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The Last of Us director explains original ending

UPDATE: Detailed synopsis revealed - spoilers ahoy.

[Editors note: In case you missed it in the strapline, this article contains major spoilers for The Last of Us. Continue at your own peril.]

UPDATE: The Last of Us director Neil Druckmann has revealed more of his original idea for the game's ending, and identified the female character assaulting Joel in the previously-released concept art (see below).

"Originally in the story Tess took more of a villain role," Druckmann explained in the latest issue of Game Informer (thanks, Videogamer). "Tess was betrayed by Joel and took on a mission to pursue him across the country. That storyline never worked out. The storyline shifted and Tess took on this role where she became more of a believer and she helped motivate Joel."

In the scene depicted below, Ellie would have intervened and killed Tess - which would originally have been the first time she had killed a non-infected human.

Given Tess' temperament, this could also be a fight about who drank the last of the coffee.

"Ellie's arc originally was that she didn't kill any non-infected people until the end, when she was going to kill Tess when Tess was torturing Joel," Druckmann explained. "What we realised is that we had to get Ellie engaged more in the combat because when she was disengaged from the action for that long you didn't care so much. So that changed pretty early on. We decided it wasn't going to be about the first time she killed someone, it was more about this coming of age story of the impact that the horrors of violence has on her over the course of the game.

After the hospital shoot-out, the game's original ending would be that Ellie bought Joel's lie, and that the two of them would start a new life in San Francisco.

"The original ending when we pitched the game was a much more hopeful ending, where Joel and Ellie make it to San Francisco and that is a town run by people who are trying to restore society," Druckmann concluded. "Joel has killed all these doctors and lied to Ellie, and Ellie just fully buys into the lie. So, you're left with the idea that they are going to live the rest of their lives in this town.

"The camera pulls back and maybe everything is going to be alright for these two. I was working on writing, and it didn't feel honest anymore. After everything they've done and everything they've been through, that was letting them off a little too easy - especially for Joel."

As revealed previously, Naughty Dog staff were divided when this ending was changed. It "tested very poorly," Druckmann said.

"People said it's unclear, anticlimactic, unsatisfying... A lot of people at the company felt the same way. A few designers didn't like the ending I had in mind. But then, as time passed and they thought about it, they came around and really appreciated. I think that happened with other people, too."

ORIGINAL STORY: The Last of Us creative director Neil Druckmann teased the original ending to Naughty Dog's post-apocalyptic epic.

In a tweet to promote a PAX Prime panel on the game's cut content, Druckmann said, "See how it originally ended as @bruce_straley [co-director] and I re-pitch The Last of Us for you." The following image was attached.

This appears to be ambiguous romantic interest Tess holding protagonist Joel at knifepoint. What's that you say? Tess is dead? Well not in the original version, apparently. It looks like there was one version where she doesn't get killed in the first act, goes on to join the Fireflies, and she and her previous partner Joel must square off... I think.

Or maybe this isn't from an alternate ending, but rather just an alternate scene earlier in the game and the whole ending business is to be discussed later at the panel. Or maybe, as Tom Phillips insists, this isn't Tess at all, but the Firefly leader, Marlene. I'm not seeing it, though. Sorry, Tom. [Tom edit: I'll admit it - Jeff, you were right!]

We'll find out more during the PAX panel on Friday, 30th August, which I'll be attending up in Seattle. According to the description, Druckmann and Straley "will pull back the curtain to show you their original pitch for The Last of Us... and giving everyone at this panel a look at how close or far the final game ended up from the original pitch."