'The Last of Us Part II' Is a Grim and Bloody Spectacle, but a Poor Sequel

This is where I’m at with the game right now. I’m nearing what feels like the end of Ellie’s initial arc I’m en route to the hospital and I’ve found it to be a really intense mix of action, stealth, and horror that has taken a lot of lessons from MGSV. I’m already playing through each section taking mental notes on what can be found where for a repeat playthrough. Like the last game you finish every encounter wondering if it could have been done better, but now enough complications have been introduced like the smarter AI and the dogs that you inevitably end up having to improvise a messy way out of a tight situation. I’m also playing on Hard so I’ve found myself in multiple forced combat situations with zero ammo, and if you’re smart about it you can really do a lot with a little.

This is all a roundabout way of saying that I think the thing you do the most in this game is very good, and if it wasn’t attached to such an impossibly lavish and problematic production then I’d have fewer qualms about recommending it to people who like this sort of thing.

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I don’t think it’s unfair to make assumptions based on massive beta build leaks, blinkered understandings of culture from the project leads, and nothing to indicate that it wouldn’t be following the same oil-and-water design philosophy of the first game and its prequel/midquel. You’ll probably have a more informed opinion via playing it, but games are a uniquely expensive and time-consuming medium, $60 and 25-30 hours of play should not be the cost of admission to have a critical opinion on a videogame.

I’m about 1/3rd in and both the narrative and gameplay are leaving me cold. In the case of the latter, I think Druckmann’s idea of “its not supposed to be totally fun” is somewhat dishonest because they’ve clearly tried to make this a fun game mechanically and rhythmically. But the stealth gameplay doesn’t have meaningful variety in tactical options, and the shootout segments are too frenetic to create interesting chemistry in your suite of weapons and abilities.

It’s not really a meaningful evolution from the first game, it’s more or less the same structure in graphically more ambitious environments. I can’t see the remainder of the game changing my feelings on this.

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This is pretty much where I’ve landed on this game. I’ve got very limited money to put towards new games in any given year, and I try to direct a lot of that towards indies and smaller creators trying new things or telling interesting stories. So if I’m going in on a AAA game… it has to be one I’m already pretty certain I’m going to like.

I avoided most of the leaks (aside from the ones that seemed like foregone conclusions if they did a sequel, like Joel dying), but the way the game was being discussed by both those involved in it and some elements of the games press was already making me weary. Then, Rob’s review came out, as well as his thoughts from the podcast that week. I’ve found in the past that, on big AAA or AAA-style games (e.g. Control), I tend to agree with Rob a lot on the general quality of a game. Maybe not every bit of it, but “good” or “bad” or “frustrating”, at least.

Between my limited budget, the general wariness I already had about the game, and Rob sounding like he hated it… I’m going to take a pass. I might, eventually, try it once it’s consistently down at bargain prices in a year or two. But this isn’t the sort of thing I’d throw $60 at, and I don’t think I need to do so in order to have made that decision.

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CW: Death/Personal Trauma

I want to begin by providing my external perspective separate from the discourse below. The viewpoints detailed below are my opinions, but they are expressed while taking into account that I:

  • Loved this game

  • Follow and have great admiration for many of the talented VA as well as a love of previous ND games

  • Am/Consider myself heterosexual, cisgendered, and a white lower-middle-class college-educated male who has grown up in and around Seattle

  • Have a partner who is gender fluid and pansexual.

  • Am more of a podcast listener than review-reader

  • Am not a professional writer, nor have I written anything outside of legislation or anthropology essays in almost a decade.

  • Played along with jacksepticeye’s playthrough

    • I do this because I find that games that have scavenging and world-building collectibles overwhelm me. I love the worldbuilding in this game, personally, but I tend to try to find everything and it leads me to not play the game how I want to, and I don’t have the attention span to play a game twice and find myself dropping off… That’s on me.
    • While I don’t agree with all of his commentary, I do have it in mind.
  • Have done my best to not read through ongoing discourse, but have read headlines and seen clickbait youtube thumbnails all over.

None of these points lend me qualifications to be an expert, but will inform my bias/incoming understanding

I think I might disagree with almost everything in this review. That is of course overdramatic, but I was almost shocked at how differently we came away from this game. This game felt in many ways like pulling a splinter. I honestly mean that in the most positive way possible. During the game I felt pain, fear, shock and, just as in every time I’ve ever tried to pull out a splinter, my tweezers decide differently than what I tell them, no matter how many times I curse them under my breath. Importantly, however, is that I felt the gratifying sensation of having come out the other side of that experience. Sure, it’s gonna be tender for a minute and there were probably better ways to achieve the same feeling at times, but it feels worth it. This game, to me, is a poetic dovetail of two separate, but forever intwined, fates.

The first few hours of the game are some of the most I have ever been engaged by a story. It felt, genuinely, like I had been dropped into the middle of Ellie’s life. A life that she had been actively living. Even though it all gets fleshed out in journal entries or flashbacks, I begin the game truly in media res and can only sense the underlying tensions. I couldn’t, but one may be able to, draw clean lines through from the Last of Us part 1 to the beginning of this game. Clearly, much has happened. Joel is behaving differently, and he and Ellie are on the outs. I can draw assumptions, but the reality is much more complex. I follow these characters through a budding romance that left my heart warm and very quickly my heart was broken. This speaks volumes to the randomness of trauma. You don’t always know that tragedy will happen, you don’t always get to say goodbye. But, in a life surrounded by repeated and regular trauma, tragedy is expected. Even when you expect it, a surprise-left leaves your jaw hurting. CW: Death/Personal Trauma I’ve dealt with death many times in my just under 30 years, and this game hit close to home with one of my deepest tragedies. He was a Marine. He died unexpectedly about 8 years ago. Niko was to be deployed in the fall after his 23rd birthday, but he died in February. You worry when a solider is overseas – and this is not a commentary nor a place for commentary on military – but you let that worry go a bit when they’re home. You don’t expect that phone call at 4am With my anecdotal experience in mind, Joel’s death is not unexpected in this tragic world, but fuck, I’d need a physics degree – or to watch much more of The Expanse – to explain the forces of that complete reverse of emotional momentum. The world fell out from under Ellie and that hit hard with me.

The game, in many ways, spends Ellie’s story hunting closure. From my knowledge of Ellie’s life, the only natural response is to fight back. She’s been hunted, and has hunted. This search is personal to her, if not to me. I don’t think I agree with many of her choices, but I can sure as hell understand a lot of them.

Ellie kills for survival. Or at least you can play it as such. The game suggests there are relatively few mandatory deaths, and most of these happen in cutscenes. These deaths take agency away from the player, much like dealing with trauma may drive you to take actions you wouldn’t choose otherwise. These are the deaths that have true consequence on the story. Ellie is, in simplistic terms meant without the misogynistic connotations, lashing out. Through her life with Joel, her view was kill-or-be-killed. Even as she begins to accept a life of communal kinship, she is torn back into this “it’s me or them” mentality. Ellie has a loving group of people trying to support her through this process. At times they don’t agree with her decisions, much like the player might, but they know it is her journey to take. This is not justifying mass murder or the killing spree that most likely occurred during most playthroughs. That is justified in-game by the, in my opinion, wonderful little breadcrumbs of contextual narrative you find in notes and the various settings. Unfortunately, to an extent, one feels pressured to kill everything in the arena to explore and grab all the goodies.

This review reads that “Nobody ever reconsiders their quest for vengeance”. Which I think, and while I appreciate Rob’s viewpoints and am not in any way saying that these viewpoints are invalid, is not taking into account the wonderful acting and facial animation work that was done on this story. I can see the pained looks in Ellie and Abby’s eyes and you can hear it in their voices. This is a struggle. This is a battle at much with themselves as it is with the world around them. The overarching question is really, “how far would you go to feel better?”. Abby hunts Joel, with her friends questioning her along the way, to bring closure to her father’s murder. Ellie hunts Abby in the same way. Owen faces the same question, Issac does, Yara does, Lev does, Tommy does and so on.

Ellie, much like many of the most violent/intense moments in the game, goes farther than I, as the observer, am comfortable. The game, and there can be argument to the success at this, is attempting to make the viewer sit through discomfort and know that the paths these characters walk are not clean, they are not perfect. I pleaded internally as I watched Ellie continuously throw away potential happiness being presented to her. But I can identify with that. I’ve been there as my friends and loved ones offered me hands to pick myself up. Sometimes you can’t see the hand, or it doesn’t feel right to grab it. You cling to what scratches that itch, picks the scab. There are times that you choose the wrong path, even if it feels like the right reason.

A comment directly to Rob, meant with all due respect: even though you might not be the technically best Professional Gamer, you are a professional gamer. I will not assume to know your full experience while playing, but your countless hours grappling with similar game mechanics likely influenced your view of the level design. Your review states, “… all you actually do as a player is follow an obvious path to a clearly-marked crack in the wall leading to the next area.” These paths were not clearly marked out in my experience. Yes, I was able to see where I was supposed to go, but there were many offshoots that felt organic. Going behind the buildings in Hillcrest or navigating through the hospital grounds or any of the numerous entirely gigantic arenas. Yes, you could see the mechanics underneath the surface; but god damn does that surface put in work to hide it.

An aside: Yes, I am aware of an ongoing discourse surrounding crunch and while I, from the position I am in as a third-hand observer, think these profit-focused deadlines that surround the capitalistic nature of this industry are harming the medium, I don’t think that discredits the amazing work that was performed. I have many thoughts on the commercialization of art and art in the age of mechanical/digital reproduction, but this is not the context for that conversation.

Everything in this game looks and sounds amazing. Having grown up in the Seattle area, I can appreciate the Seattle-ness of much of the setting and also appreciate that the story took precedent over geographical accuracy. I was never a big fan of Uncharted. In large part, this is because I don’t vibe well with the Indiana Jones plundering story. The rest is due to that Naughty Dog style you refer to in your article. The on-the rails style of really pretty arena shooter didn’t appeal to me. In TLOU2, however, each environment felt organic through my experience. Ellie and Abby are trained survivors, I can buy that they locate the path easily but it doesn’t always feel like it was laid out for them.

While the environments are beautiful, the setting can be problematic. If you plan to tell a story about land reclamation in Seattle, you really need to take into account the context and implications that come with that narrative. I make no assumption that I am entirely conscious of these implications either, and I never can be. I could consult others, but I will never really be able to articulate those perspectives in a genuine way. There is perhaps room for further discourse on the topic, but it is not mine to write. I would love to see a Duwamish perspective, or any other Coast Salish viewpoint, on this particular topic and on the game as a whole.

The contrast of Ellie’s story to Abby’s is incredibly well done, to me. Ellie is traveling down the same path that Abby has already traveled. Abby is coming out the other side and learning to grasp what little bit of herself is left. When she turns to Lev and says, “you’re my people” I legitimately teared up. …

I’ve gone on too long. I have additional thoughts on, and would love to discuss, the following regarding this game:

  • The complex relationship between the WLF and the Seraphites
    • Dehumanizing; wolves v scars
    • The ways that Ellie is informed of the WLF camp in notes as being chaos and unpoliced. While Abby finds similar notes, we had at that point seen the camp and can see the similarities and differences of the communal living of the seraphites.
      • This relationship in discourse with CHOP/CHAZ
    • Judging this story as an imperfect attempt at portrayal of limited perspectives/biased information or as willfully disrespectful in representation
  • The, ever-worsening, effect of pre-game discourse and the influence on public opinion.
    • Again, part of the larger context of profit-first commercialization of art.
  • Lev’s story
    • I’m not an expert, but I’d love to chat about how this came across to others, especially those with anecdotal experience.
  • Abby and Lev, and why this is the relationship I want to see more of, all the time.
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Played another 40 minutes today. I honestly don’t think the gameplay is enough to sustain it for 25 odd hours. I have a habit of making a new save each day initially just for RPGs in case I needed to roll back if I had under levelled but now I do it for most games cause I like to see how long I’m playing each day. Noticed with FFVII: Remake (and Red Dead to a lesser extent) that I started off at about 45-90 minutes over the first couple of days then by about day 5-6 I was playing like 7 hours a day whereas with this I’m doing the reverse. I feel like it’s gonna take ages to finish which is fine I suppose but I don’t think it’s like with Red Dead where I’m expected to spend a month playing this at a slow pace.

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Sony PR continues to handle everything about this game’s release horribly. I’m starting to come to terms that I probably would not have any feelings about this game existing if not for the crunch coverage, the director (and Troy Baker for some reason) making asses of themselves, and Sony’s PR team nuking any and all non-positive discourse or spoilers from orbit.

And then them threatening a publication for being critical of the game with vague protection money energy feels like a great reminder of why I stopped reading game reviews regularly a long time ago.

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Another way to say this would be “assumptions based on an incomplete, out-of-context understanding of part of the story.”

On Giant Bomb last week, Abby spent 30 seconds talking about her wariness of how it seemed to be playing into tropes about trans characters while misidentifying the trans character - she hadn’t even met him yet. And it was obvious what had happened because I’ve seen a dozen people make the same mistake. All because people who hadn’t played the game were making assumptions and incorrect extrapolations based on the leaks.

I’m sorry but this reads as disingenuous. All Miscu seems to be saying is that people shouldn’t be exempt from discussing this game or the culture around it because they can’t (or don’t want to) shill out $60 USD to Neil Druckman and his company, especially when said person and their cohort of defenders both have a history of games that have mishandled race, gender and sexuality, and are acting like spoiled children when confronted with any negative criticism about the game and exploitative work practices while using the queer representation in The Last of Us II and the negative reaction to it from awful people to broadly paint criticism as homophobic or transphobic. Like, Neil Druckman is shitty and Naughty Dog is shitty. People should be able to discuss this game without having to give them money or time, and I don’t begrudge anyone reading leaks and saying “you know what, this sounds like shit and is headed up by a shit person, not for me” but still wants to keep up and have discussions.

I’ve seen people say that this game is great I’ve seen people say this game is terrible and everything in between. People are reading that crit along with the leaks and making a decision to play a game and are having conversations about it. This is what should be happening around every AAA release and I’m sorry, but if I have to finish a 40 hour game that’s nearly 100 dollars in my country during a time when I’m out of work to have an opinion or thoughts about it then idk what the hell I’m doing. Yeah my understanding isn’t complete but it’s not as if I, or anyone else, doesn’t comprehend that.

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People can have all the opinions they want about Naughty Dog and Neil Druckman and the discourse around the game, and I didn’t say otherwise.

“I don’t want to play this because I don’t like the people who made it,” is great. That’s not what Abby did.

This little sub-thread started with someone pointing out that many of the leaks had been shown to be false or misleading. I pointed to a recent, prominent example of someone making a major factual error based on those misunderstood leaks.

And now some people may have a more complete understanding. What is so offensive about that?

I listened to that podcast, and my read on that is that Abby was communicating her weariness around how certain tropes (which she couched in her own experience as a cis queer woman) she was identifying around queerness specifically and violence. I don’t understand where the false information is. Neither of us know if she even read the leaks, she just knows there are queer characters in this game and is skeptical of how it’s going to be handled based on previous knowledge of tropes. If she’s wrong, she’s wrong and I trust she’ll make a point of discussing that when she’s back on the Beastcast.

Nothing is offensive about having a more complete understanding, but people making assumptions based on leaks, (extremely intentionally on the part of Naughty Dog) vague crit and previous feelings about a creators work and forming an opinion or thoughts based on that is completely fine. It doesn’t exempt them from any and all discussion of a work, especially in games where that work is prohibitively expensive for many, many people.

Also, The conditions of creation and the work itself are linked. They can’t and should not be separated. They aid in forming a complete understanding of a work and have to be considered along with what the work itself is saying. A lot of what I’m seeing in this thread post-release is people who are actively playing the game or who have finished it critiquing it from multiple angles and people who haven’t posting about Naughty Dog and the game generally, based on reporting, crit, and the leaks.

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I don’t know what else to say. I don’t see how pointing out that some specific criticisms are based on false information is in any way infringing on someone else’s ability to have an opinion.

I promise you I don’t have the power to stop anyone from talking about anything, and I wouldn’t want to if I could. I come to these forums because I want to see opinions I don’t get on Twitter or the standard gaming podcasts or whatever, and I have no desire to impede that, so I’ll just drop it.

Capital and being a fragile weenie. Name a more iconic combo.

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This, for me, is a big part of why I’m not really interested in learning more. I follow trans reviewers and Let’s Players who - while having to be ambiguous because of Naughty Dog - gave vague critiques. So I didn’t know all the details until a few days after the game was out, but I knew people had an issue with it.

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If someone’s using the leaks as a basis for critiquing the game at this point then yeah, it’s not helpful to discuss an assumed/incomplete version of the game when full streams and wiki plot synopsis are freely available.

Prior to release, that’s all we really had. Reviewers would have been able clear the air about how this game handles its trans character, if ND/Sony had eased off of their restrictive story discussion embargo.

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Yeah — I think it’s possible that this game was discussed unfairly pre-release (by me, and others), but the impetus for that was Naughty Dog’s ridiculous embargo, full stop. If reviewers had been given latitude to actually discuss content to the level of “content warning for this” or “this plot beat is more nuanced than it appears to be in leaks,” we would all have been much better off. This entire movement towards an experience unvarnished by even the slightest hint of spoilers needs to die a quick death (and I think we all agree on that). It won’t of course, but in practice it clearly just leads to shitshows like this.

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I’ve been playing it for a while now. Nowhere near finished, but I feel like either Druckmann or Gustavo Santaolalla watched a bunch of Black Summer as inspiration for the game. I know drones aren’t new to the horror genre, but dang the action scenes in this game feel ripped straight from this show…

TW Horror Violence and Gore