When the game ended and the credits rolled, after clocking in at 30 hours of gameplay, my husband and I just sat there in silence for a long time trying to process what we had just experienced.
First let me, without directly mentioning any, address the leaks and speculations floating around out there. They will not impact your enjoyment of the game. They DO NOT spoil the ending. I have put a decent amount of time into reading up on everyone’s ‘claims’ and theories and I can assure you that no one has it.
Director Neil Druckmann recently said this in an interview: “Nothing compares to being Ellie and feeling those moments, not just in cutscenes, but in gameplay, conversations, the music and the emotional effect that has on you. And the story was constructed in such a way that it’s really not about twists and turns. It’s about slowly ratcheting the crank and feeling the tension with the choices the characters make.” and I couldn’t agree more. If you were unlucky enough to happen upon the leaks or just couldn’t avoid temptation, please PLEASE don’t let that stop you from playing The Last of Us Part II (TLOU2).
The detail in TLOU2 is INSANE. I should also let you know that we played the full game on an original PlayStation4 without major issue. It ran completely smoothly 98% of the time and I’m sure the one bit that struggled will be fixed with the Day 1 patch. They have obviously, painstakingly thought through every set piece, every bit of dialogue, every interaction and every enemy to create a completely unique gaming experience. Never before have characters in a game literally said what I was thinking, or had just vocalised to my husband, so often (or at all). The way plot is revealed through dialogue between characters and even between random enemies you encounter feels very organic and extremely well done.
More than ever before, you feel like you are interacting with and experiencing a movie first-hand. Tiny, easily overlooked details often reference things yet to come and stories of other lives lived within the universe are so beautifully painted through the décor choices and notes you find along the way. Characters are constantly reacting to their surroundings and terrain in subtle and super realistic ways. Did you just vault over a smashed window? You better believe Ellie just winced in pain. Running through wet mud or down a slope? Watch as Ellie loses her footing and skids along the way. Those are just a few examples of how much love and attention has gone into TLOU2.
Upgrading your weapons is so much cooler in Part II! You actually get to see your character pull out the weapon, make the changes to the weapon and then the weapon is forever changed (even it’s inventory icon gets an upgrade!). You upgrade Ellie’s skills via a skill tree, which is actually pretty cool. You can unlock new branches by discovering various manuals along your journey (which is why I highly recommend leaving no drawer unopened in this game).
Combat has had many upgrades! It’s several years on from when we last saw Ellie, and she has blossomed into a beautiful and ruthless killing machine. Melee combat is much more dynamic, with dodging becoming a large part of the experience as well as making better use of bottles and bricks. Being able to pick up a bottle and attack an enemy with it gives combat a very realistic and more engaging feel.
On that note, if you’re already holding a bottle, you can no longer accidentally pick up a brick. You need to get rid of the bottle first (and visa versa). A small but much appreciated change, as my loyalty to bottles is unwavering and it was so frustrating to often accidentally swap out my beloved bottle with a stupid brick in The Last of Us. Also, allies are ACTUALLY HELPFUL now. Having someone fighting by your side and actually fighting well made the whole experience feel that little bit more realistic.
The default health bar however, is a lot harder to keep track of as it is mostly in different shades of white – except for when you run concerningly low on health (you can fix this issue by changing the HUD settings). I found that I died more frequently due to this alone (not knowing about the aforementioned setting at the time). The ‘listening’ ability is also more challenging in Part II. You no longer get a crisp outline of enemies, instead you begin with a very vague and short-range white blur to indicate where the enemies are (which can of course be improved with skill upgrades).
High-contrast mode is intended to assist gameplay for the visually impaired. It can be combined with audio cues to let the player know when to hit a certain button during combat or while interacting with their surroundings. But, in my opinion, it’s a useful setting for a second play-through of the game. It’s a pretty awesome tool for the completionists out there. All items and things you can interact with, characters and enemies are brightly highlighted against a monochrome world – making missing anything very near impossible. However it isn’t tolerable for long periods of time… because as the characters are highlighted in blue, this Eiffel 65 song will be looping eternally in your head:
The way you traverse the world and access new areas has also had many new additions. Anyone with claustrophobia might struggle with some of these changes as this game introduces a lot of squeezing through tight spaces. Both in sidling through narrow gaps in walls, and commando crawling under vehicles and low structures, tight-space game-play is common and awesome!
You can now go prone and crawl through tall grass as a new way to stealth attack enemies as well. Ropes and cords are now useful items to keep an eye out for to assist with many different gameplay challenges. Jumping and balancing are also introduced in many stressfully fun situations which would more often than not lead to genuine gasps of shock from yours truly. The ability to break windows is awesome and an essential mechanic which I often completely forgot about! There’s no icon or anything to remind you that hey, you can smash that window and get into the secret room. I hate to think how many areas I’ve completely missed due to forgetting to smash some glass!
This may have been the same as in The Last of Us, but I found the infected sounds in The Last of Us Part II SO MUCH MORE UNSETTLING. Many of them just sound like normal humans in intense amounts of pain. My natural inclination would always be “Oh, someone’s in trouble!” but it would always be a bloody infected just living its life. Clickers are now much harder to stealth with their new echo location mechanic.
Part II introduces new infected, clearly having been dragged directly from the pits of hell with some tasty-looking new growths. The worst of which being the Stalkers – a slithery little swine of an infected that prefers to creep up on you rather than directly engage. IT’S NOT RIGHT. I think I even remember Joel saying in The Last of Us “the infected don’t hide”. Clearly Joel knows nothing, guys. The infected hide now and it’s the actual worst. Luckily my trusty shotgun made quick work of those assholes. I HATE STALKERS. But also love the new dynamic they add to the game. And hate it. But also love. Would definitely be getting a restraining order ASAP IRL.
If you thought the infected were bad, wait till you meet the humans. This game is savage. Brutal. Many humans seem to have given up fighting their baser instincts which makes many aspects of this game pretty sick and twisted. Enemy encounters, in general, are far more terrifyingly realistic. They aren’t ‘announced’ via character dialogue every time, so it can be very easy to be taken by surprise or almost run into an enemy before you realise they’re around (sometimes even in the middle of crafting).
Human enemies are also quicker and generally more difficult to predict. Each enemy has a unique look and they even have their own names, so when a human enemy discovers their lifelong friend lying in a pool of blood, they’ll call out their name in grief, just to make you feel a little guilty about blowing both their arms off.
As you may already have gathered from the State of Play, there are two warring factions in Seattle. The Wolves are a highly trained and well-organised military-esque outfit, complete with dogs that love to sniff you out and savage you. However, as scary as they are, they’ve got nothing on the Seraphites (aka Scars). Finally, some religious fanatics. No apocalypse story is truly terrifying without them and far out these dudes are devout and disturbing. They come complete with an ominous catchphrase, seemingly mandatory braids, shaved heads, and I have it on good authority that they love a hanging just as much as I love a good cult.
Sprinkled among the horror and brutal violence are SO MANY breathtaking moments. The animation of light through the trees, vast beautiful landscapes, a colourful shrubbery. All perfectly and thoughtfully executed. Flower covered buildings and overgrown streets = the instagrammer’s dream.
I don’t know why this is so important to me, but the water rendering is so frickin’ good in Part II. Walking through puddles actually creates ripples this time around, which is definitely the least impressive bit of water animation in the game – but something about its absence in its predecessor always bugged me. Another thing that continually blew my mind is the absolutely seamless transition between cutscenes and gameplay. It’s a beautiful thing.
The incredible backdrops allow for some of the most cinematic gameplay I’ve ever experienced. From running with zombies in pursuit in the snow (complete with sweet crunchy footsteps in snow sounds and everything), to riding on horseback through a village on fire, and encountering monstrous new varieties of the infected in tight spaces.
Each time you must follow a path set out before you, but it is so well done that often the path isn’t clear until the very last moment. It makes you feel like you’re nailing all these split-second decisions (basically being a total BOSS), when there wasn’t really any choice to begin with.
As we neared the conclusion of the game, there were so many moments when I expected it to end, but it would just continue on. I couldn’t help but compare the experience to being a committed viewer of The Walking Dead. Countless moments of begging for it to please, for God’s sake, just be over already and then the next minute I’m back on the hook, heart pumping, ready for whatever is around the corner. It’s genuinely an emotionally exhausting game. Netflix added Friends to their line up in NZ just in the nick of time! You’ll be needing that crap (meant in the most affectionate way possible) to push down thoughts of the uncomfortable reality the game presents.
No matter how often I hated the game (the beauty of it being that it wanted me to hate it in those moments), when it was over I was absolutely stunned. It’s a masterpiece, a work of art and it has a lot to say about humanity, how we are and how we can be better. I think a key takeaway is that we really need to ensure that therapists survive the apocalypse. A lot of drama could have been avoided if someone sensible had sat these characters down for a good debrief.
P.S. Don’t forget to use your trap mines. Much carnage. Very good.