“If one comes to call vengeance justice, such justice will only breed further vengeance, and trigger a vicious cycle of hatred…” This quote comes from the character Pain, a character Troy Baker voiced in the anime Naruto Shippuden and one of my personal favorite antagonists in any media, and is something that kept coming to my mind as I progressed further and further into The Last of Us Part II. Then I realized, that’s exactly what The Last of Us Part II is about, and it shows how vengeance and hatred are so all consuming to yourself and those around you. Pearl Jam’s song “Future Days” that is played throughout the game strings the narrative and this theme perfectly.
The Last of Us Part II, set five years after the events of the first game, quickly turns from Joel and Ellie trying to live peacefully in the town of Jackson into an all consuming, heart wrenching tale of vengeance that takes Ellie to a beautifully realized Seattle in the midst of a war between two factions. This war along with the ever looming infected makes Ellie’s quest for revenge one of the most constantly tense experiences I’ve had while playing a game.
Characters, like most Naughty Dog games, is of course where The Last of Us Part II shines brightest. While the first game only had a handful of characters, this game introduces a wide array of character for you to get to know while expanding the world of the game. Ashley Johnson’s performance as Ellie is captivating and really pulls you into to where Ellie is at this point in her life and as she loses herself to vengeance as the story progresses. Troy Baker’s performance as Joel is a nice evolution of the character especially with where the first game ended. Baker really makes Joel feel like a surrogate father to Ellie, and watching their relationship grow and evolve throughout the game is a true emotional journey.
The supporting characters you meet along the way are no slouches either. Shannon Woodward’s portrayal of Dina, Ellie’s love interest, is an absolute joy to watch. Dina’s lightheartedness and loving personality makes her a great counterpoint to Ellie’s more serious attitude. Also, their relationship and interactions are absolutely adorable and shows how much they truly care for each other. Characters you meet in the WLF and Seraphites, the two warring factions, are some of the best side characters in a game, and you want to know more about them every time you see them.
Another shining Naughty Dog hallmark is their contextualized environmental storytelling through notes. Like Ish’s story in the first game, there are so many characters you only meet/hear about through the notes and environmental storytelling. Everything has context in The Last of Us Part II. Every dead body was someone trying to survive or get away from the two warring factions and infected. This makes you want to find and read every note as some stories continue past just one note you find and tell stories that progress through multiple areas in the game.
The beautifully realized Seattle is done with such scope without making The Last of Us Part II an open world game feels like a technical marvel. Areas and levels are so big and have so many nooks and crannies to explore to find secrets. Buildings can be broken into to find loot or avoid enemies, you can swim and hide underwater, or even ride a horse around a massive area in the game. Also, gone are the days of waist high walls littering the environment signalling you are entering a combat encounter. Now, with Seattle being almost completely reclaimed by nature, the arenas feel way more organic and lifelike than a typical video game arena.
The gameplay of The Last of Us Part II is a massive step up from the original. You have so many more options as to how you handle the situations you’re faced with. There is also a lot of emphasis on stealth gameplay in the game compared to the first. The ability to go prone allows you to be near invisible in the tall grass or by crawling beneath a vehicle. Thus, this allows for a greater chance to take out enemies without being seen or avoid them altogether. New mechanics such as the jump and dodge are very useful when you start to get overwhelmed by enemies like when the infected rush you in certain encouters. You can even just run away from enemies if you are getting too overwhelmed in most instances to escape an area or to get back into cover and continuing stealthing around.
Combat itself can be very tense and have your heart beating out of your chest. Even though supplies are plentiful, especially if you search around everywhere, there were still times when I had a sliver a health and had to run away or hope I was stealthy enough to take out the rest of the enemies around. The infected are also just terrifying. The sounds the Clickers make is horrifying still, and new enemy types feel like something straight out of a horror game (one especially reminds me of a Dead Space enemy that terrified me years ago). The Seraphites are silent killers with their bows and only communicate through whistles, so you never know what they’re saying to each other as you make your way around them. The first time you encounter them catches you completely off guard and is intense.
The Last of Us Part II is a technical achievement by Naughty Dog, and is a worthy sequel to what many consider one of the best games ever made. The direction, performances, animation, world building, and art direction are all top notch. The story telling the tale of how all consuming vengeance is as a form of justice that you don’t think about the consequences of your actions, forget what’s really important, and lose yourself to it is gut wrenching to watch. As stated at the beginning, vengeance is horribly cyclical. The game still has me thinking days after beating it, and will be one I remember for a long time.
Score: 10 out of 10
Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro