Game Reviews

The Last of Us Part II Review

A worthy followup to one of gaming's greatest.

by Kyle Hanson

Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us isn’t just one of the best games of its generation, it is arguably one of the best games of all time. Featuring stellar performances, tight stealth-action gameplay, and a truly compelling, emotional story, the game was a milestone for its medium. But could a sequel capture that same magic? Apparently so, as The Last of Us Part II serves as a truly exceptional followup, expanding on the story and world while also reshaping much of that first game in a fascinating new light. Once again Naughty Dog has crafted one of the best games ever made, though the plot will challenge players in many unexpected ways.

The Last of Us Part II picks up about five years after the shocking ending of the first game. Ellie and Joel have been living in Jackson, forming a large community amidst the chaos of the fungal-zombie apocalypse. The Last of Us was a somewhat story heavy offering, especially for its genre, and Part II expands this with even more plot and story content. However, while the story is key to your enjoyment of the game, avoiding spoilers is even more important. Given this, I’m going to avoid sharing any plot details, as the game is a far better experience the less you know going in.

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What you do need to know is that The Last of Us Part II expands, enhances, and builds on the story of the first game. You might not need to have played it to get everything, but it will help quite a bit. Likewise, it’s important to know that Part II puts more emphasis on the story, which means longer cutscenes and segments that don’t really feature much gameplay. If you are at all interested in the plot then this isn’t a problem. But make sure you don’t go in expecting an adrenaline-fueled, happy-go-lucky romp here. This is vicious stuff and you might find it takes some uncomfortable turns, but if you can handle the ride it’s all worth it.

From start to finish, The Last of Us Part II delivers some of the finest writing, acting, and directing of any game ever made. It has the feeling of a long novel or the very best TV shows of the current golden age. Which is all the more impressive for a sequel to an already near-perfect story. It accomplishes this by avoiding the obvious. Part II doesn’t redo the first game, it comments on it and adds to it while showing, once again, that games can tell stories that challenge players and their conceptions of the world around them. The story will confront you in many ways as it features brutal presentations of an increasingly cruel world. While you may be frustrated with the direction some characters take, the game has something important to say and it says it exceptionally well.

The Last of Us Part II delivers some of the finest writing, acting, and directing of any game ever made

So if you’re coming to The Last of Us Part II for a continuation of the plot from the first game, you are in for one of the best gaming experiences in years. But beyond that, the gameplay takes a similar track, taking what worked in the first game and improving it immensely in a number of ways. Naughty Dog has cemented themselves as one of the finest third-person action developers around thanks to The Last of Us and Uncharted series. With The Last of Us Part II they have taken all of that experience and created an exceptional stealth-action experience once again.

Areas are far larger and more open than they have been before, with some sections of the game almost feeling truly open world. It’s not totally open though and accidentally exiting an area can happen at times, possibly locking collectibles away for the rest of the game. It can also lead to some confusion as to where you need to go, especially when the boundaries of the world aren’t all that clear. Simple things like bushes or overgrowth can delineate a border, while not being entirely apparent to the player. But these momentary lapses in clarity are worth the tradeoff of a more vibrant and rich world to explore.

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This is still a fairly linear experience, keeping you moving toward your current objective, while placing numerous enemies of different types in your way. The infected are ever-present, popping up at the most inopportune of times, but handling them is simple once you know how to move and take them out. Series veterans will feel a sense of familiarity here, despite a few new additions to the infected roster. The increased frequency of Stalkers was a good choice, as they add variety to infected encounters more than any other change. However, it’s the humans that will really get your anxiety levels spiking as The Last of Us Part II features exceptional AI that creates an immersive and challenging experience with every encounter.

Human enemies strategize and communicate at impressively realistic levels, even calling each other by name and reacting when someone is killed, even if they forget quickly on lower difficulty levels. Their tactics will vary based on which of the many difficulty options you pick, but even on Normal you’ll find a challenge ahead of you. Stealth is key, but with so much space for yourself and the enemies to hide in, keeping track of everything can be gleefully stress inducing. Entering an area full of enemies, assessing the danger depending on the factions or types, planning out your movement only to improvise as the well-laid plan falls apart is always tense and exhilarating. And you have so many tools at your disposal to handle it that you’ll find the most joy in just exploring your options.

Your movement and tactical options are nearly infinite, with Ellie feeling like a capable combatant, but also a nimble assassin, depending on what’s called for in the situation. And that situation can change at any moment as you begin each segment in stealth which can either carry you to the exit or end rather quickly. This is especially true when dogs show up, as they can follow your scent, requiring you to distract them and their handler to avoid combat. You always want to avoid straight fights, since you’re outnumbered and often outgunned, but you do have tools to handle things once they get hectic.

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Ellie is more capable herself, especially once you unlock a majority of the expansive upgrade tree, but her arsenal has also grown. There’s the tried-and-true classics, along with new craftable items like silencers and different types of explosives. You gain new weapons that have a particular use, allowing you to tailor your loadout for the given situation. If you’re more stealthy, you can swap to the bow and silenced pistol while the rest of your arsenal is a few button taps away thanks to the returning quick access menu. Once things do fall apart, which they often will, the action feels just as seamless and smooth, just a lot more hectic.

The Last of Us Part II excels at its gameplay just as much as it does in the story department. And the world in which you experience all of this is equally impressive. Naughty Dog knows how to make great looking games, and this may be their best yet. Everything from foliage to the dilapidated buildings that it has grown over looks amazing. You will often find yourself stopping to marvel at some new vista or just how realistic the environment looks. And as the game takes you to new and varied locales the quality never lets up.

The Verdict

The Last of Us Part II is a truly worthy sequel to one of the greatest games ever made. Naughty Dog isn’t playing it safe in any area of the experience, with a bold and challenging story layered atop perfectly crafted stealth-action gameplay. Some players may not like where the story or its characters go, but for those that are ready for it, it will have you feeling joy, sorrow, grief, and anger to degrees few games have before. And in between all these hard moments is some of the smoothest and most well-designed third-person gameplay around. Naughty Dog has delivered another once-in-a-generation experience and it’s a must play for anyone with a PS4.

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The Last of Us Part II

  • Available On: PS4
  • Published By: Sony Interactive Entertainment
  • Developed By: Naughty Dog
  • Genre: Action-Adventure
  • US Release Date: June 19th, 2020
  • Reviewed On: PS4
  • Quote: "The Last of Us Part II is a truly worthy sequel to one of the greatest games ever made."
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