“The Last of Us Part II” had some massive shoes to fill. The first “Last of Us” is one of the most beloved games of all time and has cemented itself as an icon in the gaming industry. It managed to prove that video games could be a medium to tell compelling and thought-provoking stories, just as any other genre.
Seeing how the first “Last of Us” game is such a universally beloved game, it seems that the second installment could never live up to the hype, no matter its quality. Taking a look at fan reactions, oh boy is that true.
Despite holding one of the highest scores in Metacritic history, the game amassed a massive amount of negative user scores, with over 145,000 user ratings. The reviews now stand at 5.6 out of 10 for user scores, much lower than the 9.3 for critics.
There were many reasons for this backlash. Many felt that the early death of Joel, the protagonist of the first game, was unwarranted and poorly done. Many disliked playing as Abby, the woman who killed her. There’s also the fact that many user reviews are chocked full of right-wing favorite terms like “social justice warrior” and “feminist agenda”, and I don’t think it needs to be said that that is ridiculous.
However, do these criticisms hold any weight? Is “The Last of Us Part II” bad? The short answer is no, but the long answer is much more complicated.
You see, “The Last of Us Part II” is a deeply flawed game, but not for any of the reasons people try to make it out. The problems come from the chunky flow, the awkward flashbacks, and the often muted side characters.
However, the massive majority of this game is beyond fantastic. The environments are beautiful, the open-ended level design is immaculately done and complements various playstyles. The graphics are top-notch, and the combat is ten times as fun as the first games.
The focus of this game’s criticism, however, is the story. The story follows Ellie, from the last game. It has been years since the events of “The Last of Us”, and she lives with Joel in a community in Wyoming.
Her journey begins when a mysterious group brutally murders Joel, and she sets off with her partner Dina to find the people who murdered Joel and claim her revenge. The game spends the majority of its time in Seattle, which is gorgeously realized with lush colors and striking flooded out environments.
Seattle finds itself with its own ongoing story, as the remains of the city are being torn apart by a paramilitary group known as the W.L.F, and a religious cult known as the Scars. Environmental storytelling does a lot of the legwork here, as you slowly piece together the story of this conflict as you weave your way through the city.
The game is split into two distinct sections; the Ellie and Abby sections. Here is the second main point of contention for many players; a full half of the game is spent playing as Abby, the woman who killed the beloved main character. She is a higher up in the W.L.F and leads her own story parallel to Ellies during the events of the game.
This is the true beauty of the game; it builds up this hatred toward Abby, the woman who killed the beloved main character from the first game and then puts you in her shoes. It forces you to see the world from her perspective to feel her pain and to discover just how similar she and Ellie are.
Ellie and Abby are both caught in a circle of violence (a term used heavily by the game creators). The last event of the first game saw Joel shoot his way through a firefly hospital to save Ellie. Abby is the daughter of one of the doctors. So, in her eyes, Joel is just as evil as Abby is to Ellie.
The connection between these two characters is further proved in other reflections. The massive whale exhibit in the aquarium in the Abby section pairs perfectly with the Dinosaur in the Ellie section.
Another great point in the game is how we address violence in video games. Every NPC has a name, and enemies will shout for their friends if they no longer see them. Kills are violent, gory and brutal. Both in scripted and playable segments you watch as Ellie is pushed over the edge, falling further into depravity as she tries to avenge Joel.
The last mission of the game sees us tracking Abby to Santa Barbara, leaving Dina behind as she begs you to move on, to just let it go. You fight your way through scores of enemy combatants for one last confrontation between the two characters on the beach. As Ellie holds Abby’s head underwater, she is brought back to a moment almost a year earlier.
She is with Joel, and they are talking. She’s ignored him for a long time, their relationship rocky ever since she found out what she did at the hospital. She tells him she doesn’t forgive him, but she would like to try.
She falls away from Abby, sobbing. This is the lesson of the game; forgiveness. Forgiveness is the only way to break the cycle of violence.
The game flashes forward a couple of months. Ellie approaches the farmhouse she lived in with Dina after Seattle. She finds the home empty, Dina nowhere to be found. All that’s left is her guitar, the one Joel taught her to play. She plays the refrain of the song he taught her, the stubs of her fingers bitten off by Abby playing somewhat muted notes.
The game ends with Ellie walking off into the distance through the window of the now-abandoned house, with the future left uncertain. A somber note for one of the most depressing games to ever be produced.
This game is flawed. It tells its stories in a strange order, the flashbacks often not making sense. The characters outside of the main cast can often feel boring and unimportant. But the majority of the game is beyond incredible.
“The Last of Us II” is one the most incredible games ever made, and through the risks it took to tell its story and give us it’s message, it made a lot of people mad, but the result was well worth it and there is nothing about this game that should be changed.