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.
Developer: Naughty Dog
Platform: Playstation 4
Director: Neil Druckmann
Runtime: 22 hours for the main story, 34 hours for completionist
- Metacritic 94 (Audience 49)
- IGN 10/10
- Gamestop 8/10
- Game Informer 10/10
- VG247 10/10
- PushSquare 10/10
“Another masterpiece from Naughty Dog.”
Review: (Contains spoilers)
The first The Last of Us game is held in high regard both from critics and players alike — the game released back in 2013 and people still talk about like it came out yesterday. In my opinion, the original is still one of the best games I’ve ever played, and furthermore, I believe The Last of Us Part II not only matches that level, but surpasses it, easily.
Let’s fast forward to the majority of the reasons why some are destroying and review bombing this game; the fact that Abby exists, the leak, Joel’s death and how it ends. I’m not going to get into the torture porn or extreme violence crowd because I can’t wrap my head around that idea at the slightest — we are playing a game in a post apocalyptic world where everything is trying to kill you at every step. I didn’t expect things to work out with a happy ending at the end of a rainbow — have you seen The Walking Dead? This game throws you into a world where you have to live and cope with everything going on around you — there isn’t a way to fix the world, you have learn how to survive in it.
I think the entire game rests on the shoulders of playing as Abby. Did you care about her character or not? That’s the deal breaker, the main event. Halfway through the game, after the Confrontation, you switch sides and essentially start over as Abby working your way back to the same moment at the movie theater. The second I realized that this was happening I was angry, I do not want to play as Abby and I didn’t care about her character at all. Why would Naughty Dog do this to me?
I knew that I was going to be in for the long haul, so I dug my heels in and dealt with it. Naughty Dog does an amazing job with storytelling, so I let it go and tried to understand this risky move. Shockingly, I was amazed at how it ending up paying off (for me) — I thought it was horrible restarting the grind to level up a new character and her weapons, but they were all different enough to justify the play style of Abby’s character. To be honest, I actually enjoyed the grind.
Learning the way Abby felt about Joel and Ellie created layers to the other side of the story. I wouldn’t go as far as to say I like her or what she did, (I still don’t know if I like Abby) but I understood why she wanted to. Also, as a side note, playing from the other camp humanized all of their deaths — adding context to all the characters that were in the room during Joel’s death was a big plus. Instead of them just ‘being villains,’ they were people with their own ambitions and feelings too. (I truly felt bad for them, some of them at least.)
If you want to get right down to it, Joel killed her Dad, so she killed Joel. An eye for an eye is what she wanted and she achieved it. In that brutal moment of Joel’s death she even lets Ellie live because it wasn’t her fault. Of course, as we know, that act restarted the revenge cycle and Ellie goes on a journey to kill everyone in that room.
When you finally work your way back and return to the Confrontation, Abby not only wins the fight, she lets Ellie go (again) and spares Dina and her unborn child. Essentially, she could’ve killed Ellie twice in this game, but she doesn’t go through with it. Abby is the villain up until we play as her and learn her backstory, from there she slowly loses the ‘villain’ title minute by minute. (You don’t have to like her, the goal is to understand her.) Honestly, when everything is said and done, there are no villains in this game — everyone is trying to survive doing what they have to do to live with themselves. Is that a hard pill to swallow? Yes, but that’s just one reason why this game is a masterpiece.
I was lucky enough to not have Joel’s death spoiled like many people did. Knowing before I even got my hands on the game that he was going to die would have taken away a bit of the value — we have grown to love both of these characters so much, it’s hard to think that one of them would die. Is it shocking that one of them could die in this world? No, but playing the game and waiting for it to happen (because you know it’s coming) would have been horrible. I’m thankful the leak didn’t affect me at the slightest.
If you did get this death spoiled for you, I can understand how that could affect your dislike for this game. I can’t imagine seeing Joel’s death, knowing that it’s coming the entire time and then halfway through the game — you play as the person that killed him!? As much as I was already mad, I can’t imagine how anyone that knew it was coming felt. If anything, the best thing that came from that leak was the fact that it wasn’t the end of the game. Since Joel’s death was early on and (essentially) out of the way, there was still so much to learn and uncover.
The trolls out there that ruined it for people are pure trash.
I think this is the first time I’ve ever been attached to a video game character to the point that his death would affect me so much. Playing through the first The Last of Us created this bond that was stronger than words can describe — it’s the same reason why we are talking about 7 years later, it had an impact. Even though Joel chose to save Ellie’s life and negate a cure for the entire planet — we still sided with Joel on the move he made. That’s the power of Naughty Dog’s storytelling capability.
The brutal death scene was almost too much to bare, even though (in this world) he had it coming — I never pictured it the way it played out in game… [deep breath] The impact Joel had on all of us can be seen in the flashbacks throughout the game — nearly every moment filled us with emotion and only fueled our anger towards Abby. Which was the best cutscene? The most impactful one (for me) was the very last, perfectly timed scene, but we will get to that later.
The only other person in the gaming world I can see having a (somewhat) similar effect, is the hinted death of Kratos because of the mural seen on the wall at the end of God of War. With the way that game played and how I feel about both those characters, a future game could rip our hearts out if done in a similar fashion. I don’t know if it would be at a similar level, but the possibility is there, especially if it has to do with his son.
How it ended
Once we get to ‘the moment’ we were all were waiting for, you play through the scene as Abby chasing down and attacking Ellie behind the stage. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so uncomfortable in a game — as much as I understood Abby’s perspective, I hated trying to harm Ellie — even if (from Abby’s perspective) she deserved it. The first few times I didn’t do anything, I put the controller down and let Ellie kill me, I didn’t like what I was doing or how it felt.
After we push through the tense moments, Abby gets the upper hand and ultimately lets Ellie and Dina go — she had the power to kill all of them, but she made the decision to let them go, again. This was one of two points in the game, for me, where I completely felt for Abby. We obviously had been playing two parallel revenge stories since the start, but this was the crucial moment where Abby finally found her peace — of course, with the help of Lev. (That relationship between Abby and Lev could be a game of it’s own. If you really dig deep you can see Joel and Ellie in both of them. There are quite a few times in the game where Abby takes on a version of Joel.)
From here, a lot of time passes and we get to see Ellie and Dina living their best lives with JJ; dancing, listening to music, herding sheep — the works. In the middle of one of these scenes we get a PTSD moment showcasing that Ellie is still dealing with the trauma of Joel’s death. While the moments at the farm were beautiful, I knew something had to give, there was no way it was going to end pretty with Ellie knowing that Abby was alive and Joel wasn’t.
Right when you think this game couldn’t make you more heartbroken we watch Ellie leave her only chance at finding peace with Dina and JJ, work her way through Santa Barbara — getting shot at, stabbed and even bit again by a zombie. We literally get to the point where she can barley walk, using every last bit of energy to find Abby.
When she does find Abby tied up to a pillar on the beach, crucifixion style, she unties her and seemingly doesn’t know what to do. She was so weak and tired on seeking revenge, she had nothing left in her body to draw from. Abby, weak and tortured herself, leads the three of them to two nearby boats to escape. As they are both getting into their separate boats (the menu screen) Ellie gets another flashback of Joel’s dead body — with anger ignited again, she turns to Abby and tells her she can’t let her leave. When Abby says that she doesn’t want to fight, Ellie threatens to kill Lev forcing them to fight to the death, again.
Right when I saw the flashback as they were getting into their boats I thought, “here we go.” This game consistently breaks your heart and brings you to a new low time and time again. Not only did I fully understand Abby and Ellie now, I wanted Ellie to stop. The fight between them was agonizing — they were both so weak mentally and physically, it was hard to watch. When Ellie finally gets the upper hand on Abby (for the first time in the game) she begins to drown her — I was at a loss for words. She had lost everything to get this moment, would it even be worth it?
Then, just in time, we get a perfectly timed flashback of Joel playing the guitar on the porch the night before his death — this brings Ellie to tears and she lets go of Abby just before she drowns. I might be in the minority, but I was glad she did this. In this moment, Ellie finally finds some version of peace even though she lost everything to achieve it.
In the final moments of the game, Ellie returns to the farm and finds everything is gone except her possessions. She sits down to play Joel’s song, but she’s unable to because she lost two fingers in the final fight with Abby. This was the icing on the cake for the ultimate heartbreak and sadness. Why? It was in this moment that she realized she had lost everything, including the smallest part of Joel that she has left — playing that song on the guitar. [Wipes away tears.]
What I thought about after the credits rolled?
There is one main aspect of this game that has continued to play through in my mind; giving the player the option to kill or free Abby in the final fight. Reverting back to what I said about caring for or hating Abby, this would put the final decision in the player’s hands based on how they felt playing as both characters. Did you warm up to Abby? Then you let her go. Did you hate everything about her? Then you finish the deed and kill her.
The final cut scenes with Ellie returning to the empty farm would have stayed the same with equal effect. Since we would’ve made the final choice as the player, we would feel for Ellie regardless of the outcome. She either loses everything by getting her revenge (killing Abby) — or (like we saw) she realizes that she’s lost everything seeking revenge so she let’s go of that anger, literally. The realization of forgiveness in that final cutscene on the porch would still have hit just as hard — and not being able to hit that note on the guitar… [pauses to cry] would have crushed you either way.
Of course there’s the idea of The Last of Us Part III being made. If there’s even a 1% chance of that game happening in the future, we would need a solid point of entry with everyone on the same page — which is why we didn’t get to make the choice. That’s just my take on it.
My thoughts on a third game? I would really like to see it, there are so many possibilities that can be taken inside of this world. Selfishly, I would like to get some closure on what becomes of Ellie. It doesn’t have to be a fairytale ending, but I’d like more — give me more. Maybe a parallel journey with a pregnant Ellie that gives us the flashbacks of her mother doing the same thing? I know she wouldn’t be pregnant, but could she pass on immunity? There is so much you can do there.
The world building in this game is master class. Layer upon layer we discovered new areas with new obstacles to attack. Scrounging for materials felt as real as you could make it — grabbing little by little from the darkest corners of a room in order to craft as much as you could hold. At no point in the game did I ever feel like I was overpowered, but I did always feel in the moment. Right when you thought you had a hold on the game you would come into an encounter that you engaged incorrectly. By doing so, you would find yourself with just a few bullets left — stressed out and fast on your feet determining how you would survive the moment.
Those ‘moments’ were so impactful, nothing felt like filler and (in my opinion) the game was the perfect length. Walking through new areas with no clue on what was going to happen next was always exciting — you couldn’t explore enough. The world building created a sense of emptiness in a setting where everything is trying to kill you — the game needed to feel full and long, yet empty and bleak at the same time. I can’t imagine this game being a shorter length, part of the feeling and setting Naughty Dog created is made in the middle — all that fat makes the smaller moments so special. In order to have tender moments hidden inside of the constant brutality, you needed to have a sense of panic with the world closing in around you.
The story was so complex — Naughty Dog took a risk by forcing you to play as the ‘other team’ and it paid off. As we jumped between Ellie and Abby my loyalty shifted back and forth — characters I once hated, I began to love and characters I once loved, I started to hate. I felt every emotion you can imagine; I laughed, cried, I was filled with anger, rage and pure joy. What game does that? As much as I knew I was playing a video game, it was if I was in a big-budget Hollywood movie that I could control myself. The gameplay was nearly flawless, the environments were immersive and all the little things in-between aided to the full experience.
Jumping back in and reverting to the very last flashback we see in game — we were able to dive deeper into the history of the first game. Beyond Ellie’s anger and frustration with Joel, she ultimately says that she wants to forgive him — the look and expression on Joel’s face can’t be put into words, which is why this scene is the perfect moment. This was the first step Ellie took towards repairing their relationship — sadly, she never get the chance to fulfill that goal. In hindsight, this is why Ellie failing to play Joel’s song on the guitar absolutely destroyed me.
In the final moments we watch Ellie walk away from the farm — we have no idea where she’s going, but we know she’s lost everyone and left everything behind. After the credits rolled I was excited and intrigued for her future, jittery and deeply depressed at the same time. The only tiny spot of hope is after completing the game, the main menu changed — instead of the dark and foggy single-boat on the Santa Barbara coast, we got a new image of a boat under the sun on the beach of Catalina Island. This not only hints that Abby and Lev reached their destination, but this symbolizes that Ellie and Abby both passed through the darkness and are now traveling towards the light.
I didn’t want to be done with this game, so the next day I immediately dipped my toes in again with New Game+, beat the game a second time and achieved the platinum trophy. I stared playing this game Sunday afternoon, June 21st and I finished (and platinum’d) the game Wednesday night June 24th. That’s just how much I loved this game. When it comes right down to it, this is not only in the conversation for ‘game of the generation,’ this also goes down as one of the best games I’ve played… ever.
Are you a fan of The Last of Us Part II? Do you agree or disagree with me? Let me know what you think in the comments below.
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