Title: The Last of Us Part II
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Genre: Adventure, Action
Available On: PlayStation 4
Official Site: The Last of Us Part II
Release Date: June 19th, 2020
For years, fans have awaited the sequel to Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us. Despite leaks and push-backs, this post-apocalyptic tale is finally here, and it just might be a story we need now more than ever. (For those who haven’t played the game yet, I have worked to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible.)
The Last of Us Part II takes place five years after the events of the original and focuses on a now-grown Ellie:
Five years after their dangerous journey across the post-pandemic United States, Ellie and Joel have settled down in Jackson, Wyoming. Living amongst a thriving community of survivors has allowed them peace and stability, despite the constant threat of the infected and other, more desperate survivors. When a violent event disrupts that peace, Ellie embarks on a relentless journey to carry out justice and find closure. As she hunts those responsible one by one, she is confronted with the devastating physical and emotional repercussions of her actions.
Celebration Amongst The Desolation
Before I dive into all the great things about The Last of Us Part II, I want to highlight the most impressive feature: the level of accessibility menus. Naughty Dog clearly thought of everything when it came to making this sequel as accessible as possible. From settings to help the blind to puzzle-assist, there are over 60 accessibility options to make as many players as possible feel comfortable within the experience. The bar has clearly been set, and, hopefully, other game developers will pick up the flag to make their own games just as accessible.
When a sequel comes out, it’s easy to try and compare it to the first, but The Last of Us Part II feels too different to try to compare the two. One of its strongest evolutions is the gameplay. Quality of life improvements, like stealth kills not requiring shivs, really improve upon the more tactical approach set by this experience. While running in, guns blazing, is definitely a route you can go, the game seems to reward a more stealthy, thoughtful approach to taking out enemies. While this does make things more difficult, it feels really rewarding to clear out an area effectively.
While some things, like gameplay, have evolved, the things we love about the original, like the characters and the vast world, are still the same. The performances in The Last of Us Part II are some of the best I’ve ever seen. And the way the team weaves a story that created so much empathy and light is truly worth all the praise I can muster. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll get angry. You’ll feel sick to your stomach. It’s a wild ride of emotion in the best way possible.
On top of all of that, that game is just gorgeous to look at. Whether exploring a Seattle-based aquarium to rolling farms lands to snowy mountains, the visuals in The Last of Us Part II will take your breath away. The character designs are just as good as the environments, and the cinematics are even better than that. New enemies, like Stalkers and Shamblers, really elevate the lore surrounding the world, and their designs are just gruesome– in the best way, of course.
The Last of Us Part II Sells Itself Short
The Last of Us Part II is a stunning piece of work almost all the way through, but that almost is what ultimately hurt it in the end. The ending has earned this game some of the most polarizing reviews ever seen, and there’s a reason. Ultimately, it feels shoe-horned in. The last few of hours feel more like an afterthought after playing through such a well-told narrative. Without giving any spoilers, it seems derivative and somewhat out of characters for some of those involved. On top of that, the ending seems to really drag out, and it feels like they just wanted more gameplay time (which I honestly could have done without).
More upsetting than the ending itself is what the writing does to some of Last of Us’ best characters. Throughout their resume as developers, their characters are always super-rich and well-fleshed out, but some of those characters are dissolved into nothing more than plot devices. And that isn’t fair to anyone- especially when the performances are so strong.
All in all, even in its weakest moments, The Last of Us Part II is a brilliant experience with strong themes of empathy, forgiveness, self-acceptance and moving on. It should be talked about because of how inclusive it is from the characters to the actual mechanics, for the stunning visuals and stellar performances and the lessons they shared.
Verdict: There is so much to celebrate about The Last of Us Part II. Above all, Naughty Dog went above and beyond in their accessibility menus to make this sequel as playable as possible for fans new and old. This is truly a milestone that, hopefully, future game developers will continue to follow its example. Naughty Dog delivers stunning visuals and outstanding sound design, and powerful performances from the main cast take the player on a journey of empathy and forgiveness that everyone should experience. Unfortunately, the ending just didn’t land. The last few hours feel more like an afterthought, and rich characters start to feel more like plot devices. But, Last of Us Part II is a solid sequel that feels like something entirely all its own.
- Accessibility milestones
- Stunning visuals
- Outstanding performances
- Great sound design
- Smooth gameplay
- An ending that overstays its welcome
- Writing feels stretched too thin