The Last of Us Part 2 is a marvel of gaming in many ways. The gameplay is the same fun and challenging gameplay we know and love from the first. The graphics are an absolute wonder to behold. Even days after beating the game, I really miss exploring apocalyptic Seattle. The environments are all unique and varied from the convention center to an LGBT bookstore. This is perhaps the best looking game I have ever played.
One of the ways it is not a marvel is in its story. First a quick overview. No spoilers. Several years have passed since the journey Ellie and Joel made across America. They’ve settled with Tommy in Jacksonville and have made a small life for themselves. Both Ellie and Joel are charged with patrol duty. Patrol’s job is to make sure the town stays infected free by traveling in groups around the perimeter. Ellie, being an older teen, has friends of her own and is starting to blossom into a young woman. Joel is still just as fatherly as ever to her to her seemingly typical teenage annoyance. During one patrol, something happens that spurs Ellie toward Seattle with girlfriend Dina in tow and hot on the heels of Tommy.
In Seattle, you find that FEDRA was long ago taken out by the local group of survivors. They call themselves WLF or Wolf. They’re at odds with a religious cult that has formed nicknamed Scars by the Wolves. You’ll encounter and fight both of these groups often as Ellie makes her way across what’s left of the city toward her target.
That’s really all I can say without entering spoiler territory. As everyone knows by now, thanks to the leaks, halfway through the game, you will experience the story from a different perspective. Due to review embargo’s, this part of the game is really not talked about in many reviews. Even outside of that, it’s hard to talk about this part without spoiling aspects from the game. However, with this being such a huge part of the game, it’s hard not to talk about this segment. I will refrain from specifics for sake of leaving the story a fresh experience for you the reader.
My issues with the story begin with the fact that it is ultimately another tale of “revenge/violence bad.” The message falls flat because not only are there parts of the game where you must kill someone to proceed (believe me, I tried to wait it out), but also the preorder bonus was more ammo capacity. You know, the thing that will allow you to kill more people. You’re really sending mixed signals there. The “violence” is also really fun. The combat is very satisfying as is exploring the world to gather spare parts. Spare parts upgrade your weapons which in turn makes the combat even more satisfying.
It’s not anything new for a game, really. Violence is par for the course and “violence is wrong” has been done to death (and done better in Undertale, shots fired). While there are a few animations that are overly gory, it’s nothing we’ve not seen before. Ellie doing the violence really doesn’t make me feel bad. Occasionally, one of the enemies will call the name of a fallen comrade. “Jacob, no!” and so forth in an attempt to make you feel bad. Because they have a name or a PS Vita. But it doesn’t because if I didn’t kill Jacob, he would have killed me. Even after you see those people from another perspective, it doesn’t change anything for me. Especially when the story misses the fact that everyone in this game is a murderer. The very pregnant woman has killed the same as Ellie. It’s the zombie apocalypse. Violence is the least of concerns.
The theme of the first game (It can’t all have been for nothing) is done so well because it’s not preaching to you. You experience the moral subtly and it sticks with you. The story is also not a black and white thing good/bad, but is seeped in all sorts of moral ambiguity. Joel is not a “good guy” and the story never tried to cover that up. You understand how he got to this point and root for him, but you know he’s not an innocent. The game trusts you to understand the complex emotions at play. There is no scene so perfect as the extremely complex look on Ellie’s face before she says “okay” at the end of the game. Even all these years later, that is one of the best scenes in media. Bravo to the animation team. Nothing comes close in this game to that moment.
In the first game, characters were like rocks in a stream the water flowed around. They were well defined and the story worked around their personalities. Here it’s a river rushing forward and carrying everything by force along with it. With the exception of maybe three, characters aren’t their own entities. They are whatever the story needs them to be. Characters will be introduced and then immediately dropped. The love interest, Dina, is shown to be a competent lead. She saves your hide and you share playful banter. Before you get to really care about her, she’s declared pregnant and out of the story until the very end. Due to the structure of the story, you have a good 10-15 hours or so where she isn’t present. By the time I needed to care about her again, I had forgotten why I should care. Considering you only learn a few things about her in the first place, there’s not much to care about. Ellie cares about her so we should care about her is really all I get from this. Another character, Jessie, aids Ellie at a few points. He has absolutely no personality. All the conversations you have with him amount to “we dated the same girl and it’s not awkward.” Again, when it’s time for me to care about him, I really don’t. At one point, a character is shot and killed in front of another and she doesn’t even mention the character’s name. She just looks shocked and then continues on. That’s how a lot of the characters here feel. After the amazing characters of the first game, from Tess to the brothers and Marlene, I had expected more. At least the two leading ladies are extremely rounded and likable.
The game is five hours too long. There are several different natural ends the game could have taken, but it keeps going. And going. It feels bloated. Characters start to do things that aren’t in character as things keep trodding on. There’s a late introduction to a third group of survivors that are literally evil. There’s no redeeming qualities to them. It’s counterproductive to the cycle of violence/violence/revenge is bad narrative. You really can’t have that message while having a group that rapes and enslaves and tortures people.
This story is so close to being good. I doubt even with much needed tweaks this game would hit the same notes as the first. That’s just the nature of most sequels. Despite my disappointment with the story, there are still some magnificent moments. Most of them are flashbacks to Ellie’s moments with Joel between the two games. This is a testament to how well those two characters are written. It also highlights a major flaw. TLOU was about two characters. This game is about two characters, but those two characters only meet a handful of times. TLOU shines when it’s about two people and their relationship. For most of the game, Ellie is alone. I would have loved to have Dina along the whole time especially since the pregnancy was only there for a “look what you have to lose with all that revenge” thing. Imagine how much more impactful this game could have been if you had someone there with you to really drive the message home as Dina reacts and holds Ellie accountable to the increasing violence.
During my play through, I was planning to give this game an 8/10. I was having a lot of fun and riffing on some silly moments with friends. Then halfway through there’s a sex scene. It’s absolutely 100% unnecessary and ruins one character who is in a relationship with someone else and almost ruins a second. The way it’s posed also completely takes power away from a strong female lead. I know they’re intending to show “vulnerability”, but she shows that caring and vulnerability much better later in the game. I was left feeling frustrated and disgusted. It was this moment that ripped the lid off of all of my issues with the game I had bottled up.
After the first game, the team had said there would not be another TLOU unless they had a story that needed to be told. This is not a story that needed to be told.
Despite all of this, I do recommend the game. It’s beautiful and fun a wonderful swan song for the PS4. You will walk away changed, one way or another, by the emotional roller coaster of events. Just don’t go in expecting to receive anything as good as the first game. This game may end up getting game of the year and I can’t say it’s not deserved. It will at least be a nominee. Currently it’s being review bombed by many mad at the story. A lot of them are mad for ridiculous reasons like there being two different protagonists, one of the deaths, or the “SJW agenda.” While those reasons are stupid, there are a lot of legit complaints in these reviews. The main issue is that we have a certain expectation not just from Naughty Dog, but especially from this franchise. That’s why we are upset with the story we received. Even from the DLC Left Behind and the comic American Dreams, we always received a well thought out and original story. The bar was continuously raised. The concept of “man is the real monster” is the plot of every zombie thing ever. Revenge stories like this are also overdone. We should have received something more original and worthy of the The Last of Us mantle.
There are so many seeds of something better. It’s just a disappointment that so few of them were allowed to bloom.
I give this game a 7/10.