The Last of Us Part 2 has been out for a while. Now that the dust has settled, is it one of the best games developed by Naughty Dog? This review contains major story spoilers so read at your own risk.
Naughty Dog has established itself as one of the best first-party developers for the PlayStation 4. They have been on a roll this generation with The Last of Us Remastered, Uncharted 4, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, and now have finally released their masterpiece, The Last of Us Part 2. It is the culmination of years of work from the hundreds of developers at Naughty Dog. For the sequel, Naughty Dog had a mammoth task of surpassing or reaching the level of quality that was achieved by the first game, which is widely regarded as the game of the last generation. Suffice to say, they had a lot of pressure when it comes to developing the sequel and it was never going to be an easy task.
I started The Last of Us Part 2 with an open mind. I had just completed part 1 as a refresher so the experience of Joel and Ellie’s relationship was still strong in my mind. Going into the game, I had spoiled myself of a major plot twist thanks to the leaks. Unfortunately as a journalist, I have to report on leaks, so I had no choice in this regard and thus one of the major twists in the story was already spoiled before I even played the game. Still, this twist is established very early in the game and thus it doesn’t ruin the experience, but it made me curious before I started the game, because I wanted to know how Naughty Dog is going to deal with it.
Naughty Dog has prided itself on creating a cinematic experience. Their games can easily rival the storytelling that we see in a big Hollywood blockbuster and they have a knack for creating engaging, fluid, and entertaining gameplay to back up their cinematic experience. All of this has helped elevate games like Uncharted and The Last of Us as industry standards that other developers strive to hit as a benchmark.
The Last of Us Part 2 sets a new benchmark in cinematic storytelling. When the project was announced, it was revealed that Westworld writer Halley Gross will write the narrative along with the creative director Neil Druckmann. Once we play the game, it becomes clear why she was considered for this role. The narrative in The Last of Us Part 2 is different from its predecessor. It is quite complex on its own but the narrative threads are masterfully intertwined to create an experience that can’t be replicated in other mediums of entertainment. This is why The Last of Us Part 2 is a once in a lifetime experience.
The story begins with Joel and it ends with Joel. Even if the experience in between is shocking and generally depressing, the gameplay is strong and keeps the player engaged. Neil Druckmann had made a bold decision when he decided to kill one major character right at the beginning of the game. It is a creatively dangerous but stupidly brilliant move that elevates the atmosphere and overall tone of the story. Ellie’s journey in The Last of Us Part 2 until the ending wouldn’t be the same without it. While Joel is hardly playable in the game, his presence is felt in powerful flashback scenes that fill in the missing pieces of the story.
Read More: Fairy Tail Review – Making Your Own Guild
As the game begins a few years after the events in The Last of Us, we as a player don’t have much idea of what has happened by now, and the flashbacks serve this purpose. They never feel unnecessary, at least for me, and they have some of the most memorable moments in the whole game. The Last of Us Part 2 uses this flashback mechanic to brilliantly craft a story that emotionally resonates with the player and creates important character development between Joel, Ellie, and other key characters.
Looking at the game on a surface level, it is a tale of revenge. It offers the player a chance to play as Ellie as she seeks revenge while also allowing experiencing the other side. This is where Abby comes as a new character. When I first heard about the leaks for The Last of Us Part 2, I wanted to know how Naughty Dog would have developed Abby’s character. Just like they have used flashbacks for Ellie, they repeat the same with Abby to tell her story. While I wasn’t able to resonate with her side of the story, I did admire what they were able to accomplish with her. She is a strong character that is quite fun to play and has some great gameplay moments including memorable set pieces and boss fights.
Ellie’s story is all about her struggle and a quest for revenge which is a stark contrast to Abby. As Ellie struggles to contain her anger and seeks vengeance, Abby is trying to live a normal life in this post-apocalyptic world but things don’t go as smooth for her. During the first half of the game, players experience the story through Ellie’s perspective until the focus shifts back to Abby. It felt a little disjointed at first but once we beat the game, it feels like a masterstroke by the writers.
It is hard to describe The Last of Us Part 2’s story without diving deep into it’s ending. By the end of the game, this is not a tale about revenge, it is about forgiveness. The ending of the game had such a profound effect on me that even after finishing it a while ago, I still remember it fondly. It is emotionally powerful, almost poignant, and arguably open to interpretation. If properly understood, it resolves one of the major plot points from the game and closes a long struggle for Ellie, also giving peace to the player who has to sit through such a depressing game. It is one of the best videogame endings as far as I am concerned. However, to truly appreciate it, we need to experience the whole game with an open mind. We need to connect with Ellie’s struggles and understand what is going through her head. If by the end of the game, the player still hasn’t managed to figure out how Ellie ended up in this situation, then they likely missed out on the moral of the story.
Read More: Desperados III Review – Cowboy Espionage
Naughty Dog might have killed a major character in the game but what could be a better example of doing his character justice than the impact his death has over the whole story. By the end, as the motivation of everyone becomes clear, it is easier to appreciate the events of the story and look back at what has happened by now. It is a tragic ending in a sense that has no loose ends. But like every ambiguous conclusion, it is up to the player to interpret the ending in their way and as far as I am concerned, there was no better way to deal with it than what Neil and Halley have managed to achieve here.