Why The Last of Us 2 Failed Where The Last of Us 1 Succeeded

Even Joel's as shocked as us at how TLOU 2 played out

The Last of Us is a game that enjoys a legacy that isn’t shared by most games. It is arguably Naughty Dog’s crowning achievement, a story driven, stealth horror masterpiece that pulls on your heartstrings from start to finish.

The main characters of the game, Joel and Ellie, are some of the most memorable and loved of all time. So, it was honestly only a matter of time that the 2013 game got a sequel to see the next step in Joel and Ellie’s journey. Enter 2019’s The Last of Us 2. 

The Last of Us 2 was an absolutely gorgeous game that naturally evolved all the gameplay elements of the first game and made the overall gameplay experience so much tighter and immersive. However, there were many areas of the game that just seemed to go backwards from the first part, mainly regarding the story.

So, let us take a look at all the places where The Last of Us 2 regressed compared to its prequel!




10. Worse Storytelling

As an overall package, the gameplay of TLOU 1 was nothing particularly astounding. Since it was a narrative driven game, that is where most of the focus was. Instead Naughty Dog opted for the gameplay that is tried and tested in the Uncharted series. 

The story, however, is weak. Sure, Ellie’s whole ‘revenge journey’ to kill Abby may be something that players want to see through, but who really wanted to drop everything halfway through the game to get Abby’s perspective on it? I know I didn’t. The goal of this was to show that Abby wasn’t evil for what she did.

This entire thing just felt way too unnatural, as if the game is forcing us to like the person that murdered our favorite character in cold blood. The fact that she’s framed as someone who loves her friends, is compassionate, loves animals etc. while Ellie is hateful just seems way too jarring and forced to be seen in a positive way.


9. Less Scary

Admittedly, this is a very preferential gripe with the game. While most people who played the sequel wanted to see a conclusion to Joel and Ellie’s story, including me, I was also very excited to see all the new ways that it would scare the life out of us.

While the game certainly has its moments of horror (namely the Seraphim ambush and building descent with Abby), the overall package lacks the nail biting horror of the first game. A big reason for this may be the fact that the novelty of the zombie creatures may have worn off.

TLOU 2 was way more focused on the human brutality aspect of the gameplay, due to which the zombies and their presence seemed to be a little more died down as players were more used to them by now through the first game. Compare this to the fact that we had pretty much no idea of these monsters in the first game, meaning the players were always getting thrust into situations they didn't know how to properly deal with.


8. Wasted Characters

One thing that TLOU 2 does very well (initially) is introduce a diverse cast of characters with widely differing backgrounds, ethnicities and orientations. This is a really good addition overall, and it really makes the whole world way more immersive as pockets of humanity, regardless of who or what they are, have come together to survive.

However, the game doesn’t really do much with most of the new characters. Jesse is a great character that’s introduced into the game as a follower after Dina has to be taken out. And, just as quickly as he is introduced, he is killed off in the most anticlimactic way possible with all the impact of a wet fart. From there, the game keeps going as if nothing happened.

Killing characters in a game is nothing new. However, when they are great characters which are then disrespectfully killed off out of the blue, it just flies in the face of what the characters are supposed to represent at all.


7. Too Ideologically Driven

Admittedly, this may be a point that may be divisive amongst readers. However, in terms of being too ideologically driven, I do not mean in terms of what the characters are/identify as, because overall, such diversity is a net positive in my opinion. It introduces all sorts of characters to make the world more immersive.

By ideologically driven, I mean that the writing is very clearly shaped by the perspective and biases of the writers. This in and of itself is not a bad thing as every writing project has this, but the problem arises when the game makes the players out to be wrong or bad if their opinions differ.

The whole game tries to justify what Abby did to Joel by taking every moment to tell us that Joel was a bad person and was selfish. It tries to force us to like Abby because she is actually a good person who likes animals etc. This reasoning is so poor because literally everyone knew that Joel wasn’t a paragon of goodness.

Joel was an imperfect character in an imperfect world. He lost his daughter to one cruel act, making his entire outlook on life and the world bleak and depressing. This is until he meets Ellie decades later, a girl that is the same age as the daughter that he lost who essentially turns into his surrogate child, now knowing that he will do anything to protect her. Joel was never meant to be a wholly good character, but he was still our Joel!


6. Blames Fans

Jumping off from the last point, it was very jarring to see that the game and the writers really made the fans the enemies if they disagreed with something done in the game. Joel voice actor Troy Baker at one point even called critics of the game ‘terrorists’ because they didn’t like the game. Boohoo man!

So much of the game is actually spent trying to tell us that what Joel did was wrong and that we are wrong if we don’t like or sympathize with Abby and we should ‘understand her and where she’s coming from’. This even led to many fanboys of the game to start absolutely disliking Joel. 

It’s so funny that the writers want us to think that Joel is evil because he wanted to save a beloved character but Abby isn’t despite beating the man who saved her to death with a golf club.


5. Way Too Long

Video games are probably the most impactful form of entertainment media that we have in our world. They have the visual impact that we get from movies but are as long (if not longer) and detailed as books. This leads to immersive storytelling like never before.

However, genre’s still exist for a reason. Games like TLOU and Uncharted fall into the narrative driven game experience, meaning that the story of the game is the main focus of the game itself, so it makes very little sense for such a game to have been around 30 hours long.

Many missions just feel like filler and are just so drawn out and boring and they seem to exist only to pad the overall runtime of the game. This is especially felt most in the Ellie section of the game, where average fetch quests are turned into an hour's trek to get something that makes a very little difference to the overall experience.


4. Atrocious Pacing

The pacing of The Last of Us 2 is quite literally the worst pacing that I have ever come across in a video game. Thinking about it now, I’m surprised at how the writers of the game ever thought that this was a good idea!

As previously mentioned, Ellie’s section of the game is very boring in many parts. Though there are a few highlights, the overall experience is brought down so much by the fact that there are a bunch of ‘nothing missions’ that don’t really do much for the overall story at all and just make the missions drag on and on forever.

However, towards the end of Ellie’s section, everything starts to pick up drastically! Your weapons are maxed out, your stats are the best they can be, you’ve now unlocked the strongest weapons and are starting to use them more. And what does the game decide to do then? Drop all of this progress so you can play the remainder of the game as Abby.

When this happened, I literally stopped playing the game for a week. This was by far the stupidest choice they could’ve made as everything immediately drops back to 0 after finally picking up in a hit or miss segment of the game.


3. TLOU Had Better Characters

While yes, some of the characters in part 2 are memorable and good, they are still eclipsed by the characters in the prequel. Though there are fewer of them, they are much more fleshed out and likable, despite their very evident flaws. Their flaws are what makes them human and what makes them so much more relatable.

This goes very much with the last point about the characters in part 2 because while they’re mostly really interesting, they often get wasted or even substituted for others that are just worse. To this day, 10 years later, I can still recall the names of every one of the side characters in the first game while I only remember the name of Jessie and Dina from the second part.


2. That Ending

TLOU 2 had no payoff for all the time you spent in it. You go through tragedy, loss and pain to get to the end of the game. Ellie as a character is effectively destroyed, Joel is dead, and even Tommy has nothing left. You go through all this revenge and turmoil and when you finally get to the end, you let Abby go.

This was the only time I have ever felt disrespected by a video game and felt that all my time being invested into a story had been wasted. Everything in the whole game is spent getting to this point in the game, losing everything that you have and there just isn’t a payoff at the end.

The way the writers got across this message of revenge was terrible. The ending of the game just felt like a waste of my 30 hours that I spent being so invested in it. They need to play the Red Dead series in order to see how to do a revenge story well!


1.  Ellie Herself

In TLOU 1, Ellie is introduced to us as a lively, foul mouthed, fun young girl that is always in relatively good spirits, despite having grown up in a world that has torn itself apart. Through this optimism and happiness, we (as Joel) come to see Ellie as a daughter and as someone that we would do anything to protect over the course of the game.

However, in part 2, Joel is essentially made an afterthought. Ellie is now after Abby for revenge, but it doesn’t really feel as if it is for Joel, instead feeling like Ellie is after Abby just to kill her. In doing so, Ellie starts to feel like a completely different person from the one in the first game, as she is depressed and completely dismissive of those around her. 

The fact of the matter is that she was written to be as unlikable as possible, so people would feel better about Abby. Ellie makes the worst possible decisions, treats others like crap and has destroyed her character essentially, making her virtually unrecognizable to what she was in the first game. This isn’t Ellie, it’s someone else entirely!

The choice to make her like this is deliberate of course, as she is made to be way more unlikable compared to Abby in order to create a false sense of attachment and preference. The main thing behind this is the fact that the writers had a specific idea of what they wanted to make and instead of respecting the players enough to have their own opinion on it, they instead tried to hammer it down to them or make them feel wrong for disagreeing.

Final Note:

It should be noted that I don’t think TLOU 2 is a bad game by any means. The gameplay is crisp, responsive and tight, the graphics are genuinely breathtaking and many gameplay segments are deeply enthralling. The main problem that I have with the game are with the story and writing. 

Save for the story elements, it is a great gaming experience and those who played the first game might want to check it out, though I may not necessarily recommend it for narrative reasons. My overall rating of the game is a solid 7/10.

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Being naturally attuned to magic and bearing the strength of a thousand men, it's safe to say I'm used to adding a creative flair to my stories, always striving to tell engaging tales.
Gamer Since: 2005
Favorite Genre: RPG
Currently Playing: Whatever I can get my hands on
Top 3 Favorite Games:The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - Dragonborn, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Dark Souls 3