The Last of Us came at the end of the last generation of consoles and redefined storytelling in video games. Now we’re nearing the end of the current generation – and The Last of Us Part II has done it again.
Picking up some time after the ending of the original game, The Last of Us Part II introduces us to an Ellie that’s a little older. She’s more mature and capable, but Joel still dotes on her like she’s his daughter. In Jackson they have a pretty nice life, all things considered. They regularly sweep the area for Infected to keep it safe, and there’s a keen sense of community. But as you know, Jackson isn’t the primary location of events in The Last of Us Part II; it’s Seattle.
“…a twisted, bloody tale that will leave you conflicted”
The reason you journey to Seattle will have to remain a mystery until you play the game for yourself; to spoil The Last of Us Part II‘s story would be to take away a large part of the experience for you. But to Seattle you go, starting an adventure that’s twice as long as the original game. And while The Last of Us Part II‘s story is the driving force – a twisted, bloody tale that will leave you conflicted – it’s the gameplay that will immerse you completely in its horrid, hostile world.
Criticisms that could be levied at the gameplay of the first part of this violence-soaked drama have been addressed. The AI of your companions is no longer erratic; they’ve ceased running wildly in front of the Infected and human adversaries. Though that’s not to say that they’re perfect. There’ll be times where you curse them for their inaction during combat – they’re seemingly very happy for you to do the majority of the work. But that can be excused, as otherwise you’d likely capitalise on the fact that they can’t die.
The Last of Us Part II‘s world feels a hell of a lot less gamified, too. You’ll very rarely now wander into an area, see lots of waist-high cover and instantly click on that you’re about to be in for a fight. The streets and buildings of Seattle feel wonderfully natural, and are filled with little touches that hint at the struggles of past visitors. More importantly, encountering the Infected or hostile forces can happen pretty much anywhere, creating a palpable feeling of tension. You need to keep your eyes and ears peeled, otherwise you might find yourself running headfirst into some very bad situations.
“It’s how moments of relative downtime are balanced with stealth and intense, heart-pounding combat that makes The Last of Us Part II so special”
The areas you visit in The Last of Us Part II are also more expansive. You can charge through the game like a bull in a china shop if you want, but it pays to explore. A pet store at the side of the road may look innocuous enough, but what’s lurking in its basement? Along with crafting essentials such as water, fabric or a blade, there might be a guide book that opens up a new branch of skills, or an ample stash of supplements that allow you to unlock said skills. A small number of Infected might stand between you and the plunder, however, or even an environmental puzzle.
There are more goodies for you to discover, of course. Additional holsters make it easier for you to switch between firearms in battle, and scrap is essential if you wish to upgrade weapons to make them more potent. Notes, on the other hand, are less helpful for your survival, but add density to the game’s narrative and give a fuller picture of the state of the world. Sometimes they give you codes to nearby safes packed with valuable loot, too, or at least point you in the right direction of them. And for those who really do love collecting things, Ellie now has a penchant for trading cards that you can fulfil if you wish.
It’s how these moments of relative downtime are balanced with stealth and intense, heart-pounding combat that makes The Last of Us Part II so special. Chances are you’ve dealt with the Infected before, and your previous tactics will work here for the most part. They generally feel more lethal, however, and you’re often placed in more dangerous situations with them. An encounter with a Bloater in an enclosed space comes to mind, where its dangerous charge attack becomes more frequently used. Thank god for your new dodge ability, otherwise you’d be a sitting duck when faced with such ferociousness. There are a couple more surprises when it comes to the Infected as well.
Humans are by far your most dangerous adversary in The Last of Us Part II though, thanks largely to their improved AI. You’ll encounter members of two warring factions: the WLF (‘Wolves’) and the Seraphites (‘Scars’). The WLF is basically a military force, well-armed and organised. They also like to make use of dogs as they patrol areas, sniffing out intruders and leading their owners straight to them. The Seraphites, on the other hand, are more like hunters. They communicate through whistles and attack you with melee weapons and arrows, hoping to get the drop on you.
“Encounters are dynamic, unpredictable, and require you to think on your feet”
Whichever force you find yourself up against, you need to keep on your toes. You’ll quickly find yourself flanked if you try to stand your ground, and enemies will work together to draw you out of cover. They’re sometimes even clever enough to know when you’ve run out of ammo and need to reload, charging in to take advantage of the fact. Encounters never feel like shooting galleries; they’re dynamic, unpredictable, and require you to think on your feet. And they’re also bolstered by your new movement options.
Combat is inevitable in The Last of Us Part II, but sometimes you can avoid drawing blood if your stealth skills are up to the task. Crouching is a great way to cover ground fairly quickly while maintaining a low profile, but sometimes it just doesn’t cut the mustard. Thankfully you can now go prone, allowing you to take cover in short outcrops of grass, under vehicles, or behind low objects. You can even shoot while prone, sneakily taking out enemies with a silenced pistol or starting a firefight on your terms. Jumping is possible now, too; it’s not much use in combat, but it helps make the bits in between feel a little less scripted.
“The quality of animation displayed here is unrivalled”
While new mechanics and improved AI are undoubtedly a part of why The Last of Us Part II‘s gameplay is much improved, there’s also the attention to detail to consider. Every single enemy you encounter in the game has a name, and while I’ve not studied every single face, they all seem to be unique. But what’s really impressive is their expressions. They look surprised when you grab them from cover, angry when you’ve killed their friends, and anguished when they realise you’ve mortally wounded them. It makes The Last of Us Part II feel real.
Sure, there are some gamified aspects, but rarely does it seem like you’re playing a video game; it feels like you’re playing the lead role in an interactive movie. The quality of animation displayed here is unrivalled, making each scene, including multiple brutal melee encounters, as realistic as they can possibly be. And The Last of Us Part II is truly brutal. There are times where you might want to look away from the screen due to the level of violence unfolding.
“The Last of Us Part II is Naughty Dog’s magnum opus; the result of years spent mastering its craft”
But the violence on display is somewhat necessary to the game’s story. It’s a part of the world, like it or not. Though as the narrative progresses, chances are you’ll begin to question your actions. Ultimately, you may not even want to engage in it, but you’ll be forced to. Conflicted, you’ll press buttons and play along just to end the sordid tale. As much as The Last of Us Part II is a game, it’s also a study of hate and how it’s so easy to let it define us. Rarely is it actually the answer, however. Hate simply breeds more hate.
The Last of Us Part II is Naughty Dog’s magnum opus; the result of years spent mastering its craft. It has visuals that defy the generation, audio design that is simply sublime, and a story that is genuinely thought-provoking. It’s more than a game; it’s a work of art. Never before has an interactive experience been so gripping, with combat so dynamic and unpleasantly realised. But above all, it’s how The Last of Us Part II will make you feel that deserves the most praise. Panicked, emotionally exhausted, stressed; these aren’t normally good things, but when the subject matter’s so grim and serious, it only feels apt.