As I sat there in the dark at 4:30 am, watching the credits roll on by, I contemplate what the last twenty-three hours of gameplay had culminated into. If you have not heard, recently 'The Last of Us: Part II (2020)' released worldwide a couple weeks ago and I have spent the last week playing it. I am fairly new to the series but not entirely noobish to what transpires within the world. The game is set in a universe where a virus called cordyceps (A real life virus in our world) starts infecting humans turning them into mindless zombies set on infecting more. In terms of zombie stories this is probably the best version of the trope someone could experience. I remember back in 2013 when the game first came out and my neighbor at the time was trying to get me into it. Now seven years later I finally understand the hype surrounding this franchise. So, after speed running the first game, I finally got my hands on the second one. I heard murmurs online about the story not being up to par with the first game, but I like to experience things myself and not be swayed by public opinion. Which culminates to this article today as I give my thoughts on 'The Last of Us: Part II' (2020).
Let's get something out of the way first. This article will contain minor spoilers for the game. I will be discussing three parts of the game: The story/plot, the gameplay, and the world/detail itself. Any major spoilers I will redact that name from being mentioned.
Joel and Ellie CutsceneMarc Anthony Brown
Now the story of The Last of Us universe follows Ellie and Joel. In the first game you are introduced to Ellie. the only human to be immune to cordyceps disease. You are escorted across the country to a facility that can possibly make a cure by a man named Joel; a smuggler who had lost a lot, including his daughter, in the twenty years since "outbreak day". Throughout the first game you play as Joel and meet a variety of characters, discovering their day to day lives in this apocalyptic world as well as growing closer to Ellie becoming a father figure to her. In the end without getting into spoilers you return to Jackson, Wyoming where Joel's brother Tommy resides and has set up a protected city with other refugees. Fast forward to the second game and you, the player, begin your quest as Ellie who is now nineteen. Ellie feels empty in her life now, despite having friends and a place to call home, she feels broken. She's at the point of her life where many young adults feel they don't know what path they should head down with life. But that all changes when an antagonist named Abby appears in Jackson with her group of mercenaries. Abby kills someone close to Ellie resulting in Ellie to travel to the city of Seattle and one by one kill members of Abby's team.
Character model of Abby
Marc Anthony Brown
The Last of Us: Part II' (2020) is a very long game. It personally took me twenty-three hours to complete it and I've heard reports of people averaging 25-30 hours. Having experienced the well-crafted story from the first game, the second game had a lot of high expectations for both fans and critics. Sadly, this installment of the series has caused such a large divide in the fanbase, as a lot of different types of media tend to do nowadays. For me personally, I was really enjoying the story of Ellie during the 12-14 hours I was playing as her. The city of Seattle is a fun urban landscape to explore filled with both religious cultists and Sudo-military factions. Ellie's quest for vengeance is the main focus throughout and seeing her character slowly become more and more unstable was interesting to see. I personally bought into the idea of going on this murder mission to find and kill Abby as that's what the world of The Last of Us is; a morally ambiguous world where our real-world ideas of law and order are skewed. However, once the story finishes with Ellie around the fourteen hours mark the game begins to falter.
As you noticed earlier, I mentioned I played about 12 hours as Ellie during the first half of the game. And that is because the narrative completely shifts to have the player play as Abby for not just one level, for 6-10 hours! The player slowly discovers that Abby lost someone close to her during the events of the first game as a result of Joel and Ellie's actions. This prompted her to kill [REDACTED] someone very close to Ellie. Now I get what the story was trying to do, show us a different side. There is an analogy in the game about how Abby and her friend Owen are bickering about whether or not a seal has spots, showcasing the theme of how sometimes we as individuals are blinded by our own biases. And while I get what the game is doing trying to make me sympathize with Abby and her lost it ultimately destroys Ellie's character.
This isn't to say we as readers can't sympathize with a villain. There are classic examples of villains being redeemed like Loki in the MCU or Darth Vader at the end of Return of the Jedi. However, those films recognize that those characters still did horrible things. All the killing and terror they brought on during their respective films are still talked about and not ignored. But with this game, it feels like the writers want Abby to be completely seen as a good person even though she killed [REDACTED]. This ultimately villainies Ellie, a character that so many people love and wanted to play. Obviously, Joel and Ellie did some terrible things, but so did everyone in this post-apocalyptic world. It's strange how Abby can get what she wants and have a somewhat content ending while Ellie cannot.
Abby as a character is likeable. A lot of people online describe her as an SJW type of character or comparing her to Captain Marvel. I personally don't see that comparison because Abby did have a well-crafted story on her part. My problem was that it felt so distant from the original narrative with Ellie. When you are playing as Abby you are reliving those three days Ellie was in Seattle just from a different perspective. Along the way you met Yara and Lev, two Ex-Scar cultists looking to run away. It's a nice story about character growth and that's what this game needed, more character scenes trying to understand if this is all worth it. It just didn't make sense to me because here you have Abby, a person whose main job is to kill people being depicted as the hero of the story while Ellie also kills people but out of a plot to get revenge against someone. That same someone who went out of her way in her OWN story to tortured and kill an individual that hurt her in the past. It just didn't sit right, and I just found myself rushing through her entire three day story just out of boredom. There were even levels and plot points where I felt you could just replace Abby with Ellie. On top of that, Ellie just had more interesting supporting characters. My suspension of realism was thrown out the door when Abby had her pregnant friend Mel fighting alongside with her during this war with the cultist. No military group in their right mind would send someone out like that. I get what they were trying to do as there is a similar reveal for Ellie's side earlier but to me, I was just as angry with that choice as well. I won't say Abby was the biggest problem of the game, but I will say having her and Ellie's two stories so separate and then having a sprinkle or two of the two paths crossing definitely left me bored.
Character Model of Ellie
Marc Anthony Brown
The gameplay compared to the first game is pretty much the same. You can shoot, duck behind cover and sneak your way around opponents. New to the series is a dodge mechanic allowing you to avoid zombie swings as well as a couple of new tricks and gadgets like homemade bombs. I really enjoyed the combat in this game and wished there were more encounters with Ellie where I was able to hunt and sneak around. Like I said I found myself a lot of the time during the Abby encounters just wanting to play as Ellie as I felt like her witty dialogue and personality was much more entertaining to watch and play with then Abby's. One of the things I personally enjoyed was crafting Molotov's and chucking them at mooks. New editions to the game include dogs who can sniff you out and unfortunately you have to kill them, a more obvious showcase of the developers trying to make Ellie the villain. As when you play as Abby, she does not obviously have to encounter dogs because they are a part of her military team.
I definitely enjoyed how the bad guys in this game all have names and when you kill one of them their teammates react. The sound design overall was really good, and I found myself playing with headphones which I normally don't do with games just so I can hear every little sound. Another newly added feature is the ability to go completely prone aka lay completely flat and crawl around. This came extra handy during stealth encounters as I would sprint and find myself hiding in tall grass to avoid the enemies. There were a couple of other new things like climbing ropes, new zombie types, and more variety in the overall traversal. I found these all very responsive and never had a problem performing a move I wanted to do.
Hidden Cutscene of Ellie playing the Guitar
Marc Anthony Brown
The detail in this world is phenomenal. Since this game is set around 2038, twenty-five years since "Outbreak Day", Seattle is vastly different from other cities seen in the first game like Boston or Pittsburg. So much of the city is overgrown to the point it almost seems like there is no city at all. Large Evergreen trees populate what was once bustling streets with cars and buses. Bookstores and coffee shops are looted to the brink and slowly falling down with crumbling cement ceiling and pillars. The ocean has engulfed the coast of the city, resulting in terrible rushing currents difficult for any normal being to travel across. Overall, I really enjoyed the environment of Seattle and it was very eerie to see this apocalyptic 2013 world.
The character animation in this game is phenomenal. The developers of this game, Naughty Dog, but so much detail in the movement of the characters that at times it felt like I was watching a real person on screen. The way Ellie opens drawers and cabinets, poking her head to examine everything inside of it. The way she proactively scribbles things off her map, to the way we the player can see her actually modify her weapons; changing the scope, unscrewing and re-screwing components it is all breathtaking.
On top of that, the character models look so real. The uncanny valley line is getting smaller and smaller. You can see the individual pores on a character's face, the blood seeping through a recently wrapped bandage, or the sound of someone's mouth filling with blood as they cry out in pain it all feels so real. There were some instances where I would be on YouTube and see a video and I honestly could decipher for a minute if it was real or the video game. Just seeing these slight character animations or interactions made the game feel like a Next-Gen Console and definitely was pushing the processing power of the PS4. One final thing: I really enjoyed the guitar playing sequences as Ellie. Was not expecting it at all and when she started playing a very popular 80's song I was blown away.
So, what are my final thoughts on this game? You can see I have a lot to say on the matter as this is one of the longest, if not the longest, article I've ever written. I personally feel like 'The Last of Us Part II' (2020) had something good going for it. Playing as Ellie and doing this whole murder mission was fun and when the game forced me to play and sympathize with Abby I was completely pulled away. No matter how hard the game made me feel for Abby at the end of every encounter I just found myself wishing I was playing as Ellie. Obviously, the developers wanted to tell their story but for me, it felt like I lacked choice. I was forced to kill all these henchmen and doggos as Ellie but now you're telling me I was wrong for doing that? I just didn't buy it. And this isn't to say the game needs a happy ending, I don't expect that all and personally I wasn't upset with it. But that middle part just ruined it for me. Will I play this game again? Yeah, I mean I spent $60 on it and the beginning part is still fun for me. But I cannot help but wish for Hollywood and these game companies to hire better writers. It feels like I am learning all this stuff in school about story structure and characterization but people in the industry can just slap together whatever they want and call it a day. The team at Naughty Dog had an excellent story with Ellie but the second they switched to Abby that's when it started to crumble. If you are a fan of the series definitely play it, if you are new to all of this start with the first one and then go from there.