So much in The Last of Us Part 2 has changed during the game’s development.
As is the case with any big game today, a few of the scenes and characters in The Last of Us: Part 2 appear differently in the final game than they were originally envisioned. Some got moved to a different part of the story, and others were cut entirely.
In an interview with The Washington Post, co-writer and director Neil Druckmann and co-writer Halley Gross shared a little bit about what was left on the cutting room floor, and what needed to change for the storytelling to be more effective.
Spoilers beyond this point.
Esther is a woman Joel dated in the years between the two games. She was actually supposed to be mentioned in a cut epilogue to the first game, but that scene was cut. In The Last of Us Part 2, Naughty Dog decided to try and bring her into the story again with the flashback scene where Tommy teaches Ellie long-range shooting with a sniper rifle. Esther is said to have lived two hours away from Jackson, so the plan was for Joel and Ellie to check up on her in that part of the game.
The developer also planned a whole setup where the pair would find Esther’s house overrun by infected, and race to see if she’s alright. Soon after they arrive, they find that she’s been bitten. Joel realises what’s about to happen, so he asks Ellie to get some water from the nearby river. This is when you hear a gun shot and the scene ends.
“And you don’t know whether Esther killed herself or if Joel put a bullet in her head, but you know that this was going to happen,” explained Halley Gross. “That two adults were making a decision and they were going to try to protect Ellie as much as they could.”
Ultimately, however, Naughty Dog realised that there won’t be any time to establish Esther’s character before she’s killed off. “Even up until toward the end of the game, we had like a love letter from Esther in his house,” Gross added.
Naughty Dog planned for players to see the Scar island before it was all burned down. Originally, part of Ellie’s journey through Seattle would have involved one more day where she gets shipwrecked on the island’s shore and must find a way to leave and get back to the theatre. In the final game, we only visit the island in Abby’s section of the story, as it is being invaded and destroyed.
The idea was to humanise the Scars, by showing everyone with their families and loved ones, going about their daily lives.
“It was really cool. The designers had a lot of great elements to it, but we ended up scrapping it because it didn’t move her story along narratively. It was like cool gameplay, cool setup, did something really nice in terms of expounding on the enemy,” Gross revealed.
The scene where Ellie and Dina bond over smoking marijuana got changed fairly late into development, too. Naughty Dog initially wanted this scene to be a sort of exposition dump. The challenge was that players will have only just met Dina, but she’s supposed to have known Ellie for years.
The developer wrote and shot a whole monologue where Ellie explains that she doesn’t know where Dina stands, or whether she’s not actually interested in her (following the kiss), but cut it just as animators were getting to work on it. A truncated version of the scene is what ended up being in the final game, where the two share a moment that pretty much goes over the same beat.
“We’re constantly using conflict and finding ways to use conflict as exposition and conflict to bring characters together. And initially, the scene that we wrote just over-steered this conflict that exists between the two girls. Ellie was too hurt by the kiss that happened in that festival and was worried of where Dina stood. And it just became melodramatic, the first time we shot that scene,” Druckmann explained.
“It felt like we needed to start from this more playful, softer side,” he added.
Finally, Naughty Dog originally planned for the dance scene to be playable. “Our designers built out these amazing games, and you could mix drinks, and you could pretend to be a Clicker and chase little kids using Listen Mode,” Gross recalled.
Keeping in mind where in the story that scene shows up, it didn’t make sense for it to be playable, according to Gross, considering the moment that follows it with Joel and Ellie’s conversation on the porch. It might have made sense before when that scene opened the game, but not anymore.
That part of the game would have also introduced a new character, Cat, Ellie’s ex-girlfriend who is mentioned briefly in a conversation with Dina. Cat is responsible for Ellie’s tattoos, of course, and playing as Ellie, we were originally supposed to speak with her on our way to the dance. Cat is described as “sassy”
“It was another thing that we cut because it wasn’t progressing anything,” she added. “It was just like, again, really cool world-building, but that kissing scene also bounced around through the game a lot. We used to open the whole thing on Ellie and Joel at the dance.”
If you’re looking for more insight into the game’s production, we recently published a story where Sam White got to spend one week on the game’s set.