The Last of Us is a game full of complex character development and emotional story telling, packing heavy hitting plot points that connect character and player in a way few games can match. The first twenty minutes of gameplay, alone, hold the potential to bring players to tears. Play on and find a story of love and loss; trust and betrayal; and companionship formed in the depths of desperation.
Naughty Dog, creators of the award winning title, announced that the games DLC would be receiving a standalone release and Left Behind went up on the PlayStation Store on May 12, 2015. The announcement, made on Naughty Dog’s blog, states that, “If you haven’t had a chance yet to check out The Last of Us, this is a nicely priced gateway to checking out the world and characters so many people (and critics) loved.”
Naughty Dog and Sony’s approach is an understandable one. The game sold amazingly. The remastered version for next-gen systems was more of the same, giving first time PlayStation owners and previous PlayStation 3 owners who recently upgraded a chance to revisit the title, incentivized by remastered graphic fidelity and the addition of DLC. Now, two years after the games original release, Left Behind as standalone content offers one final push of sales, not to mention a chance to get the stragglers hooked and follow up by purchasing the full game.
But is this an appropriate way for
newcomers to experience the game that critics and players alike
have held as 2013’s game of the year?
For those with a mind to pick up the standalone DLC without having completed The Last of Us
here’s some things to consider.
Near completion, within the final moments of the game, Ellie and Joel, the games two central protagonists, have a conversation in which Ellie reveals something about herself. She briefly alludes to a moment in her past; a moment that obviously had great impact on her and the journey she has taken; and a moment that we were previously unaware of. She has withheld this story until the very end of their journey and the impact of that is heavy.
The events leading up to that pivotal scene that, unbeknownst to the player, shaped her throughout The Last of Us
make up the content in the Left Behind DLC.
As great as Left Behind is,
it stands as a final chapter, weaving Ellie’s unknown past into her established present.
And to players who have not previously played The Last of Us,
I would urge you to avoid it.
It isn’t a simple matter of spoilers, lack of context, or even gamer elitism. It’s a matter of how you experience this story. Players who purchase Left Behind without ever playing its predecessor will experience one of two possible outcomes. The first possibility is that players will simply not understand the weight of what they are seeing without gaining the context established in the original game. Some of the gameplay in Left Behind is slow but deliberate and it could be easily misconstrued as dull without that understanding, the drama of the situation lost to lack of attachment to the characters. The second possible outcome, and the one I personally fear most for new players, is that they will complete the DLC, love it, and follow through by completing the original title. As they play through the game, the weight of Ellie’s backstory will leave them looking for clues that aren’t there, missing the intended tempo of the plot development. As The Last of Us unfolds, players will miss the subtle transformation Ellie undergoes as she gains confidence in her companionship with Joel. And in the end, when she uses the weighty reveal of events in her past in an unforgettable bit of dialogue, players who play Left Behind first will simply know too much, the gravity lost and misaimed.
On the other hand, complementing that masterful game with an equally masterful DLC is an experience unparalleled in this industry. Naughty Dog elaborates on the final dialogue of The Last of Us by crafting the Left Behind DLC to weave the experience through waves of familiar and unfamiliar events, simultaneously witnessing Ellie’s most perilous moments while flashing back to memories only alluded to. These memories grow more haunting to the player who, assuming they have already completed the previous game, knows what is to come. Playing the experience through her eyes adds a layer of humanity to her story, previously unestablished. No longer just an angsty preteen, Ellie is shaped into a young woman that has seen more than her share of woes.
If you’re debating buying Left Behind in order to test the waters of The Last of Us and see if it is for you, just jump in the deep end and play the full game. Find a used copy at a discounted price OR borrow it from a friend. Make sure the grab the remastered version as it will include the DLC. I can almost guarantee you’ll love it. On the other hand, the standalone DLC offers players, who perhaps sold their copy or upgraded to next gen systems, a chance to see what Left Behind offers but without the need to repurchase the game.