The release of The Last of Us Part 1 nears, and many gamers will once again enjoy one of gaming’s most iconic stories. Thanks to the plenty of visual, audio, gameplay, and accessibility upgrades Naughty Dog has included, Joel and Ellie’s adventure will be presented better than ever while remaining faithful to the original. Some upgrades will also make use of the DualSense controller, ensuring the experience is one that players can feel in their hands
Part of what makes The Last of Us so great is its varied cast of characters. With The Last of Us Part 1, players will meet many memorable characters again, including Marlene who does not appear on-screen for much time but has a monumental impact on the entire franchise’s events. Marlene is a Firefly, and she plays an important role in the lives of both Joel and Ellie. She often finds herself in difficult situations that force her to make complex moral choices.
Marlene and the Fireflies
Marlene is a leader of the Fireflies, which is a faction established following the terrible outbreak that turns most of the population into flesh-eating monsters. Unlike most, the Fireflies have not lost hope, and they still strive to find a cure for the infection and rescue humankind from what appears to be its inevitable doom. The Fireflies also stand against any other factions and groups that attempt to establish military rule over the dystopian remains of society.
The Fireflies serve as a symbol of hope for many survivors. However, some people grow disenchanted with the Fireflies and begin to question whether the faction’s intentions are truly pure. This includes Tommy who is a member of the Fireflies at one point but eventually leaves. It is clear that Marlene still holds hope, and she believes that the Fireflies will guide humanity to a brighter future.
Marlene and Ellie
Not much is known about Ellie’s mother, except that her name is Anna and that she dies shortly after Ellie’s birth. Anna and Marlene are close friends, which is why she entrusts Marlene to take care of Ellie. Attempting to keep her promise to Anna, Marlene takes Ellie to boarding school where she hopes she will remain safe. Being naturally adventurous and rebellious, Ellie and her friend Riley get themselves into trouble, and they are both bitten by Infected. In theory, this should spell death for them. However, although Riley succumbs to the infection, Ellie discovers that she is immune, making her very special.
Marlene promised Anna that she would take care of Ellie, and she does for most of Ellie’s life. Although Ellie is more than willing to jump into the Fireflies’ military activities, Marlene refuses because she does not want any harm to come to her. However, upon discovering that Ellie has immunity, she realizes that it is vital that she be sent to Doctor Jerry Anderson, a Firefly surgeon with the knowledge to make a cure. To do this, Marlene solicits the help of Joel, a weapons smuggler she trusts to deliver Ellie safely. Joel is fit for the job thanks to his penchant for violence which makes him effective against any dangers they may come across.
For much of the franchise, Marlene serves as a maternal figure to Ellie. This is something that Ellie desperately needs, even if she loathes how overprotective Marlene can be. Marlene’s duty of care towards Ellie is tested when she discovers what it will take to achieve the Fireflies’ ultimate goal and save humanity.
Marlene and Joel
Marlene meets Joel and Tess through their weapons smuggling. In exchange for guns, Joel agrees to transport Ellie to Doctor Jerry Anderson. The journey turns out to be extremely dangerous, and it results in Tess’ death. However, it also causes Ellie and Joel to bond, and Joel begins to treat Ellie like his own daughter. He teaches Ellie how to survive, which comes in handy when Joel is injured and Ellie is forced to take of him and protect them. By working together, they finally make it to the doctor, and for a moment it seems that humanity has a shot at survival.
At this late stage, Dr. Anderson reveals to Marlene that making the cure would involve killing Ellie. Marlene is horrified by this, and she struggles with the dilemma greatly. However, she eventually agrees that it must be done, though she insists that Joel must know. Marlene tells Joel, triggering a fatal turn of events. Joel massacres the Fireflies to save Ellie, killing Dr. Anderson in the process. He has the chance to spare Marlene, but he kills her too, fearing she would only follow them. With that, it appears that humanity is truly doomed, and the last light of hope has been extinguished.
Both Joel and Marlene are Ellie’s parental figures, and they strive to protect her at all costs. However, they take drastically different approaches to her immunity. While Marlene is willing to sacrifice Ellie’s life for the sake of humanity, Joel is unwilling to let go of her. It is easy to argue that Joel does so for selfish reasons and that it is commendable that Marlene can put her priorities aside for the sake of higher causes. However, Joel’s unfailing commitment to Ellie is also admirable.
Marlene is an enigmatic figure, and there is still plenty that is unknown about her, including how she joined the Fireflies. However, it is evident that she is a pivotal figure in Ellie’s life, and without her, Ellie would likely find herself in far more trouble. Begrudgingly, she ends up choosing to sacrifice Ellie’s life for the sake of humanity, a choice Ellie would have likely approved of, though it never comes to fruition after Joel decides to become Marlene’s worst enemy.
After The Last of Us, Games are Overusing the Duo Formula
Towards the end of the PlayStation 3’s lifespan, Naughty Dog released a game that changed the gaming world forever. There were plenty of zombie survival horror games before The Last of Us, but the game managed to stand out from the hordes of other zombie games thanks to its addictive combat, breathtaking visuals, and emotional narrative about keeping love alive in a hostile world. It also features a duo consisting of Joel Miller, who is a gruff weapons smuggler that has learned to harden his heart to deal with the ruthlessness of post-apocalyptic society, and Ellie, who is a young but feisty girl who is forced to grow up quickly.
Together, Joel and Ellie make a good though unlikely team, and their emotional story has gripped the hearts of gamers around the world. Following the astronomic success of The Last of Us, plenty of other developers have taken notes, and games featuring the duo seem to have become far more ubiquitous. Although some games have pulled it off well, others have done it a bit more clumsily. With games like Spider-Man 2 on the horizon, it seems like the trend is not going anywhere soon.
The Last of Us’ Template
Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us is far from the first game to feature a duo as the protagonists. Before Joel and Ellie there was Nathan and Sully, Sonic and Tails, and Ratchet and Clank, to name but a few. However, Joel and Ellie appear to be one of the first examples to pull it off so flawlessly, with Ellie at Joel’s side for almost the entirety of the journey. While, in many other games, the companion can end up feeling like a burden who must be protected or who gets stuck in the environment, Ellie feels like an asset that helps Joel out whenever he is in a hairy situation.
After the death of Sarah, who is Joel’s daughter, Ellie becomes a surrogate daughter for Joel. He teaches her how to survive in a zombie-infested world, and he shows her how to be competent with a gun. These skills come in handy when Joel is injured, and it is Ellie’s turn to look after him. In many ways, it is possible to see Joel as Ellie’s mentor and parental figure, and Joel tries to fill this role to the best of his abilities, although he is a flawed man.
The template laid out by The Last of Us, which features a duo consisting of a mentor and a protégé, is not particularly unique, and in many ways, it mirrors Telltale’s The Walking Dead which features Clementine and Lee whose relationship is similar to Joel and Ellie’s. However, The Last of Us managed to pull it off with such finesse that the format will forever be associated with the game.
The Proliferation of Duos in Gaming
Since The Last of Us, duos in gaming seem to have grown more common, although they have been applied with varying levels of success. Both gamers and developers have realized that it is fun to have a companion around to help with missions, especially if they are also an integral part of the narrative. One of the best duos of recent years can be found in God of War, which takes the template found in The Last of Us and improves on it.
In 2018’s God of War, Kratos is accompanied by his son, Atreus. He can be whiny and overly inquisitive at times, but he also comes in handy during battles. There are some parallels between the relationship of Kratos and Atreus and Joel and Ellie, as Kratos serves as Atreus’ mentor in the same way that Joel is Ellie’s mentor. However, God of War does implement its duo differently, and it results in a pretty satisfying gaming experience. Unlike in The Last of Us where players cannot control Ellie while they are in control of Joel, players can control Atreus and command him to let loose with his bow. By making Atreus more involved in combat, players appreciate him far more, and his absence is much more impactful.
A successful duo can also be found with Asobo Studio’s A Plague Tale: Innocence which features Amicia and her little brother, Hugo. Amicia, being the older sibling, is forced to take care of her brother and take on a parental role after the Inquisition pillages her village and forces them to flee. If Amicia leaves Hugo for too long, he cries, and that attracts unwanted attention, so she has to make sure he is always by her side as they seek safety. Like The Last of Us, their journey is filled with ups and downs, but their love helps them to overcome all obstacles.
Are More Duos on the Way?
Gaming has seen plenty of trends, but most trends have a limited lifespan. The duos have been around for a while, and there are games still innovating on the formula, so it may take some time before the trend fades away. Insomniac’s Spider-Man 2 trailer shows Peter Parker and Miles Morales, suggesting that the game will feature the two heroes working together quite closely. Gamers could be looking at another duo situation, with Peter acting as Miles’ mentor. If that is the case, hopefully, Insomniac can innovate on the formula and come up with new ways for gamers to experience duos.
In the sea of duos, there will still be plenty of solo heroes willing to venture alone. However, the duos of gaming have opened the avenue for heartwarming stories that explore the relationships between humans, and how love can bring out the best and worst in people. While gaming trends have the potential to produce stale games, when a formula is constantly innovated and improved upon, they can also breed quite interesting experiences