By Cole Parkinson
The PS3/PS4 exclusive The Last of Us, by developer Naughty Dog, is my favourite game of all-time.
And Ellie, the co-main character, is my favourite character of all-time.
So, with The Last of Us Part II dropping last month, I was excited, nervous, anxious and incredibly curious as to what creator Neil Druckmann had cooked up for two of my favourite characters in both Ellie and Joel.
And if you haven’t played the newest or are wanting to play the game, I won’t be diving too deep into spoilers because like the original, you need to go in without knowing much of what’s going to happen.
Not many games these days can make me think about it going to bed, make me think about it immediately when I wake up and continue to think about it all day.
The Last of Us did that in 2013 and Part II did that to me again over the week it took to complete my first run.
So when I finally reached the end of the 20-30 hour campaign, I honestly wasn’t entirely sure how I felt.
And that doesn’t mean I didn’t like it, because spoiler — I did like it a lot. But it’s darker than the original, way bleaker and the characters I’ve loved for years now go through many, many trials and tribulations throughout the game.
So much so that by the end, I was exhausted, in a good way, but I had to put down the controller and take a break.
But I haven’t stopped thinking about the game, not even close.
The game begins pretty much right after the original ends before a brief time jump happens where we see Ellie and Joel both a little older, and Ellie is seemingly at odds with Joel.
From there, chaos ensues and Ellie, along with her girlfriend Dina, head to Seattle on a revenge mission.
The first game was pretty linear with limited exploring in each area of the cities the game takes you to, and while the vast majority of this game takes place in Seattle, Washington, you get to explore the vast downtown area very soon after arriving.
Having been to Seattle and liking Seattle a lot, seeing it rundown several years after the cordyceps virus hit the world was both exciting and uncanny.
While Ellie was playable for a short portion of the first game, the second sees you take control of her for the vast majority of the lengthy campaign.
Exploring the city as Ellie is quite different from with Joel as she’s quicker, smaller and has a better ability to jump across gaps that have prevailed in the beaten-down Seattle.
She’s angry and chasing after a certain group of people after they wronged her and with this being the main crux of the main story, there’s not much lightness coming from the main story.
Not to say the first didn’t have its moments of devastating plot points but overall, the relationship that forms between Joel and Ellie is a bright spot throughout.
Part II doesn’t have that nearly as much.
Seattle is amidst a war between two factions fighting for control of the city —the Seraphites and the WLF (Washington Liberation Front)—Ellie is caught in the middle, having to battle her way through.
Ellie’s vengeance to bring justice is a force to be reckoned with and it’s driven home over and over again throughout the game, particularly early in the first half of the game.
And even when some bright spots present themselves in the endgame, there isn’t much happiness come credits, but who really thought things would end happily in this world?
I know some people have been lambasting the game for this and the bleakness and violence it presents but really, the world of The Last of Us has always been remarkably violent and it’s set during a pandemic, hardly the time for a picnic and sunshine.
The whole essence of Part I was protecting this girl you barely know at any cost and in doing so, you get closer to her.
In the end, Joel does incredibly bad things to both good and bad people in order to protect Ellie, and while Ellie isn’t protecting anyone, she will kill anyone who gets in her way on her path to revenge.
In today’s world, especially today’s environment, some people may not want to spend 20-30 hours in a world and story full of this darkness but man, it is so good.
And while the game is very dark, there are still plenty of sweet, happy moments in the game but don’t expect them to come often and in bunches.
Druckmann and co-writer Halley Gross did a fantastic job creating this narrative full of depth and incredible moments big and small.
While Druckmann did state the first game was about love and the second was about hate, I truly feel both games feature strong themes of love and what you’d do to protect those you care about.
The performances from Ashley Johnson, Joel Baker, Laura Bailey, Jeffrey Pierce, Patrick Fugit, Ian Alexander and Victoria Grace, to name a few, are all magnificent and they make each of their characters come to life each time they’re on screen.
Johnson, who voices and mo-caps Ellie, was the standout in Part I and I think she’s even better in this game.
It’s only July and it’s probably going to be not only the best performance in a game but also anywhere else, it’s that good.
And we haven’t even talked about gameplay, visuals, or the musical score — all of which are top-notch.
Naughty Dog continues to be one of the best developers in video games and I was continuously blown away by the visuals and environments they presented as you explore many different areas of Seattle.
It’s easily one of the best, if not the best, looking games I’ve ever played and while it was obviously pushing my original PS4 to the brink (the fan was constantly on), what they could do at the end of this system generation is truly breathtaking.
The animation work during cutscenes is absolutely gorgeous and there were many times where I couldn’t even believe it was a video game.
Another thing that I really liked, and while it’s nothing groundbreaking, the gun/bow upgrade benches were much better than the first.
Seeing the upgrades happen with your own eyes instead of the game telling you they had been done is really cool and every time I came up to a workbench, I would be thinking just how awesome that addition was.
The combat gameplay is also improved from the first game and it was much more satisfying than the first.
The number of guns, explosive weapons, hand weapons was also perfect and I never found myself relying on just one gun or item to get through each portion.
The enemy AI acted much more believable and I can’t really recall too many times where an enemy either put themselves in a dumb situation or they completely missed me even though I should have been spotted.
Lastly, the score was exactly what I expected.
While I didn’t find composer Gustavo Santaolalla’s score as iconic as the first game, there are plenty of moments throughout the game where I had a big smile on my face and music was a big reason.
Overall, the Last of Us series is something I would recommend to anyone, whether you play video games or not.
The story, the characters and the world are so damn good, I don’t see how someone could play and not at least take something from each of the games.
While it’s in the video game medium, the story is so strong it could go up against any book, movie or television series.
And speaking of that, with HBO now producing a series on the first game, and presumably the second later down the road, it will be interesting to see how that translates to the small screen.
I don’t necessarily think it needs a series because the games are that good, but with Druckmann involved and Craig Mazin (from HBO’s Chernobyl) on board to be the showrunner, it’s in the right hands.
As far as a third part to the series, Druckmann hasn’t confirmed or denied anything and why would he?
The game just came out.
There’s plenty of options to go forward if Naughty Dog does want to continue in the world of The Last of Us though, whether that be with current characters who made it out of Part II or go with a sub-series full of new characters.
If I had to bet, I’d say we get a Part III at some point but I don’t expect it anytime soon and that’s not a bad thing whatsoever.
We had an eight-year wait from the PS3 release and seven years from the PS4 remaster, and that included ND’s Uncharted 4 in the middle, so who knows when and if another game will come.
I would obviously love another game, but much like how I felt at the end of Part I, I wouldn’t be disappointed in the slightest if this was the end of the road.