The Last of Us Part 2 takes a lot of design cues and lessons from developer Naughty Dog’s recent games, including its direct predecessor and the Uncharted series. The final result is a linearly focused adventure, but one that often opens up into the studio’s biggest environments and levels. And at one point, it could have been an even greater departure from past games.Speaking to IGN ahead of The Last of Us Part 2’s release, director Neil Druckmann discussed how early ideas of the game had taken on an open-world design.

Warning: Major spoilers for The Last of Us Part 2 follow. Turn back if you haven’t finished!

“The game initially was this open world thing. And you spent all this time in Jackson,” Druckmann, who also spoke to us about The Last of Us Part 2’s ambitious story, explained.

Jackson, Wyoming is the first major location for the sequel, which spends most of its time in the Pacific Northwest. In Jackson, though, we see where Ellie and Joel have been living in the ensuing years since the end of The Last of Us. There’s a full community here, and in the final release of the sequel, we meet other citizens like Dina, Jesse, Maria, and Seth, while hearing stories about others like Eugene.

The more time players would have spent in Jackson also altered the way Abby, the main second playable protagonist, was introduced.

“Abby joined the community and you were playing as this new character until she betrayed Joel later on,” Druckmann explained. “And it just didn’t work because Joel dying is the inciting incident, and you want to get to the inciting incident as quickly as you can.”

And so Abby’s introduction and quick playable levels comes early on, before Joel’s death sends Ellie on her revenge quest to Seattle.

Druckmann explained how Abby’s role actually shrank from earlier iterations of the sequel’s story, but that ultimately the team settled on a playable portion that felt long enough to convey what was necessary.

“Abby was the concept that made us want to make this game about empathy, interactivity; knowing we could use Joel and Ellie to create that feeling right at the beginning,” he said. “Her role actually kept shrinking and shrinking until we thought this is the right amount for what we need you to feel about Abby.”

Stay tuned to IGN for more from Druckmann on the sequel, and if you haven’t already be sure to check out IGN’s The Last of Us Part 2 review. For more on the Naughty Dog sequel, read our dive into The Last of Us Part 2’s accessibility features, how much The Last of Us Part 2 sold in its debut weekend, and why the sequel probably won’t get DLC. And if you’re playing, be sure to check out IGN’s comprehensive The Last of Us Part 2 guide for help with collectibles, Trophies, and more.

Jonathon Dornbush is IGN’s Senior News Editor, Host of Podcast Beyond!, and can’t stop hearing Pearl Jam in his head now. Talk to him on Twitter @jmdornbush.

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