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Big in 2020: The Last of Us 2 will change the way we think about video game violence

(Image credit: Naughty Dog)
Key info

(Image credit: Naughty Dog)

Game The Last of Us: Part 2
 Naughty Dog
Publisher Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platforms PS4
Release May 28, 2020
Pre-order The Last of Us 2 (opens in new tab)

In 2020, The Last of Us 2 (opens in new tab) will change the way we think about video game violence. Not with preaching and heavy-handed cutscenes, but with its beloved survivor Ellie, emotional reality, and dogs. 

The Last of Us 2 takes place five years after the events of the first game and focuses on Ellie. Now living with a band of survivors, it seems our heroine has managed to carve out some type of normalcy from the Cordyceps infected horror that is the world, making friends, falling in love, and finding her place in a community. That means she has more to lose from clicker attacks, religious fanatics called The Seraphites, and a militia called the Western Liberation Front. 

An adventure worth taking

The Naughty Dog sequel started the conversation with its impressive first hands-on (opens in new tab) for press back in September. We got to see an older, angrier Ellie – a far cry from the vulnerable girl from the first game – and the devastation she was now able to inflict on any who threatened her or the people she loves. "Ultimately, this is a story about the cycle of violence, right? But beyond that, it's a conversation about the effects systemic trauma can have on your soul," explains Halley Gross (opens in new tab), co-writer on The Last of Us 2. 

Her explanation came after an equally horrifying and impressive example of the cycle of violence in action. As Ellie, hunted by the WLF, I was cornered and attacked by one of their dogs, who can follow Ellie's scent even when she's hiding. It felt like the only way out was to fight back. With a hammer. And then to try and creep away, listening to the sound of the dog's human handler when they discovered the grisly results. It felt real and terrible, and completely alien to a gamer who has spent decades happily killing faceless, emotionless NPCs with bloodthirsty abandon. 

"We want to raise the stakes for Ellie. So, every time you're experiencing these setups, yeah you have to engage with what would have been a typical NPC. But now, you've shot him, and his friend keeps screaming his name, and you have to carry the impact of your violence with you, as you escape that setup."

"Ultimately, this is a story about the cycle of violence."

Halley Gross, co-writer

Naughty Dog has always excelled at creating characters that are more than just the usual space marine meatheads or comic book villains – giving us the brilliant Nathan Drake, Elena Fisher, and Chloe Frazer to name a few – but The Last of Us and now it's a sequel used that narrative know-how to create a much darker story. Neil Druckmann, vice president at Naughty Dog, has already warned us that while the first game focused on love – the love between Joel and Ellie, that parental protective drive that once defined their relationship – this is a game about hate and revenge. It's unsettling and exciting to think just which parts of our hearts Naughty Dog is going to slice into filet mignon, and fans are already taking guesses. 

Early footage was worryingly Joel free – leading some to speculate that he was in fact dead – but he made an appearance in the September demo. We also saw more of Dina, that charismatic brunette that Ellie kissed in the first trailer for the game, sending some of us into panics that she'll be the reason Ellie is out for revenge. Like Game of Thrones at its peak, it feels like no one is safe in the world of The Last of Us 2, least of all those of us who have become emotionally invested in these characters. 

"So much of what we're trying to do is lean into the why," Gross says of Ellie's journey. "It's like, yes, she's going on this quest for justice, but why? What is this impact on her soul, and why does she continue to go on? And it's that lightness that I think will hopefully balance out the dark."

We'll find out on May 29, 2020.

GamesRadar+ is tracking the 20 biggest games that will define 2020. For more, click through to our Big in 2020 (opens in new tab) hub.

Rachel Weber is the US Managing Editor of GamesRadar+ and lives in Brooklyn, New York. She joined GamesRadar+ in 2017, revitalizing the news coverage and building new processes and strategies for the US team.