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The Last of Us Part 2’s creators said Ellie is the only playable character

But is she really, and what does that mean for Joel?

Joel talking to Ellie in a screenshot of The Last of Us game Naughty Dog/Sony Computer Entertainment
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

The Last of Us Part 2 developer Naughty Dog stirred waters with remarks in a closed-doors presentation of its game at E3, suggesting that Joel, the protagonist of the original game, will not be a playable character in the sequel.

During E3, Polygon confirmed with a PlayStation representative what IGN also reported today — that The Last of Us Part 2 creative director Neil Druckmann said “Ellie is the only playable character in the game.”

But despite the on-the-record comment, it’s speculative. A few possibilities seem to be in play here:

  1. Naughty Dog is being coy and protecting fans from spoilers by taking Joel out of the pre-release discussion, which is understandable for those making a game in a series renowned for its story — a story that’s expected to land with a big impact.
  2. Joel isn’t playable at all, so as to focus strictly on Ellie’s arc. We’ve known since The Last of Us Part 2 was announced that Ellie is the game’s main character. And Joel has only appeared briefly in one of the game’s trailers.
  3. Joel has died in the events bridging the first game and this one, and any appearance he makes in The Last of Us 2 will be in a memory or flashback. Naughty Dog’s gameplay reveal trailer from E3 hints at Joel still being alive, however: Jesse tells Ellie, “Your old man really laid into me today,” seemingly referring to Joel.
  4. Joel could instead be this game’s antagonist, following Ellie’s discovery of what he really did and the truth of the cover story he gave at the end of The Last of Us. We’d go into more detail about that but, you know, spoilers.

When we met with Naughty Dog in Los Angeles this week, co-director Anthony Newman said that Ellie has managed to find a sense of normal life in Jackson, Wyoming, but that it’s quickly upset as the story shifts to a fight for survival. Neither Newman nor anyone else said anything about Joel not being a playable protagonist.

The Last of Us Part 2’s third trailer debuted in PlayStation’s E3 2018 keynote on Monday, and while the game is said to be set five years after the events of the first story, the scene in which Jesse references Joel in the present tense could, presumably, still be a flashback.

It’s always challenging to put creative staff on the record about such a story-driven video game before it launches, or to understand the new directions such vibrant characters may be taking, while not ruining the enjoyment of others. But considering that Ellie was the centerpiece of a video spanning 11 minutes, we should at least grant that she’s the focus of this story, not Joel. And for now, Naughty Dog itself has said Ellie is the only one who’s playable in The Last of Us Part 2.

Whether that is really the case, we’ll find out once the game launches on PlayStation 4. Naughty Dog has yet to give a date for that.

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