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The Last of Us 2 release date, gameplay, trailer and cast

The story of a handful of people trying to make their way in a world decimated by a zombie-like plague, The Last of Us was a huge hit upon its release in 2013, drawing gamers in with its complex characters and suspenseful gameplay. In their five star review, The Guardian praised it as "heart-rending, tense, unnerving and brutal." Empire lauded the game's story, calling it "the best film of the year (that wasn't actually a film)." With all of that adoration from critics and fans alike, a sequel was almost inevitable.

The ending of The Last of Us was extremely challenging for many gamers, with the morally ambiguous implications of the leads' decisions leaving the door wide open for new stories taking place in the world of the game. Though it has been argued that the murky nature of the ending may be a perfect conclusion for the story, a highly-anticipated sequel is on the way. 

Naughty Dog has remained characteristically tight-lipped about many aspects of the new installment, cautiously avoiding spoiling the experience for players who have waited so long for this follow-up. Even with all of the secrecy, there are still some juicy tidbits of information available, so let's take a look at what we know (so far) about The Last of Us Part 2.

The Last of Us Part 2's release date

Though we know to expect it during this console generation, Naughty Dog has been very hush-hush when it comes to telling us exactly when to expect it. As GamesRadar+ posits, this fall's high-profile release of Death Stranding likely means that The Last of Us Part 2's release date will be pushed into next year to make room for its fellow PlayStation exclusive. A first-quarter 2020 release wouldn't be surprising, but this is all speculation at this point.

In fact, the speculation over the game's release date has reached the point where even The Onion has published a satirical article about it. In mid-June, Neil Druckmann joked on Twitter, "Every time someone asks for the release date, the game gets pushed back by five minutes." Basically, the lack of a release date has almost become a meme in itself, but hopefully that won't be the case for too much longer.

It's not unusual for such a high-profile project to have some level of secrecy to it, but Part 2's status as a long-anticipated sequel — not to mention a PlayStation exclusive — certainly lends more scrutiny to its marketing and release strategy.

It's definitely coming to PS4

It's been known for a while that The Last of Us Part 2 would be a PlayStation exclusive, much like the first game. What wasn't clear was whether the game would be launching this generation of if fans would have to sit tight until the PlayStation 5 makes its debut. In May 2019, alongside confirmations for other upcoming titles like Death Stranding and Ghost of Tsushima, Sony made it clear that The Last of Us Part 2 was, in fact, still planned to be released on the PlayStation 4. 

Further displaying their confidence in the current console generation, Sony referred to the game as being part of an "outstanding roster of exclusive AAA games still to come" on the PS4. Now, this doesn't at all rule out the possibility of a cross-generational release for The Last of Us Part 2. After all, the first installment was released on the PlayStation 3, then received a well-reviewed Remastered edition on the PlayStation 4. It is possible that the sequel will follow a similar trajectory. For now, though, it's a relief for fans to know that they won't have to wait until the next console generation. 

The trailer is both romantic and violent

Anticipation for The Last of Us Part 2 reached a fever pitch with the unveiling of a massive trailer at E3 2018, which gave gamers their first good look at the story, characters, and some of the sequel's intense gameplay.

Set years after the original game, we see Ellie conversing with a friend at a dance in the town of Jackson. Ellie is then asked to dance by Dina, a girl from Jackson who clearly has feelings for Ellie. The two share a romantic kiss before the trailer abruptly switches to a forest, where Ellie stabs a man in the throat. Using the surrounding trees, cars and buildings as cover, Ellie systematically disarms and kills several enemies. We see Ellie is able to use enemies as cover and to craft explosive arrows. After her last enemy falls, the scene switches back to the kiss at the dance, as Dina tells Ellie, "They should be terrified."

The contrast between the sweet moments at the dance and the brutality of Ellie's fight show us that the new game has lost none of the first installment's heart or edge, which should be a welcome sign for fans.

Years have passed and relationships have changed

Naughty Dog has confirmed that the action of Part II occurs around five years after the events of the first game. Joel and Ellie have settled down in the town of Jackson, Wyoming, where Joel's brother is running a small settlement of surviving humans. Though the town seems to be doing alright, Joel and Ellie's relationship may have turned sour in the intervening years. At E3 2018, Neil Druckmann, the game's writer and creative director, explained, "If the first game was really about the love between these two characters, this story is the counter of that … This story is about hate."

Co-director Kurt Margenau commented, "It's a complicated relationship after the events of the first game." It will certainly be interesting to see what has caused this rift between the two, who were inseparable during the previous game. Is Ellie simply a rebellious teenager? Or does she know what Joel did to save her life?

Spoilers for the first game: At the end of The Last of Us, Joel essentially doomed humanity by rescuing Ellie and killing the doctors who were going to use her genetic material to craft a possible cure for the virus that turned most of the human race into monsters. It's implied in the final moments of the first game that Ellie knew Joel was lying, but the plot of Part II may involve her coming to terms with that revelation, leading to a fractured relationship with Joel.

Ellie is gay (and always has been)

In The Last of Us: Left Behind, a DLC chapter for the first game, players took control of Ellie as she searched for supplies to aid an injured Joel. Intercut with these sequences were a series of flashbacks involving Ellie's best friend Riley. Toward the end of the story, Ellie and Riley kiss, in a moment that IGN praised for its "beautiful ambiguity."

Speaking with Gay Gamer about that moment, creative director Neil Druckmann said, "Now when I was writing it, I was writing it with the idea that Ellie is gay … there's that chemistry there from the get go that was important for us so that we earned that moment when they kissed each other."

In the E3 trailer for The Last of Us Part II, Ellie shares a romantic dance and kiss with another girl from Jackson named Dina. 

"Ellie was born gay," said Halley Gross, co-writer of Part II. "This is just who she is. And to explore who she is as a teenager and as an adult, it wouldn't be honoring her character to hide some facet of herself. We want to engage with her as a full character." 

It's great to see that Naughty Dog hasn't backed away from established continuity and want to do justice to Ellie's character, showing us how she's evolved since the first game. Sadly, in the world of The Last of Us, Ellie's newfound comfort and happiness may not last.

Ellie is out for revenge

While concrete plot details are scarce, one thing we do know is that Ellie will have a taste for vengeance in Part II. In an interview with The Telegraph, Neil Druckmann described the inspiration for taking Ellie down this dark path. Turning to documentaries like Paradise Lost for his research, Druckmann was fascinated by the awful impulses of seemingly normal, peaceful people. The idea of someone "willing to commit this heinous act because they believe that is just," as Druckmann puts it in the Telegraph interview, informed the lengths to which Ellie would go in the new game.

We still don't know what sets Ellie on this path, but she seems single-minded in her purpose. In the game's very first teaser, Ellie says with the utmost conviction, "I'm gonna find and I'm gonna kill every last one of them." Reactions to Ellie's newfound brutality have been divided, but it can be assumed that the Seraphites have somehow crossed a line with Ellie that they can never uncross. Whether or not that spells certain doom for Dina remains to be seen.

Ellie is the main character

Players mainly controlled Ellie's guardian Joel throughout the first game, with Ellie briefly taking over as the main playable character for the game's haunting "Winter" section. She was also the only playable character in The Last of Us: Left Behind, a DLC chapter that takes place during the Winter section and featured flashbacks to Ellie's youth. In contrast to the dynamic from the first installment, Neil Druckmann has revealed that Ellie will be the lead character of The Last of Us Part II.

In fact, she may be the only playable character. Though this may be a way of making sure fans are surprised by a sudden shift in narrative (much like "Winter" was a surprise while playing the first game), Druckmann has been quoted as saying, "Ellie is the only playable character in the game." 

This may be a bummer for folks who wanted to step back into Joel's blood-stained shoes, but handing the reins solely to Ellie may work in Part II's favor as a more focused character piece. What this means for Joel's status at the beginning of this game is another mystery that should have fans salivating for the continuation of this story.

There's an evil cult called the Seraphites

In October 2017, the second teaser trailer for The Last of Us Part II made its premiere at Paris Games Week, introducing a new faction of enemies. In a post to Playstation.Blog, Neil Druckmann said, "We're sure you have many questions after watching this scene," and he wasn't kidding. The trailer features a horrific torture scene at the hands of these new antagonists, but there were no real hints as to their name or motive.

It wasn't until the following year that Anthony Newman and Kurt Margenau, Part II's co-directors, opened up a bit more about these mysterious enemies. In an interview with Games Radar, they revealed that the characters were members of a religious cult called the Seraphites. Newman said that these Seraphites were "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." This fanaticism could possibly make these villains scarier (and more violent), because they truly believe what they are doing is right.

There's a new stealth system

Hiding from enemies was a big part of the first game, with Ellie and Joel often better off going around the infected Clickers and Bloaters, rather than facing them head-on.

In an interview with Kotaku, Neil Druckmann described how the stealth system in Part II will differ from the first game's. Part II will feature a meter that shows how hidden the player is. "The smaller the circle, the more hidden you are," Druckmann explained. "You're never fully hidden when you're in foliage. It changes how close an enemy has to be to spot you."

In addition to this new system, Ellie will be able to go completely prone, affording her new ways to hide behind and under scenery. According to Richard Cambier, Part II's lead designer, "going prone gives you even more protection." With the danger seemingly increasing in this new installment, it's a bit of a relief to know there are more options for getting Ellie to relative safety.

Ellie will have a companion

Though Ellie may be the only playable character, that doesn't mean she will be all on her own. One of the best storytelling devices in The Last of Us was the continuing banter between Joel and Ellie, which had the double effect of encouraging character growth and filling the long stretches of exploration and body horror with a bit of levity. This was a tactic that was later used to great effect in Uncharted 4 and 2018's God of War.

Neil Druckmann has confirmed that The Last of Us Part II will take a similar tactic, saying, "It's safe to say … that there will be some NPC with you in this story, even though we're not showing [the NPC] in this demo." While this news in itself isn't terribly surprising, the fact that Druckmann doesn't mention any specific characters is tantalizing enough. Will Ellie be joined by Joel, just like old times? Is it one of Ellie's friends from Jackson? Or is someone else aiding her in her revenge?

The Last of Us Part 2 will feature some form of multiplayer

The first game had a downloadable multiplayer mode called Factions, in which players would pick separate teams from the game (the Fireflies or the Hunters) and then work together to outlast the opposing Faction. Factions turned out to be a big hit with fans and critics, with Thumb Culture calling it "the best Multiplayer of all time" and Hardcore Gamer noting that it was "criminally underrated." With that high praise in mind, it's exciting to see that Naughty Dog plans on including a Multiplayer mode of some kind in The Last of Us Part II.

In June 2018, Part 2 co-director Kurt Margenau told Gamespot, "Multiplayer is coming back. We're not going to talk details yet about what form that takes, but we can confirm there will be multiplayer." Whether that comment means that it will play entirely differently from Factions remains to be seen, but fans of Factions can look forward to going all Lord of the Flies on each other once more when Part II finally launches.

Enemy AI will be much smarter

As if the infected monsters of The Last of Us aren't scary enough, the biggest danger is the people. In Part II, human enemies will be much more intelligent, even able to communicate with one another through whistles and codewords. 

"They communicate with each other much more than they have before," said Druckmann in an interview with Kotaku. "In the past, in the previous game, if anybody saw you, immediately everybody in the area would know where you are. Now there's information propagation. So whoever sees you, they have to call it out."

This is interesting for a number of reasons. For one thing, it enhances the realism and immersion of enemy encounters. For another, it also gives the enemies more options for coordinating against the player. It's usually a little easier to defeat an enemy that behaves like any other NPC, so this extra level of intelligence may lead to players being more selective in their targets and strategies. It certainly sounds like Ellie will be facing greater challenges than before. The implications of the new enemy AI are tantalizing, to say the least.

Gustavo Santaolalla returns to compose the music

Just like in the world of motion pictures, a game's soundtrack can go a long way toward selling the emotions of a scene, conveying a sense of weight and purpose even when there's no dialogue. Referred to by Sputnik Music as a "lonely, isolating experience," Gustavo Santaolalla's score for The Last of Us was the perfect companion to the game's desolate, crumbling landscapes. 

The composer's work received rave reviews, with Modern Vinyl commenting, "Santaolalla's score has enough emotional depth that the narrative comes simply out of imagination." It should come as no shock that Santaolalla has been asked back to compose the score for The Last of Us Part II. The first sample of Santoalalla's Part II score is reminiscent of the strongest pieces in his score for the first game. 

In addition to the excitement surrounding the new score, Gustavo Santaolalla was met with thunderous applause when he told a crowd of concertgoers that The Last of Us Part II "is coming very soon." Just how soon that will be has not yet been revealed, but it definitely has fans of both the game series and Santaolalla's music talking.

The composer isn't a solo act anymore

In addition to Gustavo Santaolalla returning to score The Last of Us Part 2, the game will feature at least one other band contributing music to its soundtrack. During the trailer scene where Ellie joins her love interest Dina for a romantic dance, a song by the band Crooked Still, called "Little Sadie," plays in the background. VGR points out that this is "not exactly a bright or optimistic song," perfectly fitting the world of The Last of Us. 

A limited edition 7-inch vinyl single of music from the upcoming game was released by Mondo, which featured "Little Sadie" and a new track from Gustavo Santaolalla called "The Last of Us (Cycles)". Furthermore, the band themselves have said that an instrumental version of their song "Ecstasy" will also be featured in the new game in some capacity. Whether or not these two songs will constitute Crooked Still's only contributions to the soundtrack, it's quite encouraging to see Naughty Dog taking a few risks with the music in the game. "Little Sadie" really sets the mood of the dance scene in the trailer, selling the feeling of falling in love at the end of the world.

The lead actors return (and they're not alone)

In Kotaku's review of The Last of Us, they praised the work of lead actors Ashley Johnson and Troy Baker, who play Ellie and Joel respectively. "The actors have an uncommon chemistry and fearlessly tackle their roles; time and again they're faced with difficult, emotionally raw material, and time and again they deliver." This "uncommon chemistry" is one of the things that drew gamers in and sold the apocalyptic circumstances of the first game's story.

With that in mind, it's a relief to know that Johnson and Baker will be returning for Part 2. It seems that Neil Druckman did briefly consider not bringing them back, saying, "I had ideas with different characters and it didn't feel right. The Last of Us is about these two characters."

In addition to Johnson and Baker, The Last of Us Part 2 will feature some familiar voice talent. Among the new cast members is Laura Bailey, playing an undisclosed new character. Bailey is an accomplished voice actress with over 500 credits to her name, including the video games Catherine and Injustice 2. Also joining is Emily Swallow, perhaps best known for her roles in The Mentalist and Netflix's Castlevania. Swallow will be playing a character also named Emily, a member of the Seraphites first seen in the haunting Paris Games Week trailer. With such great returning talent and new names joining the fray, Part 2 should be just as captivating as the first installment.

Filming has wrapped ... and it's emotional

Back in April 2019, Neil Druckmann announced that Naughty Dog had just finished filming the final scene of The Last of Us Part 2. Not much is known about the scene's contents, but if the picture of the script posted by Druckmann is anything to go by, the sequel appears to end with a dramatic cut to black, much like the original game's conclusion. 

Just a few days later, Druckmann marked the final day of filming with the game's two leads. Druckmann posted a photo of stars Ashley Johnson and Troy Baker in their motion-capture suits, remarking, "And that's a wrap on Ellie, Joel, and the most ambitious cinematic shoot we've ever done. Tears were shed." Between the script page's ominous "CUT TO BLACK" and the fact that people were crying on the set, gamers can likely expect the next game in the series will be just as emotionally complex as the original. It seems as though there are no easy answers or simple endings in The Last of Us.