Left Behind is the first-ever story-based add-on downloadable content Naughty Dog has ever created, but because of the significant lasting impact The Last of Us had on the video game community, it also may be the single most-anticipated piece of downloadable content ever. With such high expectations, it’s going to be difficult for even talent at Naughty Dog to expand upon a story told so well and so complete, in a meaningful way. It’s been half a year in the making, but Left Behind is here and ready to make you laugh, cry, and shit your pants.
Warning: Contains spoilers of the main story in The Last of Us as well as some very minor spoilers related to the locations and combat in Left Behind. If you haven’t played The Last of Us yet, please do so before reading.
The Last of Us may have featured two strong main protagonists in Joel and Ellie, but clearly Joel’s history and psyche are explored more thoroughly than Ellie’s in order to better express the bleakness of the post-pandemic world. Joel’s been made a killer against his own will, and even though Ellie is eventually, too, her innocence is used to drive the relationship building between the two and adds some variety and hope in a world so cold. But there really is a lot of complexity to Ellie’s character, and Left Behind gives us a window into her past and some of the challenges she faced long before her and Joel’s journey ever began.
Left Behind actually is two storyline arches featuring Ellie that, even though they are set at different times, are played in alternating chunks over a roughly two-hour span—more if you take your time, explore, and listen to all of the dialogue and character interaction. Two hours isn’t a long time, so it’s really a testament to Naughty Dog’s ability to develop relationships between not only characters, but with the player, too. It’s a bit more rushed, given the time restraints, but the bond between Ellie and her friend Riley is strong, warm, and comforting to witness in world, again, that anyone who has played the game understands to be so awful.
The main focus of Left Behind is the story of Ellie and her closest friend Riley, whom had recently disappeared after a spat between the two, returning a newly-initiated Firefly who has received the command to pack up and head off to report to another city. Before Riley breaks the shattering news to Ellie that she’s to leave Boston, they spend the day—just like two real teen girls would—at the mall. Their genuinely childish behavior is so beautiful in a world so ugly, acting as a set piece much like that blissful few moments toward the end of the main game where Joel and Ellie encounter the giraffes. It reiterates that even though things can be so bleak, there is much to keep fighting for.
During the Riley segments of Left Behind, instead of presenting the young duo with challenges and combat, they’re left to enjoy the serenity at play, cracking jokes, imagining playing arcade games, throwing bricks, and trying on costumes. This break from stress allows their relationship to blossom and connect with the player. The constant tension you may remember from the main story, in fact, stays within the main story in an untold segment that finds Ellie, again at the mall, searching for medicine for an injured Joel during the Winter sequence before she comes across David and his crew. This side of Left Behind is in complete contrast to Riley and Ellie’s story that’s interweaved to create some of the best-told story DLC yet.
In Ellie’s mission to find some medication for Joel’s near fatal wounds, she faces much adversity in both Hunters and Infected, separately and all at once, to create new combat situations that must be approached with strategy and caution. Here, her supplies and ammo are so scarce—more so than in the main game—Ellie has to be even more savvy and skilled than ever before. Fortunately for her, she can use the Infected themselves as weapons to take down hunters by tossing a well-placed bottle nearby that alerts Clickers to their presence. Of course, then Ellie must deal with whomever or whatever is left standing after. Despite how well done these moments are, in only two hours of gameplay with only half of that focusing on combat, it’s more of a tease than anything else—it’s just a taste that leaves you wanting more. Wanting more of something, that you’re never going to get, because Naughty Dog is done with story-focused downloadable content for The Last of Us.
Left Behind is worth the wait, worth every penny you spend on it, and worth the two-hour plus investment of time you put into playing it. It’s even worth playing The Last of Us in its entirety again before loading up Left Behind for the first time so you can get the most out of the atmosphere, gameplay, and connection to these deep characters. The biggest problem with Left Behind is the brevity of it. Although Naughty Dog was successful in getting the player to connect with Riley and Ellie in a manner similar to that of Joel and Ellie, or even Tess, one can’t help but imagine how much better the delivery and wholeness of it could have been if only more development time and attention could have went into it. But alas, this isn’t Left Behind’s fault, nor is it Naughty Dog’s, it is a circumstance of downloadable content and the $14.99 price tag attached to it. Having said that, I myself couldn’t wait for The Last of Us story to be expanded upon or continued, and even after enjoying Left Behind so thoroughly, I’m more convinced than I ever have been that maybe The Last of Us was so special, so perfect, that no additional story needed to be told. I even am left wondering if a sequel to The Last of Us is the right move. But if anyone can do it, Naughty Dog can.