So, I’ve been playing The Last of Us Part II solidly, every evening, for just over a week and I’m finally allowed to share some spoiler-free thoughts with you (on one designated preview part of the game). I absolutely can not wait to tell you about the game as a whole – golly gosh! Also, full disclosure, I’ve actually made my husband play a lot of it because I have a tendency to get freaked out and throw the controller.
The section of the game I am able to discuss is called “Finding Nora,” where Ellie is travelling through Seattle to find a character called… Nora (surprise surprise) who is apparently holed up in a hospital. As you’ve probably gathered from trailers and released gameplay videos, The Last of Us Part II is visually stunning. Like, OMG I AM TOTALLY ABSORBED IN THIS WORLD AND HAVE TOTALLY FORGOTTEN ABOUT REAL LIFE, stunning. Like, I’M HAVING PHYSICAL REACTIONS TO THE WEATHER BECAUSE OF HOW WELL IT’S ANIMATED, stunning.
I actually did shiver and feel the need to grab a blanket when the weather went south in-game. It’s simply enchanting. I don’t know why this is so important to me, but the water rendering is also so frickin’ good in Part II. Walking through puddles actually creates ripples this time round, 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.
Character dialogue remains extremely strong in The Last of Us Part II. It felt like Ellie was in tune with my brain. Often I would think something and then Ellie would actually say it. I wouldn’t be surprised if the writing team took a lot of time to actually think about how the player would be responding to what was occurring in-game for this very reason. It was almost creepy how in-line her dialogue was with my thoughts at times (conspiracy theories of mind-reading AI to follow). 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.
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.
The health bar however, is a lot harder to keep track of as it is mostly in different shades of white – except for when you get concerningly low. I found that I died more frequently due to this alone. 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, which we will get to).
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 gameplay 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 is also introduced in many stressfully fun situations which would more often than not lead to genuine gasps of shock from yours truly.
Even though the game is still a plot-driven and guided experience, there is enough to explore and do aside from the main storyline, that it almost has an open-world ‘feel’. Definitely more so than the first. Exploring every nook and cranny is encouraged and well rewarded through skill branch upgrades, helpful items, character dialogue and the discovery of subplots.
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 its 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).
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 it’s 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. 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 zombies were bad, wait till you meet the humans. 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, both of which I encountered in this section of the game. 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.
That’s all I can really tell you at this stage. I guess after all the spoilers and delays all you really want to know is whether or not this segment of the game, alone, makes The Last of Us Part II feel like a worthy follow up to its much-loved predecessor? Well, I can confidently tell you… yes. Yes it does.