Sony closed out this year's PlayStation Experience showcase with a brief look at The Last of Us Part II, and while game director Neil Druckmann says it's "a ways off [from release]," he couldn't wait to reveal it. Following the showcase, Druckmann discussed more of his and Naughty Dog's vision for the forthcoming sequel, and was joined by the game's leading voice talent, Troy Baker (Joel) and Ashley Johnson (Ellie), in a panel moderated by Game Informer's own Editor-in-Chief, Andy McNamara.
The panel began with Druckmann boldly saying "this game is about hate," whereas the first game was about love and friendship and the bond between them. He then unveiled that the sequel is played via Ellie's perspective – a reveal that brought a boisterous cheer from the packed arena of thousands of fans. Taking place a few years after the last game, Ellie is now 19. Druckmann said he feels the same way some fans do about revisiting these characters. He believes in this new story so much, explaining that Last of Us is Ellie and Joel's story, and no one else's.
Johnson was asked about working with Druckmann, and she said that this project (and the original The Last of Us) were special in a different way, because it felt like a true collaboration between Druckmann, Naughty Dog, and the actors. Baker added that Joel is the character he misses the most and wonders what he's up to. He added that Naughty Dog feels like a family to him. He also said that he almost didn't get the role out of his own foolish fear of not being the right age for Joel. He said he almost walked out of the door when he saw the other people in the lobby who were up for the part, but the casting director called his name before he reached the door. He learned valuable life lessons from both the game and this moment, such as trusting yourself.
When asked about Ellie's shaking hand in the trailer, Johnson said she couldn't say much, but did say "she's gone through some s---." Druckmann added that the singular scene shown dates back two years to a time where he sent Johnson the idea of a musical sequence.
The Last of Us Part II uses new performance capture technology, and the most advanced character models Naughty Dog has ever made. We were shown a brief demo of the technology in action, and saw Johnson acting out facial motions which were reproduced in real-time on Ellie's character model.
Druckmann said that it's easier to find moments in an original game, and that there's a fear and danger of trying to replicate those moments in a sequel. He's hoping that they can create moments that are just as powerful, but without treading the same territory.
Both Johnson and Baker say Druckmann is their favorite director to work with. Johnson in particular emphasized just how much fun he is to work alongside. He gives them the freedom to experiment, and will often weigh their opinions into the flow of scenes.
Druckmann revealed that Gustavo Santaolalla is returning to score The Last of Us Part II, and concluded the panel by saying that Ellie and Joel are the heart of this series. It's about human relationships, with theirs being the focus in this story.