I want to start this review off with a spoiler warning. I am still going to avoid spoiling the major story beats, but I am going to talk more freely about the characters in the game and what made me like or dislike them, and that will inevitably lead to more spoilers than I touched on in my First Impressions post. Check that one out if you just want my overarching thoughts on the game from the first hours. With that out of the way we can get on to the review below.
I never read the spoilers for the game when they leaked online (I might go check them out now just to see for myself what they said), but after hearing from people that had, it seems like they were a poor indication of what the experience of actually playing this game ended up being. Reading these story beats from a script might make them seem mundane, but seeing them play out in front of you when you have invested so much of yourself in the character in the world brought out a real, emotional response from me. The beauty of video games as a medium is that they are so interactive. Reading a book or watching a movie can definitely provide escapism, but those mediums can’t match the feeling of immersion you get when you spend hours traversing a world in the shoes of a character, taking on their personality and intermingling it with your own. I guess the point I want to drive home is that I think this is a game that everyone should experience for themselves before making judgements and assumptions.
The Last of Us Part II is a masterpiece in story-telling, and that means that Naughty Dog is telling you the story they want to. There is no player choice, you are going to experience this much in the way you would a movie or book. Whether or not you like the story is another thing entirely. I disagreed with parts of the story and the way certain things were done, but they all made sense in this world they have built up. I can respect that they made the choices they needed to make and that they presented the story the wanted to. I can honestly say that this is a story that any video game fan should experience and see through to the end to see how it plays out. This is a new benchmark for the way video games as a medium can tell stories. This really feels like an art piece rather than a traditional video game.
This is a game that focuses on hard choices, hate, and revenge. This is unabashedly a dark game with themes that fall in line. These aren’t exactly the most enjoyable topics to talk/think about and it is going to come down to the individual player to decide if right now is the best time to put yourself into a story this dark. I’ve heard a lot of sentiments on the internet about how this was a tough game for them to get through alongside the stress of everyday life during our own pandemic, and while I completely respect that everyone deals with things differently, I never had a problem separating this game from the stresses of normal life. That’s not to say this isn’t a stressful and tense game, because that is exactly the way it was designed, but just that I had no problems with it. Take a break when you need to, and take your time through this experience.
Without getting into the exact story beats that lead to it, Ellie is on a mission to kill one specific person, she is consumed by hate and revenge and will stop at nothing to complete her task. She brings along her friend Dina from Jackson, where she and Joel have been living, and set off to track this person, Abby, down. Along the way Ellie deals with three separate groups of enemies, the infected, a militia group, and a cult that loves to whistle. The added threats that have been introduced with each of these groups makes for interesting encounters. Enemies will frequently move in pairs and call out to each other as they look around corners and check to make sure areas are clear. They can even stay quiet and work on flanking you from both sides if you aren’t careful to keep tabs on them. This can quickly have you with you back against the wall and needing to make some quick decisions to get out of these situations safely. Luckily, Naughty Dog has improved the combat and stealth systems to match the improved enemies.
There are so many options for killing these enemies, whether that be stealth or gunning your enemies down like Rambo. Ellie can now go prone, and by doing so she can hide in the grass that has grown and overtaken nearly every location in the game. Sneaking around the back of a group of enemies by army crawling through the grass and then taking them each out with the new silencer attachment made for some seriously satisfying stealth. The game comparison that comes to mind with the way sneaking and shooting feels is Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain. That was one of the most technically sound games from a gameplay perspective I have ever played and this honestly feels similar from the stealth aspect.
Now eventually the stealth is going to fail us and we will get spotted, so how does it feel to get in a shoot out in The Last of Us Part II? The shooting still feels like other Naughty Dog games, but the best version of that shooting. It isn’t going to win any awards as a shooter, but it is better than we have had from Naughty Dog before which means that is good enough to carry us through and get back to the story beats. I really enjoyed the diversity in guns and the new additions as well. It felt like they gave me enough options to use that I could tailor my gameplay style however I wanted and really lean into the things I liked the most. Using a silencer also allowed me to continue using the guns while still sticking to stealth and that was the one thing that made the combat feel so much more fluid in my opinion.
The other thing they did was add in a myriad of options for upgrading your character. There are multiple skill trees that can be accessed once you find training manuals in the world, and these skill trees allow you to make Ellie better in certain areas. I personally went for the stealth tree first in order to make stealth kills faster and quieter as well as improve movement speed while prone among other things. You can also upgrade your weapons at workbenches throughout the world, which will make your weapons more effective, adding scopes and decreasing weapon sway along with improved reload times, clip sizes, and fire rates.
I will say that even with all of these improvements to the gameplay, it is still the same old gameplay loop you are used to from Naughty Dog. There are still collectibles to find and plenty of drawers to open in order to look for everything. It gets to a point where you a walking through rooms searching out those triangle prompts for interact-able points and it feels just a little too video gamey for what the rest of the game is. Another thing they do is have “puzzles” centered around safes, I say “puzzles” in quotes because it consists of finding a scrap of paper nearby and either getting the code from that or a hint that will lead you to the code. These things are all fine, but in a game that feels like so much more than just a regular video game these things felt like they dragged the experience down just a bit. It took me out of the immersion of the remarkable story and reminded me that I was still playing a video game.
I can’t talk any more about this game without mentioning the presentation and graphics. This is the most beautiful game that I have seen on PS4 and honestly I don’t think it’s close. It is astonishing how much they were able to squeeze out of this system and how they were able to craft this hyperrealistic world within their technical limitations. It felt like I was seeing a next-gen title for the first time, and I was playing on a base PS4. I can only imagine how great this would have looked with hdr and a PS4 Pro. This is game that exceeds any expectations I have had for a triple A title, it sets a new bar for what games can and should do on the production side.
They also put in a lot of care on the accessibility side of this game. They put in all kinds of different options you can use to customize your experience just the way you need it. I think this is such an important step for the gaming community that should be in most games moving forward. Putting in options that allow more types of players to enjoy these games only helps the gaming industry grow and prosper and I really liked that they included things other than just normal difficulty settings. Being able to turn off different things the enemy might do, or give yourself the ability to be invisible when you go prone go a long way in letting more people enjoy this game.
I can’t get into my exact feelings without hitting too many spoilers, but I will just say that I recommend everyone play this game. You need to play the first one of course, but this game is really something special. You may not like or agree with the story, but it is well-crafted and made with such care that it really doesn’t matter. This is a story that will leave you wanting to discuss it and argue about it with everyone you talk to about it. I liked the game a lot, and while it didn’t quite live up to my thoughts of the original, it will likely go down as one of my favorite PS4 games of all time.
As always, thanks so much for reading! Let me know what you think about this game or if you are playing through it or planning on picking it up in the comments down below. This was a hard review to write while dancing around spoilers, so if you have finished it I would love to discuss it with you without worrying about spoiling it. Make sure you follow the blog and sign-up via email in order to make sure you never miss a new post, or just check back (at least) every Wednesday and Saturday for new posts. Be safe and have a great day!