The Last of Us‘ narrative is mostly told traditionally and guides players from beat to beat. However, it seems as though Naughty Dog is toying with the idea of being a little less direct.
In an interview with The Washington Post, The Last of Us Creative Director Neil Druckmann (and writer, co-creator, and executive producer on the upcoming HBO Max series) talked about nontraditional narratives in games. When asked about how he thought video game storytelling had evolved, he brought up Elden Ring and Inside, two titles with puzzle-like narratives that make players work to come to their own conclusions. Druckmann said he found this less guided approach engaging.
“I’m more recently intrigued by stuff like Elden Ring and Inside that doesn’t rely as much on traditional narrative to tell its story,” said Druckmann. “I think some of the best storytelling in The Last of Us is in the cinematics, but a lot of it is in gameplay and moving around the space and understanding a history of the space by just looking at it and examining it. To me, that, right now, is some of the best joy I get: games that trust their audience to figure things out [and] don’t hold their hand. That’s the stuff I’m really intrigued by going forward.”
That’s not to say that the hypothetical The Last of Us Part III would just be strictly environmental storytelling and have no dialogue. Druckmann noted that everything is just a tool and implied that there was a way to infuse this less overt storytelling into Naughty Dog’s future games.
“And again, that doesn’t mean we will never have dialogue or cutscenes,” he said. “Those are tools in your toolbox, and it’s about how you use all these different aspects, some of it from other mediums, some of it found notes and environmental storytelling. And I think there’s a way to push that stuff forward, at least for the kind of games that we make at Naughty Dog. I’m really intrigued. Again, [we’re] never resting on our laurels and trying something a little bit new, a little bit different that not everyone is going to like, but that’s OK. And again, the stuff that we’re working on now, I can tell you that the teams are very excited by the different projects we have at Naughty Dog.”
Naughty Dog is still being secretive about those different projects because revealing games too early leads to some work-life balance issues, according to Druckmann. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End and The Last of Us Part II were each announced around three to four years before they actually came out, and the studio came under fire for fostering extreme crunch conditions during development for both titles. Regardless, one of its current games is a multiplayer The Last of Us game with a story, while the other is a complete mystery.
Druckmann also heaped praise onto roguelite survival game Vampire Survivors, calling it one of his favorite titles of 2022, along with The Case of the Golden Idol from Color Gray Games. He applauded the way the murder mystery title used puzzles to tell its story to the player, something he said was “hard not to get inspired” by.