The first installment of the beloved The Last of Us franchise released back in 2013 for Playstation 3 at the end of its lifecycle turned out to be a huge success — leading to a remastered version with updated visuals being released for Playstation 4 just little over a year later. This enhanced experience of the game even got a bundled console version. With a rating of 95% on Metacritic, it was no surprise the development team of Naughty Dog, also know for the Uncharted series, started to work on a sequel sooner or later.
After fans got a first look at the next installment of The Last of Us at PlayStation Experience 2016, fans had to wait quite a while to finally get to play the game in 2020. however, the developers did not receive the responses they hoped for. Many fans spoke out critically about choices the writers made for The Last of Us Part II´s story, leading to heated interactions between the fan base and higher ups of Naughty Dog on Twitter and Instagram.
While some expectations of fans for sure were unrealistic and could never be satisfied, Naughty Dog could have prevented a lot of negative PR and angry fans — and I will tell you how.
Major Spoilers for The Last of Us Part I and II’s Story
Step 1: Marketing
In marketing material for The Last of Us Part II, the developers swapped around characters in certain bits of cutscenes that were shown in trailers, presumably to avoid spoilers — but giving fans a wrong idea of how the story will turn out, setting false expectations.
My approach to avoiding these spoilers would have been to completely cut Joel and Ellie from the beginning, without deceiving fans in the process and focusing on Abby’s story entirely and preventing negative outcries by the community when the game’s story was leaked shortly before its release. Introducing this new character from the beginning and leaving Joel and Ellie out would have caused some some confusion for sure, but would also intrigue a lot of fans, asking the question what exactly happened to them.
Step 2: Story
While we are at it, why not cut their overall appearance in the story? Let’s say the game focusses on Abby entirely, at least in its first half.
Abby decides to go and search for remaining fireflies with some members of WLF she managed to convince to come with her. On their search, Abby meets Lev and sides with him, turning against her WLF companions in the process. After the shootout, Lev goes back to his mother to take Yara with him. Now that Abby is alone, she remembers how it felt when her father was killed, so she decides to go after Joel, eventually killing him and leaving Ellie to go and revenge her father figure’s death. That is where you would start to play as Ellie.
To make the story more interesting, you could also make Jesse more bitter about his breakup with Dina. What if he was in the know of Dina being pregnant before Ellie and her leave Jackson?
From then on, you could make it a two sided detective type game, switching between Abby and Ellie each time they get a lead, keeping the audience at the edge of their seats through the whole process.
During their literal race on who will find whom first, Abby starts to doubt her actions. She remembers how she killed her own people because of Lev and understands Joels way of thinking leading to him killing her father and in effect regrets taking his life because of it.
When Abby and Ellie finally meet, Abby explains her change of heart, giving Ellie the opportunity to break the never ending revenge cycle.
Having experience in film production, I think at least some of these thoughts would have lead The Last of Us Part II to be received more positively by longtime fans. However, there is no denying that although the game’s release was surrounded by a series of unfortunate events and a massive uproar from the player base, The Last of Us Part II received a lot of positive criticism as well, earning various different awards. The Last of Us Part II is not a bad game at all, it just failed to the expectations right.