Naughty Dog’s sequel to 2013’s “The Last of Us” rises above controversy and represents a major step forward for video game storytelling
Naughty Dog’s “The Last of Us Part II,” released June 19, is one of the more controversial video game releases in recent memory. Critics hail the game as a masterpiece, while fans attack it as ruining the franchise and its characters. While “The Last of Us Part II” is not without flaws, it is a worthy successor to “The Last of Us.”
“The Last of Us Part II” takes place more than four years after the events of “The Last of Us” in which a smuggler named Joel is hired to take an immune girl named Ellie across the country to a hospital amidst a viral pandemic. Along the way, the two develop a father-daughter bond and when they reach the hospital, Joel learns in order to make a cure from Ellie’s immunity to the virus, she would have to die. Joel instead kills dozens of people to save her and then lies to her, saying that no one is looking for a cure. When “The Last of Us Part II” begins, Joel and Ellie have escaped to a community in Jackson, Wyoming.
Similar to its predecessor, exploration is an essential part of gameplay, giving players large and detailed areas to search for resources, weaponry and collectibles. Unlike “The Last of Us,” however, “The Last of Us Part II” is exponentially larger, allowing for more extensive exploration of locales like snow-covered Wyoming and post-apocalyptic Seattle. As players search these areas to find resources and other trinkets, they will gain a deeper understanding of the world “The Last of Us Part II” takes place in.
The other aspect of gameplay are “encounters,” where players are placed in large areas with numerous enemies trying to kill them. Players can choose melee combat, gunplay, stealth, all of the above or none of the above to complete these.
The gameplay in “The Last of Us” gave players freedom to choose how they complete encounters and “The Last of Us Part II” improves that concept. By giving players more space and new ways to hide in and traverse through it, “The Last of Us Part II” increases the ways players can complete them.
But, encounters can grow repetitive. This isn’t unique to “The Last of Us Part II,” as most games can be monotonous as they progress. The game is also grotesquely violent, as players regularly find themselves blowing off limbs with shotguns or smashing enemy faces with bats covered in blades, and this gruesomeness can make it difficult to find the fun as the game progresses.
But for whenever its gameplay falters, “The Last of Us Part II” delivers a narrative so engrossing and compelling nitpicks about the gameplay disappear.
In “The Last of Us Part II,” Ellie is the main playable character. After a “violent and traumatizing event,” to quote the game’s director Neil Druckmann, Ellie embarks on a journey for vengeance. Both the presentation and story implications of this event on possible future “The Last of Us” titles have infuriated fans and caused much of the controversy surrounding the game.
It’s easy to sympathize with those upset about the event, as it’s deeply emotional and hard to watch. But it shouldn’t keep fans from playing the game, because while the narrative isn’t perfect, it’s still engaging and well written, with exceptional performances from the entire cast.
Naughty Dog blends multiple timelines and perspectives to create a story that builds on the original while respecting the old characters fans love. It also creates new stories with new characters that manage to be as compelling as Joel and Ellie in “The Last of Us.” Without spoiling anything, the narrative, characters and themes in “The Last of Us Part II” make it one of the most nuanced video game storylines.
So, to fans of “The Last of Us” who have yet to play the game but are aware of the fan outrage, they should play the game. And more importantly, the entire game. Even though it’s hard to play at certain moments, the rest of the game is too good to ignore and its narrative is too important to the franchise’s original characters to simply write off.
Luke Sanelli. Hi, I'm Luke Sanelli, and I'm a writer for Silver Chips Online. I enjoy to watch TV with my family and play video games in my free time. I'm also a major Buffalo Bills fan and baseball cap fanatic. More »