The original The Last of Us, released in 2013, is regarded by many as one of the greatest games ever made. It’s universally loved by pretty much everyone who played it and main characters Joel and Ellie rank as one of the best duos in gaming. Big shoes to fill for the sequel? You bet! Now in order for me to properly review this, I’ll need to bring up certain sections of the game that would be considered minor spoilers. I’d be too vague if I didn’t, so be warned!
There’s a lot worth talking about with this game. Naughty Dog put a tremendous amount of effort in almost every aspect of this game, but first I must talk about arguably the most important part of The Last of Us 2- the story. I actually wrote a much more in-depth article about the story, which you can check out here. For this review, I’ll have to tone it down a bit.
The sequel begins 5 years after the events of the original game, as you’ll continue this story as a 19 year old Ellie. Now fairly early on, tragedy befalls a loved one of Ellie, and she vows revenge against the perpetrator. Along with her lover Dina, they set off on a journey to track them down.
Now this is a decent spoiler I need to mention before continuing- but after you complete Ellie’s story, you then spend the next half of the game playing as the character Ellie is tracking down- a WLF soldier named Abby.
First I’ll talk about Ellie’s story, as both stories are fairly different from each other. Ellie’s quest for revenge is much more focused than that of Abby’s story. In order to track Abby down, she must track down the other members of Abby’s group when her heinous act took place.
It was great to be able to play as Ellie, as she was the real main star of the original. In the sequel, Ellie seems a lot more toned down in terms of her personality and attitude. It’s understandable considering what she had to go through, but I certainly miss that unrestrained sassiness that we saw from Ellie previously.
There were some truly great moments within Ellie’s story. The main highlight for me was the small open world area very reminiscent to what was introduced in Uncharted: Lost Legacy. Here, you get to explore a decent-sized area filled with optional secrets, and it was genuinely fun to thoroughly explore. This is something Naughty Dog needs to keep doing in their future narrative games because it works great here as well as in Lost Legacy. The only thing is there’s only of these areas in the whole game as more would have been very welcome. Another highlight I must mention is the Museum flashback, and I think it’s even better than the giraffe scene of the original.
But now onto the Abby’s half of the story. It’s understandable why some people won’t be happy having to spend the second half of the game playing as the perceived villain. To be honest though, I found Abby’s story far more interesting than Ellie’s. It may have been less focused, but it did naturally grow into something pretty fascinating. Abby was also quite an interesting character, especially in the different ways she is portrayed. This is where I give Naughty Dog huge props, as they’ve done a masterful job of blurring the lines between hero and villain. It’s an extremely ambitious and bold form of storytelling. Regardless of anyone’s thoughts of this particular game’s characters and story, I think every developer should take note and not be afraid to take risks like this.
Even though Abby’s story already held my interest more than Ellie’s, it was the build towards the end that really had me captivated. We already know what happens up until a certain point, but the end of Abby’s story ramped up the momentum to fever pitch and I was on the edge of my seat in anticipation. It builds up to something pretty special, in some ways heart-wrenching, and other ways powerful.
What Naughty Dog have done here is they’ve created such a deep and multi-layered storyline that far exceeds what has been done before. It goes far beyond a simple revenge quest, and contains themes of perspective, tribalism, loss, moving on, and so much more. As a result, a lot of the lesson learnt here could also be applied to the real world, and that’s how powerful video games can be nowadays.
Visuals and Atmosphere
Naughty Dog have given us some absolutely gorgeous games and The Last of Us 2 is no exception. In fact, it’s one of the best looking games of this generation. Environments look not only realistic but are full of little details you can’t help but admire. Whether it’s outside areas, or indoors, so much effort was put into making this game’s world look incredibly life-like.
Every character, like the environments, looks so realistic and so human. Facial animations are absolutely spot on, and even more impressive is how the main characters facial animation change depending on the situation and their mood. This is referring to gameplay, not necessarily cutscenes, making it all the more impressive. If they’re feeling angry about something, or scared, you’ll actually see it on their face.
Like the original, the atmosphere is just as great as you might remember. Those dark spore-filled indoor areas feel as creepy as ever before. It didn’t feel like there were as many of these areas because the story doesn’t focus on the infected anywhere near as much, but they are still there scattered through the various locations you visit and are just as intense as ever.
To me, the gameplay is a huge step up from the original. Each area you traverse are much bigger and less linear than before. Outside of combat, you have plenty of optional areas to explore, filled with materials and ammo to scavenge. But because there’s so many more places to explore, it really does stretch out your playtime and you’ll find yourself filled to the brim with materials. A bit of balance was probably needed there, but the very flexible adjustable difficulty can fix that.
The impressive level design made areas just feel more natural, even though they had to be designed within the constraints of still being a video game. One thing I was impressed by was the amount of puzzles and variety compared to the original. If there was one criticism of the original, it’s there wasn’t enough to do in between the stealth/combat sections. In this sequel, they’ve greatly improved upon it.
They range from searching through clues to find combinations for safes, finding windows to break to get into locked rooms, or using the awesome rope mechanic to find a new way around. So much more effort was put into breaking up the gameplay and keeping things feeling new at all times. Absolutely nothing felt like filler, and everything felt so hand-crafted and I very much appreciated this level of care they put in. My only real criticism of the game is that some parts of the story tend to stretch out a bit too long, but since every section feels so intricately designed, it’s pretty much forgiven.
In terms of enemy encounters, you’ll still be stealthily making your way past enemies, but now even more has been added to enhance this part of the game. You can now go prone and crawl your way through tall grass. It reminded me of Metal Gear Solid 3, and that’s a massive compliment. Stealth was already done well in The Last of Us, but this one extra move made it all the more fun and tense.
Combat itself remain more or less similar to that of the original. There’s some new weapons introduced, but nothing else that can be consider a major change. That is in terms of your arsenal, but enemies have certainly upped their game.
In an attempt to humanise the enemies, whenever you kill someone, the other enemies might call out there names as if they are real people. While this increased the immersion of the game, I never felt bad for killing them, but maybe that’s just me. I think what got to me was a new form of enemy- the dog. I love dogs and the idea of having to kill them, along with hearing their names called out, did fill me with some sort of sadness. It’s just another level of detail we’ve never seen before, and shows just how much work was put into this game.
Sometimes the enemies felt like human beings as they thoroughly searched the area when they suspect you’re around. I felt like I had to play smarter if I wanted to get past them all. The AI was fantastic, maybe even some of the best I’ve seen in a game. The way they react and change their actions make them feel like I’m up against real people, and that’s the biggest compliment you can give when it comes to AI.
The Last of Us Part 2 is a massive achievement in game design. Naughty Dog have shown ambition and boldness that I’d like to see more AAA studios show.
The storytelling is almost revolutionary and a big step forward for gaming. The amount of themes and messages this game was trying to tell was masterfully done, and I feel Naughty Dog are the only ones capable of pulling it off this well. There were so many great and memorable moments all throughout the journey, even if some sections may have dragged on a bit too long. The hard work that went into this game is evident, and I’m still mind-blown by it all.
The visuals, gameplay, voice acting, animations, presentation, and pretty much everything else remained at the high bar set by the original, even surpassing it. Naughty Dog has set such a high bar that I don’t think many developers will even bother to try to reach it.