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The Truth About The Last Of Us 2's Heroes Gets Cloudy

After a series of high profile delays, The Last of Us Part 2 will finally be released later this month. In an interview with Polygon, The Last of Us Part 2 co-writer Haley Gross took a deep dive into dissecting some of the game's themes. Even though the game has already been spoiled for a lot of people, Gross didn't want to discuss any of the finer details of The Last of Us Part 2's plot. Instead, she spoke at length about the differences between the competing factions within the game. 

As far as Gross is concerned, there isn't much of a delineation between good and evil. In The Last of Us Part 2, everyone is doing what need to do to survive, no matter what. As Ellie mows down her enemies in post-apocalyptic Seattle, Polygon's Maddy Myers says it can sometimes be difficult to figure out whether or not the player should feel guilty for taking so many lives. According to Gross, this is entirely by design.

Gross explains that Naughty Dog has crafted multiple scenarios in which Ellie can choose a variety of paths. Sometimes it is entirely possible, albeit much more difficult, to sneak through an area without taking any lives. It then falls to the player to decide whether or not to take that risk.

"This game is entirely about making hard choices, and the consequences of those hard choices," Gross says. "So guilt is very much a consequence, a repercussion of a choice — and not always, but often, it can be also a sign of learning and growing."

This leads to an interesting conversation on the moral ambiguity of every character within the game. When even the main character of the game is capable of performing such heinous acts in the name of survival, what does that say about everyone else that poses a threat to her? We've already heard before that every enemy in the game has a name and a heartbeat, so how should we feel about playing as the character who is killing these more developed opponents? That's exactly the kind of question that The Last of Us Part 2 wants players to be asking themselves.

"We're always going back to this conversation about the cycle of violence and empathy ... We wanted [the groups in] Seattle to very much represent that escalating and almost impossible-to-stop freight train of vengeance," said Gross. "So you've got these two factions who very much believe they're doing what's right."

According to Gross, the world of The Last of Us Part 2 contains "no heroes or villains." Gross explains, "What we're trying to do is that, as you're with Ellie in these moment-to-moment decisions, watching these cinematics and discovering all the weight on her, that even if you don't empathize with her decisions, even if you don't agree with them, you understand why she feels she has to do it or feels like she can't stop herself from doing something."

This is very much in line with the kinds of awful decisions we saw Joel and other characters make in the first game. Heads up if you haven't played through the full story of The Last of Us yet, because there are spoilers ahead for the first game.

At the end of the first game, Joel has to make what appears to be an impossible choice. Even though the Fireflies had the opportunity to cure the cordyceps plague and save humanity, it would have meant killing Ellie. Despite pleas to consider the greater good, Joel refused to allow the Fireflies to go through with their plan. He killed all of the scientists working on the project and made away from the scene with Ellie. He even lied to her about his actions as a way of protecting her from the truth. It's one of the most controversial endings to a video game ever. It is also the culmination of a series of events that includes Joel torturing and killing two men for information in an attempt to rescue Ellie. 

In The Last of Us, the player innately understands why Joel makes these choices, even as they're almost impossible to excuse. It appears that the sequel will go even farther in its efforts to humanize the villains of the game and lend the player some understanding of where everyone is coming from in their bid for survival. It will be interesting to see how these themes are expanded on when The Last of Us 2 finally releases on June 19.