Exposition, empathy, and the ending.

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Posted by Sweep (10130 posts) -

There are very few moments in my life where I have felt as raw, as emotionally scrambled, as when playing The Last Of Us. It's not perfect, or flawless, but it will forever hold intrinsic value as a book-end to this generation. When the eyes of the world are on the future, of technical demonstrations and hardware dick-swinging, Naughty Dog vindicates the argument, once again, that substance will always triumph over style, that what one feels is more important than what one sees.

"Exposition sucks, right?" says Bruce Straley in a post-mortem with EDGE magazine, and The Last Of Us proves him right. There's teasing, implication and suggestion generating a vibrancy that leaves an ironically empty universe colourful and thoroughly inhabited - past tense, however. A lot of bad shit happened in those 20 years. You aren't told what those things were, but you can see it in the blood on the walls, the echoes of gunshots, and the lines on Joel's face. It is in this that The Last Of Us bears it's humanity, and the value of the writer as a profession is again made prominent. For an industry so full of artistic, creative, brilliant minds, the lack of imagination, of variation, remains startling - The Last Of Us a welcome exception.

The ending of the game will always be the subject of much contention, and I'm happy that it should be so; the problems are a direct consequence of the lack of choice. Throughout the game the ethical responsibility of the player was rarely called into question; you had to survive, and it was often fairly straightforward figuring out who the bad guys were.

(They were the one's trying to kill you.)

But the ending was the only real point in the game where any empathy the players might have felt, was stretched. Suddenly you realise "I'm not Joel, and I'm not Ellie, and this isn't my decision to make." and that was actually liberating, that these characters could retain that independence. But some people aren't happy with that - and I sympathise that the sudden detachment may be considered jarring. Not for me.

When I think about the ending of the game, I think about what I would have done if it was my decision. And I think about Sam, and Henry. And I get it.

Thanks for reading.

Love Sweep

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#1 Edited by OmegaPirate (5642 posts) -

*spoilers obligatory warning yadayadayada*


Initially i was left with a "What? really? THATS IT!?" as the credits rolled - but that was after marathoning the game in one session and being pretty much on fumes by that point.

After playing through again and watching Joels character and the values he holds in this pretty fucked up world - i began to think about how I would rationalise with him or even begin to try and put myself in the position where i could understand his logic, and decided that i simply couldn't.
As you mentioned the lack of exposition with regards to the passing 20 years between the prologue and the opening chapter, the way that the player can gleam enough about how this world operates from the environment and small interrogations through Ellie over the course of the game - is refreshing and much easier to enjoy once you realise that the world is set how it is and (perhaps due to the nature of the base mechanics that the game is played on) you have little to no agency in changing either the world - or the characters within it.

Upon reflection i loved the ending, Everything from the balls out adrenaline filled no time to think assault on the surgery and subsequent escape - to the awkwardly loaded question posed by Ellie at the very end.
It was a full stop on the character arc that Started with Joel as a very rational and cautiously bitter man who had endured a lot to survive in a changing hostile environment, and finished with a man operating on raw emotion and empathy for apparently less than stellar intentions on his part.

Sure that is not the Joel that i would have created myself if i were given more agency in the game, however it is just as enjoyable a story and it is the way they intended that character to be.

I think far too many people were expecting this to basically be The walking dead telltale game with nathan drake in it. and while i enjoyed the walking dead the agency you were given really amounted to very little when it came to the final outcome of the series - of course all paths had to meet at a point for the story to have a canonical ending, however holding it against last of us for not letting Joel spare the fireflies, or sacrifice ellie at the end is retarded, it isn't what he would have done,and it wouldve made no sense for the path he had been set on.

Most of all though, i am left more satisfied with the thoughts of what happened AFTER the ending - and much like the 20 years in the prologue gap, much like the cold opening with characters you never know the origins of, and a world given no real explanation - It's much more satisfying thinking them through rather than relying on mass exposition and potentially the outcome you dont want.

Ellie obviously knew Joel was lying, how long is she going to pretend otherwise?
Joel had told his brother about the mission and he potentially still has firefly contacts - joel returns with ellie, how deep does his brother dig?
People in the settlement catch wind of what Joel has potentially given up for the population, how could they come to terms with his decision? would they even let him?
And of course the overall effect on Joel himself - in the spur of the moment he had his own grief and goals move him to take the actions he did - and even at the point he point blank lied to her he probably was still riding the 'did the right thing' train. Who is to say he'd still feel that way after a week - a month - a year?

Just a few potential outfalls from the actions of one man, and i'd rather speculate and have there be any number of outcomes for those questions, than have a long drawn out exposition filled ending.

Far as i'm concerned it was perfect for the tone the game was aiming for.

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#2 Edited by jasonefmonk (378 posts) -

@sweep: Thoughtful and succinct. Thanks for that.

I think the game does a wonderful job of telling you that the decision Joel makes is out of your hands by having you play as Ellie in that scene. Joel also says and does things one might not feel is in their character throughout the game, it never gave you the expectation of choice in those moments.

As for me, I love a good ambiguous ending. I can rewatch that final scene and see it differently each time. I can speculate for hours about what Ellie knows in that moment or what she might pick up on over time. I can also speculate on lobotomies versus procreation and how good of chance did the Fireflies actually have.

There are tweaks you could make to the gameplay – I enjoy it plenty – but as far as the story goes I wouldn't change a thing.

Avatar image for bkbroiler
#3 Posted by bkbroiler (1724 posts) -

Spoilers, if it wasn't already obvious:

I played through the game hoping I would never have to make a choice. I wanted to see the story the developers had in mind, not what they came up with based on different possible player decisions. I'm happy they stuck to their guns and came up with an ending. I think it's a great ending, too. Not tragic, like it could have been if someone had died, but definitely not happy either. And it makes sense, like you guys have said, if you know where the characters are coming from.

I think another thing that makes the story much more effective is when they choose for you to play as different characters. Playing as Sarah in the beginning and Ellie at the ending clearly isn't a coincidence, for example. Going through so much of the game as Joel and than switching to Ellie at key points really forces you to consider their position.

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