Hate. Hate is a strong word. It means you dislike something so intensely, that you’re willing to change your life for that very thing. It could be avoiding a specific movie, not talking to people, or doing things to stop or hurt what you so passionately hate.
As you play through The Last of Us Part II (TLOU2), you see that the overarching theme is hate. Hatred between characters and people. It’s an amazing game with a powerful story that highlights what that powerful emotion can do to a person. How it eats away at who you are and can forever change you if you leave it unchecked.
Over my 24 hour journey with TLOU2, I experienced a wide range of emotions. The story hit me in places that made me happy, sad, elated, proud, and even had me question the relationship I have with one of my own parents. It had me on the fence multiple times wondering if I truly liked the game.
Here is my “review” of The Last of Us Part II, there will be full spoilers from here on out.
When June 19th hit, I was excited to dig into TLOU2-but I hesitated. The first game is the best game I’ve ever played (not my favourite) and while it’s sequel had been getting rave reviews, I was worried that it would tarnish the memory I had for the first game. A few hours after I finished work, I booted up the game and was immediately thrown into the all too familiar world.
The beginning of the game is done beautifully, throwing you back into the characters and longing to learn more about how Ellie and Joel have been over the last 4 (7) years. You get a taste of how life is in a community like Jackson and most importantly, you meet Dina, who will become one of the most important people in Ellie’s life. She’s a great addition to the universe as she’s strong on her own but is unstoppable with Ellie. She both helps keep Ellie grounded and stay afloat.
A few hours in, you switch to a strange character who you learn is Abby. This is where I remembered one of the leaked spoilers that I got hit with. As soon as I heard her name I remember the tweet I saw that said “Abby kills Joel”. I was dreading playing as this woman, but as we progressed and she is saved by Joel and Tommy; I had hope. We’re the spoilers wrong? Nope…
The death of Joel was heartbreaking. After it happened I had to save my game and take a break because I was so emotionally wrecked. While depressing as it was the end of a character we loved, it started off this hate-fueled journey that brings Ellie to Seattle.
The beginning of Seattle is great. The relationship with Dina expands, you get a small taste of an open world within the Downtown core, and there is a wonderful, entirely missable moment featuring the song “Take on Me” by A-ha. These small moments throughout the game take you out of the hate and showcase the humanity of the characters and it is done tremendously well.
Now, skipping over some moments as this is a review and not a recap, I do think about halfway through the game there is a serious pacing issue. After Ellie has hunted down most of Abby’s friends on her quest for revenge, she is back at the theatre with Dina, Jesse, and Tommy. As it looks like Abby is about to kill Ellie, it cuts to black and goes into a flashback. This reveals Abby’s own quest for revenge, as her father is the doctor who was killed by Joel at the end of the first game. That segment then leads you into playing through another 13 hours or so as Abby on her own 3-day journey through Seattle.
At first, I was not a fan of this. The story was at its crescendo when suddenly it slammed the brakes, did a 180, and went back to the beginning. It threw off the pacing of the whole game for me and it took quite a while to pick back up.
That being said, I think this journey as Abby is necessary. It fleshes out the characters that Ellie has killed, including the most heartbreaking death being Alice, the friendly German Shepherd. These segments humanize Abby and show her the damage her own quest for revenge has done. How she was so focused on finding and killing Joel that life moved on without her and the man she loved found someone else. It doesn’t make you love Abby, but it makes you understand her plight.
These two segments also showcase the destructive power of hate. Ellie’s is showing the lengths you’ll go to find the ones you hate while Abby’s is the fallout, how hate consumes your life and leads to more pain rather than alleviating it. Naughty Dog also uses flashbacks wonderfully to showcase what shaped and drove Ellie and Abby. The highlight of which is the dinosaur/space exhibit with Ellie and Joel. It was the most emotional part of the game for me as it was the first real opportunity we saw Joel be a father figure to Ellie.
As I was nearing what I thought was the end, I was on the edge of my seat as I thought the game was not only about to kill Ellie, but make me do it. After a somewhat tropey boss fight with Ellie, you see Abby give up on hate, she spares Dina and Ellie and leaves them behind, along with the hatred that has been fueling her for the past four years. It’s a powerful moment that leads into an amazing sequence with Ellie and Dina a few years later with their little boy J.J. I was almost convinced TLOU2 was going to end on a somewhat happy note.
But of course, this is TLOU2, where no ending is happy. Ellie is now in Abby’s position at the start of the game. She could lead a normal life, but hate is controlling her. She can’t function because of the hatred she feels. So she leaves her happy life to find and kill Abby once more.
These final bits of gameplay in Santa Barbara are what really puts the nail in the “this is too long” coffin. While this final few hours is worth it story-wise, it’s so much more of the last 22 hours that is unneeded. It was probably the hardest part of the game to get through, but boy was it worth it.
We finish this journey with Ellie finding Abby, almost letting her escape and then forcing her into a fistfight. This final battle does away with all the mechanics and breaks it down into a simple survival of the fittest. When it seems like Ellie is about to get the revenge she’s been looking for, she lets Abby go. She has finally learned that hate does not change things. She spares Abby and returns home to find Dina is gone. Just as Abby did, hate consumed Ellie to the point where the rest of her life crumbled.
While TLOU2’s story is a masterpiece, the game’s biggest problem is the length. Certain sections of the game feel needlessly longer than they should and there were quite a few times where I was continuing to play more to continue the story than enjoying the gameplay. While the gameplay is fantastic, one can only take going through another room of clickers so many times.
Even with the flaws like pacing, drawn-out sequences and a few tropey boss fights, TLOU2 is the game of the generation. It pushes the boundaries of game design, story, environmental storytelling and so much more. It’s a game I’ll be thinking about for years to come and one that I definitely plan on revisiting. It’s a game that should be studied, that people can learn from. It highlights what hatred can do to you.
If there’s one thing you take away from this game it’s that we should all let go of the hatred and embrace the goodness in life… and to visit your local aquarium.
- Fantastic storytelling
- Gut-wrenching narrative beats
- Solid gameplay
- Amazing Characters
- Pacing issues
- Feels a little drawn out
- A couple of moments are a little tropey
- Made me cry 😥