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An Amateur writer’s take on TLoU2 and why it fails to sell you on its story.

Hi. These are just my opinions, I'm not a Professional Writer nor do I work in Industry. I'm an amateur that's been writing for 15 years, I predominantly stick to Horror & Thriller as my genres. I'm happy for Naughty Dog's successful launch and I applaud the acting, programming and administrative staff on making a solid title.

That said, I – like most of the Internet, apparently – take issue with the plot of the story.

In my opinion, there's three primary things that held the Last of Us 2 back from being as good as its predecessor.

1) Story Structure

2) Story Bloat / Emotional Bankruptcy

3) Lack of Focus

1) Story Structure / Pacing

Every writer's seen this little guy at some point in their careers. This is the Missionary, the Bread and Butter, the Vanilla of story structure and it is so because it works. Marvel can attest to how well this formula works with much greater enthusiasm that I could ever summon. That said, The Last of Us 2 is structured (in my opinion), like this:

Act 1 Begins and Ends at Jackson and has the highest emotional part of the game.

Act 2 Begins upon Ellie & Dina's arrival to Seattle and encompasses all of their ventures in Seattle up to the theater. This is the second longest act in the game.

Act 3 Begins with a 72 hour rewind to Abby at the WLF base, where upon you meet the WLF cast.

Act 4 Begins when Abby leaves to find Owen and discovers the two Seraphite Children, Yara and Lev. Act 4 is the longest in the game, and it ends upon the return to the aquarium.

Act 5 Begins when Abby & Ellie face-off, and it ends in her loss.

Act 6 Begins with Ellie & Dina at their house and ends with Ellie's departure.

Act 7 Begins with Abby's capture and ends with the two's final confrontation after Ellie's tackled the Rattler camp.

The Epilogue is, obviously, Ellie returning home and seeing she can no longer play Joel's guitar. She leaves it and departs her vacant home, roll credits.

These are a lot of acts, but this is to be expected of a fully singleplayer title. TLoU1 has the same # of acts (Joel's Family -> Tess and Meeting Ellie -> Fireflies, departing the QZ -> Meeting Bill, Sam and Pennsylvania -> Linking up with Tommy, attacked by Bandits -> Recovering Medicine for Joel -> The Hospital). What damages TLoU2, structurally, isn't a matter of the number of acts, its about the perspectives taken for said acts and the amount of time the acts run.

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Acts 3 and 4 are the longest and for most players, the most painful in the game to play. You are placed in the shoes of someone you hate, and it is now the game's duty to try and convince you otherwise. The game has to sell you Acts 3 and 4 and it will work tirelessly to attempt it.

For most, it fails, leading to a long, painful slog through Acts 3 and 4 that encompass the majority of the game. Act 4, specifically, is predominantly carried by Yara and Lev as the Player mutely suffers through more time spent with Abby. There is so much context required to try and make this sale to players.

Where TLoU1 was about Joel & Ellie, TLoU2 is about Ellie & Abby. However, the two are separate and undergo differing arcs.

Ellie is undergoing a negative character arc throughout the game, where she spirals further and further downward.

Abby is undergoing a positive* character arc throughout the game, where she attempts to help others to overcome the guilt of her vengeance.

What does this split cost, though.

2) Story Bloat / Emotional Bankruptcy

TLoU2 is ambitious, extremely so, in that it attempts to be two games at once. You have two main characters, each with their own side characters and motivations. The game, around 40% through, suddenly completely severs you from what you were playing in order to make you start playing the other part of the game.

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Before I go any further, I want to explain what I mean by the term emotional currency. Every reader/player has only so much they can really feel before they shut off and go numb. Apathy takes over at that point, and the player/reader could not give a shit about what is happening on screen at that moment and time.

TLoU2's a game split in two separate games and it cashes in all of its chips right from the get go in the first portion of the game with Joel's death. That's it, that's the emotional peak and crescendo. That's the climax, and it doesn't get any higher from there for the remainder of the game. The game has peaked, emotionally, a solid hour / 20 in. The event is so devastating, so horrible, that the player is permanently scarred and deliberately* reminded of this through continual flashbacks- which some say are the best parts of the game.

Of course they are, they're the other emotional peaks tied to the Act 1 climax.

So what happens is, players go bankrupt immediately in the game. The stuff with Dina falls flat, Jessie falls flat- that emptiness and anger sticks with the player and doesn't go away throughout the game sans positive flashbacks. You got two stories going on at once, where the player's already emotionally bankrupt to not care for the second by placing the game's climax an hour in.

This is worsened in that the midpoint collision (Act 5), takes place from Abby's perspective – which is the half of the game you're not buying.

3) Lack of Focus

The structural and bloat issues leave you with something that feels messy. By the end of Act 7, you're left sitting there and questioning what was the entire point?

This, in and of itself, could very well be the point of the game. There was no point.

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That said, this game didn't commit to the message. Compare this to Spec Ops: The Line. There is not a single 'happy' moment in all of Spec Ops. There is no levity, there are no flashbacks. There is violence. Nonstop, unforgiving, unrelenting violence. There is nothing in that game that detracts from its core, fundamental message that,

You, the Player, are a Monster for playing this game. Do you feel like a Hero yet?

TLoU2 attempts to have its artistic cake and eat it too. TLoU1 was a character study- it was never about the world the two lived in. TLoU2 attempted to be more without committing to this theme of Hate. It needs to sell you on its own themes. The core narrative and message of the game is ultimately bloated with unnecessary fluff (the sex scene with Owen, for example) that leaves you with, instead of a lean, 7 hour experience that is so ruthless with its message that you can't help but receive it, to something that's coated with fat and difficult to digest.

And that, in my opinion, is the main problem with TLoU2's story.


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