Despite offering a definitive conclusion, and some heated takes on how Part II handled its story, it's natural for fans of Naughty Dog's The Last of Us to wonder about the future of the franchise. The big question, of course, is should there even be another game? To his credit, series creator and game director Neil Druckmann has said that question is one of their big drivers for deciding on a sequel happening anyway. In an interview with Indiewire, Druckmann put the litmus test out there, revealing, "With the first game there were no expectations and it was like we could do anything. But now that we’ve established certain characters and themes and processes, it felt like to justify making a Part II we had to do something not that fans would just be comfortable with, but do something that would match the emotional core we found in the first game. And without that, there’d be no reason to do a Part III.”
To Druckmann's point, not only did the sequel find a way to match the emotional core of the first game, it could be argued that it surpassed it, thus raising the bar even higher for what any future installments would need to clear. Even further, the sequel managed to up the ante in its technical achievements as well as gameplay mechanics, pushing the ideas of the first game to new heights. So now that we know what Naughty Dog considers the set bar for our question, let's break down both sides of the argument.
Why there should be a The Last of Us Part III
Even though the larger story of Ellie and Joel's relationship is over by the ending of the second game, the two titles (and Left Behind DLC) have proven that this character is a fan favorite and one with enough depth to carry further adventures. The second game's ending even positions Ellie as being on a different path, "trying real hard to be the shepherd" as Jules says in Pulp Fiction. By putting the revenge quest behind her and looking to just survive, Ellie is already in an interesting narrative position to move ahead. Lest we forget though, Ellie was not the only one to be controlled by the player and have a place in Part II's story. Though the ending of the game (and its secondary home screen) implies that Abby and Lev made it away from Santa Barbara and reunited with the Fireflies on Catalina Island, this dangling thread ties into a major theme from The Last of Us Part II that is ripe for exploring.
Though much of the conversation around the game's story and the choices of the developers was the "cycle of violence" that was at the forefront of its narrative, another major theme of the sequel was these younger characters coming to terms with the idea that their heroes and institutions of authority in their lives are actually fallible and sometimes even terrible. Abby sees it break down in front of her more than once as Owen's allegiance to the WLF crumbles, as Lev realizes that the Seraphite's manipulation cost his family their lives and as Abby pulls the trigger on her former cohorts. Ellie even comes to terms with this to an extent through her story after finding out the truth from Joel about the Fireflies. This puts all three of these characters in a position to make these reveals its narrative crux as Abby and Lev work with a rebuilt Firefly squad that will no doubt be imperfect and Ellie perhaps tries to build/rebuild a life in Jackson or on her own somewhere in the world.
To that end, there's also the matter of setting and ideas. With the first game in the series, we were able to see how places like Boston, Pittsburgh, and Colorado had survived and adapted to this post-apocalyptic world. Every location had created its own type of society, or extended snare, while finding a unique way to thrive. Part II opened that up to Seattle and the coast of California, which all point to a good reason to keep going: the possibilities are endless for your setting and enemies, and this is a rich, rich world to explore.
Why there should not be a The Last of Us Part III
At the end of The Last of Us Part II, Ellie has come full circle on her journey of hastily plotted revenge as well as her own personal feelings about what happened between her and Joel. The game concludes with Ellie literally leaving behind the parts of her life that she had built up with Dina and Joel, wandering back toward the woods and an uncertain future. It was smart of Naughty Dog to leave this moment so ambiguous for the players because after completing the narrative, they put their lead character in a place where literally whatever the player thinks happens next is totally feasible. By putting out a Part III, you soften that ending and instead make it a compass toward your next story, not an open book of possibilities.
To counter a point made above, even though the possibilities appear endless for The Last of Us in terms of settings, human settlements, and even enemies, by going back to the well again you're approaching hokey territory for how you develop these ideas. Think about a new location, for example. What does Atlanta or one of its outside suburbs look like in this world? Is it a nice settlement like Jackson? An "evil" one like Santa Barbara? Part II hammered on the point that things aren't that black and white in this world anyway, so the possibility for a retread remains prominent.
There's also the enemies themselves. Though the humans end up taking up more time in terms of combat in The Last of Us, the big stride for the sequel was in developing and expanding on various offshoots of the infected. Lurkers and Shamblers played huge parts in the sequel, so "the virus is mutating" or "there's another stage in the infection!" won't play as easily another time around. Not to mention, The Rat King was a perfect addition to the world of The Last of Us because it was a natural boss encounter to add to the game but also expanded the lore of the franchise by simply existing. Doing both of these things again will be difficult and hard to top.
Selfishly I would love for The Last of Us to continue. Part 3? A spin-off game? A puzzle game that barely resembles the franchise? I'm game for all of it. But the depth and beauty created by Naughty Dog in the first two games was clearly done with every ounce of their hearts and souls, and even without another entry they will be part of the conversations for best video games of all time.
So where do we stand? Will we see The Last of Us Part III? Does Naughty Dog secretly have a sequel already up their sleeve like they did with Part II? Should they keep the franchise going or shut it down while they're ahead? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!