously throw away potential happiness being presented to her. But I can identify with that. I’ve been there as my friends and loved ones offered me hands to pick myself up. Sometimes you can’t see the hand, or it doesn’t feel right to grab it. You cling to what scratches that itch, picks the scab. There are times that you choose the wrong path, even if it feels like the right reason.
A comment directly to Rob, meant with all due respect: even though you might not be the technically best Professional Gamer, you are a professional gamer. I will not assume to know your full experience while playing, but your countless hours grappling with similar game mechanics likely influenced your view of the level design. Your review states, “… all you actually do as a player is follow an obvious path to a clearly-marked crack in the wall leading to the next area.” These paths were not clearly marked out in my experience. Yes, I was able to see where I was supposed to go, but there were many offshoots that felt organic. Going behind the buildings in Hillcrest or navigating through the hospital grounds or any of the numerous entirely gigantic arenas. Yes, you could see the mechanics underneath the surface; but god damn does that surface put in work to hide it.
An aside: Yes, I am aware of an ongoing discourse surrounding crunch and while I, from the position I am in as a third-hand observer, think these profit-focused deadlines that surround the capitalistic nature of this industry are harming the medium, I don’t think that discredits the amazing work that was performed. I have many thoughts on the commercialization of art and art in the age of mechanical/digital reproduction, but this is not the context for that conversation.
Everything in this game looks and sounds amazing. Having grown up in the Seattle area, I can appreciate the Seattle-ness of much of the setting and also appreciate that the story took precedent over geographical accuracy. I was never a big fan of Uncharted. In large part, this is because I don’t vibe well with the Indiana Jones plundering story. The rest is due to that Naughty Dog style you refer to in your article. The on-the rails style of really pretty arena shooter didn’t appeal to me. In TLOU2, however, each environment felt organic through my experience. Ellie and Abby are trained survivors, I can buy that they locate the path easily but it doesn’t always feel like it was laid out for them.
While the environments are beautiful, the setting can be problematic. If you plan to tell a story about land reclamation in Seattle, you really need to take into account the context and implications that come with that narrative. I make no assumption that I am entirely conscious of these implications either, and I never can be. I could consult others, but I will never really be able to articulate those perspectives in a genuine way. There is perhaps room for further discourse on the topic, but it is not mine to write. I would love to see a Duwamish perspective, or any other Coast Salish viewpoint, on this particular topic and on the game as a whole.
The contrast of Ellie’s story to Abby’s is incredibly well done, to me. Ellie is traveling down the same path that Abby has already traveled. Abby is coming out the other side and learning to grasp what little bit of herself is left. When she turns to Lev and says, “you’re my people” I legitimately teared up. …
I’ve gone on too long. I have additional thoughts on, and would love to discuss, the following regarding this game:
- The complex relationship between the WLF and the Seraphites
- Dehumanizing; wolves v scars
- The ways that Ellie is informed of the WLF camp in notes as being chaos and unpoliced. While Abby finds similar notes, we had at that point seen the camp and can see the similarities and differences of the communal living of the seraphites.
- This relationship in discourse with CHOP/CHAZ
- Judging this story as an imperfect attempt at portrayal of limited perspectives/biased information or as willfully disrespectful in representation
- The, ever-worsening, effect of pre-game discourse and the influence on public opinion.
- Again, part of the larger context of profit-first commercialization of art.
- Lev’s story
- I’m not an expert, but I’d love to chat about how this came across to others, especially those with anecdotal experience.
- Abby and Lev, and why this is the relationship I want to see more of, all the time.