Games iterate and change countless, untold amounts during their development and The Last of Us Part II is no exception to that rule. Though a vision is in place from the beginning, it’s the small working gears that often shift and settle in other places, forcing the developers and writers to cut things for time or coherency.
The remainder of this article will talk about cut content and how it might have impacted the larger narrative, so proceed knowing spoilers lie ahead.
Joel Had A Girlfriend Named Esther
When speaking to The Washington Post, co-writers Halley Gross and Neil Druckmann detailed some of the changes they were forced to make, including entirely cutting Esther, Joel’s girlfriend who lived two hours out of their Jackson settlement.
Originally intended to be mentioned during the first game’s cut epilogue, Esther has dated Joel during the events between the two games. Naughty Dog had hoped to write her into the sequel, however, intending to have her feature in the ‘Finding Strings’ flashback scene where Tommy tutors Ellie in long-range rifles before she and Joel set off in search of new guitar strings.
“I think she lived out by the dams, by the electric dams, and they kind of had a commuter relationship,” Gross said. “And Joel and Ellie were headed out there and saw that the building had been taken over by infected.”
In this original vision where Joel and Ellie would perform a check-up on Esther, it’s sadly discovered that she’s been bitten and Joel sends Ellie to collect water from the river, knowing full well that Esther’s fate is sealed. The scene ends as a gunshot rings out.
“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.”
Given they hadn’t built Esther into the working lore of the game, it would have been a stretch for Naughty Dog to pang the player’s heartstrings over a new character, though the scene would have gone a long way to fleshing out Ellie and Joel’s conflict over the hospital massacre as a frank discussion that follows Esther’s death would lay out her survivor’s guilt.
Ellie Spent A Day On The Scar Island
It’s been said that the game was originally meant to feature five playable days in Seattle for each Ellie and Abby and, though we’re glad they did trim the game for pacing and length, one of Ellie’s lost days originally had her being marooned on the Scar Island before it fell into a state of unrest as Isaac’s forces invaded.
“I think originally, she got shipwrecked on the island in a storm and was traversing through to try to get back home to the theatre,” Gross said.
The intention of the section was to show day-to-day life on the island and humanise the zealous Seraphite cult, showing the so-called Scars sharing quiet and tender moments with their families before the war comes to the island. It was inevitably scrapped for not progressing Ellie’s arc, plus it didn’t help in building urgency and tension throughout her quest.
“We ended up scrapping that whole level, and it was a big level,” Gross said.
“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.”
The Dance Scene Was Once Playable
Though it was the hot topic on the opening morning of Ellie’s patrol with Jesse, in the end, what we see of Ellie and Dina’s first kiss at the dance was relegated to a cutscene near the end of the game. At one point, in an earlier build, the entire dance was a playable scene.
Naughty Dog built a whole layout of Jackson that acted as the path to the church where the dance took place. Ellie took the edge off with a bit of pre-drinking and, though she does make it into the game through photographs and conversation, Ellie’s ex-girlfriend Cat even made an appearance on the night to simmer in the corner.
“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 said. “It was so fucking cute.”
“It was another thing that we cut because it wasn’t progressing anything,” she said. “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.”
It’s because those scenes with Joel and Ellie give such imperative context to the game’s ending that it “stopping making sense,” and served as a large reason as to why the playable dance was cut.