Developer – Naughty Dog
Publisher – Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platform(s) – PlayStation 4 (reviewed)
MSRP – $59.99
Release Date – June 19, 2020
Note: I will be going over Story Spoilers heavily in this review.
Over 7 years ago we were treated to what I and many others feel is one of the best games of the last decade. Naughty Dog released The Last of Us on June 14, 2013, to critical acclaim from fans and critics alike. Everybody had their certain opinions on elements such as gameplay but one thing that was unanimous from almost everyone who played the game is that the story was excellent. The dynamic of Joel and Ellie was done to perfection and made us feel for these characters through outstanding writing from Naughty Dog and performances from Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson.
I’ve waited wholeheartedly for The Last of Us Part II to come out ever since it’s reveal at PSX 2016. It took two delays to get here but The Last of Us Part II has finally released worldwide and the only way to describe the situation surrounding everything leading up to it’s release is ill-fated. In late April, several cutscenes and the basic outline of The Last of Us Part II were leaked. The discourse online can only be described as toxic, there were camps of people with different viewpoints on the entire dilemma and it made for a virulent situation.
With the brief synopsis out of the way, there was a big question that many had going into The Last of Us Part II. Can Naughty Dog outdo themselves and make a sequel that is equal or levels above its predecessor? Well, let’s talk about it and find out.
The story picks up 4 years after the original with Joel and Ellie living in a settlement in Jackson, Wyoming. During this time Ellie befriends Dina as well as her boyfriend, Jesse. After a recent breakup between Dina and Jesse, Ellie and Dina begin dating and that’s where we start the story of The Last of Us Part II. Ellie and Dina go out on an expedition around the same time Joel and his brother Tommy do. This leads us to the introduction of Abby who is saved by Joel and Tommy after a run-in with Infected. After Joel and Tommy save Abby, they take refuge at Abby’s shelter where Abby and her crew knock-out Tommy and shoot Joel in his leg with a shotgun, then afterward brutally beats Joel to death with a golf club. Ellie comes in towards the end of the beating and is held down and forced to watch as Joel takes the fatal golf club shot to the head. This leads Ellie on a mission to Seattle to seek revenge on those responsible for Joel’s death.
That’s a whole lot to take in, and all of this occurs in the first 2 hours of the game. After Tommy leaves for Seattle to get revenge for Joel as well, Ellie and Dina follow and proceed to spend three days in Seattle getting information to get them closer to Abby. During these three days, Ellie is encountered by large factions such as the Washington Liberation Front aka “Wolves” and Seraphites aka “Scars” who both are in a full-fledged war that comes to a head later in the story. Across these three days, Ellis gets her vengeance with the killing of many of Abby’s friends. This leads to Abby coming to Ellie’s refuge in a theater which leads to the 2nd section of the game.
I’m gonna keep this section of the game brief since it’s the section that I have mixed opinions on. We take control of Abby and get told her story and we find out that she’s the daughter of the Doctor that Joel killed in Ellie’s operating room at the end of The Last of Us. Abby goes on a variety of tasks that lead up to her convergence with Ellie. Ellie and Abby end up involved in a fight that results in Abby standing tall after smashing the face of a pregnant Dina into the floor and breaking the arm of Ellie then telling them to “never let her see them again”. Sometime after, Ellie goes to Santa Barbara with the intention of “finishing it” with Abby, and after their final confrontation, Ellie lets Abby go before she’s mere seconds away from drowning her to death. That’s pretty much the shortest possible way I can describe this story in detail.
The marketing for this game was designed to intentionally throw people off. In the trailers leading up to this game’s release, there were animations with Joel that were changed to make it seem like he’d be in the game more than he actually is. This is also a decision that has caused a bit of contention due to some arguing that the marketing was dishonest. This doesn’t bother me too much considering a lot of others do this as well such as Marvel. At the end of the day, Naughty Dog took the story in the direction they wanted and they’re definitely in their right to do so. They went in a bold direction with the story and it simply left me with conflicting feelings.
The majority of the supporting cast doesn’t hit the mark for me. The care for characters like Jessie, Owen, Mel, Manny, and Abby isn’t there because I just don’t care. I gave Abby a chance but at the end of the day, she’s just there as a character for me. Joel as a character in the first game isn’t a good person in the slightest, you could argue that he’s a monster. At the end of the day, the overall execution that led up to that point at the end of the first game was done to perfection. It’s not even like it couldn’t have been achieved with Abby but I feel it’s not executed in the best way. The entire time I was playing as Abby, I never felt any sort of connection. The many attempts in cutscenes to make me care about her just fell flat for me.
Right now, it may seem like I completely dislike everything about the story and the characters but that’s not true in the slightest. Take Dina for example, I didn’t get emotionally attached to Dina but at the same time, I didn’t dislike her either, Same goes for Lev & Yara. These characters were likable and had a couple of great scenes with Abby or Ellie, specifically the guitar moment at the music shop in Seattle. There are certain moments in The Last of Us Part II that gets my adrenaline kicking such as the basement struggle in the “WLF” hospital against The Rat King, the biggest form of Infected we’ve seen in the series. There’s also the enormous battle between the Wolves and Scars on the Haven towards the end of Abby’s section of the game. The game has its moments and I wasn’t irked by everything, but there were certain elements that I couldn’t get behind.
The Last of Us Part II has flashbacks between both Ellie and Abby. While I didn’t necessarily care for the Abby flashbacks, the Ellie flashbacks got to me in a good way. These flashbacks between Ellie and Joel are some of the best parts of the game. Those flashback scenes between Joel and Ellie were one of the few times in the game where I felt true emotion because it’s with characters I care about immensely. It’s insane when you look at those flashbacks between Joel and Ellie and then look at the story of the rest of the game, it’s completely night and day in terms of what got emotion out of me. At the same time, the flashbacks, in general, are a big component of this game’s pacing issues. There are so many of these flashbacks that it feels like it keeps the story at a halt just as it feels like it’s about to get going at a steady pace. As I said before, Naughty Dog is in their full right to go with the story they wanted to tell, but to me, the execution and pacing aren’t done coherently.
In a way, I kind of appreciate that Naughty Dog took the story in such a bold direction. They could’ve easily made a sequel that focused on Joel & Ellie and went on their way, but it’s clear they didn’t want to take that approach. Naughty Dog knew for a long time that the game would be divisive among everyone, it’s not meant to be a story that’s supposed to be enjoyed by the vast majority. I don’t know what incited this approach but one thing you can’t call Naughty Dog for this direction is lazy. You can call the narrative bad or you can call it masterful, that’s completely up to personal preference. The one thing I think almost everyone can agree on with the discussion of this game is that Naughty Dog didn’t go into this game with a lethargic attitude.
It’s a bit upsetting in a way, many people are just hating on the story of The Last of Us Part II just for the sake of it who could care less about the series as a whole. At the same time, there are many actual fans of the original including myself who were looking forward to this game and feel The Last of Us Part II has legitimate criticisms that should be discussed. I honestly feel like legitimate criticism of this game is getting drowned out by those who have made a lot of dreadful comments that aren’t acceptable. I mentioned earlier that the entire discourse around this game has been nothing but toxic and I wish that wasn’t the case. You have people taking sides on their opinions of the game, Social Media has become a minefield on anything The Last of Us Part II. Laura Bailey, the actress for Abby has gotten harassment and death threats from assholes who don’t know how to separate fiction from real-life and are just being straight-up horrible people. I know people are just so sick of talking about this game because no matter what sensible opinion they give they’ll be crucified for it, at this point, I can’t blame them.
I can’t hide my extreme indifference towards the direction The Last of Us has gone in from a narrative perspective. I was looking forward to this game for many reasons, most specifically the story considering how excellent the story of the original was, and in the end, It didn’t live up to the expectations I had expected. The narrative is a lot beefier than its predecessor, there’s so much to digest from start to finish. A story like this attempts to say so much, but at the end of my playthrough, it tried to say so much that it ended up a detriment to the overall narrative experience. I don’t hate the story but I don’t love either, I simply have mixed feelings.
You probably forgot that we’re talking about a video game since I’ve gone over just the story so far, now let’s go over other aspects such as the gameplay. The gameplay in Part II absolutely fantastic and is probably my favorite aspect of the game. The gameplay is similar to the first game but that doesn’t mean they haven’t expanded on it substantially.
Since you play as both Abby and Ellie, they both have different weapons, upgrades, and skillsets. Ellie is the quicker and more agile of the two. The kind of weapons Ellie uses is similar to Joel’s in the first game. Ellie uses things like a Shotgun, Bow, Hunting Rifle, Revolver, Molotov’s, and Smoke bombs in her utility set. Abby has more strength and durability to her and has her own unique set of weapons and upgrades. Abby uses weapons such as a Crossbow, Flamethrower, Semi-Automatic Rifle, Hunting Pistol, Shivs, and Pipe Bombs in her utility set.
The dynamic of Ellie and Abby having two different skillsets and weapons in their arsenal is something I’m a big fan of. I was a little annoyed at first that I had to start over as Abby with none of my original weapons and upgrades, but I changed my tune on that real quick when I realized how much different of a playstyle Abby has. The gameplay dynamic is one of the few things I like about having Abby as a new character.
Naughty Dog has added many new features in the weapon system like silencers on your pistols and Incendiary bullets and arrows that gives you the choice of however you want to approach any given situation, stealthy or guns blazing.
Infected is about the same as the original with some new types added. There are the Runners, Stalkers, Clickers (can’t see), Bloaters (throws toxin at the player), Shamblers (releases acid from its body), and The Rat King (a fungus monster made up of Clickers and Stalkers). Regular human enemies have been revised a bit and move around more realistically. Some enemy AI even have dogs on their side that are a pain to deal with since they can track your scent. Besides one scripted moment in the game, I’m pretty sure you can go through an entire playthrough without killing any dogs.
The gameplay as a whole is just a lot more smooth than it was in the original, which is to be expected but I still have to sing its praises. You can squeeze through cracks in the walls to escape from a bad situation. They’ve also taken a page out of Uncharted’s books with tall grass to use as cover when there’s no car or wall immediately nearby.
It’s a minor thing as well, but the ability to break glass to help you get through certain areas and attain items is one of the most satisfying feelings in the entire game, If I saw glass, I broke it. If it wasn’t clear already, the gameplay is by far my favorite aspect of The Last of Us Part II because it’s so damn fun and there’s a lot of room for improvisation.
In terms of technical performance in The Last of Us Part II, it’s absolutely top class and I know it goes without saying but this game is absolutely gorgeous. In terms of graphics, Naughty Dog is right at the top of the list in the video game industry with Rockstar Games, Sony Santa Monica, and so many more. I never had a single technical mishap in my playthrough besides some occasional texture pop-ins. Audio design is excellent, it’s especially noticeable when you are upgrading your weapons at a workbench. I can’t tell you enough how outstanding the technical aspects of this game are. Everyone at Naughty Dog should be extremely proud of what they accomplished with this game from a technical standpoint, I just wish it didn’t make my PS4 sound like a jet engine, but that’ll probably be fixed in the next generation of consoles in a few months.
I can’t forget the amazing awareness that went into the accessibility options of this game. Naughty Dog wants their titles to be able to be experienced by as many people as possible. They succeeded on that front when it comes to The Last of Us Part II because I’ve never been in such awe as I scrolled through all the options in a single menu. I can’t commend them enough on this aspect, and I think they set a blueprint for most titles (especially AAA) going forward.
I may have been critical over certain characters and the direction they’ve gone in with them, but I can’t deny the performances the actors gave. Troy Baker, Ashley Johnson, and Jeffrey Pierce make their returns in Part II and are as excellent as they were in the original. We’ve also got some new additions to The Last of Us cast like Laura Bailey, Stephen Chang, Shannon Woodward, and Patrick Fugit who give great performances even though I didn’t like some of their characters. The casting feels near perfect and is something I can appreciate because I can hear the talent and passion in their voices all across the board.
I’ve pretty much gone over everything I wanted to regarding The Last of Us Part II. My feelings are pretty simple, I enjoyed everything about Part II besides the one thing that made the first game so perfect, the story. I desperately tried to avoid the leaks back in April, but I eventually got spoiled. Whatever my thoughts may have been on the leaked content, I feel it would be completely unfair of me to judge a game I’ve been looking forward to for a long time based on some leaked footage. With the context I was given, I felt completely mixed on the narrative as a whole. I have no idea what direction Naughty Dog is going to go in for its next Last of Us title because I have no doubt they’ll make a Part III, we’ll just have to wait and see.
The Last of Us Part II is a technical masterpiece with exhilarating gameplay, great performances, and a story that left me with such mixed feelings. The story of Part II is missing the execution and magic that made the original so beloved by many. This isn’t coming from someone who is hating on the game for the sake of it, I genuinely care about this franchise and wanted a narrative that lived up to its predecessor. At the end of the day, the one thing that made the original so special is the one thing that brings down its sequel a bit to me. I don’t feel this is a bad game, I don’t feel this is a fantastic game, it’s a really good game that isn’t as tremendous as the original.