Does The Last of Us Part II Live Up To Expectations?
If I asked you to name the one thing the made The Last of Us so special, what would you say?
Would it be the beautiful, desolate post-apocalyptic world that developer Naughty Dog created? Or would it be the sweat-inducing gameplay and the palpable tension, as you’re forced to confront a horde of Clickers armed with nothing more than a single revolver round and a brick?
That’s not what I think The Last of Us is about (although the Hotel Basement scene will haunt me for the rest of my days) For me, Naughty Dog’s stroke of genius is the story that the game tells.
The Last of Us is about Joel and Ellie, and how their relationship develops as they embark upon a perilous journey across what remains of the United States of America. It’s about the quiet moments of reflection as Ellie learns more about the world that she has never known. It’s her disbelief as she learns what an ice-cream truck was, or her scoffing at the idea of people intentionally starving themselves for the sake of their appearance. This is Joel And Ellie’s story.
The Apple Fell Far From the Tree…Then Got up And Chopped the Tree Down
Fast forward seven years and The Last of Us Part II is finally upon us. To say that the sequel has been heavily anticipated is like saying that Lebron James is pretty good at basketball. It doesn't quite do it justice.
Given the success they found with the original The Last of Us, not to mention a series you may have heard of called Uncharted, meeting fan expectations with the follow-up would have been a monumental achievement. Unfortunately, disappointed gamers began to review bomb the game on Metacritic within hours of release. It’s important to know that these early reviews were left by people who were unhappy after having read spoilers for the story, and not by those who had actually played and finished the game.
As you’d expect from Naughty Dog, the game has a lot going for it. It looks and sounds fantastic, Naughty Dog’s post-apocalyptic Seattle is a wonder to behold and explore. No two buildings look or feel the same, and some of my favourite moments of my playthrough involved combing through the game’s explorable interiors, learning the stories of those who resided there before the outbreak. The game’s soundtrack is gorgeous, and Ashley Johnson, Troy Baker and Laura Bailey all deliver exquisite performances in the three leading roles.
TLOU veterans will feel right at home, as the core gameplay of scavenging for supplies in between killing your enemies has returned, this time with a few noticeable improvements, such as the ability to go prone as well as an improved crafting system. As with the original, many of the game’s craftable items require the same ingredients, forcing you to make tough decisions. Do you craft a health kit or a Molotov cocktail with the alcohol and cloth you found? These decisions never really gave me much pause, as during my first playthrough I constantly found myself fully-kitted out with enough supplies and ammunition to take on an entire army.
Sadly, if the story is what made the original game so great, it’s easily Part II’s biggest failing. It’s not that the story is awful, but for fans like myself who had higher than Snoop Dogg expectations, it felt like I’d ordered fillet steak and received a Big Mac. I just think Naughty Dog could have done so much better.
I won’t spoil it for you, but the story can be summed up in nine words:
“Ellie gets mad, then goes on a murderous rampage.”
That’s pretty much it.
The game begins as a tale of loss and death. And it ends, a tale of loss and death.
That's the problem.
Gone is the quippy, sarcastic Ellie from the original game. In her place, we have an Ellie who I can only assume spent the five years between games reading “How to Become a Ruthless Killer for Dummies” until she could recite it from memory. This Ellie/Terminator hybrid dispatches enemies with brutal efficiency and is a far cry from the curious, wise-cracking teenager we fell in love with back in 2013. To me, this change in her character didn’t feel believable in the slightest, and it’s a shame that the developers couldn’t think of anything more believable for this beloved character.
But this game isn’t just about Ellie. It’s also a game that assumes you skipped school the day they taught that murdering people is bad. But have no fear, Naughty Dog has you covered. In fact, Part II reminds us of this fact by hitting the message home with all the subtlety of a baseball bat to the face. The hypocrisy on the developer’s part is maddening, as they force you into the shoes of a protagonist whose sole aim for the entire game is to kill anyone and anything in her way, only to then wag the finger at you, admonishing you for your murderous ways.
I honestly found it difficult to contain my frustration by the end of the game, and in the final hours, I found myself longing for someone to put a bullet in Ellie’s temple just so I wasn’t forced to continue with her vengeful mission. But alas, my hopes were not realised, and any sadness I felt watching Ellie leave Dina and J.J behind toward the end of the story had less to do with Ellie’s loss and more to do with the fact that I knew I was about to be forced to play yet another hour of Ellie’s killing spree.
We’re introduced to a much larger cast of characters in Part II than the original, but the attempts at character development are shallow, so when these characters inevitably die, their deaths aren’t nearly as hard-hitting as Naughty Dog intends.
So, what’s the verdict?
Is Part II a good game? Yes. It cannot be disputed that technically, it surpasses its predecessor in every way. It looks better, sounds better, and plays better. But The Last of Us is supposed to be more than just a “good game.” Naughty Dog set the bar too high for themselves and failed to deliver a worthy sequel. The smattering of quality storytelling moments throughout weren’t enough to cleanse the bitter taste that finishing the game left in my mouth.
The Last of Us was Joel and Ellie’s story.
But Part II? I’m not entirely sure whose story this is.
Jon Peters is a soon-to-be 29-year-old writer from the UK. He uses the term “writer” loosely, as this article is the first thing he’s written in three months! If you enjoyed this article, great! Thanks so much for taking the time to read! If you’d like to read more of my ramblings, you can get to my profile super quickly by clicking here.