The Last of Us: Part II SPOILER Review
*This Review Contains Full Spoilers*
Played On: Playstation 4 (Original)
Back in 2013, just as I was graduating high school and awaiting the arrival of the PS4, Naughty Dog dropped The Last of Us and took the gaming community by storm. It garnered critical and player acclaim like no game has in quite some time and has garnered the reputation as one of the best PlayStation exclusives and, for some, games of all-time. For me, The Last of Us is a great game and I really became enamored by the simplistic crafting, reminiscent vibes of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, how creepy the clickers and the overall environment was, and the relationship between Joel and Ellie. The only real thing that kept me from regarding it as a masterpiece, like so many others did, was the ending.
While I understood that Joel’s final act of killing the Fireflies in order to keep Ellie alive since the tests they were going to do on her to possibly find a cure would kill her makes sense given that he saw her in the same light as his daughter Sarah, who dies at the beginning of the game, it just rubbed me the wrong way. Something about the way Joel lies about what he did to Ellie just never sat right with me because it felt like he got away without any sort of consequence or remorse for what he did and I didn’t agree with his decision. It left me feeling a little unsatisfied because it felt like an incomplete conclusion and I wasn’t willing hope and keep my fingers crossed that some sequel was in the future that would offer a more satisfying resolution.
Thankfully though, it wasn’t long before news got out about a Part II being in the works and now that I’ve been out of college for a few years and am anxiously awaiting the arrival of the PS5, the long-awaited sequel finally came. For what its worth, the whole debacle that occurred before the game’s release surrounding a leaked script that left the fanbase divided was something I was able to avoid and go into Part II totally blind. By the time the credits rolled and the platinum trophy popped, there was this sense of fulfillment that filled me as Part II not only gives the satisfying repercussions for the first game’s ending that I had been yearning for, but also tells a gut-wrenching, two-sided revenge tale.
Taking place four years after the end of the original, Part II catches us up with an older Ellie (voiced by Ashley Johnson) and Joel (voiced by Troy Baker) as they attempt to live as normal as possible in Jackson. There’s something oddly hopeful about the opening and seeing a part of this world that is actually civilized again. As Ellie walks through Jackson with a new companion named Jesse (voiced by Stephan A. Chang), there’s a liveliness that can be felt as players explore a fully running bar and engage in a short, but sweet snowball fight against children with Dina (voiced by Shannon Woodward) – Ellie’s new girlfriend.
Dina is one of the best new additions to the series as she’s truly a perfect match for Ellie and one of the only people that can put her on her heels. She proves on more than one occasion that she can handle any infected that comes her way and that she can give Ellie a run for her money in the bad joke department. Their love for one another is legitimately one of the sweet spots in the otherwise drab darkness of the world around them and their chemistry is impossible to resist. It’s also interesting for Ellie to have someone else to talk to, other than Joel, about living in this world. Their conversations about whether or not people are still making movies and how all of the money they find in a bank vault is totally worthless were fascinating and learning about Dina’s past and former family really made her grow on me.
Ellie’s relationship with Joel has changed quite a bit though as there seems to be some unknown strife between the two when we first see them again and they’re eventually faced with a tragedy that no one expected to see. Within the first few moments of the game, we’re introduced to a new character named Abby (voiced by Laura Bailey) – who’s motivations and associations aren’t exactly clear, but you get a bad vibe. Eventually, we learn that she, as well as all the people that come with her, are former Fireflies and they’ve come to avenge their fallen family by killing Joel. The second Joel and Tommy (Jeffrey Price) end up with Abby and her group, there’s this immediate uneasiness and this gut-feeling of something about to go wrong instantly washes over you. It’s honestly the perfect set-up to the swift and satisfying tragedy we get of Abby killing Joel.
Look, while I loved Joel, this was always going to be how things would end for him as he’s truly brought this on himself. His actions in saving Ellie might be understandable, but that doesn’t mean they don’t go without consequences. It’s a death that’s shocking, but feels totally earned and it’s great to see returning writer/director Neil Druckmann and co-writer Halley Gross be punished for their actions and face consequences that alter how we view them. Not to mention, it sets the perfect tone of no one being safe and kicks off the game’s two-sided tale about revenge.
Where’s Joel’s story was one about redemption, Ellie’s story here is all about revenge and seeking vengeance for Joel’s death. Throughout her sections of the game, you can feel this bitter anger driving her all the way to Abby’s last known location, Seattle, and upon arriving, you can feel how Ellie is being driven by her rage. Even when there are perfectly logical reasons to leave Seattle and head home, like Dina telling Ellie that she’s pregnant, it’s obvious that she’s not leaving without Abby’s blood on her hands. She even seems disappointed when she finds the scraps of Tommy’s own evidence of revenge that she couldn’t do the deed herself and every kill that players perform as Ellie feels more brutal than the last.
Part II holds nothing back in showcasing the sense of brutality and bloodlust that Ellie enforces in her kills. Regardless if players choose to be a little more stealthy or blunt in the ways they attack enemies, the kills they perform are disturbingly brutal with how much bloody carnage they perform. It’s almost as if Ellie sees them as obstacles in her path rather than people and it perfectly emphasizes how consumed she is by revenge. Even for having Dina along and her attempts to keep Ellie from losing herself completely as well as the undeniably empathetic aspects to Ellie’s journey to avenge Joel, there’s no doubt that Ellie has gone down a much darker path and it’s great to see Druckmann and Gross continue to challenge and change our views of these characters – especially for Abby.
Although she’s positioned as the antagonist when we initially meet her, the game shows a much clearer picture on her side of the story by dedicating a sizable portion, a little less than half of the game, to fleshing out her story. The sudden turn to playing as Abby is a strong turning point for this game as it creates a sense of sympathy and charm for the character that I didn’t think was possible and by the end, I didn’t even want Ellie to kill her. Don’t get me wrong, Abby doesn’t regret killing Joel and I don’t think she should, but there’re lasting ramifications that change her life going forward and relationships with her friends. After the Fireflies disbanded, they separated into two groups in Seattle – the W.L.F., which Abby is apart of, and the Sepharites, who are a religious cult constantly at war with the W.L.F. Although Abby is originally seen as a strong member of the W.L.F., or Wolves as they are eventually called, she quickly becomes an outsider as some people are left a little scarred by her brutalness towards Joel and how he personal ties eventually make her a traitor.
Abby’s story almost perfectly mirrors Ellie’s with how her romantic relationship with Owen (voiced by Patrick Fugit) and her bull-headed mentality puts her at odds with many of the people she’s fought with for so long. In some ways, she ends up being just as likeable and charming as Ellie and Bailey’s voice along with the strong writing really makes you care about Abby in an unexpected way. There’s also a great story thread of her coming to terms with her hatred towards the Seraphites, commonly referred to as Scars, through meeting Yara (voiced by Victoria Grace) and her brother Lev (voiced by Ian Alexander) – a bow wielding badass with an incredibly intriguing trans storyline. Lev is another great addition as his story of being shunned by his people, but silently hoping for his mother to accept who he wants to be is incredibly relevant, heartwarming, and woefully tragic. The impact Lev and his sister have on Abby is legitimately life-changing and his story embodies how diverse the representation really is. The Last of Us Part II is a bold step forward for representation in mainstream gaming and the diverse roster of characters in race, gender, religion, and sexuality that’s represented here is both impressive and important.
While experiencing both Ellie and Abby’s story, players will experience gameplay that’s very intuitive and perfectly fine-tuned. Part II doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel in the gameplay the first game offers and rather makes adjustments to create a much smoother experience. The crafting is still just as addictive and simple as ever, supplies and ammo are still a limited resource, there’s a strong variety of guns with Ellie and Abby utilizing their own unique weaponry, there’re safes that players can find codes for or even use careful listening to unlock, stealth is still a prime option that players can utilize, and players can still search for upgrades through finding supplements and workbenches. Movement is also much tighter than the last game and there’re a lot control customization and players accessibility options that can be utilized so that players can take control of their experience – further proving how Naughty Dog puts player experience first.
Naughty Dog has also created a much more organic environment that constantly keeps players on their toes. Throughout the game, there’re plenty of unexpected surprises, like infected coming out from walls, and well timed-jump scares that constantly keep your heart rate going. There was one moment where I was going to a workbench like normal and then the screams of an enemy suddenly filled the room and attacked me. It completely changed my approach going forward and it gives players the sense that there are no safe havens for them to find. There’s also some great chase and escape sequences that really ramp up the pace and put players in panic mode. The collectibles, which consist of letters that flesh out the events of the world, trading cards, and state coins are also really addicting to find and exploring empty stores and an open downtown Seattle is an absolute blast.
It’s actually great that the characters, gameplay, exploration, and horrors of Part II are so strong as these were the key components that kept my drive going amongst the mostly underwhelming middle part of this story. Honestly, everything between Joel dying and the big confrontation between Abby and Ellie constantly left me a little disappointed as it lacks big moments that continued to pique my interest. The “boss fights” the game has are basically just fighting against Bloaters and you’re given so many explosive and fiery options that they aren’t all that hard. Either we’re just following Tommy’s brutal trail of breadcrumbs, which I guarantee will be a future DLC, and are behind the action or are just watching characters react to learning information we could’ve easily guessed or already know. For instance, Dina finding out that Ellie is immune doesn’t lead to anything special and even Ellie confronting Joel about what he did to the Fireflies isn’t as all that impactful. Even everything that happens with Abby isn’t all that special as her romance with Owen is kind of bland and everything with the Scars, Wolves, and Rattlers isn’t all that special because the game doesn’t really flesh them out.
Even though the war between the W.L.F. and the Scars seems like a major element to Abby’s story and imagery of a character called The Prophet can been seen throughout Seattle, these things end up not being as major as they seem. We never meet the Prophet, see the results of the big battle between the two warring factions, and, honestly, the only purpose the Scars really serve here is influencing Lev’s trans storyline. Although the new factions that are offered in this game are given the imagery and concepts to be interesting, there’s nothing done with them to explore their ideology on a deeper level and they end up just being surface-level lore. The Scars are just your typical religious nut cult that serves as a secondary antagonist and I don’t even know why the game tries to establish another faction at the end of the game, in the form of The Rattlers, when they are just nobody scavengers anyway. Now, none of this is to say that the story is bad, it’s just underwhelming and took a while for the game to deliver that reignited by interest. It’s what keeps this game from being a masterpiece in my eyes and for a while, I was left hoping that the end would bring me back and it sure did.
Once the game gets back towards settling the confrontation between Ellie and Abby, the game heads in a story direction that embodies how character perspectives are challenged. It’s actually mind-blowing how close Ellie came to becoming the villain of this story with how her rage and craving for revenge against Abby, after she once again lets her go, and is willing to throw away her life with Dina and her child to avenge Joel. Throughout her entire time in Santa Barbara, players are left in an uneasiness with Ellie ripping through Rattlers in order to find Abby and an absolutely brutal and bloody final fight sequence that’s gut-wrenching to be a part of. However, rather than just having Ellie fulfill her revenge fantasy and kill a character that’s already been through all kinds of hell and that we’ve come to see change through her own experience, Druckmann and Gross make a much more compelling and deeply human choice by having Ellie let Abby go. It is an incredible emotional peak that’s made even more complex with a quick flashback to Joel and Ellie talking about Joel’s decision and how Ellie wants to try to forgive him.
In some ways, this whole journey was Ellie’s attempt at finding forgiveness for Joel through avenging him and it’s another shade of Ellie’s broken life because of the world she lives in. She likely doesn’t forgive Abby and she probably shouldn’t, but it captures the complexity of her losing Joel and the complicated nature of their relationship because of what Joel did. It’s truly the butterfly effect in full effect and the way that Ellie pays for her choice is a brutal taste of the price of seeking revenge. With Dina gone upon her returning to her farmhouse, it’s obvious that Ellie’s choice will now have more lasting ramifications as well and I actually heavily respected Dina for leaving and not just giving Ellie what she wants. It’s an ending full of harsh consequences, tough realizations, and that contains a deep truth about the cost of our actions. There’s certainly still places that the story could continue as Abby escapes with Lev and Ellie leaves the farmhouse likely in search of Dina or a new life, but this is the kind of definitive ending that left a mark on me and is truly satisfying.
The Last of Us Part II is a bold and brilliant step forward in storytelling with how it challenges and changes our perspectives of its characters through a gruesome and harsh tale of revenge. It’s a game that’s truly got it all and even makes immense strides for inclusion and representation in games. Part II continues PlayStation’s dominance in providing exclusives that are willing to change what storytelling can be and is undoubtedly one of the best games of this console generation.
*All photos were taken by the author