This The Last of Us Part 2 article contains spoilers.
Now that The Last of Us Part 2 is finally out, there’s a lot to say about its twisting and sprawling story that takes Ellie from Jackson, Wyoming all the way to Seattle, Washington on a quest for revenge. Much of the current discussion revolves around Abby, the game’s surprise second playable character who is also set up as the story’s main antagonist. But in the course of the 30+ hour campaign, you learn that there’s more to Abby than the cold-blooded murderer who kills Joel in the opening hours of the game.
When players are put in Abby’s shoes midway through the game, they get to experience war-torn Seattle from her perspective and learn more about her story, including the traumatic event that set her own crusade in motion. This is meant to make the player empathize with Abby, a character who is very easy to hate for the first 10 or so hours of the game when the only thing you know about her is that she beat Joel to death with a golf club in front of Ellie. But according to Naughty Dog creative director Neil Druckmann, players were originally going to spend much more time with Abby in the opening hours of The Last of Us Part 2, which was initially conceived as an open-world game.
“The game initially was this open-world thing. And you spent all this time in Jackson,” Druckmann said in an interview with IGN. “Abby joined the community and you were playing as this new character until she betrayed Joel later on.”
Jackson, Wyoming is the setting of the early hours of The Last of Us Part 2, a walled community where Ellie and Joel settled after the events of the first game. While we only really get to see a small glimpse of Jackson’s streets in the final product, The Last of Us Part 2 still presents a lively town full of hustle and bustle and interesting characters, including Ellie’s own love interest, Dina. It’s to this community that Abby would have arrived, undoubtedly under the guise of a friend, before finding the opportune moment to kill Joel.
But Druckmann explained that spending so much time with Abby before Joel’s death, “just didn’t work because Joel dying is the inciting incident, and you want to get to the inciting incident as quickly as you can.”
In the game, players are quickly introduced to Abby but spend only a few short sections of the opening hours exploring the outskirts of Jackson with the character before she crosses paths with her target. After Joel’s death, we don’t see Abby again until the midway point of the story. Other parts of Abby’s story were cut from the game, too, including flashback sequences that would have seen her meeting WLF leader Isaac and joining the Wolves.
“It was never a conscious choice to go to the Wolves, she was at that point an orphan — she was only 15 I think when everything happened,” Abby voice actor Laura Bailey told Kinda Funny. “That was where she was sent and was taken under the reign of Isaac. Isaac was a Firefly and a friend of her father so that’s why she went there. That’s why they have the relationship that they do is because he kind of became that fatherly figure to her.”
While parts of Abby’s original story were cut, her role in the game can’t be understated. Druckmann described her to IGN as the inspiration for the sequel’s main themes.
“Abby was the concept that made us want to make this game about empathy, interactivity; knowing we could use Joel and Ellie to create that feeling right at the beginning,” he said. “Her role actually kept shrinking and shrinking until we thought this is the right amount for what we need you to feel about Abby.”
The character actually provided an interesting challenge for Naughty Dog, according to Druckmann. Could the team make players actually feel for a character who had initially committed such a heinous act? Druckmann drew parallels to Joel’s actions at the Firefly hospital in the first game.
“You don’t necessarily agree with what [Joel’s] doing, but we saw that the majority of people understood what he’s doing and now they’re role-playing as him,” Druckmann said. “‘I might not do this but I understand why Joel would.'”
Abby’s story in The Last of Us Part 2, in comparison, seems like the inverse of Joel’s story. While we spent so much time getting to know Joel and experiencing his pain with him before he made the decision to kill the Firefly doctors to save Ellie at the end of the first game, players barely get to know Abby before she kills a beloved character.
“Can we make you hate someone to such a degree that you want to hurt them in really horrible ways for what they’ve done to you? And then all of a sudden make you play as them and, the challenge was, can we get you to empathize?” he said.
But ultimately the final verdict on Abby is up to the player.
“I don’t know if you’re going to like [Abby] necessarily. We hope you do, but can we really get you to understand them? And that’s where the second half of the game [goes], you’re playing as someone that goes on their own journey of redemption. You get to see revenge from two sides.” Druckman explained. “[The Last of Us Part 2] is a game about empathy and forgiveness and getting past grief and seeing other people for the more complex human beings they are. That’s what got us excited about making this.”