Seven years ago, Sony and developer Naughty Dog released a brand-new IP on PlayStation 3 called The Last of Us. That game turned out to be one of the best games of all time especially from a narrative perspective. The tale of Joel and Ellie traveling across a post-apocalyptic America was memorable for many reasons and the way it ended was one of them. Many people felt like the game didn’t need a sequel and I admit I too would’ve been fine if we never saw one even if I wanted to see more from Joel and Ellie. Naughty Dog thought about it and decided that there was more to say in this world though and so almost exactly seven years after the first game The Last of Us Part II is now out on PlayStation 4. Does this sequel live up to the first game and was it being made worth it?
Let me start this review by saying that I will not spoil any major points of this game. I feel like so much of this game is best experienced if you go in knowing as little as possible. The game has gotten some backlash online because some of the marketing wasn’t what it seemed and I actually am glad for that now that I’ve played it. Because Naughty Dog marketed it the way they did it meant that I was surprised over and over during my playthrough and constantly had theories on what would happen next in the story.
When I think about the story in this game a quote from Mark Twain comes to mind: “Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” This quote to me perfectly represents what this game is about. Revenge and hate are big themes in The Last of Us Part II and it really does a masterful job of showing what can happen to someone when they are so obsessed with those things. The Last of Us Part II picks up a few years after the first one ends. Joel and Ellie are now living in a community in Jackson, Wyoming where Joel’s brother Tommy and his wife were from in the first game. However, things are a little rocky between Joel and Ellie and you’ll steadily find out why over the course of the game. Ellie has also made several new friends here with one being a girl named Dina, who Ellie has an attraction towards, and another being an Asian male named Jesse who recently was involved with Dina until they broke up.
Things seem to be going well for awhile until something tragic occurs which hits Ellie really hard and sets her off to Seattle determined to get revenge. I won’t go into many more specifics from here as so much of it would be tread into spoiler territory but suffice to say the game tells another captivating, emotional, and heartbreaking tale that is worth seeing through to the end. I wasn’t sure how to feel towards certain characters several times throughout the story but by the end I fully understood why things were done the way they were and what each character’s motivations were. I didn’t have to agree with them but I understood them and that says a lot about the story that Neil Druckmann and Halley Gross put together here.
Gameplay in The Last of Us Part II will still be familiar to anyone who played the first game but it has seen some big improvements as well and overall it feels much more responsive. The enemies in the game once again include both human enemies and the infected enemies that you’ll remember from the first game. There are two different human enemy factions in Seattle with one being the WLF (Washington Liberation Force) and the other being a primitive cult known as the Seraphites or Scars as they are also referred to as. I enjoyed fighting both of these but the Scars to me were much scarier and tense to battle against. This is because they communicate by whistling and use weapons such as bows and melee weapons to get the job done. I should also mention that the WLF use dogs in this game which can smell you out if they get too close to your trail. You don’t have to kill them and could instead just try to sneak by.
Pretty much all of the infected classes return too. There are the normal infected who will see you if you get too close, stalkers who like to hide and surprise attack you, clickers who are blind but can hear you much better, and bloaters who are more of a heavy tank class like enemy. There are also a couple of new class types that I won’t spoil but both were really fun (and scary) to fight against. Playing the game I felt like it took a lot of inspiration for Metal Gear Solid V especially. Ellie is smaller and much more agile than Joel was and so you have new options available to you. You can now do a dodge move to elude enemy attacks and follow up with a quick counter. You also have a dedicated jump button although this is used more for traversal than combat. You can go prone now letting you crawl under beds, vehicles, and more to hide from enemies but be warned as they too will look under things if they are searching for you.
All of these things can be used in numerous ways during combat and it made all of the encounters really fun for me to play through. I could run up to an enemy and smash his head with a baseball bat, dodge out of the way of a bullet, and fall backwards on the ground and blast an enemy’s legs off with my shotgun. You can play stealthy if you want or use every tool at your disposal and lay waste to your foes. It just really makes it so no one will necessarily play through these encounters the same way. You get several different kinds of guns in the game to use including pistols, shotguns, rifles, a bow and arrow and more. All of them can be upgraded at workbenches with parts that you find around the environments. Upgrades can include things like scopes, bigger magazines, faster reloads and more. It was always worth it to me to find as many parts as I could so I could get that next upgrade for the gun I enjoyed using my favorite of which was the shotgun. It is just so satisfying to use in this game.
The crafting menu from the first also returns and has a lot of the same tools you had last time. Finding materials around will let you craft medical kits, molotovs, arrows, silencers, and more. It’s very easy to bring up and use even when in the heat of battle. Supplements can also be found by scavenging and can be spent to upgrade Ellie in one of several different skill trees. Many of these skills will give your more health, make you better at crafting and more.
Now let’s talk a bit about the environments in this game. A good chunk of the 20-30 hour game takes place in Seattle. When you first get there you’ll get to explore downtown Seattle which is more of an open hub world that you can explore any way you wish. If you played Uncharted: The Lost Legacy you’ll know what to expect here. There are numerous locations in this area and as you explore Ellie will mark and cross them off a map to let you know what you have and haven’t explored yet. I really enjoyed seeking out every spot here and I’m glad Naughty Dog continues to use this semi-open world structure in their games. I always felt rewarded with something whether it be crafting resources, parts or pills for upgrading, or one of the several different collectible items in the game. Those being these collectible cards that have fun lore on them or notes and such left behind by people that help flesh out the world of The Last of Us. The game has some light puzzle solving in it too as you’ll have to find out how to get to a certain spot. None of it is too hard and the solution always came to me within a minute or two of thinking on it.
One thing you can be sure of when you play a Naughty Dog game is that the visuals are going to be setting a new bar of what’s possible and The Last of Us Part II absolutely does that. There were so many times during it where I just stopped and looked at the scene in front of me and wondered “how are they doing this on hardware from 2013?” It really looks like you could be playing a next generation game here. Everything from the immense detail in every part of the world, to the lighting, to the character animations serves to deliver a visual package that may be second to none out there right now. You can see that in many of the screenshots here but there are many other areas I can’t spoil that will further show this off. The audio is also fantastic and even more so playing with headphones like I did. The voice acting is superb here as expected from voice actors such as Troy Baker, Ashley Johnson, and Laura Bailey to name a few. But it’s all the other sounds that really help make this experience memorable. The unnerving clicking sound the Clickers make sounds better than ever and just stopping and listening to the wind or the chirping of frogs helps make you feel like you are really there. Of course, the weapons sound great too such as that shotgun that I’m such a fan of in this game. Oh and as much as I loved the soundtrack from the first game I think composer Gustavo Santaolalla outdid his prior work here.
A couple last things I want to mention include the trophy list and the accessibility options. The trophy list here is much easier than the first game as there are no difficulty or multiplayer trophies. The game has 26 in total and most of them are related to finding all the collectibles and upgrading all of your skill trees and guns. The accessibility options deserve a shout out because of just how in depth they are. Naughty Dog really went to work making sure their game can be played and enjoyed by pretty much anyone out there and that is awesome. There are too many things to name but when you open up the menu you’ll be blown away by just how much of the game you can modify to make it easier for you to play.
The wait for The Last of Us Part II was long but Naughty Dog has delivered a worthy sequel and no doubt a game of the year contender for 2020. Everything from the captivating story, to the jaw dropping visuals and animation, to the memorable soundtrack and voice acting, to the improved combat will keep this one in my mind for some time to come just like the original did. It takes some chances with the story and some of those things might anger some people out there. They did me when they first happened but the game fully explains why they made the choices they did and by the end I saw and felt what they were going for. Naughty Dog closed out the PlayStation 3 generation with a must play title and with The Last of Us Part II they’ve once again done the same thing for the PlayStation 4.
*The Last of Us Part II is available now on PlayStation 4. Reviewed on a PS4 Pro. Review copy provided by PlayStation for this review.
The Last of Us Part II$59.99
- Dark, gripping story that had me constantly wanting to know what would happen next
- Mindblowing visual package that looks next gen
- Responsive, improved combat system that gives you freedom to approach encounters as you want
- Top tier voice acting with a superb sountrack and sound effects
- Unbelievable accessibility options
- The choices they made with the story may anger some