Crafting story-based DLC around Naughty Dog’s superb The Last of Us required delicate care. The original game isn’t just well-written, but is done so in a way that wraps up all the themes and plot points that creative director Neill Druckmann wanted to tell. It remains a long shot that we will ever see a sequel to The Last of Us, but this prequel story is easily the next best thing. As a matter of fact, it’s probably the best story-based DLC that’s ever released.
Left Behind takes place just a few short weeks before Ellie meets Joel, kicking the events of the main campaign into full swing. Its focal point is the relationship between Ellie and a new character – although not necessarily new to the plot – her best friend Riley.
Here is where I have to put in a spoiler warning for those that haven’t played the main game. Left Behind is a very passive experience that is meant to expand on the characterization of our favorite foul-mouthed teenager. Essentially, the DLC takes the ending of the main game – along with other plot threads – and puts a unique new perspective on the ending from Ellie’s point-of-view.
The DLC opens up with a cinematic set during the early stages of the Winter chapter, where Ellie has Joel holed up in safety behind a locked mall store of sorts. The idea is to presumably show how Ellie acquired some first aid and patched Joel up somewhat. This sets up one half of the DLC, as the other half follows Ellie and her best friend Riley before their infection. Naughty Dog brilliantly shifts between the segments, in a successful attempt to relay how much Ellie’s character has developed over time since meeting Joel, and being thrust into this constant fight for survival in a trek across America. There’s also the fact that Naughty Dog probably wanted some action-based gameplay in the DLC, as the segments with Riley are again highly passive and narrative driven.
Let’s face it, obviously Joel is patched up and back in action for the rest of the game, so there isn’t much suspense in those sections outside of the fact that it’s primarily where combat takes place. And speaking of that quickly before moving on, there is a wide open battle towards the end involving both humans and infected that is possibly the most intense fight across both the main game and its DLC. Just like the actual game, it’s truly harrowing stuff that will have you trying your hardest to make every bullet count.
Realistically speaking though, while the survival horror gameplay is still top-notch, the true tantalizing aspect of this DLC is the exploration of the relationship between Ellie and Riley. In the beginning, it’s explained that Riley has returned to their boarding school after a disappearance lasting six weeks. Riley reveals that she is joining the Fireflies, and that to catch up they should sneak off and explore the mall. Throughout your relaxing journey you will get a first look into what each character meant to the other, and just how deep their friendship ran.
It’s also some of the most adorable storytelling seen in gaming. For example, there is a sequence where you enter a Halloween themed party store and try on different masks playfully scaring each other, as Ellie and Riley talk to each other about their friendship and Riley leaving to join the Fireflies. To spoil any more would be a disservice to anyone interested in the plot, but I will also mention that there is a heartwarming sequence that will actually get uploaded to your Facebook account, should you choose to allow it to synchronize with the game upon starting.
There is an elephant in the room, though; which is that this expansion runs for $15 despite amounting to only 2-3 hours of gameplay. Sure, there is a whole new batch of collectibles – and cringe-worthy but awesome Ellie jokes – but there is a pint of justification here. Ultimately, the 2 hours spent are so emotionally exhausting and breathtaking that it’s hard not to be left satisfied after the credits roll. You are given an entirely new outlook on Ellie’s character and the story as a whole. The ending is also just another shredding of the heart, provided there’s anything left after having it broken countless times over the course of the main game. In short, The Last of Us: Left Behind is a wonderful addition to an already masterful story.
This review is based on the PS3 exclusive.
Every developer out there should take notice of The Last of Us' story-based DLC, Left Behind, as this is how you put an add-on together.