Originally posted on September 25, 2020
As someone who is three months late to The Last of Us Part II, and can finally join in the discussion, I have to ask: So what’d I miss?
It has been months since the release of the game, and while original reviewers had to tiptoe around certain aspects of the game, this review thankfully does not. Which is important, as there is an aspect of the game I want to discuss. Although I do believe the surprises contained within the game should have been preserved for players heading in at launch. I’m expecting you to have played the game before reading this.
Be forewarned: This review contains broad spoilers.
When the credits started rolling on 2013’s The Last of Us, I was left to imagine what the future for Joel and Ellie would be. The game ends with a lie from Joel and Ellie accepting it. I had to wonder if Ellie would ever question what happened with the Fireflies. Maybe Joel and Ellie would just simply continue surviving together. Or they would live happily ever after despite being in a broken world of hunters and infected.
The Last of Us felt like a game which could exist on it’s own. Not the start of a franchise, but a new IP which came in, told its story and left on a high note. Which is why I was equally excited and cautiously optimistic when The Last of Us Part II was announced. Gone would be my theories, and instead a canon story would be told about what happened next.
The Last of Us Part II takes place five years after the events of the first game. Joel and Ellie are living at the Jackson settlement which they returned to at the end of the first game. Some familiar faces like Tommy and Maria are there, along with a few new supporting characters like Jesse and Dina. Jackson is a large settlement, thriving on the work the residents put in as well as the visitors who pass through. It’s quite a departure from the nomadic nature required of Ellie and Joel in the first game. They’ve settled here. Jackson is their home.
After a traumatic, life altering event unfolds, Ellie decides to leave Jackson behind to begin a vengeful quest in Seattle, hunting down those who wronged her. As she hunts down her enemies, Ellie discovers a war between local groups the WLF and the Scars.
Quick on Her Feet
Building on the already solid gameplay of The Last of Us, developer Naughty Dog further enhanced character movement, and combat for The Last of Us Part II. It’s really the amalgamation of gameplay innovation learned from their previous two Uncharted titles for the Playstation 4. Ellie is more nimble than Joel in Part II, and this allows her to move around the environment in stealthier ways. Ellie can go prone, allowing her to crawl across the ground. She can use grass as cover, and depending on the height you can either crawl or crouch through to get closer to your enemies. Ellie’s size also allows her to jump through cracks in walls, crawl under a tight window, and even hide under vehicles.
Stealth feels much more satisfying in Part II with these additions. Part II is closer to a true stealth game than The Last of Us was. The added options to movement and the environmental details allow for you to slowly work your way through a combat scenario without firing a single bullet. There was nothing better than methodically working my way through a combat encounter, slitting the throats of my enemies until there were none. Ellie’s knife adds to this, as the unlimited durability allows for her to slice through infected like clickers without the need of bullets.
“Part II is closer to a true stealth game than The Last of Us was.”
Combat, though, is still heavy and brutal. When stealth fails, and firepower is required, the game transitions well into an action game. Guns feel powerful and weighty, despite some of their early inaccuracy. When you’re about to be spotted and you pull up the revolver and fire a single shot into a WLF soldiers head, it’s violent and satisfying.
In one memorable encounter, I jumped a short wall to slit the throat of a guard behind a table. As soon as I did that, the remaining three patrols were suspicious, and started heading towards my location. Now surrounded, I rounded the edge of the desk and grabbed a woman to take as my hostage. I quickly turned around to fire a shot into the other guard, striking him. I fired once more, missed, and quickly shot again to put in the bullet needed to kill him. As I turned to shoot the final enemy to my right, he fired a shotgun right into my hostage, killing her. With her still in my arms, I shoot once right into his head to end the combat.
Ellie can also carry a melee weapon, and they vary in lethality. Each one can kill someone, but a wooden bat takes a few swings, while a machete will slice into someone much quicker. Part II adds a melee dodge mechanic to the game from Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. It deepens the combat, allowing you to dodge the melee attacks against you and counter with your own. You don’t have to eat damage if you can maneuver around the swing. The melee weapons are a good “get out of jail free” card, and a trusty tool in Ellie’s loadout.
Ellie keeps a similar loadout to Joel. She starts with a pistol and a hunting rifle, and along the way she finds more weapons to keep herself armed against threats, both human and infected. One of the more interesting new items is a trap mine. These mines can be placed around the map and when an enemy gets near, they set off and explode them into gibs. You can set traps that will pay off later as you sneak around to another house or yard and kill someone. The tools at your disposal allow the game to be fluid. Someone, like me, can be methodical and try to save guns as a last resort. Or you can go in Rambo style and gun down every single person who dares to get in your way.
Revenge is a Dish Best Served Twice
The Last of Us Part II describes itself as a revenge tale for Ellie, and while that is true, it’s also a story about another mystery woman, Abby.
Abby is integral to the story The Last of Us Part II is trying to tell. I won’t get into why she’s there or really who she is. But experiencing Abby’s story is important. If I’m sounding vague, it’s because despite all of the “controversy” (it’s in quotes for a reason) surrounding her, Abby is a great addition to the world of The Last of Us.
In the first game, it really felt like it was Joel and Ellie against the world. There were others who helped them along the way, proving the world wasn’t all bad, but we never got to really see the side of the hunters. They were a perpetual enemy, hunting us at every turn.
What Part II attempts, and succeeds, at showing is the world of The Last of Us is complicated. Not everyone is bad. Ellie can be the villain in someone else’s story. The world, down to its essentials, is a world of survivors. Everyone is just trying to survive. The actions they take in order to do so will define them. But seeing the world through Ellie, and then seeing it through Abby allows the game’s narrative to fully form.
“What Part II attempts, and succeeds, at showing is the world of The Last of Us is complicated.”
It isn’t to say all of Abby’s story is great though. Transitioning to her is slow. It almost feels like starting a new game.She needs to be introduced, and so do her own accompanying characters. Her story becomes more interesting about a third of the way through. But as it unfolds, we get to learn more about her, The WLF, and the Scars, all groups Ellie had come across herself. It’s something I didn’t expect going into the game, but I really loved it.
Welcome to the Gun Show
The core gameplay between Ellie and Abby is nearly identical. Abby also has the slicker maneuvers that Ellie gains in this sequel. But some aspects of Abby are more reminiscent of Joel. Instead of the new trap mines, Abby has classic pipe bombs. The stealth capability of Abby is also slightly more limited as she has to craft shivs to kill Clickers, which means that without careful resource management, some infected encounters might end in shots. Despite that, Abby is similar to Ellie and it won’t be hard to work around the slight differences in playstyle.
Abby’s gun loadout is slightly different from Ellie, which does change up strategy in fights. The most glaring example to me is the alternate pistol Abby finds. Ellie has a revolver which is the high damage alternative to the regular pistol. Abby on the other hand, finds a hunting pistol which is also high damage, but is single shot, and ammo can be crafted for it. Playing as Ellie, I would rely on my revolver for most of my fights. But with the limited ammo for the hunting pistol, I found myself saving the ammo and instead opting for the regular pistol for the average encounter.
“If I Ever Were to Lose You…”
The Last of Us Part II is a sprawling game. It not only expands on the groundwork The Last of Us put down, but it incorporates all the lessons and gameplay ideas both Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End and Uncharted: The Lost Legacy introduced. This is without a doubt the largest game, in scope and in practice, Naughty Dog has ever developed. Part II reaches over thirty hours of gameplay, and yet somehow it doesn’t feel overbearing. There were stretches where it felt like it could have been shortened, edited down to a smaller length. But overall, Part II manages to fill it’s time without feeling like it’s run out of ideas. It needs the time to tell it’s story effectively, and the moments found within are earned. It’s an intertwining narrative which felt like it could have ended a few times and still feel like a complete game.
Did The Last of Us need a sequel? No, it could have ended where it did. It seems many prefer it that way, letting themselves imagine their future for Joel and Ellie. Regardless, The Last of Us Part II exists, and continues the story of Joel and Ellie for us. It isn’t as special as that first game, but it’s still worth seeing. The expanded gameplay options, pushing the brutal combat and stealth to a new high. The varying perspectives on the world, giving the player an expanded look at who is out surviving through all of this with their own struggles. It’s there and it’s worth experiencing.