Revisited: The Last of Us Part II

It has been a year since The Last of Us Part II was released and in that year the game has had more than a few negative comments made towards both it and the game’s creative team. However, while some of that understandable to an extent, after all people had their own preconceptions about what Part II should be about and the direction it should take as well as the violence levels found in the game, other comments and criticism were lobbied more towards the apparent desire to appeal to a wider and more diverse audience with some going as far as calling the game LBGQT propaganda.

Before we delve deeper into The Last of Us Part II, please be aware that there are major spoilers ahead.

The game opens with Joel recounting the events of The Last of Us and the decision he made to save Ellie’s life to his brother Tommy before we jump forward a couple of years. By this point in time, Joel and Ellie’s relationship is somewhat frayed and initially we don’t know why and after spending a few minutes in Ellie’s shoes we also take control of a new character named Abby and her group of survivors.

In a move that I think everyone saw coming, Joel is brutally murdered at Abby’s hands right in front of Ellie and we’re then thrust into a brutal tale of revenge as Ellie tracks Abby across the country to Seattle in order to exact a little vengeance of her own but just as you’re about to even the score, the game switches on you, forcing you back into Abby’s shoes in the leadup to the inevitable encounter with Ellie.

Playing from both characters perspective gives a unique view on the The Last of Us Part II. Both characters think of themselves as the hero of their own story with each one having their own justifications for the actions they take. Neither is all good and neither is all bad. Abby and Ellie both occupy the same morally grey area that most of us do, albeit in a post apocalyptic world full of cults, cannibals and infected things tend to take more of an extreme turn that our own normal day to day.

Like I said in the introduction, a lot of the criticism I seen lobbied towards the game was directed more towards the violence levels and it kind of understandable. At times the game looks photorealistic and the outright brutality of what you’re doing as you play through the game is not shied away from. The purposefully makes you feel each and every kill as you move from area to area. The game world is breathing takingly beautiful despite the harsh reality of the world you inhabit and I’ve yet to really see a game running on PS4 that looks better than The Last of Us Part II.

The gameplay seems like a true evolution of the first with almost every element refined and expanded upon and while I personally prefer the story of The Last of Us more than the story of Part II, the gameplay is Part II is superior if every conceivable way. Whether it be the vastly improved stealth mechanics of the game, refined melee combat or even something as simple the new weapons that become available, there’s nothing here that I could honestly say isn’t a step up from the game that came before.

Violence aside, the other major criticism saw online at the time the game launch was that some people were of the option that Naughty Dog had sacrificed their artistic integrity to push the LGBQT agenda and to that I say this: Yes, the game has trans representation and gay characters but guess what, so does life. Get it over it because if for some reason you don’t like it or it offends your belief system then that is your problem and it is not up to Naughty Dog to change or manipulate the game they want to make because of that.

Personally, I’m not a fan labels as outlined in another article on this website but if having gay, bisexual or trans characters makes someone feel represented in an artform that has long treated them as a joke then I think that is something everyone should be OK with.

The biggest change with The Last of Us Part II aside from the obvious fact you’re playing as a different character is the sense of scale. Part II is a much bigger game than The Last of Us with semi-open world sections quite common and the variety of locations you visit is something that I found to be truly staggering on my first play through. It really is no wonder the physical version of the game comes on two discs.

My biggest regret of my first play through of The Last of Us Part II though is rushing through Abby’s gameplay sections. I was desperate to get back to Ellie’s story so much that for the first couple of hours in Abby’s shoes I failed to appreciate the character I was playing as.

Like the first game though, my favourite thing about The Last of Us Part II is the little character moments. Whether that be full blown cutscenes or the quieter moments as you explore a new area with your companion or even sitting and playing guitar as Ellie. Those moments are what make the game more than just a game as at that point it becomes an experience. There’s a section of the game which sees Ellie explore a museum exhibit and it may actually be one of my favourite moments in gaming ever.

Oddly enough, despite me being against the practice as a whole, I actually think The Last of Us Part II could have actually benefitted by being released episodically or at the very least, released in such a fashion it actively recommended rest point.

The Last of Us Part II always had a high bar to clear with fans and for me, at least gameplay wise, it exceeded every possible expectation I had for the game. Story wise, while I think the simplicity of The Last of Us is better overall, the more I dive into Part II the more I realise there’s still plenty left to discover.

I don’t think anyone really knows what the series has in store for the future but at this point, after two incredibly well made games that I have continued and will continue to go back to, whatever it is I have no doubt it’ll be something special. Some may call me a Naughty Dog fanboy and they may be right but at the end of the day I’m not going to apologise for enjoying the art that others have created.

by Edward Laing