Warning: The following contains major narrative and gameplay spoilers for The Last of Us Part II.
The Last of Us Part II just recently hit its second anniversary, originally released on June 19th, 2020. This was one of the most anticipated games for PlayStation 4 and certainly one I couldn’t wait to get my hands on. Even with the controversy surrounding its release, I knew that Sony’s crown jewel development studio, Naughty Dog, had a masterpiece in its hands.
So, on June 19th after a long day at work, I played The Last of Us Part II for hours on end. It took me two days to complete the whole story, with my playthrough lasting two sessions at 11 hours each for a total playtime of 22 hours. I don’t usually play games for such long sprints. But I had been waiting seven years to play this one, and it delivered.
An Unfolding of Unfortunate Events
When The Last of Us Part II finally came out, I had never been more excited. Severe leaks and controversy surrounding the game’s story elements before its release didn’t stop me from playing it. It made me even more curious about how the studio would execute the narrative in the final game.
I had waited seven years to see how the sequel would resume the original storyline. The opening scene of Joel cleaning his guitar and telling his brother, Tommy, how he “saved” Ellie from the hospital and told her there was no cure was chilling. At this point, I was waiting to see if she eventually learned the truth. Sure enough, she did. Seeing her learn she would have died from the surgical procedure was devastating. It was also hard to watch Joel suffer the consequences of his past actions, but it was poignant.
Abby, the daughter of the doctor tasked with extracting the cure in the original title, brutally murders Joel in the first third of the game. When Joel kills the doctor in the first game, he sets events into motion for the second.
Ellie’s Journey And Her Search For Revenge
After Ellie witnessed Joel’s death, I knew it was only a matter of time before she would seek revenge. This made the narrative incredibly dark but also gave it strength. Even though her goal of finding and killing Abby was straightforward, there always seemed to be a recurring theme. What would revenge cost? Would Abby’s death make it easier for Ellie to move past Joel’s? She would put her friends, Dina and Jesse, in danger just to get what she wanted. However, I felt for her. Joel was her father figure and closest guardian, even if they had a damaged relationship. Her journey was all the more compelling for this.
The game is so emotionally powerful that I felt genuine anger at Joel’s death. Not knowing Abby’s background at the time made it easy to hate her. The violence throughout the game also amplifies the emotions I felt previously.
Ellie’s search for revenge was compelling for me because she continues the cycle of violence catalyzed by Joel’s death in the beginning. Ultimately, she doesn’t end up killing Abby, even after killing most of her friends. Many players were mad that she went to all the trouble to leave the job unfinished. But to me, it was a sign of her maturity. Killing the person responsible wasn’t going to help her in any way. The fact that she could move on, even at the cost of losing her girlfriend and perhaps her relationship with Tommy, was satisfying.
A Chance For Redemption – Abby’s Journey
When I found out I had to play as Abby for the second half of the game, I would be remiss if I didn’t say I was frustrated—having to play as the character who killed Joel? No way. At first, I couldn’t get behind it. Even after discovering that her dad was the one that Joel killed, I still didn’t know if I was ready to play a character who murdered him to get her revenge.
But then, as I kept playing as Abby, I could tell she felt shame even though she never stated it explicitly. It became clearer when her ex-boyfriend’s pregnant lover, Mel, grew more distant from her after Joel’s death. At one point, Mel insults her directly, and Abby doesn’t have anything to say back. Owen, her ex-boyfriend, wanted the same revenge but also hesitated due to the possibility of losing others.
I thought Naughty Dog had some nerve putting me in the shoes of the person that killed Joel. But as our journey together continued throughout the game’s second half, I came to care for her.
Feeling For Abby – A Shift In Perspective
My perspective on her continued shifting when she met Lev and Yara, who saved her life after two members of the Seraphites nearly killed her. Yara breaks her arm severely while saving Abby, who then decides to help Yara survive her injuries.
When we learn more about their story, Lev being an apostate for shaving his head seems odd at first. We receive context later when Abby and Lev are in a firefight; one of the Seraphites shouts to Lev, “It’s Lily!”
I thought this was incredibly poignant since we immediately get context for Lev’s story and why he’s on the run. Naughty Dog explained to us that Lev was transgender without any long-trodden exposition.
At this point, it felt like Abby was looking after Lev and Yara to redeem herself for Joel’s murder. Her actions were monstrous, but I liked that she struggled to come to grips with them. Deep down, she knew what she did was excessive, and it didn’t seem worth it.
Graphics, Sound, And Animation – Production In Every Inch
Naughty Dog is an expert in polishing and producing high-fidelity games, and The Last of Us Part II is no exception. Every inch of every environment is rich with detail and high-quality texture work. From the snowy mountains and beaten-down winter lodges in Jackson to the lush greenery and flooded ruins in Seattle, each setting in the game felt lived in, isolated, and overgrown. I would sometimes go to the upgrade tables just to look at the texture work on gun grips or to see the reflectiveness of the light upon the work lamp’s metal. I argue that while I played, I spent more time looking at the game than fighting.
The sound design is stellar as well. Everything sounds so realistic. I have no idea how they pulled it off. Ellie’s footsteps are silent but somehow noticeable as she transitions from walking to running on different types of terrain. Every shot from every gun packs a punch, and every knife swipe or lunge sounds painful.
When discussing sound design, the game also makes excellent use of silence. For example, when encountering stalkers, which use silence and darkness to their advantage, you must listen carefully. It’s chilling to hear their faint screeches as you sulk through spore-infested rooms.
This game also displays some of Naughty Dog’s best animation work to date. Every character’s facial animations display impressive emotional nuance. Seeing clickers, runners, and shamblers’ moves and attacks were frightening. UI animations are also fast and fluid, and never interrupt intense combat moments.
Gameplay – Subtle And Dramatic Improvements
The gameplay in The Last of Us Part II is quite similar to its predecessor. However, Naughty Dog improved upon the elements that made the first game great. The UI for weapon swapping didn’t change much from the first game. Neither did crafting, albeit both were cleaner and more fluid. Crafting animations were faster, and the look of the UI was even more minimalistic than the first. Other than that, both functions are identical to the first game.
Weapon variety was similar to the first game as well. Gunplay is also similar, but not quite the same. Some guns felt heavier, and aiming seemed more natural. But it was nice to see explosive arrows added into the fold. The crossbow and suppressed submachine gun were also welcome additions. Apart from that, other weapons remained the same.
Melee combat was the most visible and dramatic change. Both Ellie and Abby are agile and strong. However, Ellie has a knife, while Abby has her fists. Regardless of their different fighting styles, both felt incredibly visceral when fighting enemies. I felt like anger and desperation were involved in every killing moment, from the first hit to the final takedown. Being able to dodge also added layers to the melee combat, especially when low on health.
The Weight of Being Grounded
Another interesting new mechanic was the ability to stay prone to being spotted. Other additions, like the ability to jump and use a rope, were cool ideas, but they didn’t feel thoroughly thought-out. More maneuverability in environments that required the rope would’ve been nice. The same goes when jumping over more objects and spaces during combat. That being said, having those mechanics in the game revealed how they can improve in future games.
Lastly, exploring environments and hunting for collectibles never felt better. A new lighting engine and vastly improved visuals left me wanting to explore as much as possible, no matter how divergent it was to my actual destination. The devs at Naughty Dog are also masters at environmental story-telling. Their “show, don’t tell” approach shines when finding letters from corpses or artifacts left behind that tell their own stories. The same goes for run-down coffee shops, music stores, and apartment rooms left untouched after the pandemic started.
My Realized Admiration For The Last of Us Part II
I love The Last of Us Part II so much that I’ve completed three playthroughs. It didn’t click on the first run, though. It was a drag to play as two characters with similar move sets for extended durations.
The game’s pre-launch controversies didn’t exactly help either. The idea of playing as the woman who murdered my favorite protagonist (from any work of fiction) was revolting.
However, after playing the game a third time this last year on PlayStation 5, I realized that it is a true masterpiece. Even with its pacing issues, some awkward dialogue, and occasionally repetitive gameplay mechanics.
It conveys a visceral narrative about revenge and the cycle of violence. Ashley Johnson’s (Ellie) and Laura Bailey’s (Abby) performances breathe life into the story. Mechanically, it plays like a dream and feels faster and more fluid than the first game. Especially when engaging in combat. Aesthetically, the game is stunning.
That said, I see why others don’t like the game. The story doesn’t play it safe, and the main protagonists make decisions that may seem irrational to many. It’s also disconcerting to some that the game’s playtime is nearly twice as long as its predecessor. I recognize these flaws, but I loved what they did with the characters. A lot of time was spent with them, and it was necessary. Even though I spent about 10-11 hours with each character, I appreciated the fact that I got to know them and see their arcs come full circle.
Most of all, The Last of Us Part II evoked powerful feelings in me that no other game comes close to matching. I was mad but sad. Worried but hopeful. Surprised but content. I felt these emotions because of the powerful narrative, even if it wasn’t perfect. Its emotional impact will live on forever in my mind. Naughty Dog created a true one-of-a-kind sequel for the PS4 and for that, I am grateful.
So, what do you think of The Last of Us Part II? Let us know in the comments below. And as always, for more gaming retrospectives, news and updates, stay right here at Lords of Gaming.