What The Last of Us’ Creator Learned From Elden Ring

In a recent interview, The Last of Us creator Neil Druckmann not only praised Elden Ring but revealed a few lessons he took from that game's success.

The Last of Us
Photo: PlayStation Studios

In a recent interview with The Washington Post, The Last of Us creator Neil Druckmann revealed that he is not only a fan of Elden Ring but that his time with that game (and other titles) may have inspired him to tweak his own approach to video game storytelling.

“I’m intrigued by stuff like Elden Ring and Inside that doesn’t rely as much on traditional narrative,” Druckmann says. “Some of it is in cinematics, but a lot of [the storytelling] is in gameplay, moving around the space, and understanding the history of that space…to me, some of the best joy I get right now is out of the games that trust their audience to figure things out and that don’t hold their hand. That’s the stuff I’m really intrigued by going forward.”

Shortly thereafter, Druckmann seemingly directly addresses Naughty Dog/The Last of Us fans by clarifying that his statements shouldn’t be taken to mean that his future games won’t use “dialog or cutscenes,” which he describes as “tools in your toolbox.” Instead, he suggests that he’s more interested in using additional tools like “found notes and environmental storytelling” to expand Naughty Dog’s storytelling repertoire.

“I’m really intrigued by never resting on our laurels and trying something a little bit new or a bit different,” Druckmann states. “Not everyone is going to like [it], but that’s ok.”

Ad – content continues below

Interestingly, Druckmann wraps up that thought by briefly referencing the “different projects” that Naughty Dog is working on. Not to read too much into this, but it almost seems like he cuts himself off slightly before revealing a bit too much about what Naughty Dog is working on. Most people suspect the studio is developing a Last of Us multiplayer project and will almost certainly release The Last of Us Part 3 at some point, but it’s not clear if there is another game that Druckmann is referring to when he uses plurals such as “teams” and “projects.”

Regardless, it’s always interesting to hear creators talk about other creators’ projects, especially when those projects are as different as The Last of Us and Elden Ring. After all, The Last of Us is seen as perhaps the most notable example of cinematic storytelling in a video game (as evidenced by the HBO adaptation’s already widespread acclaim). Elden Ring, meanwhile, is generally considered to be a brilliant example of the kind of minimalist and obtuse storytelling that Druckmann references. They’re two wildly different flavors of video game storytelling that both taste pretty great.

That said, I do have to say that I’m personally pretty encouraged to hear Druckmann reference Elden Ring in this manner. I love both Last of Us games, but I do feel like Part 2 struggled under the weight of its narrative ambitions. That game occasionally got bogged down by its use of longer cutscenes, non-interactive segments, and other devices that seemingly attempted to convey a lot of information in ways that were sometimes a bit too blunt. In theory, a little more reliance on environmental storytelling and audience trust could help Naughty Dog refine their own storytelling techniques rather than uproot them.

It’s also funny to hear Druckmann directly reference Elden Ring given that Elden Ring recently beat The Last of Us Part 2‘s record for Game of the Year wins. It’s nice to know that two wildly different games such as those can achieve similar levels of acclaim, and it’s nice to think that the teams behind those games might learn a little from each other.