The Last of Us Part 2: Review

Release Date
June 19, 2020
Sony Interactive Entertainment
Naughty Dog
PlayStation 4

—-This is a spoiler-free review of The Last of Us Part 2.—-

Once or twice in a generation will a game of this caliber be produced. The Last of Us Part 2 represents the absolute pinnacle in video game creation by mastercraft studio, Naughty Dog. In the culmination of more than a decade of the studios development, not only does every single component of the game look and feel fantastic, but the storytelling far exceeds almost anything seen in games today. No matter which emotions it manages to elicit from you, you will feel something throughout.

You Can’t Outrun The Past

Picking up where the first game left off, The Last of Us Part 2 opens with Joel revealing to his brother Tommy, that which only he knows. That Ellie’s immunity could have provided the cure to save humanity, but being like a daughter to him, Joel couldn’t let Ellie be sacrificed. He rescued the unconscious Ellie and has been living with his decision ever since. Ellie has her suspicions that Joel is hiding the truth, and this is the linchpin to everything that follows. The conversation serves as a nice recap to the first game for players that are just now jumping in. While you don’t need to have experienced The Last of Us to start part 2, I will say playing through the first game fortifies the player’s bond with Joel and Ellie creating a vested interest in the characters, which adds so much more weight to part 2.

Where The Last of Us focuses primarily on Joel and Ellie’s journey, The Last of Us Part 2 focuses more squarely on Ellie. She’s no longer the little girl from 5 years ago. She’s grown up. She’s lived some of life’s hardest lessons and she hasn’t come out the other side for the better. She has scars. Both physically and emotionally. This singular truth plays an enormous role in Ellie’s path and choices made. We get to see the disconnect between her and Joel, and this looming lie that stands between them.

The Last of Us Part 2 Ellie Scars

Learning Your Lessons The Hard Way

The world is a hostile retaliatory place, and the infected are no longer your greatest threat. The infected are still an ever present danger, but it’s the warring factions that truly pose your foremost peril. Having lived in this post-apocalyptic world for as long as everyone has, disposing of the infected is second nature. Priorities have shifted now to the militarized WLF (or wolves) and the religious cult known as the Seraphites (or Scars). Being part of neither camp means whoever you run into, they most likely want you dead. Each group has their reasons for hating the other, as well as the individual characters you’ll meet within those sects along the way.

Ellie and the contending factions do dispatch one another in very brutal and visceral ways. This is intentional and has impact beyond just the violence of it all. There are many themes that The Last of Us Part 2 attempts to tackle, violence being one of them. Some are handled more tactfully, while others simply smack you in the face with it. Since the games launch, it has come under fire both for and against these many topics. Personal biases, while hard to separate for some, shouldn’t discount what has been accomplished here. For a video game to provoke such strong emotional responses, one way or the other, should be a testament to the quality of the craft. I found myself running the emotional gamut, loving a character one minute and hating them the next. Only to find my thoughts and feelings swayed and betrayed time and time again through my 30 hours playthrough.

The Last of us Part 2 Abbey in Trouble

A Tried and True Formula

The Last of Us Part 2 follows the same gameplay loop as The Last of Us: story beat, fight encounter, resource scrounging, repeat. With a few lite puzzle solving mechanics thrown in. While the formula may sound simple, the execution is flawless. No one element gets belabored too long, or ignored for too long. Storytelling moments are accentuated by impeccable character animations and lifelike facial expressions that can be felt, not just seen. Voice acting and timing lend emotional weight and believability to what would otherwise be standard line delivery. Enemy interactions are tension-laden and accompanied by auditory cues when entering the fray or being spotted. Painstakingly detailed and stunning environments make it a pleasure to scour every nook and cranny for resources and world-building lore notes. All these components are deftly woven together to create one of the best games I’ve ever played.

As in the previous game, gathering limited resources and crafting is at the heart of The Last of Us Part 2. Items can be found while exploring and scattered about the combat areas. I always made it a point to use whatever resource was currently full. Though with as careful as I rummaged through every area, I was maxed out more often than not. That and using the knife to stealth kill really enables you to conserve most of your gear. Naughty Dog does limit backtracking by way of a steep mud-covered ridge you’ll slide down, or something similar, and then can’t return to that area. This ensures you have to keep pressing forward for supplies, not doubling back.

You can access these supplies and crafting via your backpack. This is also where you’ll find your skill trees which allow you to upgrade skills, like crafting more arrows, explosives or additional health. Only one branch is available initially, though you can find training manuals in the field to unlock several more. Medicine pills are found through the world and are your currency for upgrading the skill tree. Similarly, scraps are gathered to upgrade your weapon arsenal at workbenches. You won’t find enough of either resource to max out all upgrades on a single playthrough, but that’s what New Game + is for. There are additional collectables to seek out as you explore, like trading cards and coins, though they aren’t used for any kind of upgrades.

The Last of Us Part 2 Workbench

Enhanced and Refined Combat, No Matter How Ruthless

Combat in The Last of Us Part 2 isn’t only brutal and intense, but well thought out from a gameplay perspective. When arriving at combat sections, the music would swell and indicate you have left the exploration portion and entered a combat zone. Likewise, when you are attempting to traverse the area without being discovered, an audio cue followed by a “Huh?!” would alert you to the fact you are not as hidden as you think you are, and are about to be discovered. Also, when you kill all enemies in an area, Ellie will say something like “whew, I think that’s the last of them.” I found this method to be a natural feeling solution to aid gameplay mechanics. Naughty Dog seemed to pay close attention to little details like this, and incorporating them naturally, heightening the experience over all.

Another great example of this would be when I unloaded my entire clip, and while trying to switch weapons, the enemy would holler “She’s out of ammo!” Those moments took me delightfully by surprise. As I was cowering behind a shed, and three guys were closing in, they KNEW, and communicated to each other that I was empty, and pressed their advantage.

Similarly, if I would try and hunker down somewhere and wait for guys to pass by me before striking, I’d ultimately die. The AI is very well tuned and fans out in a way that demands you stay on-the-move. Once spotted, things would get even more precarious. Enemies didn’t wait their turn in line for me to clip them off one at a time. Instead they’d call out my position, and flank me, forcing me to be adaptive and steadily circling. Even when I would manage to stealth shank someone, or pull off a silenced head shot, soon after the patrol would spot a dead friend, and go on alert even without seeing me. This kept the pressure on during each encounter in a way that felt real and dynamic.

The Last of Us Part 2 On the Move

Fights can be approached in many different ways, allowing you to find what works best for you. Lay some trap mines and throw out smoke grenades, or perhaps you’d prefer to go in guns blazing and then duck and cover for a few stealth attacks during the mayhem. Whichever way you chose; each kill is felt. By both sides. Enemy factions will call out their fallen companions by name, making them more than just enemy fodder, but people. Even more impactful are the close-up kills you enact. Each one a technical marvel of animated perfection, as Ellie clinches her teeth and scrunches her forehead exerting the effort necessary to choke out another life. Or how an enemy will audibly gurgle and choke on their own blood and flail about on the ground grasping their throat, after you’ve knifed them in the neck. These moments are plentiful and intense, sure to stay with you long after you set the controller down for the day.

New in The Last of Us Part 2 are patrolling dogs. They can follow your scent trail and really make it difficult for you to stay put, furthering the idea of keeping the player on the move during combat. Luckily there weren’t too many instances with dogs, as it never felt good killing them. Also in contrast to the first game, encounters with enemies were spread out over much larger areas, and with many more adversaries. This enables you room to move about and plan your attacks, while also giving you the chance to move on almost entirely without fighting if you so choose. I appreciated that given the longer battles sequences, mid-fight respawns were added. So if you were 10 minutes into a strategic fight and cleared out say, half your foes, but slipped up and got caught and killed, you wouldn’t have to start then entire zone over.

Something For Everyone

Naughty Dog does such a commendable job with accessibility. Aside from the standard difficulty settings like Light, Moderate or Hard, the options menu allows for specific tweaking of the challenges you face. You can raise or lower the resources you find, the enemies you encounter, their difficulty, your AI partner’s aggressions (or assistance in a fight) and more. These options ensure that all players, of all skill levels, can enjoy the game tuned to their liking for maximum enjoyment. Additionally, special consideration has been included with options for vision, hearing, and motor skill tweaks, as well as full custom controller remapping is available. The suite of options is unlike anything I’ve seen before, and is yet another example of how the game excels in all areas.

Some of my favorite things in The Last of Us Part 2 are the little touches. Like how you can find safe combos by reading lore notes in the environment. Further still, if you would rather you can simply listen to the clicks on the safe as you turn the dial, and crack it without the combination. I loved the action and sound of breaking glass to enter locked buildings or get food (health) from a vending machine. Even stepping on the glass, as it crackles beneath your feet, could give away your position. Or how strumming your guitar on the PS4 touchpad works, even down to the individual string plucks. And the many, many surprise moments, that I won’t spoil for you here.

The Last of Us Part 2 Ellie Playing Guitar

The Last of Us Part 2 (PS4)
The Last of Us Part 2 reaches new heights in gaming that consistently impressed me, from start to finish as a total package. Storytelling with impact and believable characters you love, and love to hate. Cleverly devised game mechanics that serve both the player and the game. Visually striking environments that continually blew me away and felt truly lived in. Voice acting and audio design that rivals any other game on the market. And no matter where you come down on the hot-button issues associated with this game, whether it be story beats, violence, or otherwise…One thing is unquestionable, The Last of Us Part 2 is a masterpiece creation and definitely not to be missed.
Strong and impactful storytelling
Unbelievably detailed and gorgeous visuals
Superb voice acting and sound design
Intelligent and realistic AI
Plenty of surprises
Subject matter could be off-putting to some
Final Score

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