The Last of Us Part II creative director Neil Druckmann has said that Ellie will be the PS4 exclusive’s sole playable character—but there’s reason to be skeptical.
The news came out of an IGN Middle East report, and the quote leaves little room for interpretation: “Ellie is the only playable character in the game.”
So why doubt it? Well, for one thing, Naughty Dog went to great lengths to disguise the fact that you played as Ellie for a section of the first game. In fact, a Game Informer cover story from 2012 flat-out stated that “you won’t control Ellie,” but it’s not entirely clear whether Naughty Dog outright lied or just declined to correct an assumption.
More importantly, however, the trailers we’ve seen so of the game far don’t make a ton of sense if Ellie is the only playable character. The Paris Games Week trailer featured a mysterious woman played by Laura Bailey dealing out serious violence with a hammer, albeit not in gameplay.
One popular fan theory has Bailey playing Anna, Ellie’s mother, in flashbacks, but regardless of her identity and where that section of the game may fit into the story’s timeline, it’s strong evidence of a second playable character, for one good reason: As far as anyone the EGM staff can remember no modern Naughty Dog game—meaning the Uncharted series and The Last of Us—has cut away from the playable character to show an unrelated scene playing out. Cutscenes, even flashbacks, always connect to gameplay and the perspective of the playable character. It’s a pretty obvious tenet of Naughty Dog’s approach to game and narrative design. The Last of Us even made Joel’s daughter, Sarah, playable for a short section during the prologue to keep narrative and gameplay tied closely together.
There aren’t many reasonable ways for that PGW trailer to mesh with Naughty Dog’s past design philosophy if Ellie is the only playable character. We really have just a handful of options here:
- Naughty Dog is abandoning the seamless approach to storytelling it’s used in the past. That would be surprising, and probably difficult to pull off from a technical standpoint, given that one of Naughty Dog’s other trademarks is not interrupting the flow of the game with load times. Switching to real-time cutscenes unfolding down in an entirely different time or place from gameplay would be tough, but not impossible, to pull off with no loading screens.
- That scene we saw is bookened by gameplay, but we don’t see Ellie’s entrance or exit from the scene. That would still be a bit of a departure, given how much unfolds with Ellie offscreen, but it would be closer to the spirit of what it’s done in the past.
- That woman is Ellie. Maybe Ellie gets super buff and gets her tattoo removed once she’s older. Probably not, though.
- That woman is named Ellie, or is pregnant with Ellie, or some other technicality. None of these options seems particularly likely, and Druckmann would still be stretching the truth a bit.
Plus, let’s look at another piece of evidence: the posters Naughty Dog has released to celebrate Outbreak Day, the holiday celebrating the day the game’s Cordyceps virus reached critical mass. In 2016, the poster featured Ellie’s arm holding a knife with a pattern over her arm resembling her tattoo in The Last of Us Part II. It’s worth noting that the poster came out before the sequel was even announced, as a kind of teaser we didn’t even realize at the time.
That coy approach continued with the 2017 poster, which showed a buff arm holding a hammer. We learned the next month that arm belonged to the mystery woman from the Paris Games Week trailer. So between the posters that Naughty Dog has released while The Last of Us Part II has been in development, it’s given equal billing to both women. If you ask us, that’s a strong sign that Hammer Lady plays a much bigger role in the game than a non-playable character who appears in a cutscene or two. Whether she’s Anna or not, I’d bet we’ll play at least a short sequence from her perspective.
In other words, I’m a The Last of Us Part II truther now.