The Last of Us 2 has been shrouded in mystery for years. But now that it's been shown off at this year's PlayStation E3 2018 press conference, the veil has begun to be lifted. If you thought that gameplay clip was all you were getting, think again: I sat down with Naughty Dog's Kurt Margenau and Anthony Newman, the co-game directors on The Last of Us Part 2, to ask them all about Ellie, what players can expect from The Last of Us Part 2, and when we're going to hear what's happened to Joel. Here's absolutely everything I learned.
Ellie doesn't want anyone to know she's immune... but why?
That tattoo on Ellie's arm tells us a lot about Ellie (obviously)... but also the company she finds herself in. When I asked Margenau about it, he confirmed that "it's covering the scar, the bite mark on her arm, because she doesn't want people to know of her immunity, so she's kind of covering it up." Perhaps when folks find out that she's immune, and that the Fireflies could've potentially saved thousands of people with a cure just by sacrificing her, things might get dicey for Ellie and Joel. How would their fellow survivors react? Unpredictably, that's for sure. If the Fireflies hear a patrol talking about it in the wild they might come for her again, eradicate the entire camp, leaving only Ellie (and Joel?) alive. Hence why she's going to kill every... single... one of them.
Ellie is meaner, and more creative when it comes to killing
Just in case you didn't get the message from the demo where she stabbed a guy in the throat and cut a guy's head off with a machete, Ellie is deadly. And she's not holding back. I asked if we should be terrified of Ellie, and the pair agreed without missing a beat. "She's not to be trifled with," said Newman. "She's intensely capable, she's picked up a lot of new tricks... and because of her slighter frame, she's not like an overpowering hulk like Joel was. She has to be just that much more resourceful and creative in how she has to overcome these overwhelming odds." Speaking of Joel...
Joel is coming - and he's going to be a big part of the game (somehow)
Obviously the first question I asked was about Joel, and how Naughty Dog was planning to answer the hundreds of questions fans had about him. The biggest one is, obviously, where the hell is he? While the pair didn't spell out what's in the cards for the Texan, Newman said that "with the promotional material for the game, we're setting up almost a parallel narrative, because... we wanted to take care with what information we're revealing when [about] the main storyline of the game. So everything we're doing is very intentional, and is its own experience that's meant to lead up into the experience of actually playing the game. Where the big Texan is, we're kind of keeping quiet about that." That phrase 'parallel narrative' implies that what we've seen of Ellie so far is only one side of the story, so we could be playing as Joel in an entirely different section of the game. Margenau confirmed that "the questions that everyone has about after the events of the first game... you're going to get to dive into in this game... but that is a big part of the story, the Joel and Ellie relationship." Whether Joel is dead, alive, or simply absent for most of the game remains to be seen; either way, his influence is going to be felt.
It starts in Jackson, five years after the events of The Last of Us, and Clickers are still around
Five years have passed since the events of the first game, with Ellie and Joel in Jackson presumably at Tommy's settlement. Their band of survivors have fallen into a routine and regularly conduct patrols, as Margenau explains that even though they have a settlement, "they're still having to corner off themselves from the infected threat. The infected are still very much out there, we're still going to be interacting with them and... there's a sense of normalcy that Jackson has built for itself, because of the constant patrolling and clearing out of the infected around the area." So Tommy's settlement might sound safe, yet something tells me that's not going to remain the case for long.
Joel and Ellie aren't on good terms
So we know that Joel and Ellie are still at Tommy's settlement and that things have become about as normal as they can get in a post-apocalyptic scenario. But their father/daughter relationship hasn't exactly blossomed. The repercussions of Joel's actions are "definitely a subject that is dealt with in this game," according to Margenau. The whole reason it's called Part 2, in Newman's words, is because "it's not a separate game that's just in the franchise - it's really a continuation of Ellie and Joel's' story from the first game." So we're going to be seeing exactly how much their bond has changed. It doesn't sound like it'll all be good news, as Margenau went on to say that we'll see "what has Ellie learned from Joel, what has she rejected about Joel, and how she can form relationships with people her own age. We hint a little at that here, and how he [Joel] seems to be micromanaging her life with the patrols and whatnot. So yeah, we're definitely going to see that evolution of their relationship." I should point out here that when Margenau talked about Ellie rejecting some of Joel's values, Newman jumped in to emphasize his point. So don't expect to see the Ellie and Joel happily playing guitar together.
Stealth has changed to reflect Ellie's deadliness... like, a lot
Joel could be quiet when he wanted to, but when things hit the fan, we all knew that he could take quite a few hits before going down. But Ellie is entirely different. With her slighter frame, she can't soak up as much damage as her old man. Newman said that they've changed every dimension of the first game when it comes to sneaking around, so in Part 2 they've "added the stealth vegetation and analogue stealth system, where the combination of the thickness of the vegetation that you're in and your stance combines to influence how well enemies can see you." So those thick leaves Ellie was hiding in at the beginning of the demo? They'll conceal her much better than the thinner, lighter grass that she dives into once she's been spotted by the baddies.
Enemies are smarter, deadlier, and hunt you with whistles
Gone are the usual human enemies from the first game: this time around, Newman tells me that there are "whole new enemy classes, like the heavy melee guy with the pickaxe who has some pretty devastating melee moves, and the bow-and-arrow enemy, and even new kinds of status effects that can happen to the player. Like when an arrow is stuck in you, it prevents you from using your listen mode, and it also messes up your aim." You shouldn't just be scared of their attacks, though, as they communicate in a secret language (like the whistles we heard in the demo) to "propagate knowledge of your location between different enemies. Like when the new character arrives, he's trying to sync up what's happening, and the other enemies pass knowledge along [to him with whistles]."
Simply put, enemies are a lot smarter. Margenau mentioned how they "had to rethink how the enemies behaved in the environment, because there are a lot more things the player can do, so they have to basically react to that. So they can check under cars, and they have varying degrees of awareness based on the thickness of the vegetation, whether you're crouched in it (we call that analogue stealth), and just the way that information progresses through [the enemies]. You know, it's not just you get spotted and instantly everyone knows. With the propagation of information you see new enemies coming in, like in the demo, and they kind of check in with each other, [asking] 'Where is she?' And the searching patterns, and searching intelligence that they have - how they post up on the entrance to that store and spread out in intelligent ways - is all rebuilt from the ground up." I'm already terrified.
The Seraphites are one of your main enemy factions
Those people who are awfully fond of hanging and disemboweling people are called the Seraphites (named after the noble angels Seraphim). Newman explained how "they're the same group of people that you saw in the Paris trailer in the other hanging scene. And basically this world is incredibly harsh, and different groups of people banded together and figured out how to survive in different ways. So the people in Jackson have learned to survive in kind of a cooperative, wholesome way. The Seraphites are a more fanatical group, and they center their lives around faith and spirituality in a way that has become kind of fanatical and hostile and aggressive to outsiders. They're super deadly, and the way that they communicate with each other with the whistles, they're able to coordinate with each other without revealing to the player exactly what they're doing. So you can pay attention, but you're only kind of getting partial information about their plans. It makes them a lot creepier to deal with." Hell yes it does. They've got their own slang too, hence why they call Ellie 'Wolf'. Margenau teased that "the depth and meaning will be revealed later." Do they know of Ellie, as a person - or is she just one of many wolves they've been taught to watch out for? Questions, questions, desperately seeking answers.
Infected combat is going to be different. Really different.
The pair were very tight lipped when it came to the Clickers and how you'd fight them, but Margenau did confirm that they're "expanding on infected combat as well. I can't talk about that today, but we are going to be." Perhaps we'll be getting new types of infected, new ways to take them down, or - the likeliest possibility - their AI will have a massive overhaul just like the human enemies.
Jumping adds a new dimension to combat
Because she's smaller and faster than Joel, Ellie is a lot more agile when it comes to combat, partially thanks to her ability to jump and fight at the same time. Newman didn't go into much detail, but he did mention that they've "introduced a ton of new mechanics like having a jump button, so being able to jump gaps adds a lot of verticality to combat." That sounds like she'll be able to attack mid-jump, or perform takedowns on unsuspecting enemies by pouncing upon them from above. If you do it right, those enemies won't know what hit 'em.
There wasn't an alternate ending to the first game
Joel was always meant to save Ellie. End of story.
The cure is still a big part of the story... and they wouldn't tell me anything about it
When I asked about whether there was still any hope of a cure, the pair paused (for a long time), and looked at each other with a tiny smile. "I think you'll have to ask Neil [Druckmann] about that one," said Newman. If you ask me, that means the cure is going to be a big part of the game. Margenau gave me a bit more to go on, saying that "the events of the first game will definitely be influencing the events of this game, so that's as vague as I'll be about it."
They're keeping all this secret because they know we'll figure it out
If you're sad that there hasn't been more revealed about Joel or the Clickers, don't be - it's actually a compliment. The reason Naughty Dog are keeping so much secret is basically because they know we'll figure it out. Newman told me that they "do really like seeing people speculate. That's one of the reasons why we're very stingy about the information we give out, because there's way more attention and wondering what's happening rather than it blatantly spilling out. What's kind of fantastic about it is it shows how much people care - people care what happens to Ellie and Joel, what's happening to the world." Part of that enthusiasm means that even the smallest of clues can be deciphered by the sharp fan community, so don't expect any teasers coming out soon.
There are twists you're not going to see coming
They're keeping all that information under wraps for a very good reason. Although "in some people's minds, they know the whole story and they've figured it out… there's things no one is going to know about until the game comes out," says Margenau. So prepare for the unexpected.
You won't hate your enemies as much as you think
Yeah, you're obviously going to hate your enemies because they're going to try to kill you, which is enough to make anyone feel a bit resentful. Yet a lot of the work that's gone into the enemies is, according to Margenau, "all geared towards making the enemies feel real, like real people. They call each other by name, they have their own rituals and things that they do, and each side of these factions that exist in this world have their own motivations... there's no black and white right and wrong. And we talk about that, and The Last of Us talks about that subject, and that's delved into more in this case." It sounds like Ellie is going to encounter quite a few situations involving fellow survivors (whether good, bad, or somewhere in between) that won't have a clear right or wrong answer.
There are going to be emergent situations that make you forget you're playing a game
Although Ellie managed to turn her luck around and make it safely out of that make up store at the end of the E3 demo, she could have gone anywhere. There are dozens of ways your playthrough can go in that brief moment of panic when Ellie is spotted, and you have to choose how you're going to handle a very dicey situation, according to Newman. He went on to say that he thinks people are going to be surprised by "the breadth of the gameplay space, the systemic interactions that you're able to have with the very human and smart AI. I think people are going to be surprised by just the emergent situations that they find themselves in and how organic and how intense and still cinematic they're going to be." Sounds absolutely terrifying... in the best way possible.
For all the exciting titles at this year's show, check out the best E3 2018 games.