Why The Last of Us 3 Needs to Wipe The Slate Clean

The Last of Us is incontrovertibly one of the greatest video games ever made. Critics and users alike universally praised Naughty Dog’s post-apocalyptic cinematic action-adventure game. Both the original PS3 release and the PS4 remaster sit at a mightily impressive 95 metacritic score. The praise of critics almost perfectly aligned with user scores with both releases sitting at a 9.2 average user score. Conversely, The Last of Us 2 takes a slight dip in critic score dropping down to 93. More concerning, however, is the massive drop in average user score down to 5.7.

Naturally, not all these scores can be verified, but it’s a concerning drop at any rate. Reading through some of these user scores one can surmise that virtually all problems revolve around the narrative. Almost universally, everybody agrees on the fact that The Last of Us 2 is a technical marvel in terms of graphics, animations, and so on. The problem, then, is that many felt the narrative didn’t hit the heights of the first game. Considering some of the drastic events in the sequel concerning characters from the first game, it’s safe to say some of it left a sour taste mouths of players who revered the first entry.

As far as sales go, it’s hard to say whether or not this disparity between critics and users caused much of a headache for Naughty Dog and Sony. After all, The Last of Us 2 was a massive sales success. The Last of Us 2 was Sony’s best-selling PS4 exclusive in 2020. The Last of Us 2 is PlayStation’s third highest-grossing video game ever in the United States Marvel’s Spider-Man and God of War, both of which released in 2018. When it first launched, The Last of Us 2 sold 4 million copies worldwide in three days, “making it the fastest-selling PS4 exclusive to date. It also broke PlayStation’s digital launch record with 2.8 million copies sold digitally in June.

Obviously, it’s virtually impossible to measure how much better sales could have been if a large group of users weren’t dissatisfied with the game’s narrative. If we go by the numbers that have been measured, The Last of Us 2 is a great success. Ergo, it’s no surprise then that creative director Neil Druckmann recently revealed that the outline had been written for The Last of Us 3.

Starring on the Script Apart podcast, Druckmann had this to say: “I don’t know how much I want to reveal… [co-writer Halley Gross] and I did write an outline for a story, that we’re not making – but I hope one day can see the light of day – that explores a little bit of what happens after this game. We’ll see.” There’s not a lot to go on but it does sound like Neil is hinting that the third entry would continue the narrative on from the The Last of Us 2. This also follows rumours that a small team at Naughty Dog are working on a The Last of Us remake.

Personally, I think that could be an imprudent idea. Truth be told, I wasn’t all that impressed by how The Last of Us 2 ended but by that point, I was just glad that it did. The first game excelled in its simplicity. At its core, it was a simple and almost singular story of the growing bond between Joel and Ellie as he escorted her across the post-apocalyptic United States. The meaning, the development, the depth all came from seeing these characters grow and develop together. Conversely, The Last of Us 2 complicated this simplicity with multiple arcs and themes that ultimately didn’t have the same pay-off in the end.

Characters from the first game like Tess, Bill, Henry, and Sam, all of them resonated with the player thanks to character development and their eventual demise had a more profound impact as a result. With the different themes and arcs of the sequel, I found it difficult to care as much about the characters in the sequel compared to the first game. And that’s a big problem when playing a game like The Last of Us. The characters and the cinematic narrative are the biggest draws to playing this type of game. The gameplay is hardly revolutionary so a compelling story and characters are needed to get the player fully-invested. In my experience, The Last of Us 2 disappointingly fell short in this regard.

I’m just one individual but the discourse on social media and the massive drop in average user score between the first game and the sequel shows I am not alone. That’s not to say I don’t want to see more of The Last of Us, however, it does need to wipe the slate clean. Truth be told, I was satisfied with the ending of the first game. It was one of video games most memorable endings for its ambiguity. I keenly remember feeling happy and uneasy at the same time. It was an ending that really made an emotional impact and made me question myself and these characters I had grown so attached to.

I understood The Last of Us 2’s ending – how Ellie retained that bit of humanity and goodness in her by letting Abby live but it just felt predictable. The entire second half of the game was Naughty Dog doing their best to get the player to emphasise with Abby despite what we saw her do in the early moments of the game. Conversely, the ending of the first game shocked and disturbed me and left me pondering on it for weeks after playing. It was simply far more impactful but I did feel like Ellie’s story could be wrapped up there.

How do Naughty Dog avoid the discourse that plagued the sequel? Well, it’s simple. They just wipe the slate clean. It’s a lot easier than trying to ‘fix’ what many disliked about the sequel and its characters. Bring in a new cast of characters to freshen things up instead. There’s no reason Naughty Dog cannot achieve what they did with Joel and Ellie in the first game with a new cast of characters. Instantly, it wipes the complaints of all those players disgruntled by The Last of Us 2 who might otherwise become insufferable if The Last of Us 3 is a direct continuation. Plus, there’s no way of knowing how much better sales could be without the negativity that surrounded the sequel.

What do you think? Should The Last of Us 3 wipe the slate clean and bring in a fresh cast of characters? Let us know by leaving a comment below.