So, you’ve been watching The Last of Us on HBO and are thinking about getting into the larger franchise? While it does seem pretty straightforward, there’s a bit of external media worth checking out to get the full sense of the series. Here’s a rundown on how to get the full Last of Us experience.
The Last of Us: American Dreams
Before the first The Last of Us game launched in 2013, there was a series of prequel comics called American Dreams published that same year. The four-issue book follows Ellie before she met Joel and focuses on her relationship with Riley, a friend you’ve heard passing mention of in the first episode of the HBO show. The comic doesn’t quite wrap up their story, as Riley will make another appearance in the first game’s Left Behind DLC, but it is a good tone setter for Ellie’s view of the series’ world. It’s not required reading, but it’s worth your time.
What’s the best way to play the first The Last of Us?
There are several ways to play the original game, including some cheaper ways your wallet might find preferable. The best version of the first game is last year’s The Last of Us Part I PlayStation 5 remake. It’s the prettiest version, it fixes some gameplay problems to make combat more in line with The Last of Us Part II, and it comes bundled with the most content (with one glaring exception being its lack of the original game’s multiplayer mode). However, it is $70, requires a PS5 you might not have, and there are cheaper ways to play the game that are almost as good.
The most readily available version of the first The Last of Us game is the PlayStation 4 port called The Last of Us Remastered. It’s only $20 on the PlayStation Store, pre-owned copies can likely be found for a little bit cheaper, and it includes the much-beloved multiplayer mode called Factions, which you won’t find on the PS5 remake. The game is also available as part of the PlayStation Plus Premium membership, which will cost you $15 a month. So if you want to save a couple bucks while not owning the game itself, that’s another route to go.
If you somehow still have a PlayStation 3 sitting around in 2023, the original PS3 version is also an option. The simplest means would be to find a disc copy online, as trying to buy anything on the PS3 store is a pain as Sony has made it near impossible to simply make a transaction on the thing. Now, the only way to buy games and content through the PS3’s digital store is through physical gift cards, as you can no longer use your credit card to buy directly. It’s an option, but it’s a hassle. By the way, while the RPCS3 PS3 emulator for Windows is excellent, it doesn’t yet run The Last of Us.
The Left Behind DLC
After you’ve played the original game, the next step is to play its DLC, Left Behind. The roughly three-hour experience focuses entirely on Ellie, and includes a prequel story about her and Riley. While those segments take place before the main game, it’s meant to be played after you’ve seen credits on Joel and Ellie’s journey. So as tempting as it might be to see more about where Ellie came from, Left Behind isn’t structured to be played first.
The DLC comes packaged in with both The Last of Us Part I and The Last of Us Remastered, but you can also purchase it as a standalone package on PS3 and PS4 (the latter is playable on PS5) for $10.
The Last of Us Part II
After you’ve seen Joel and Ellie’s story all the way through, it’s time to jump into the sequel. As of this writing, The Last of Us Part II has only been released once, on the PS4. However, if you run it on PS5, you’ll be able to play it at 60 frames per second, and the framerate boost does a lot to make its extensive combat update really shine. But either way, this is the last stop for the mainline story of The Last of Us, and may stay that way if Naughty Dog decides not to make a third game. It doesn’t end on a definitive note, so there is hypothetically more story to tell, but it does end on a thoughtful one that would be a fine enough place to leave the story.
Extracurricular The Last of Us content
The Last of Us: Grounded
If you’re at all interested in the making of the original game, there’s a pretty great documentary called The Last of Us: Grounded that comes bundled with the remaster and remake but is also readily available on streaming platforms like YouTube. It’s a bit of a puff piece, but it does have a lot of fascinating behind-the-scenes footage and segments of Naughty Dog devs talking about the conception and development of the first game. If you like The Last of Us, it’s worth carving out the almost 90 minutes to watch Grounded.
The Official The Last of Us Podcast
For those that prefer their behind-the-scenes look to be in audio form, there’s an official podcast on the development of both games available on most platforms. The Official The Last of Us Podcast is hosted by Christian Spicer and features interviews with members of the development team and actors like Ashley Johnson and Troy Baker.
The Last of Us: One Night Live
Back when The Last of Us: Remastered launched in 2014, Naughty Dog set up a stage event called The Last of Us: One Night Live where the game actors recreated scenes on stage, including Baker as Joel, Johnson as Ellie, Merle Dandridge as Marlene, and the late Annie Wersching as Tess. The event includes a few select scenes, so it’s not the full game’s story played out for you on stage, but it is a neat thing to see all these actors performing these scenes without it being covered in the game’s animation. It’s streaming for free on YouTube.
Ongoing/upcoming The Last of Us content
HBO’s The Last of Us Podcast
Troy Baker is currently hosting a weekly podcast that recaps new episodes of HBO’s The Last of Us. It’s rolling out after episodes air, so in most cases (with the exception of Episode 5, which is airing early) new episodes will go up on Sundays after the episode is made available on HBO Max.
The Last of Us: Escape the Dark
Themeborne, a tabletop studio based in the UK, is working on a The Last of Us-themed tabletop game called The Last of Us: Escape the Dark. The game is currently projected to release for Kickstarter backers in December of this year and focuses on survivors in the series’ post-apocalyptic universe.
The Last of Us: The Board Game
Escape the Dark isn’t the only tabletop experience set in The Last of Us’ universe in the works, as CMON announced in 2020 it was working on a board game of its own. Not much is known about The Last of Us: The Board Game beyond its initial announcement.
The upcoming multiplayer game
During The Last of Us Part II’s development, Naughty Dog made the decision to separate the game’s story from its planned multiplayer mode. Now we’re coming up on three years since the sequel launched, and we still don’t have the multiplayer. That’s because Naughty Dog ended up making it into its own game. It’s teased it a few times in the years since and plans to show more this year.
In the ten years since the original game came out, The Last of Us has gone from one tight single player game to a big franchise. While the games themselves tell a fairly singular, concise story, the brand has become fairly expansive. So even if you liked the show but have trouble with video games, things like the tabletop games and American Dreams are out there for those who are more comfortable with passive media like the HBO show. And hey, if you want to see the entirety of the games but aren’t great at playing them, there are always Let’s Plays.