The original ending planned for Naughty Dog's The Last of Us involved a major friend and ally turning against protagonists Joel and Ellie, creative director Neil Druckmann told Game Informer.
[Warning: major spoilers below.]
In an interview published in the latest issue of the magazine, Druckmann said the ending initially planned for the game saw a "betrayed" Tess following Joel and Ellie across America on a quest for revenge. This version of Tess had a much darker past, which Druckmann said the team tried to balance with a "hopeful" ending. Naughty Dog changed the ending because without Tess's sacrifice, they didn't believe Joel would be motivated to set out on his journey with Ellie.
"What's interesting is that, originally in the story Tess took more of a villain role," Druckmann said. "Tess was betrayed by Joel and took on a mission to pursue him across the country. That storyline never worked out. The storyline shifted and Tess took on this role where she became more of a believer and she helped motivate Joel.
"We had a tough time understanding why Joel would take this journey — we weren't buying it," he added. "We also had a hard time buying that Tess would go on a vendetta. We could understand her pursuing Joel a little bit, but why would she go for a year around the country? Those things were solved by saying that Tess is going to die when she gets bitten, but her dying wish to Joel is to do this one good thing — help me do this one good thing so my soul can rest because I've done all these horrible things."
The first draft of the story also had Ellie refusing to kill anyone who wasn't infected. This had to change, Druckmann said, because keeping her out of combat disconnected her from players.
"What we realized is that we had to get Ellie engaged more in the combat because when she was disengaged from the action for that long you didn't care so much," he said. "So that changed pretty early on. We decided it wasn't going to be about the first time she killed someone, it was more about this coming of age story of the impact that the horrors of violence has on her over the course of the game."
PAX Prime attendees can hear the full story of Naughty Dog's initial pitch for The Last of Us in a panel on Friday, Aug. 30.