A complete review of 2020’s The Last of Us: Part II
I wouldn’t consider myself a serious gamer, not by a mile, not even close. My hand-eye coordination leaves much to be desired and the sound of bullets does bad things in my brain. I can, however, safely say I am an absolute sucker for a good story. I’ve played almost every story-rich game since 2012 and boy, has it been a wild ride! Spending over 8 hours collecting spaceship parts in GTA 5, then another 3 hours mindlessly driving around Los Santos; hacking petty change through security cameras in Watchdogs; getting pummeled by veteran bots in CoD Black Ops II; I didn’t have to play well, I just had to play.
So when the second installment in The Last of Us franchise was announced, I was ready for it. TLOU 2013 set a new standard for story-rich, visually-finessed gameplay and characters that left a lasting impression. Never before have I been so intensely invested in the safety of a little girl, so distraught by her loss of childhood, so proud of her first zombie kill. The Last of Us : Part II went above and beyond this. I wouldn’t be able to think about this, much less write it down immediately after finishing TLOU2, so after two months of grief, reconciliation and connecting with reality again, here’s my review of The Last of Us : Part 2.
Spoilers Ahead. Obviously.
The Infamous Leak
If you don’t know about the leaked footage from TLOU2’s early gameplay, join the club. I try to avoid video game spoilers if they have anything to do with the storyline, so I luckily missed this one. During April of 2020, less than three months before its official launch, a crucial part of the story was leaked – consisting of a cutscene early in the game where Abby (the daughter of the Firefly surgeon Joel kills near the end of the first game) kills Joel in a manner that is both gruesome and gut-wrenching to watch. Fans didn’t expect this, to say the least – I know I didn’t. With various teasers, trailers and first-look gameplay videos floating around, boasting a grown-up Ellie finding her sexuality, this leak came as a double-edged sword. Joel is gone. Ellie is alone. Many fans decided to boycott the game altogether, enraged that they had to part with Joel. But I had absolutely no idea what I was in for.
The Last of Us : Part 2 starts out humble. Joel catching his brother up on what happened at the Firefly camp at the end of Part 1.We get a recap of the events that unfolded, Ellie having to die for the cure, Joel killing everybody in the Firefly camp to get her out. Literal chills. Now, Joel and Ellie manage to build a life in a camp in Wyoming four years later. From here, the playable story begins. On a supply run for their camp, Joel and his brother, Tommy, rescue a woman from a horde of zombies. The energy is intense and continues for 30 minutes (or an hour if you play like I do), until Joel and Tommy stumble into a room and get knocked-out. What happens next? No, you wait.
Now we’re playing as Ellie – tasked to go out and find Joel and Tommy – and she does so with her new girlfriend, Dina. After a long, high-stakes run to an outpost where Joel was last recorded being at, and some marijuana and cuddling, the two women follow Joel’s trail to the room he has been captured in. Right when you think you’ve made it, you’ve found Joel – BONK. Ellie’s knocked-out as well. We’re still controlling Ellie when we come to, only to watch Joel get literally clubbed to death at the hands of a character you haven’t seen the last of, oh no! Yup, this scene (which still crushes my entire heart) is the one that got leaked.
That’s possibly the quarter-mark of The Last of Us 2. From here, until the half-mark, we play Ellie. Out for blood. And boy, does she deal damage! There’s a lot of fighting, evading, scavenging, topped off with cutesy conversations between Dina and Ellie. Now we skip directly to the second whammy. Ellie finally finds Joel’s killer, Abby. But do you get to kill her, finally get some unhealthy vengeance for Ellie? Psych. Now you’re playing as Abby.
I’ll admit I was livid. But here’s where the story opens up. You’re yanked out of Ellie’s story, and into the world of The Last of Us. You experience what the life of a survivor is, you’re made to make difficult decisions, you’re introduced to new characters. Abby, in all her brawn and grit, grows on you. And how can she not? She is a Joel in-the-making.
If you remember the E3 first look for TLOU2, you will remember a scene with Abby and a bald child. Viewers at the time could not connect the dots. Who is this character? What does this have to do with Ellie? How about, everything?
Abby is the daughter of the Firefly surgeon Joel guns down while rescuing Ellie. During Abby’s playable parts, we see the other side of the picture. Abby lost her father and had to flee to a different camp to survive. Her entire life has since been dedicated to exacting revenge on her father’s killer. When she finally accomplishes said vengeance on Joel, the anger-driver persona we’d known to be Abby is suddenly thrown into the lives of siblings Yara and Lev, escapees from a cult called Seraphite. After a painful sacrifice by Yara, Abby and Lev are left to defend themselves outside the walls of this post-apocalyptic cult, while, in the same timeline, Ellie makes her way to where the game left us, face-to-face with Abby.
So you play as Joel’s killer, and you don’t hate it. Her decisions, her motive, her situation begins to resemble the very character she exacted revenge on. Here’s where players begin to realize they won’t get to see as much of Ellie as they thought they would (which we assumed was the entire game), but TLOU2 isn’t a decision-based game. You play the cards you’re dealt. So when that anticipated moment arrived where you finally made your way to the big showdown, finally got to go head-on against your apocalypse-father’s killer, you play as Abby. Now, I cannot be the only one who refused to hit Ellie, refused to initiate any kind of violence, while cursing at the inequitable nature of the situation, but you had to hit Ellie. Not once, not twice. I mean, it’s Ellie. So you force yourself to beat her half to the grave. Then you let her go with a warning.
There’s a lesson here that’s glaring us in the face, but Naughty Dog isn’t done pulling our humanity apart at the seams, is it? Not quite. Because they’re nowhere close to the end of Part 2’s story. Ellie moves to a farm with her now fully-actualized life partner, Dina. They have a child. They do meals as a family, spend the mornings tending to their land, evenings watching the sunset. Ellie, however, is overwhelmed with PTSD from the events after Joel’s death. So in a haste decision, she packs her bags and makes it into the night in search of Abby, once again. Not before Dina warns of there being no family to come back to. But Ellie gripped with grief, wants (rather, knows) nothing more than that she has to avenge Joel.
Now, here’s where I assumed there would be a new part of the map for me to make my way back to Abby while unraveling what could possibly be an intro to the next part of the series, but there are more lessons to be learned, of course. You see, Abby was on her way to a Firefly camp with Lev, before we get a devastating cutscene – one where the duo are captured by the Rattlers, a slavery camp. So when you play as Ellie making her way to Abby, you follow the trail right to a Rattlers Camp, where you find both Abby and Lev strung up to poles and left to starve. Ellie frees them, only to engage in painfully weak combat with Abby, and every punch feels like overkill. And to note – Ellie only manages to coax a fight out of Abby by holding a knife to Lev’s throat. So does Ellie finally get revenge? Nope. Abby and Lev take a boat ride into the mist and Ellie heads back to the farm, sans two fingers that Abby bit off during the big showdown. The farm is empty, as Dina said it would be. You walk around the property, find Joel’s guitar, but you can no longer play, not without those two fingers. The lesson? It’s very clear but I’ll write it down nonetheless – your past will take as much as you can give to it, even after it is long gone. And now, cue tears.
The Big Takeaway
The Last of Us: Part II isn’t a game that lets you explore a new world, make choices that influence your gameplay, it is a movie that you have some control over. It isn’t meant to satisfy your zombie-gore cravings, your post-apocalyptic simulating, no. It’s meant to throw you into grief, taking you away from your beloved makeshift father-child duo, showing you realistic implications of this fantasy situation. Ellie grew up killing zombies and humans alike, it’s what she knows best. Losing Joel only amplified her personality, bringing us the sequel we know today. And as for the way Ellie’s story plays out, nobody can be more devastated than the creators themselves.
Director, Neil Druckmann, along with voice actors Ashley Johnson (Ellie) and Troy Baker (Joel) had the hardest time planning the story for TLOU2. In their own words, nobody loves these characters more than them. And this was possibly my only consolation, watching hours and hours of interviews allowing me to disconnect from the characters and remember I live outside ones and zeros. Here’s one interview that has my whole, entire heart.
What You Probably Missed
Apart from its immersive storyline, TLOU2 has a number of hidden easter eggs and references that are begging to be discovered! Here’s every easter egg I could find.
A PS3 & Some Naughty Dog Video Games
Ellie is… a gamer???
Sarah’s Photograph next to Ellie’s
She’s as much a daughter to Joel as Sarah (sobs).
Pearl Jam Poster
This song foreshadows the after-effects of Part II, be warned.
The Halloween Monster From the left Behind DLC
As seen in Part 1’s extra gameplay. We miss you Riley!
Ellie’s Famous Wooden Pallet!
“Those days are long gone kiddo!”
Doctor Uckmann Trading Card
The man himself!
Nathan Drake’s ring
Enter the Naughty Dog Universe!
The Last of Us: Part III?
Considering it took 7 years for Part II to make its debut, we won’t be getting another video game for a while. What we do know is Druckmann’s dedication to storytelling. Fans are familiar with Druckmann’s statements following the release of the Part 1 DLC, where he stated he needed to find a story that went above and beyond the first installment, until which there would be no confirmation for a Part II. And here we are, still not over TLOU2. While Naughty Dog has not announced plans to begin development, Druckmann is dedicated to finding a storyline that goes above and beyond. With 2 successful parts to The Last of Us already under his belt, there’s no telling how successful Part III will be. But you best believe we’re here for it!
The Last of Us: Part II is currently only available for the PS4. Get it here.