This review Includes significant spoilers for The Last of Us Part II.
Yes, Ellie replenishes her former traveling companion as the playable celebrity of Naughty Dog’s much-anticipated sequel. In reality, we don’t spend a whole lot of time together with Joel at all. But beneath the surface, this is actually a narrative about his failure, and how the catastrophic rippling of the failure led to a heap of unnecessary deaths and damaged lives.
When the only thing that you want to know is whether or not The Final of Us Part II is successful as a piece of artwork, as a invention that elicits a strong emotional reaction, then the solution is yes. Absolutely. I was horrified and disgusted for much of my 30-odd hours playing. More than once, I just didn’t need to keep playing.
That is not a knock on the game, either. It is very good at producing an impact. However, to paraphrase an old expression, the chittering mushroom zombie that wants to end you is in the details.
A tale of two protagonists.
You only spend about half the game playing Ellie. The remainder of the moment, you are walking (and running and creeping) in the shoes of a total newcomer, Abby. We do not know much about Abby at first. She’s impressively ripped. She is clearly a born survivor. She’s also responsible for brutally killing Joel at the opening hours of this story. And therefore, Abby is originally cast as a villain. She is the motivation for Ellie’s vengeance quest.
It is not that simple, however. Abby had her own, deeply personal reasons for doing exactly what she did. We know as much when, halfway through the game, a tricky U-turn winds back the clock full days and we are suddenly in control of the girl Ellie was trying to kill. It feels like the start of a new game, and in many ways it’s.
It’s here we get to see the other side of Abby, the person who runs reliably in a local militia, with friends and lovers and a rich internal life of her own. We come to understand that what felt in those early hours such as a brutal murder was really a righteous act of private release. We sympathize with Abby, and during her activities are made to comprehend that she is not actually a bad man.
Through the game, the two women are continuously haunted by memories of the past. The Last of Us Part II is riddled with prolonged flashback sequences that reveal more about what every one of these has been through, and how choices made by them and others — most significantly, Joel — formed their own lives.
This is really a story about Joel’s collapse, and the catastrophic rippling of the failure.
It’s a wonderful idea in theory, allowing us reside in each character’s ago through what was frequently a happier time in their own lives. We’re intended to connect with their humankind in these moments, and sometimes it functions as planned. But many of the flashbacks stretch for too long, killing the momentum of the present-day plot and confusing a narrative arc that’s already constructed around multiple perspectives.
Part of the problem, also, is that the ambiguity around Joel and his relationship with Ellie, and also the way it undermines our understanding of her as a character. Back in the end of the first game, Joel told Ellie he had saved her from making what he described as an unnecessary sacrifice. She thought she was the only one having a natural resistance to a world-ending pandemic, and Joel told her . There were others, he said, and deadly attempts to generate a vaccine had failed before. So when he killed an occupied hospital filled with people to rescue , it was to stop her meaningless departure.
That was a lie. Ellie is the only one with resistance so far as we’ve ever been told. It’s treated as this large mystery until the late stages of the game, presumably to put a finer point on the magnitude of Joel’s collapse. All it actually does, however, is muddy our understanding of how Ellie’s inner truth.
That lie was only a symptom. Joel lost the chance to elevate his flesh-and-blood child at the dawn of the apocalyptic epidemic, when a violent act perpetrated by a scared and confused human left his daughter dead. He observed in Ellie, perhaps subconsciously, a second chance. And he fucked it up. He was selfish. He took resides in the procedure.
Ellie’s awareness of the lie, or absence thereof, is crucial to knowing her development as a character. With or without the lie, Joel was a father figure . She picked up his fierce sense of devotion, but also his lack of trust from the surrounding world.
The consequences that trauma left were subsequently handed down to Ellie. It shaped her to the person we meet today. And honestly, that person is not so great. But who’s Ellie with no Joel? The sins of the father are passed to the child. Keeping the destiny of Joel’s lie a secret from us as we occupy Ellie’s perspective signifies the why?! Of her activities remains elusive and unclear until the end.
And then what of Abby? She had been unwillingly pulled into Joel’s destructive orbit and negatively influenced by that closeness. Maybe. But she’s not like Ellie. As we come to understand her , Abby almost looks like somebody who could break out of that cycle. The collision between both of these personalities is that which defines this story, even if the margins that flesh out them are not always filled in as clearly as they are.
In every single way, it offers thoughtful and satisfyingly complex expansions of the ideas laid out in the preceding game. It’s a larger universe, and one brimming with more detail. But it’s also a much greater game at nearly every turn.
The foundation is still a mix of stealthy creeping combined with out loud, gruesome battle. The world is a deadly place for Ellie and Abby equally, and the more you are able to remain unseen, the better your odds for success. That survival also depends once more on tools: You want bullets to your firearms, rags and alcohol to your first aid kits, and all manner of other detritus which can be repurposed into useful tools. Eventually, if you pick the right upgrades, you may even craft your personal bullets and other resources of self-defense.
The drama spaces where your creeping and combat unfold are also much larger than they were, giving you a broader array of strategic choices. The Last of Us and its sequel equally adopt the notion of turning gameplay challenges into a sort of make-your-own-solution sandbox. You’ve got a room to explore, some number of foes populating it, and whatever resources you’ve accumulated or crafted.
The innovative ways you play within that frame is your game. By making the spaces larger and injecting both them and the enemy lineup with more number — there are now dogs that can sniff out you and tank-like mushroom zombies that encircle poison gas, among other threats — The Last of Us Part II instantly offers richer gameplay.
There is also an attention to detail that confidently crosses all boundaries to make the overall experience more unsettling. The human foes you choose, and there are many, aren’t only nameless mobs. Should you kill a individual or perhaps a dog who is part of a larger group, you are going to notice a grief-stricken voice shout out their name and see your foes adopt a more aggressive stance; it’s similar to Ellie has the market cornered on revenge, after all.
Your human anatomy and mushroom zombie enemies both will also be capable of coordinated behavior, like if two people push from separate directions to flank you or if mushroom zombies distribute and regroup because you press an assault. Having that added pressure in combat has the impact of producing a retreat, always a feasible option at The Last of Us, more appealing. Part II seems like a more challenging game, but importantly, it’s in ways that press you to embrace the variety inherent in each experience’s sandbox.
Ellie and Abby are both competent when it is time to throw down, but they perform a little differently. She can dodge around lunges effortlessly and counter tops with quick slashes.
She has also got combat training, and is generally more effective against the bigger, tougher foes. Stealth is more of a challenge for Abby, especially against specific enemies. The dreaded Clicker mushroom zombies, which assault with a one-hit kill, can be easily discharged by Ellie when she is in stealth. For Abby, but you need to unlock a certain upgrade and have the tools available to make a limited-use shiv.
The two characters are alike enough that it is not a total shock when you are suddenly forced to start the game over as Abby. However they do perform differently, and Naughty Dog smartly built their separate-but-parallel journeys to appeal to, and test, their respective strengths and weaknesses.
In addition to all that, The Final of Us Part II is only a stunningly amazing game. From the flooded streets of downtown Seattle to the lush, overgrown greenery of woods which have encroached upon culture, you will frequently find yourself stopping to only stare at the surrounding world.
The small details matter as much. You’ll stumble across entire stories written to the debris of buildings that are crumbling. Scattered notes that you pick up can fill in the blanks to explain why you discovered a decaying skeleton clutching a weapon at a random corner. The Last of Us did so nicely, but Part II requires it further, thanks in big part to your widening knowledge of the world and the individuals living inside.
Also read: Athletes Caught Cheating Live On TV
I only wish Naughty Dog had done more to start things up. There is one early part of the game that drops Ellie and her travel companion Dina into a big area with an open-ended pair of objectives. It is a cool glimpse of the way in which a third Last of Us game may evolve, but nothing that comes after actually matches it. It is a nifty stretch of game, but one that, concerning pacing, feels strangely out of sync with everything that comes after it.
That is really very manageable, as a result of a wide range of difficulty settings which let you tweak not merely overall strength, but also the particular degree of challenge tied to battle, stealth, resource gathering, and more.
No, the true wall that many players will need to climb here’s figuring out how to enjoy an adventure that is miserable, oppressive, and gratuitously unkind by design. It is downright uncomfortable.
Even if you prefer stealth, there is still a story that brings out the worst sides of the humanity, putting you in situations in which you’ll want to kill simply to avoid a Game Over screen. It is never pleasant. In fact, The Final of Us Part II goes out of its way to make it unpleasant. Every piece of a blade across somebody’s neck or pained whimper out of a dying puppy haunts you. It gets under your skin and visions of it linger after you are done playing.
I never did completely scale that wall and land in a location where Ellie and Abby’s pain-filled journeys beckoned me to play more. Extended fractures were necessary after each semester, just so I could recharge. I am also personally disappointed in Naughty Dog’s treatment of Ellie, and also the option to make her travel, and actually her development as a individual, more about Joel’s failure than it’s about her capacity to grow outside his toxic influence. Maybe it’s because, deep down, I only want to see a better vision with this digital world than the misery-filled one we’re all living in now.
In the long run, the gloomy world view is a creative option that Naughty Dog made. I may not agree, and living through those 30 hours was painful and hard than I might have imagined. But for all its concrete flaws and generally pessimistic view of the human condition, The Last of Us Part II is an artistic triumph with the power to move those people who have the stomach to consume it.