Man, where do I even start.
This game has reached a very small club of games (or indeed, media) that has left me thinking about it long after I’ve finished it. The best sequels are, in my opinion, the ones that continue on from the first iteration instead of just making a new, unrelated story with the same characters. Joel’s actions at the end of the first game are what cause the events of the second to occur, and we get the pay-off we’ve been waiting for in seeing how his lie to Ellie affects their relationship from that point.
Joel was always of questionable character, we know he did some bad things before the events of the first game, and the way he goes about trying to get rid of Ellie on Tommy half way through and then the events of the end show this hasn’t really changed. He’s still selfish, to the point of ridding humanity of the potential of a cure. I think the writing was always on the wall for Joel, but it’s still brutal and shocking how it happens. Some opinions I’ve read believe this was simply ND trying to repulse us, trying to make us hate Abby even more, but actually I think this is the kind of brutal world these characters live in, and it’s a fitting way for him to go out all things considered.
Ellie’s journey then starts off as a simple one of revenge, but quickly we learn that she’s willing to do everything to accomplish her goal. Allowing Dina to join her is her first mistake, as it puts her at risk. Then she decides to go after Abby instead of going with Jesse to help Tommy, before beating Nora to death and finally killing Mel and her unborn child. It’s clear that Ellie is driven by this singular goal with no rational thought about how her actions might impact those she loves. When Abby confronts her at the theatre and tells her, “We let you go and you wasted it”, it’s the whole truth.
But then we have a whole second half of the game AS Abby, which I, like others, didn’t particularly like the idea of at first. But I thought back, about how Bungie made me play as the Arbiter in Halo 2 and how I wasn’t keen on that either to start with and how it grew on me, and I pressed on! Abby’s arc starts as she’s just accomplished her singular goal of revenge, and we get to see how she comes out the other side. I don’t think she really has much character growth before she meets Lev and Yara (apart from playing with doggos, which I enjoyed greatly!), but it’s at this point where she finds a new purpose, and begins to question how the ‘other side’ aren’t as black and white as perhaps she’s seen them so far.
For me Abby’s interactions with Lev were a real highlight (maybe THE real highlight?) of the game. Yes they were very similar to Joel and Ellie’s interactions from the first game, but Abby always seemed more interested in Lev than Joel was in Ellie at the start. And Lev in turn slowly opens up to her, and they reach this mutual understanding and then affection for each other. It really is a rather wholesome part of what is otherwise a really grim and bleak tale.
Abby wins her fight with Ellie back at the theatre, and this is really symbolic because at this point Abby is the one not just in control of her emotions, but her destiny. This is why we play as her during this section, because Ellie is an uncontrollable mess. At this point ‘good’ has won over ‘evil’ as much as it can in this series - none of the characters are angels and all do bad things in the name of revenge, or protecting others, but it’s always what they think is the right thing to do at the time, which is all any of us can really do in life. But Abby has squared up with her past actions, whereas Ellie is still struggling with what she did to Mel, and how really she has actually never been in control of the major events of her life up until this point.
So, Ellie goes away with Dina and JJ, and she tries to have a normal life. She chooses to try and let go of it all, but she can’t. She’s still haunted by what happened to Joel, haunted by her inability to effect the outcome she wanted in her quest for revenge, and whilst she has this idyllic life now it isn’t enough for her because SHE isn’t enough for HERSELF at this point. No matter how Dina pleads, when Tommy gives Ellie a change to follow up a lead on Abby she is unable to resist the chance to try and square up with her past.
Ultimately we have control over Ellie in the final fight with Abby, but this isn’t because Ellie is in control when the fight starts, it’s because she gains control when the fight is won. So far Ellie has learnt nothing from her journey, and she’s fully prepared to kill Abby - in fact, it’s the only way she can save herself. But then when Abby is beaten, and all Ellie has to do is hold her underwater to finish the job, she realises that she’s gained the revenge she’s after, she has won, and now has the power to spare Abby for an even greater victory - one within herself where she can finally be at peace instead of continuing this cycle of vengeance.
And this is the real story that TLOU2 is telling, as far as I can see it. No matter how dark a path Ellie walked down, she managed to find her own redemption, judged only by herself and regardless of what anyone else might think. She sacrifices her relationship with Dina for this (she has no idea if she will be able to repair things when she returns home), because Dina’s opinion is not as important to Ellie as her own. Ellie has to be able to live with herself, and she thought that she would be okay with killing Abby for revenge, but in the end she realises that this isn’t the case, that after everything she has been through and lost, it isn’t worth it.
The final flashback shows how Ellie was prepared to try and forgive Joel for stealing from her the chance of her life meaning something. Although she is never able to follow through with this with Joel himself (he dies the next day), she is able to do it vicariously through forgiving Abby, and finally taking control of her own destiny too.
Overall I loved the game and there is nothing I would change. It’s so riveting, deep, and multi-faceted. I’ve never played a game that has made me feel so shit but enjoyed it so much, and that is a telling testament to the quality of it. It’s definitely better than the original, but is it my favourite game of all time? Only time (and a second play through) will tell.