Five years later…
After a deadly journey across post-pandemic USA, Ellie and Joel settle down in Wyoming. Living in a thriving community gives them stability, despite the threat of the Infected and desperate survivors. When a violent event disrupts the peace, Ellie begins a relentless journey for justice. Hunting those responsible, she’s confronted by devastating physical and emotional repercussions of her actions.
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Reviewed on: PS4 (Pro unit)
Cast: Ashley Johnson, Troy Baker, Laura Bailey, Shannon Woodward, Ashly Burch, Ian Alexander, Victoria Grace, Emily Swallow, Merle Dandridge, Reuben Langdon, Chase Austin, Chelsea Tavares, Alejandro Edda, Patrick Fugit, Robert Clotworthy, Ashley Scott, Jeffery Pierce, Derek Phillips
Developer: Naughty Dog
Director: Neil Druckmann
Game Directors: Anthony Newman, Kurt Margenau
Narrative Lead: Halley Gross
Writers: Neil Druckmann, Halley Gross, Josh Scherr, Ryan James
The journey The Last of Us Part II takes you on is like nothing you’ve ever played before. Instead of opting for a predictable, unnecessary sequel, developer Naughty Dog and writer/director Neil Druckmann chose to tell a brave story that could only have been told in a video game. It’s brutal, bleak, heartbreaking and at times I straight up didn’t want to play anymore, but the journey is worth pushing through. Ultimately The Last of Us Part II will be remembered as a narrative-pushing moment for the industry as a whole, even if it’s hit with widely mixed reactions at launch.
The following review contains ZERO SPOILERS for The Last of Us Part II.
It’s five years after the events of the first game and Ellie is now 19 years old and a strong and integral member of the community in Jackson. Joel is older, softer and has settled into his paternal role over the years. If you wanted to play The Last of Us Part II to simply find out what happened directly after the credits rolled in the first game, there you go. There were five years of peace. But peace always ends eventually.
After a shocking event transpires early in the game Ellie is sent on a revenge mission to Seattle. As she searches for answers she’ll face infected and human enemies from two different factions. The WLF (Washington Liberation Front), a military group which use heavy weaponry and also dogs to track Ellie’s scent. The Seraphites, a cult-group who use bow’s for the most part and are harder to track.
Just like the first game, there’s limited ammo and resources to find but Ellie is more agile and now able to both jump and go prone. In tall grass going prone means being nearly invisible and for nearly every encounter there’s a way to sneak past all enemies without fighting at all. It’s when you participate in shootouts that the game’s combat feels less engaging or even the correct way to play. The Last of Us Part II rewards stealth and often a shoot-out — especially if you’re playing on a higher difficulty — will end in a fast death.
Stealth is the most satisfying way to play The Last of Us Part II and like the first game, you can use a combination of planting traps and wait for enemies to walk into your path, or use rocks and bricks to attract them to certain locations. You also have the option of crafting a silencer for your pistol that will break after a couple of shots that means every one of your bullets needs to be well-placed.
Overall the combat in the sequel has been refined. Even the melee combat now feels more visceral and a good option.
Outside of experiencing cut-scenes you’ll spend the game exploring many buildings as you scavenge crafting materials, bullets and collectibles. For the most part, I enjoyed scrounging around to find as many things as I could, but the start-stop of searching sections in levels that are followed by obvious combat sections can run repetitive, and kill the momentum.
In the second half of the game, this was most evident. It wasn’t that I was finding the combat less-enjoyable because some of my favourite chapters and combat experiences came in the game’s second half, but several encounters felt unnecessary and just slowed the game down for the sake of having more ‘game.’
The Last of Us Part II is also a rather long game. It took me around 26 hours to beat the game, but you could get it under 20 without any exploring. Either way, it’s way longer than it needs to be and cutting back some of the encounters in the second half of the game would have helped the pacing and playtime tremendously.
We may be months away from the next-generation still but The Last of Us Part II delivers a presentation and experience that feels like next-gen. I have no idea how Naughty Dog made such a huge and highly detailed game. From character models to the environments and the amount of junk you’ll find thrown around Seattle. It’s insane how realised the world of The Last of Us Part II is, especially if you’re playing on a PS4 Pro with HDR. Yet despite how detailed the game is, it somehow only takes a second to load back into the game after a death. It’s kinda insane how optimized this is for the PS4.
The Last of Us Part II features a much more diverse and interesting cast of characters than the first game. Ellie’s romance with Dina is a strong part of the story and the fact a queer love story is front and centre in one of the year’s biggest games shouldn’t be underappreciated.
The story is super-bleak and at times the game simply isn’t fun. Not for gameplay reasons, but because the story heads in such harsh directions it made me genuinely want to stop playing. This isn’t a criticism. Some of my favourite movies of the past couple of years like Hereditary, for example, have also made me want to switch off.
By the time the credits roll you’ve been through a lot. And much like the first game, there’s no choice in the decisions these characters make. You have no agency here, you’re simply along for the ride as the player.