It’s the return of Ashley Harrison and I for our discussion articles, newly renamed “Let’s Chat”! The release of The Last of Us Part II means a LOT to discuss, especially knowing how invested we both are in the first game. So, what are we waiting for?
William Robinson: Hi Ash! It’s been about two years since our last of these discussion articles, and we’re starting again with our full spoilers talk of The Last of Us Part II! It is fitting in a way, as our very first was back when the game was first unveiled at PSX 2016. To me, that seems both so long ago and yet also not long ago at all; before we really get into it, Ash, perhaps you could briefly describe your opinion of the prior game and how you went into Part II?
Ashley Harrison: Yo, how’s it’s going? Really has been a while, huh? It’s crazy to think our first of these articles was 3 and a half years ago now, after that reveal. The world really has gone crazy since then. Briefly describe my opinion of The Last of Us? Man, that’s hard, you know how much that game means to me. It’s no secret that The Last of Us is my favourite game of all time, and as a result means a lot to me. So much so I have Troy Baker signed copies of the game and its vinyl soundtrack. As a result, I was probably more on the hype train that probably most people were for Part II.
WR: Wow, that long, huh? Also shows just how much time went into the making of this game – that’s only the time since the reveal! For me, The Last of Us is a masterpiece of interactive storytelling, using the medium to create a game and story that questions you as you play it. As it is such an amazing game, I was both anxious and excited at the idea of them making another game in that world. Let’s get right into it then; having played through the game, your initial reaction now?
AH: Man.. I really wish I could give the answer I want to here. If we’re looking at it from a purely gameplay perspective, it’s absolutely incredible. It’s the culmination of over a decade of work from Naughty Dog with the style of game, starting with the release of the first Uncharted. It’s so fluid and smooth, taking the base of the original game and the addition of, in my opinion, much-needed mechanics such as being able to crawl and squeeze through gaps to breathe new life into the stealth part of the game, opening up the floor to way more ways of taking down enemies. However, from a purely story perspective, the game really just leaves me wanting more, and not in a good way. I’ll explain more as suitable, but the climax to the story especially really threw me off, as well as some serious scenes really not feeling anywhere near as important as they should.
WR: We’ll really go into the story, talking about each part, in a moment; firstly, I really do want to mention more on that gameplay. Similar to how you say, it really builds upon the prior game. Going prone additionally opens up more opportunities in exploration to find hidden are as and solve puzzles, and there are new items to craft that I found altered my approach to situations – the smoke bomb, for example. There is a real variety of situations you find yourself in, which encourages trying different approaches throughout the game. Speaking of which, the environment design in this game is utterly spectacular. The scope of the areas you play through is jaw-dropping, with such attention to detail and a sense this world was really lived-in. Was this impressive to you as you went through the game, or is your opinion on this slightly different?
AH: Nah, I’m completely there with you man, the environmental design is incredible. The attention to detail for each “level” of the game is insane, and it really does help you to truly believe you’re traversing a real world. It keeps kicking up in quality somehow too, culminating in the sequence escaping from the Seraphite island. Seeing the island burning around you after seeing what it was, all as a result of human nature and their inability to keep a truce, is incredible. My only criticism of it, however, is that the environment, specifically the fungus growing into walls, does give away the kinds of enemies you’re going to come across at points, for example in the Hotel.
WR: That’s an intriguing point; there isn’t really ever a moment where they don’t signal that the next opposition is either Infected or not, is there? More experimentation with that would have been fascinating; for me, some of the most interesting combat segments were where you could play the Infected against the non-Infected tracking you down.
AH: The places where you can pit Infected against enemies tracking you down are so much fun to play, especially because it gives you a variety of options to play those specific sections. You can either go in all guns blazing, and try to take on both sets of enemies at the same time. Or, you can throw a brick or another item into the human enemies, and let the Infected take them out, then take out the Infected, which was my favourite way of playing. Finally, there’s also the option to pit the Infected and human enemies against each other, whilst you sneak by unnoticed. It’s clever design points like that that make me love the combat in the game, and it’s a massive improvement upon the first game’s combat which most of the time is gunplay-focused. I just really wish there were more points in the game where you could do it, because to me they feel too sparse.
WR: We’ve mentioned about the gameplay, but now I reckon it is time to really tackle the story of this game in full spoiler mode. To be thorough, let’s go through the game section by section, as this is a game that at times feels split into distinct parts. We open with Joel telling Tommy about the way the first game ended, in a sorta cinematic recap; I thought this was a bit of an over-explanation, but I understand that it is for players who are playing this without having played the prior game (though, I mean, if you are, what?). Then, we have an extended prologue of sorts in and around the settlement at Jackson, where we play as both Ellie and new character Abby as a routine day goes very badly wrong. We start to be introduced to new characters, particularly ones that Ellie knows, and I also found that this opening segment re-introduced how to play in a smart fashion. The playing-from-different-viewpoints idea is one that is carried through the game, and from the start I appreciated it as a change of structure from the relatively linear first game.
AH: The game opening with Joel’s recount of the first game felt off to me also; who’s really going into this without having played the first game? Honestly, at the beginning of the game, I really wasn’t a fan of the idea of the split viewpoints, especially as Neil Druckmann had said this game was about revenge and had only spoken of Ellie being playable in any way. Though, saying that, he said the same thing about playing as Joel in the first game. I just wanted to play as Ellie and see how things are going for her, and why she was going on a journey of revenge. However, I really did come to enjoy playing as Abby throughout the second half of the game.
WR: That is an element of the game I am confident we will be discussing a lot shortly; you play as Ellie for the majority of the, I’d say, roughly first half of the game? This opening is quite cryptic in terms of Joel and Tommy – and the game is quite enigmatic about Joel in particular throughout – but it seemed, at least to me, that there was signposts of Abby having a purpose at Jackson to do with Joel. Yet, it was still shocking when Abby – after Joel and Tommy help Abby out of a tight situation against Infected, no less – takes out Joel’s leg with a shotgun and proceeds to violently beat him. Then, when Ellie gets there, and Abby kills Joel with the golf club… it’s brutal. This game pivots around that moment, as it is the motivation, or even some type of twisted justification, for the many acts of violence Ellie commits as she subsequently goes after Abby. The scene is certainly intense and impactful, but does it fuel the game in that way for you? I found that there was more of a disconnect between the gameplay and story than there was in the prior game.
AH: The game definitely peaks intensity wise if you ask me at that moment, nothing else in the game really ever reaches the same point of emotion. It’s such a dark scene and happens so early into the game, which given the story makes sense I guess, that I would’ve been surprised if they’d have managed to keep up that level of intensity. I wouldn’t say there’s a disconnect at all between story and gameplay though personally, especially during Ellie’s segments.
WR: Perhaps that disconnect is more to do with how they end the game as well, when the moment of forgiveness happens relative to other events. Is that a negative for you then, if the rest of the game was never at that point of emotion? It was believable to me that Ellie would go after the person who killed Joel, same for Tommy; and Dina going with Ellie made sense for different reasons, as their relationship gradually evolved. Throughout, I found Dina really well-developed, and her dynamic with Ellie to be told in an intelligent way, all the way through to her leaving Ellie at the end.
AH: I wouldn’t say it’s a negative for me that it never reached that level of emotion again really, as it already had the build behind the whole first game to go with it that got you invested in Joel, and for it to happen so early into the game and be so brutal really added to the emotion. Am I slightly upset that the most emotive part of the game was an hour in when the whole game is 25 hours long? Yeah, I guess a bit that I am. Was I expecting that moment to be the most emotional during the game though? Absolutely. It’s absolutely believable Ellie would go after Abby for killing Joel for me, however I’m not quite sure about Tommy. Whilst obviously 5 years have passed since the events of the first game and anything could’ve happened in that time, we learned that Joel and Tommy had a very rocky relationship, with Joel in the first game saying to Ellie “I believe his [Tommy’s] last words to me were “I don’t ever wanna see your god damned face again.”” I’m speculating here obviously, but we don’t ever really learn much more than that about Joel and Tommy’s relationship through either game. As for Dina, you’re probably going to hate me for this, but I really couldn’t have cared less for her if I had tried. Personally it seemed to be that she’s only there so that Ellie could have a companion to travel with and carry on the feeling of the first game with Joel and Ellie. The game never really made me care for her, especially when her defining moment is revealing to Ellie she’s pregnant, which in itself is just such an overused trope.
WR: See, to me, Tommy is fascinating in this game. We know he is also after Abby, and probably slightly ahead of Ellie through much of the game. Yet we only briefly see him, in the confrontation at the theatre, when he visits the Farm, and in a really smart reveal as the sniper in a sequence late in the game when you are playing as Abby. He is, in a way, the most tragic character in the story, as he loses health and his marriage to his hunt for Abby after she murders his brother. I really disagree about Dina; she is a distinct character, one who won’t – and doesn’t – wait for Ellie if she won’t stop going after Abby.
AH: I wouldn’t say Tommy is the most tragic story in the game, although he does definitely rank up there alongside Ellie. Both start the game with everything they want in life, however by the end they’ve both lost it all. If they’re going to release a side-story DLC ala Left Behind for Part II, I would love for it to focus on Tommy so that we can learn more about him.
WR: The stories of Ellie and Tommy in this game have many similarities; yes, either as DLC, or if they do a third game, playing as Tommy is an idea that could make for a powerful story. He has a certain charisma to him, yet has so many flaws. Interspersed through the 3 days in Seattle as Ellie are flashbacks – these sections, playing as Ellie with Joel accompanying you, have some delightful moments that light up the game. The museum one is brilliant; it has so many wonderful back-and-forths that take me back to their dynamic in the first game, as well as a very creepy and ominous conclusion. Thoughts on these?
AH: Man, those flashbacks. They got me so emotional watching them as I played. The chemistry between Ellie and Joel is definitely the defining characteristic of the first game, so it was great to have them back together. Ashley Johnson and Troy Baker have produced insane performances once again to really make you remember why you loved those two characters. I think the reason the museum flashback especially hits so hard is it’s the first time you see Joel after his brutal death, and he’s taking Ellie to see something she’s always wanted to in the Dinosaurs exhibit. It really brings home the fact that at the end of the day, Ellie is just a kid, and you’re seeing that childhood innocence come through after seeing everything she had to go through after losing Riley to the Infected.
WR: Relative to the first game, there isn’t actually much of Troy Baker in this game; he is fantastic in his performance, but he hasn’t got that many scenes compared to Ashley Johnson. For me, there was never a moment in this game when other characters had a dynamic on the level of Ellie and Joel, not that I necessarily expected there to be. You can tell how much Joel cares for Ellie in that museum scene, and it is wonderful just to hear them talk. Oh, and, erm… ELLIE SWIMS!
AH: Can we swear? Because if so, halle-fucking-luljah! When the Instagram advert popped up on my feed a couple of days before release, and the opening part of the video showed off Ellie swimming, I genuinely can’t describe just how happy that made me feel. The definite low point of the first game was having to fetch pallets for Ellie to cross bodies of water, so that fact I never had to even touch a single pallet for that reason in this game? So much of an improvement.
WR: It’s a very different moment in tone, but in that same flashback, when you see the “I killed for them” message on the wall… for me, possibly the creepiest moment of the game because of how out of place it is there at the museum. These indirect moments of referencing the cost of the actions of Joel at the end of the first game I found much more smart than when they showed Ellie confronting Joel about it in other flashbacks. I would have preferred it being kept more subtle, with the hints at the divide between Ellie and Joel and other consequences.
AH: See, we’ve already spoken quickly about this exact scene and I’m on the complete opposite side to this. It was the single biggest secret building up to this game, and because of that it basically had to come out at some point, rather than it just being alluded to in Ellie and Joel’s interactions with one another. Saying that though, I was so disappointed in that scene itself. I really felt like it should’ve a huge, pivotal moment for the game and Ellie and Joel’s relationship, as it is basically Joel dooming the whole of humanity because of his own selfish actions, but it just falls so flat in my opinion. It’s missing the emotion I feel like should be there, and instead it just feels like a throwaway conversation between the two. What really annoys me as well is the scene at the end of the game where Ellie tells Joel that she can never forgive him for taking away the opportunity for her life to have purpose is exactly the kind of moment I was wanting, but because it’s at the very end of the game it’s hard to care as much.
WR: Isn’t that sort of the problem, though? After the first game, it was always going to be hard for that scene to live up to how you imagine it. The genius of that ending is in the way that it leaves it to your imagination, and so showing it in this game goes against that. That final flashback is beautifully told, and the idea of Ellie maybe starting to forgive Joel is heartbreaking knowing the events that come after that conversation. In a different way to the first game, it leaves it up to the imagination, but this time we know that that time was taken from them.
AH: See, for me, the ambiguity of the ending of the first game was always going to be ruined as soon as this one was announced, there was no way of getting around it in my opinion. If it had stayed as a single game, then yeah, I could imagine what happened afterwards. But again, it was too big of a secret to ignore in a sequel.
WR: I reckon there was other ways around it where you don’t have to directly show those scenes. However, I have to mention that Ashley Johnson and Troy Baker are amazing in this game. Though, and this may be a controversial opinion, Laura Bailey potentially steals the show as Abby. After Ellie has killed some of her friends, she confronts Ellie at the theatre and we are again put back in time; though this time, we are playing through events from the perspective of Abby, starting around the end of the first game. We play as Abby for a long time from this point, which is a bold move, but this dual perspective really gives a different viewpoint on the actions of Ellie and Joel.
AH: Now, I know this is the point where a lot of people say the game starts going downhill, and honestly, I don’t understand it. To me, the game actually improves in quality when you’re having to play as Abby, as you’re running into Infected more and it starts to feel more like the first game from a gameplay standpoint. However, I guess I’m also biased because I love when games and films turn the perspective and make you see the story from the “villain’s” point of view, especially with this where there isn’t any character that’s either good or evil, they’re all shades of grey and have done some really shitty things to survive in the times they’re living in. Honestly, to me, Abby is the most morally grounded character in the whole game. We find out that Abby is the daughter of the surgeon Joel murdered in the hospital at the end of the first game (he’s also the only person you do have to kill in that moment, which I thought was a great touch) so she’s gone out for her revenge as I’d assume most people would in that situation. Once she’d got that, she was quite happy to just walk away from the situation until Ellie came back and started killing her friends one by one. The viewpoint switch really does go to show that Ellie really isn’t the innocent, perfect character people see her as.
WR: In my opinion, that flip of perspective is where a lot of the new ideas this game has come from. Revisiting areas that were previously hostile but, as Abby, are areas populated by people surviving, challenges how you consider the world this game presents to you. The game seems to make a point to make you play as Abby through these events after playing through them as Ellie, really hitting you with the inevitable consequences of the people you have affected. The relationship between Abby and Owen stood out to me; it has so many layers to it that make you invested, and yet the whole time you know that Ellie kills Owen. Abby also has different attributes and items which can affect how you play, which is a nice touch. The items she can craft are more directly damaging, for example.
AH: Again, when we had our quick conversation before properly doing this, I said that the whole time with Abby and Owen, there was obvious sexual tension, to the point where I was just like “can you two just hurry up and have sex already?”, not realising that’s actually where it ended up. Given that you only see their relationship and how it develops after you’ve already killed Owen as Ellie, I’m honestly so surprised at how invested in that love affair (in both senses of the phrase) I was. Abby’s exclusive items are so good, big shoutouts to the pipebomb and flamethrower weapons, definitely saved my ass on multiple occasions against the Shamblers, Clickers, and that absolute monstrosity in the Hospital Basement which I’m sure we’re going to talk about.
WR: Okay, so, yeah. For me, they went overboard with the Infected design there; I get that there are references to the Infected underneath the Hospital being there since the Outbreak, and the design of that area is very eery. However, when we get to the boss-style Infected… it gets too arcade horror for me, with this Infected of multiple bodies. The way it quickly charges around that area just doesn’t click (no pun intended) with me, tonally feeling way off from other Infected encounters. I more envisage a slower, more imposing Infected being the result of such a long gestation period. However, I will say that the flamethrower was very useful there!
AH: I will agree it definitely seems odd that it’s so fast, as we know that as the infection progresses, the movement of the Infected slows down, with Shamblers and Bloaters being super strong but extremely slow moving as the last stages of infection. I’d disagree it gets too arcade horror though, I always saw it as a natural progression. We know that Infected can start to merge into the walls with the fungus growing, as we come across this multiple times during the game, so I don’t think it’s that hard to believe the idea of “There’s been Infected in a confined, untouched area for the last 25 years, could they possibly have merged together in some way?”
WR: It isn’t really the merging together, as that makes sense, it is more the overall presentation of that fight gameplay-wise and the design of the Rat King. At that point in the game, it felt as though I was supposed to be terrified, but it more just seemed a bit ridiculous. The Shamblers are better designs; an Infected that evolves to disperse spores in such a violent way fits the theme of it being natural and evolving over time. Overall, through the game did you prefer the Infected or non-Infected encounters?
AH: If we’re just looking at it from a straight up gameplay perspective, personally for me, the Infected fights are more enjoyable than those of the human enemies. However, the story behind the human enemy fights are a lot more engrossing than those of the Infected. I think here is where it loses the connection slightly to the first game, as the story for that was always about the fights against the Infected, and the fights versus the human enemies seems like a sub-plot. Contrastingly, for this game, the roles for that have been reversed and honestly? I’m not too sure I’m a fan.
WR: Is a possible reason for much of that is because of the war going on between two factions, the WLF and the Seraphites, throughout the game? I am not sure enough was done to make me invested in this battle; more time with characters such as Isaac (Jeffrey Wright) may have helped here to really show the motivations of the leadership on either side. Instead, it seemed more of a crossfire you are navigating through.
AH: I’m so surprised that we don’t ever really see the leaders of either side all that much within the game so that they can explain their motivations. Given it takes up over half of the story, I think I can count on one hand the number of interactions you have with Isaac, none of which are particularly that long, and I don’t think you ever run into the leader of the Seraphites, do you? I honestly can’t remember, and if you do, it shows just how little the game makes you care.
WR: It even seemed to me that Isaac was being set up as a character who would be crucial to the story later on, but then he is killed quite abruptly; it is even as though they only had limited time with Jeffrey Wright? This war is really prominent in the life Abby leads, and yet for me a lot of the time playing as her I was more anticipating her interactions with Owen and Ellie.
AH: Oh for sure, especially wanting more of her interactions with Ellie, although I guess that that’s because you’re obviously emotionally connected to Ellie, and want to see more of her, as well as knowing how the story ends up so you’re left wanting to see how Abby and Ellie interact with one another once Ellie’s killing spree of Abby’s friends has gone down. You just knew that something big was going to happen between the two of them.
WR: It makes me wonder why they ordered the sections of the game the way they did; that section playing as Abby is extensive, and there is a risk of a lot of it being overshadowed by the knowledge that there is a confrontation with Ellie on the way. Perhaps it was almost meant to be exhaustive, to really force you to find more out about the life Abby leads to that point. I reckon maybe another flashback or two, similar to the aquarium one with Owen, may have helped the pacing here, as the combat is frequent.
AH: You see, I personally don’t actually mind that the extensive amounts of combat during the Abby sections you play, without much downtime. It really hammers home the fact that this is what they have to go through in order to just survive in this world. Abby and the WLF aren’t only stuck in a war with the Infected in their day-to-day lives, they’re stuck in another against the Seraphites as a result of a broken peace treaty. As well as the fact that it helps break up the monotony of the combat by not just having you face one type of enemy constantly, it actually makes me sort of feel sorry for Abby because she never really wanted to live this life, she was quite happy as a Firefly until Joel ended all of that in the first game.
WR: The aspect that really stands out is that after they murder Joel, they make a point to not kill others, and they show that again later on in the game. Ellie, though, goes through several of the people close to Abby, and that moral difference makes you question Ellie a lot. When you play through the sequence where Abby discovers first Alice, then Mel and Owen all murdered, it hit me in the core; it’s a powerful way to show the cycle of violence these people are in.
AH: Yeah, Abby is quite content on getting revenge on Joel alone for murdering her Dad, whereas Ellie is determined to take out every person that was at the scene when Joel was killed, despite the fact that it’s Abby alone who shoots him with the shotgun and then finishes the job with the golf club. The fact that Ellie is willing to go to whatever lengths it takes to avenge Joel’s killing (we finally know who the “I’m gonna find, and I’m gonna kill, every last one of them” line from the original trailer is about!) is the main thing that makes me say that Ellie isn’t at all a good person in this game. Abby spares her life on two separate occasions, whilst Ellie only does the same at the end of the game.
WR: Is it just me who finds that Ellie becomes more and more similar to Joel as this game goes on? That determination to hunt them down, and even the way she acts during combat, reminds me of Joel in the first game. So, when you reached the theatre, and you play as Abby against Ellie, were you on the side of Abby at that point of the game? It’s fascinating that Ellie becomes the opposition in the gameplay, yet which of the two were you backing throughout that?
AH: She definitely does become more and more like Joel as the game progresses, that’s a very good observation. She definitely gets more and more selfish as time progresses, to the point where it causes her to lose everything, and everyone, around her. It’s her determination to hunt Abby down that causes her to lose Dina, probably the most important person to her besides Joel. With the theatre section, I can’t actually say that I was rooting for Abby, despite having just spent the last chunk of the game playing as her and seeing her side of the story. I think that’s the game’s intention though, to make you uncomfortable whilst fighting Ellie, because she’s obviously the person you’ve spent a game and a half getting to know and empathising with. The hatred still lingers for Abby for what she did to Joel from my point of view, what about you?
WR: Even though I question so many of her actions, there is such an emotional attachment to Ellie that she is still the one I side with. That fight is tough too, with Ellie being a formidable opponent – as you would expect. It is Abby who emerges with the advantage, and again leaves Ellie alive; at this point, I find it tragic that these two people are in this cycle of violence that is damaging their lives. If Ellie and Abby talked more, I reckon they may even discover similarities between them.
AH: I don’t think they could ever get along with each other for that exact reason personally, they’re far too alike to one another. Even their stories in this game match up perfectly – they both have lost the person that means the most to them, and all they care about is avenging that fact, no matter what lengths it is that they have to go to in order to achieve that.
WR: Is there any other points about the game to this point you would have us mention at this juncture? Otherwise, we shall go on to the first appearance of the Farm; at first I wondered if this was the end of the game, with Ellie and Dina settled outside Jackson after Dina has given birth to J.J.; there are some great quiet moments here, and seeing Ellie as a mother figure after all the events you have played through is emotional. Then, herding sheep, suddenly her trauma from the murder of Joel strikes her.
AH: If the game had have ended there, I think I would’ve been even more annoyed at the ending than I already am to be honest with you. It just seemed like such a dumb place to end it, however, like you said, it felt like that was going to be the end for whatever reason. You know what absolutely broke me in that section specifically? When you’re holding J.J. (I’m gonna assume it stands for Jesse Joel or something myself) and go outside and sit on the tractor, Ellie says to him that “she’s going to teach him how to play guitar.” To me, that was a perfect way to bring a whole full circle to that, and carries on Joel’s legacy. Joel taught Ellie how to play guitar, having promised her at the end of their journey, and now Ellie is promising at the end of her journey to teach J.J. how to do the same thing when he’s old enough.
WR: That’s a great point; I also found being able to engrave initials on the tree a touching moment, especially when you revisit the Farm and see them again. The trauma Ellie feels about Joel is done well; it suddenly hitting her as she goes about her life is an apt representation of how an experience can impact you. When Tommy arrives with a lead on Abby, and Dina is trying to make Ellie stay, which side are you on?
AH: I’m automatically on Tommy’s side trying to get Ellie to go with him after Abby, purely because I feel like that’s the ending that the game justified; Ellie has gone this far, she can’t quit now. Had the game instead ended with Ellie staying at home with Dina, I would’ve been even more disappointed in the ending than I already am with the actual ending.
WR: Okay, we’re nearly at the ending; Santa Barbara is the setting for much of the final stages of the game, first playing as Abby, then as Ellie. Abby searching for a newly regrouping Firefly movement is a positive, forward-facing act, yet we never see these Fireflies. Instead, Abby is ambushed and captured, and suddenly Ellie hunting for Abby started to have the feeling of a rescue mission to me. Can I just say; this section of the game is STUNNING. That beach area when Ellie arrives? Wow.
AH: I think this is definitely the best looking section of the game by a mile, so I’m with you, it’s absolutely stunning. You know what though? I don’t actually think Abby ever got in contact with Fireflies; it was all just a set-up. My own (purely speculative, of course) theory is that that “Firefly Base” had long been taken over by the new enemies introduced for this final portion of the game, and the radio frequencies left on the table were hoaxes left by the enemies, except the one where she gets a reply, which is a direct link to them rather than Fireflies as Abby thought. Whilst we know from the Ellie section that the enemy base isn’t all that far from the safehouse, it’d explain how the enemies got there so quick to capture Abby; they were monitoring that base.
WR: That makes a lot of sense now you say it! Especially as they ambush them straight after, immediately as they leave the house. Fighting Infected in a more sunny, bright area was quite refreshing too. Those battles were dynamic, having a really different feel to other encounters in the past. I thought the non-Infected you face weren’t developed much though; for example, the two that are killed after Ellie is captured. Her using her immunity to her advantage there is a new idea too; though, that injury against the tree seemed really severe, and she stitches herself up without us seeing. I actually, despite the game being quite long, reckon more detail around this sequence would have helped.
AH: Yeah, I would’ve loved more development for them. Do we even know what they’re called, and what their motivation for hanging people on stakes is? I genuinely can’t remember that ever being mentioned in that final section. My favourite part about that level of the game though, I have to say, is the fact that you can release the Infected from their chains and temporarily have them join your side of the battle, taking out the non-Infected enemies. It’s a neat little battle mechanic that obviously we’ve mentioned you can see glimpses of earlier in the game, but this is the first time you can manually pit the Infected against non-Infected enemies.
WR: It’s slightly different to those earlier encounters – it makes me sorta wonder why there wasn’t more of it, as there is so much combat in the game. Wouldn’t the WLF and the Seraphites use Infected in their war? It seemed there is a whole operation going on in Santa Barbara that we find not much out about. Especially, again, compared to how much of the game is spent on the WLF and the Seraphites. This final part was quite tough, but to me wasn’t as suspense-building compared to the Firefly hospital in the first game, where you could really sense that you were at the finale. Here, you save the captured people, and – to me – the game quickly shifts into finale mode, with Ellie starting to struggle more.
AH: You honestly found it tough? To me, it was too easy, there was just too much stuff to hide behind so you could get a decent angle to either shoot the enemies, or sneak up on them to stealth kill them. Definitely wasn’t as suspense building as the Firefly Hospital in the first game either, I’ll agree with you there. At that point you know that the endgame was there, and it was a race against time to save Ellie before the operation started. The search to find Abby at the end of Part II doesn’t have anywhere near the sense of urgency in my opinion.
WR: I played on Hard, how about you? Not to compete, just wondering, haha! Yeah, agreed, though with the setting and new opposition, I reckon it could have been; it was paced in a way that didn’t seem smooth to me. Okay, so here we are – the discovery of Abby tied up. Ellie cuts her down, and they move over to where the boats are. I know you have a strong opinion on the next part…
AH: I did just play on Normal difficulty using all the default sliders, though I really do wish I’d turned up the frequency of ammo drops because I think I found myself without ammo more times than I ever did in the first game. Man, oh man… This fucking ‘climax’ to the story. Genuinely this has brought down my score alone that I’d give the game. For anyone wondering, the climax of the game sees you fight Abby and attempt to drown her in the sea, and just as Abby is about to die Ellie suddenly sees Joel and decides to let Abby go free. I get why the game ends this way, Ellie is breaking the cycle of revenge that she knows would only lead to Lev coming to find Ellie and exact revenge on her. However, am I really supposed to believe that after everything Ellie has been through to get revenge on Abby, after travelling from Wyoming to Seattle (a journey Google says takes 16 hours in a car, a luxury obviously not enjoyed in the game), after murdering each of Abby’s friends one by one, that she would really let Abby leave alive at the last second, purely because she saw a vision of Joel that hasn’t bothered her in the journey up to this point? She’s killed numerous innocent people on the journey to find Abby, and yet she can’t finish the job. The game is too long and too much happens to Ellie during it that it makes it impossible to believe that Ellie would show mercy at this point, she’s too far gone mentally that letting Abby go just doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.
WR: There is two sides to it for me; the idea of that conversation with Joel inspiring Ellie to break the cycle is beautiful, especially with the connection to the finale of the first game. Yet, as you say, for it to happen in that way, after all the events of the game… it doesn’t quite work. Also, the 1-on-1 combat is clunky; there is a melee fight at the end of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End as well, so it seems to be a way the developer is going, and I am not much of a fan. That shot of Ellie isolated in the water, though, connects back to your point about her; she has lost so many people.
AH: And that point is rammed home even further upon returning to what was Ellie & Dina’s home after letting Abby go, only to find Dina and J.J. have left Ellie. This is, without a doubt, my favourite moment of the game and the fact it comes after the lowest point of the game for me is such a juxtaposition between the two moments. You realise in this moment just how much Ellie has lost. She’s lost her parents. She’s lost Riley. She’s lost Marlene. She’s lost Joel. And now she’s lost Dina. The ending of the journey has left her with less than she started with. If you think back to the first game, there’s a moment with Sam after the sniper point and Sam gets bitten, where Ellie and Sam are having a conversation, with the latter asking Ellie “How is it that you’re never scared? […] What are you scared of?” Ellie’s answer to that is “Being by myself. I’m scared of ending up alone.” And with everybody that she’s lost along the course of both games, that’s exactly what’s happened to her at this point. She had everything she wanted, and because she couldn’t let Joel go she’s ended up alone. It’s an absolutely beautiful piece of storytelling that reminds you that when The Last of Us is good, it’s absolutely incredible. It upsets me so much that people aren’t making the connection between that scene with Sam, and this moment at the end of Part II, because it’s such a vital piece of lore behind this ending. I’ve had to explain to so many people online the significance of Ellie ending up alone.
WR: I also got a vibe that she was heading back to Jackson, though, and perhaps she has seen how much she has lost and is going to try and build relationships again, with Dina, with Tommy, with others. That is really complex and intelligent character development. That final sequence at the Farm, with the flashback, is so emotional. Finding out right at the end of the game that Ellie was really going to try and forgive Joel, despite every event, and that opportunity was lost… that really hit me. It isn’t at the end of a game that builds to the moment as well as the first game built to an ending, that’s a key difference. For me, forgiveness is perhaps the key theme of this game, and the ability to allow yourself to be open to it.
AH: Revenge and forgiveness are undoubtedly the key themes of the game, but the most significant piece of forgiveness just happens too late for it to be believable, as I’ve already said. That final cutscene with Joel that you mentioned where you find out Ellie was willing to try to forgive Joel for taking away her purpose in life, it’s absolutely beautiful. I mentioned earlier how I felt like the big scenes lacked the emotion that I felt they deserved, especially the scene of Ellie finding out Joel lied to her, but this one doesn’t suffer from that in the slightest – this is the exact kind of scene I was hoping for more of. It genuinely broke me that despite the fact Joel took away what could have been her purpose in life, and she’s obviously angry at him for it and rightly so, she’s willing to try and forgive Joel because of everything they’ve been through together and the fact that at this point, she really doesn’t know any other life.
WR: It’s the type of scene I am after; it is a consequence of the first game, but builds on it with ideas that are dependent on that game instead of repeating to the audience the events that have happened. The problem is that it takes until the ending to get a scene at this level. The first game excels at weaving gameplay and cutscenes together into an absorbing narrative, whilst this game felt a bit more as though I was playing towards story points. In your opinion, where is Ellie heading towards? Back to Jackson? Off on her own? Perhaps another way? Also, would you prefer they leave the story as is now (with the possible exception of DLC), or keep going – potentially to form a trilogy?
AH: I’m fairly sure she’ll probably head back to Jackson and reunite with Tommy, rather than set out on her own. She knows she’s safe there and time can heal most wounds, so I don’t think Ellie would risk her own life to go off on her own. As for the story, I’d love to see a Left Behind style DLC that focuses on Tommy and develops his story more. It’d be a good way to bring Joel back, and could help fill in the 5 year gap between the ending of the first game and the beginning of this one. As far as whether to make it into a trilogy or not? I’m firmly in the ‘no’ camp for this one myself. The climax to this story has turned me so far off the idea of another game, it’s such a letdown.
WR: Yeah, as aforementioned, more on Tommy please! I would be concerned that they would have an even greater scope on another game, and it would have even more of a problem with under-developed ideas than this game does. If it was a really focused story on Ellie returning to Jackson and finding Tommy, as well as maybe seeing where Abby and Lev go (to try and find Fireflies? Unless they reckon that was part of the ambush), then perhaps. A lot of my anxiousness about this game losing restraint was founded, though – I would prefer if they had not made a second game.
AH: After playing it now, knowing everything I know, I’d have preferred it without a second game honestly too. The first was perfect with the story and how it leaves such an open ending for you to imagine yourself what happens after the game. As an aside, have we mentioned just how good the sound design is? Despite the fact Gustavo Santaolalla can’t read or write music in the traditional sense, he’s composed 3 incredible soundtracks for the series. My favourite moment sound wise from the whole game is in the hospital basement. As you start exploring, it starts with a simple, slow drum beat. As you progress though and get closer to the Rat King, more and more instruments are added and the tempo increases, really adding to the drama of that moment. It’s genuinely incredible, and had my heart racing even just walking around in the basement.
WR: It seems harsh to say it, perhaps, with all the work that went into this game – and as a piece of art it is undoubtedly technically phenomenal; the performances, the visual graphics, the gameplay systems. The soundtrack to this game is amazing, as is the sound design. The unique way Santaolalla creates music is astounding to me, and creates such a sense of atmosphere that is distinct to this game. Yet, story-wise, it feels unnecessary to me, and that is at the forefront of The Last of Us as a series.
AH: Absolutely. For such a story-focused pair of games, The Last of Us Part II gets everything else so right except the story.
WR: After finishing the game, how were your emotions? In addition, how compelled are you to play through the game multiple ways in comparison to the first? I felt I was thorough, yet I have many collectibles to find!
AH: The game is such a rollercoaster of emotions, when it’s good it’s great, but when it’s bad it’s awful, and that’s personally how I felt. There are definite low-points, but absolutely more high points. However, between the combination of game length and the fact that Ellie lets Abby go free at the end of the game, I’m really not likely to do anything more than a collectible runthrough to obtain the Platinum trophy as like you, I thought I was pretty thorough but apparently I missed so many! In comparison, I’ve genuinely done nearly 20 runs of the first game.
WR: I am not sure whether I shall go for the Platinum; I often go for the Platinum on games I connect with on an exceptional level, and I don’t reckon this game is on the level of the first. Right, unless there are other elements you reckon we should mention, we’re gonna go onto our scores! We have discussed a lot about the game, but at the same time there is so much more we could talk about!
AH: I think we’ve covered everything now that I’d want to talk about! Any further discussion would just be repeating points, and I’m sure we’ve already done as such haha! How are we doing this? A score out of 10 I assume? If we’re going for that, then I think a fair review score would be a 7/10. Like I said there are such incredible moments in the game, but there are severe problems that I have that I don’t think I could justify anything more than a 7.
WR: See, this game is so tricky to score! It is stunning in many ways – as a production it is really impressive. Those key story flaws, and a lack of restraint in multiple areas, really affect the game for me, and led to moments where I was not on board with the direction the game was taking. It’s impressive, ambitious, so flawed – a 9 from me.
AH: A 9? Honestly that’s higher than I was expecting. With such critical flaws, I could never imagine giving the game that high of a score.
WR: It’s the level of detail in the world, and the improvements to parts of the gameplay, as well as how ambitious they have been with the story they have told. There is so much smart about the game, even with all the flaws. Would I have preferred no second game? Yes. However, if I am scoring this game, I have to consider just how impressive so much of it is.
AH: See, I can’t give it extra points for ambitiousness in the story when it falls completely flat on its face at its most vital point for me. I appreciate what they’ve tried to do, but yeah… It’s definitely impressive in its scale and scope, and I fully commend everyone at Naughty Dog for what they’ve achieved, but for me the most important part of The Last of Us is its story, and Part II just doesn’t do it for me.
WR: There are those shining moments, at points in the flashbacks; at the end; in the structure of the game, that show me that those ideas are there. The flipped perspective with Abby is really clever and shows a nuance a lot of games do not have. It is a game I can imagine inspiring a lot of creators in years to come to try alternative methods with their video game narratives.
AH: I definitely hope that more creators take up the idea of a dual perspective; showing multiple viewpoints definitely helped my enjoyment of the game. It also helps provide more depth to the supposed villain if you get to see things from their side of the story. In this case, it definitely helped to humanise Abby, and see her as more than just a random person who murdered Joel.
WR: Yeah, so many games have underdeveloped opposing characters; perhaps now more people shall see that there are many ways to provide another perspective on the events of a game. Keep an eye on narrative styles in the years to come, and see if there are more experiments with alternative viewpoints on the events within games. It’s been a delight doing this again. Let me know when you get that Platinum, haha! Until next time!
AH: Until next time!
I hope you enjoyed the return of this series of article! These are going to be recurring from now on; let us know if there are any particular changes you suggest. Also, leave a comment about your thoughts on The Last of Us Part II; we could discuss more!