The Last of Us: Left Behind is the Best Post-Apocalyptic Romance in Games
Doomed from the start.
Naughty Dog has a knack for telling amazing video game stories (some would argue the greatest ever), which earned the studio a prestige HBO adaptation of their game The Last of Us. But some of the developer’s best games come after the big release, in the form of smaller expansions. Such is the case of The Last of Us: Left Behind, which provides the story for episode 7 of the series. In a franchise about the lengths people will go to for love at the end of the world, Left Behind is the most hopeful and heartbreaking love story in The Last of Us.
Released as a stand-alone expansion, Left Behind focuses on Ellie’s backstory and reveals the events leading directly to the start of The Last of Us. Cutting between moments of Ellie taking care of Joel after the Fall section of the main game and flashbacks to the days before the main game’s start. These flashbacks are the heart of what makes Left Behind so special.
The Last of Us: Left Behind is currently available to play in three ways. You can buy it as a stand-alone expansion on PS4 for $9.99. It is also bundled into The Last of Us Part 1 remake on PS5. Finally, if you are a subscriber to PS Plus Premium, it is included in the Classics Catalog.
It tells the story of the night Ellie learned she was immune to the cordyceps virus, during which she went out at night with a friend named Riley. Before we even begin the game, we know how this will end — badly. Riley will perish and Ellie will be bit, but as the saying goes, it's about the journey.
Riley breaks Ellie out to go explore an abandoned mall in the Boston QZ as a sort of apology. Both Ellie and Riley are part of a FEDRA boarding school, but Riley is planning to run away to join the Fireflies, and in the process abandoning her closest companion — Ellie.
In contrast to the base game, the story of Ellie and Riley is almost entirely devoid of combat. Instead, we see the two explore the old mall, doing things that kids would do before the virus broke out. They play video games, take pictures in a photo booth, and ride a carousel. In this moment the two experience a joy that they have both never known. All the while showing a closeness and bond that is bubbling with the potential of something more.
Ellie eventually convinces Riley to stay instead of leaving with the Fireflies and they share a kiss, a confession of love to each other. But as is inevitable a horde of infected attack the two. The inevitable conclusion arrives and the two sit together expecting the end.
Throughout The Last of Us, the narrative focuses on how characters will go to drastic means to protect what love they still have in the world. In many ways, this is seen as a destructive force of nature, one that leads to many tragedies and morally questionable actions on the part of Joel throughout the narrative. It is not a wholly optimistic or unvarnished perspective on love in a post-apocalypse.
Left Behind offers a counter to this, despite its similarly tragic ending. Riley and Ellie’s love story is about maintaining the connections that make life worth living no matter what. As Riley says in her final moments, “we fight for every second we get to spend with each other. Whether it is two minutes or two days. We don't give that up.” This dialogue is said while showing Ellie taking care of Joel in the present sections of Left Behind, showing how Ellie has taken Riley’s words to heart in her growing relationship with Joel. All of this shows Ellie’s perspective on what the world is like. Just like Joel, she has lost people she loved.
The story of Riley and Ellie takes roughly two hours to complete. In that time span, Naughty Dog shows yet another heart-breaking story of love. But while so much of The Last of Us is perpetually caught in these tragedies, Riley’s sentiments speak to a mentality of appreciating the time people have with each other, rather than feeling possessive and distraught at its loss (such as how Joel is for the majority the game). Even with a beautiful adaptation on screen, it is still worth playing The Last of Us: Left Behind as a companion to the story of Joel and Ellie.