I liked how TLoU presented the brutality of the world that Joel and Ellie lived in, it was for want of a better word, repulsive. Every melee weapon hit had impact and weight, thanks to the low ammo. Every shot needed to matter, and every miss was painful as you where wasting precious ammo. There was always this sense of fear and dread while I was playing the game, and when I got through one section I’d feel a brief moment of relief until the next seemingly impossible obstacle presented itself with me virtually having no ammunition left.
TLoU is unashamedly interested in telling a very specific narrative driven story. For as much freedom as the game provides you with while playing the game, the story itself pushes out all possibility of you being able to interact or change it. And that is where most of the complaints regarding TLoU came in. Cut scenes with significant plot points were essentially mandatory and unchangeable. You were not afforded a chance to change something in the story as you were essentially a passenger along for the ride.
And honestly I am happy with this way of storytelling as long as the games narrative is artfully constructed and its characters are fairly rich and well rounded. Which is the case with TLoU, I do not need the illusion of choice only to have it ripped away from me like Bioware did with the ending of Mass Effect 3. An extremely big part of the game for me, and I imagine many others peoples who played the game too, is the relationship development between the two main characters Joel and Ellie.
First they started of disliking each other, forced into a situation neither of them expected or wanted, and throughout the entire game seeing their bond grow as they overcome challenge after impossible challenge. By the end of the game the bond between these two characters was unbreakable. The first time I got to control Ellie after Joel suffered that metal spike through his torso really showed how determined and dedicated she was, and that now she’d do anything for Joel. It will be something that will stay with me for a very long time.
There were plenty of great moments in this game. But the moment that took my breath away was the emotional release of Ellie using a machete to turn David’s face into a bloody mess that was the highlight for me. They really captured the tension the characters were feeling, both good and bad. All of the desperation and frustration, it was winter and Joel is half dead. Making his torture of the two cannibals he interrogated even more brutal. It was a vulnerable state we don’t usually see characters go through in a videogames.
You see how Joel and Ellie can survive apart, yet need one another mentally and emotionally, Joel needs Ellie. If he had lost Ellie, that would’ve been it. He probably would’ve lost the will to live. Her death would’ve meant his death as well, it was very well done in my opinion. That moment was by far one of the most profound gaming moments I have ever experienced in over 20 years of playing video games. Joel is incredibly adept at physically surviving harsh, life threatening events. But emotionally, he’s a train wreck.
Decades later, he still hasn’t even begun to deal with the loss of his daughter. At the end, he says, “I struggled for a long time with survivin. And you, no matter what, you keep finding something to fight for.” The quote struck me right in the feels, because from the context, it does not seem like he’s talking about surviving the post-apocalyptic world. He is talking about his own personal grief, and how he is trying to survive emotionally, but he doesn’t know how to do.
He approaches this problem like he would approach physical survival. He’s trying to fight, because he can’t accept it, even though that acceptance is ultimately what he needs to do if he’s going to survive and heal. He is unwilling to even talk about his daughter and her death, decades later, and when he does finally accept the photograph from Ellie near the end of the game, it’s not entirely clear to me if he is really begun to move on so much as he’s begun to adopt Ellie as his surrogate daughter.
This becomes particularly clear at the end, where he refuses to allow Ellie to die for the sake of a (possible) cure for mankind. The game even makes you carry Ellie again, mimicking that moment at the beginning of the game where you, as a younger Joel, run from the zombies with your daughter in your arms. There’s a weight to both scenes, and an obvious mirroring. As Joel runs with Ellie in his arms, he’s finally getting a second chance and the redemption he was looking for.