Warning: This review contains major plot spoilers. Read at your own risk!
On June 19th, 2020, Naughty Dog finally released The Last of Us II on the PlayStation 4 (after some initial delay due to the CovID-19 pandemic). The irony considering the basis of the story for the game franchise.
I first played the original instalment of the series back in 2013, when it was first released on the PlayStation 3.
After completing The Last of Us, I went on to play the DLC, The Last of Us : Left Behind, which explains how Ellie became infected, and how she nursed Joel back to health after his fall at the University.
Eight years later, in 2021, I replayed both The Last of Us and Left Behind Remastered Edition on the PlayStation 4. I wanted to do this prior to playing The Last of Us II, as I wanted to refresh my memory with both the story and the mechanics of the game.
I can honestly say that after eight years, the game has not aged one bit. It still looks and plays great. A true masterpiece. The Last of Us is, without a doubt, one of my favourite all-time games.
After completing the first instalment, and the DLC (again), I jumped straight into playing The Last of Us II. The story was fresh in my mind, and I was familiar with the game mechanics and weapons system.
I’d waited a long time for this sequel, and I was ready for some more post-apocalyptic adventures with Joel and Ellie.
The Beginning .. Of the End
When the game starts, Joel is explaining to Tommy what happened at St Mary’s Hospital with Ellie and the Fireflies. They are both out on patrol, looking for infected.
After Joel has finished talking with Tommy, they mount their horses and head back to Jackson, which is more or less where we left Joel and Ellie at the end of The Last of Us.
Once they arrive back at Jackson, Tommy promises Joel that he will take everything Joel has told him ‘to his grave’. Afterwards, Joel visits Ellie to keep good on a promise that he made to her in The Last of Us. After singing her a song, he hands her the guitar and promises to teach her how to play.
Jump forward four years, and we are in Jackson with Ellie. There are now more people living there. The place has expanded into a large town, they have electricity, food, ammunition, and daily patrols for infected. Everybody here seems to have a job, a purpose to help Jackson work, and help each other survive.
Tommy is still there with his wife Maria, as is Buckley the dog. There are also some new characters who we are introduced to, Jesse and Dina. The latter of which seems to be the talk of the town after something she and Ellie did the night before.
After speaking with Maria, and having a snowball fight with the local children, both Ellie and Dina are sent out to patrol the Creek Trail together, while Jesse is sent to relieve Joel and Tommy, who have been out all night.
It’s at this point that we are introduced to another side of the story, and two new characters, Owen Moore and Abby Anderson. They are part of a larger group who are all sleeping in a mansion just outside of Jackson. They seem to be looking for someone who they think may be living in the area.
Owen convinces Abby to come and have a look at something that he has found. Reluctantly, she agrees, and they set off through the early morning snow. A short distance later, they are both on a cliff edge looking out at Jackson, which is a few miles off in the distance.
After a heated conversation with Owen, who heads back to the mansion, you are left controlling Abby with a goal of heading to one of the outposts just outside the town. Abby appears desperate to find this person, or at least get confirmation that they are living in Jackson.
After switching back and forth between controlling Ellie and Abby, and playing through their respective storylines. The weather eventually takes a turn for the worse, forcing Ellie and Dina to seek shelter in an old library.
Abby on the other hand has been following some horse tracks, when she is eventually overrun by infected. She is rescued and pulled to safety by none other than Joel.
After fighting off more infected, Joel, Tommy and Abby find themselves cornered in a building. Abby convinces Joel and Tommy to come back to the mansion with her, where they will be safe. With no other options, they mount their horses and get out of there.
That Escalated Quickly
Jesse finds Ellie and Dina sheltering in the library and informs them that Joel and Tommy never showed up at the lookout. They decide to split up and head in different directions to look for them.
Meanwhile, Joel, Tommy and Abby all make it back to the mansion where things take a turn for the worse. It soon becomes apparent who Abby and the rest of the group are all looking for when she shoots Joel in the leg with a shotgun.
Ellie eventually makes it to the mansion just in time to witness Joel getting murdered. This knocked me for six. I had to stop the game, turn the PlayStation off and walk away. My head was swimming. I was genuinely upset, which quickly turned to anger. This was not something that I was expecting, especially so early on in this game.
What had I just witnessed? It made no sense. I couldn’t compute it. Why would this happen to Joel? What the hell was Naughty Dog thinking here? This really boiled my blood.
If Joel really had to die (which he didn’t), I would have preferred it more if he had got bitten and became infected, which resulted in Ellie sacrificing herself to science so that they could find a vaccine to cure both Joel, and the rest of humanity.
That way, it would have allowed Ellie to make peace with the decision Joel made in The Last of Us, when he saved her from the operating table. The way Joel dies just seems so unnecessary and brutal.
I understand what Naughty Dog are doing here. They are showing us that Joel crossed and killed a lot of people, and every one of his actions had a consequence.
I know that there is always more than one side to every story, but that does not mean we need to know about it. Release some DLC if you want to tell us the other side of the story. Give people the option, don’t just force it upon us and make us play as that character.
The Last of Us is, or at least was, about Joel and Ellie, and their trials and tribulations of trying to survive in a brutal and post-apocalyptic world. That was the main point of the first game, the building up of the relationship between the two of them.
Less than two hours into The Last of Us II, all that is gone. Forever.
Desperately Seeking Abby
Predictably, Ellie and Dina’s storyline turns to one of revenge. Tommy also wants in on the action, so much so, that he has left Maria a note saying that he is off to find those people responsible for killing Joel.
Maria confronts both Ellie and Dina and asks them if they were planning on sneaking out of Jackson? She then offers them their horses and ammunition in return for them bringing her ‘dumbass husband home in one piece.’
Ellie and Dina then set off across country, attempting to track down those responsible for murdering Joel. I was absolutely up for this, and I wanted nothing more than to find Abby and kill her. I was raging.
As you travel across the country, you find evidence that Tommy has been there before you. You also experience several flashbacks in Ellie’s story. These are bittersweet moments, as they remind me of a game that I was hoping to play. Especially the flashbacks with Joel and Ellie.
The Last of Us II looks stunning, and I welcomed several of the new character abilities. Hiding in the long grass and under vehicles, being able to dodge attacks, getting tired if you sprint for too long. They all add more depth and realism to the game.
I did find the aiming mechanism in this game kinda janky. Compared to how it worked in the first instalment, or even how the aiming works in the Uncharted games.
I also felt that there are far too many gameplay settings this time round. It’s overcomplicated and unnecessary. I’ve even seen videos on YouTube of people explaining why you need to turn half the settings off to get a better gaming experience.
After suffering setbacks with Dina, and being reunited with Jesse. Ellie eventually makes it to the hospital, where she finds Nora Harris (one of the group who murdered Joel). After some initial arrogance on Nora’s part, Ellie was able to persuade her into giving up the whereabouts of Abby … The Aquarium.
Ellie and Jesse continue on the quest, but have a disagreement regarding Tommy, and they go their separate ways. After battling several enemies, Ellie manages to commandeer a small motorboat, which she uses to help her reach the Aquarium.
Once there, she finds Owen and Mel having an argument. Using an interrogation trick that she learned from Joel, Ellie attempts to find out where Abby is, but this doesn’t go according to plan. Tommy and Jesse eventually burst in, and the three of them leave the Aquarium, and head back to the theatre, where they left Dina.
The following day, Tommy, Jesse and Ellie discuss calling it a day and heading back to Jackson. Reluctantly, Ellie agrees. However, before they leave, an uninvited guest shows up at the theatre and throws a spanner in the works.
Keep Your Friends Close, and Your Enemies Closer
It’s at this point in the game that Naughty Dog does the unthinkable. They want you to play as Abby again, and this does not sit well with me at all. I want to kill Abby, not play as her, and I have no interest in either her or her story.
After walking away for several days, curiosity got the better of me, and I decide to continue playing the game. Abby’s story starts with us being taken back four years in a flashback. This introduces us to Abby’s dad (the only surgeon smart enough to create a vaccine).
It also shows us what happened before, and after Joel and Ellie showed up at St Mary’s Hospital. This somewhat answers the question as to why Abby wanted to kill Joel, but there is a massive flaw in this logic as far as I’m concerned.
Abby, like her dad, is an ex Firefly who is now a member of the WLF (Washington Liberation Front). They are based in Seattle, and are at war with the Seraphites for control of the area.
After going out on patrol, she comes back to find that there were some Seraphite, or scars sightings as they are known, over at the Marina. Danny and Owen were sent out to do a sweep of the area. Danny was killed and Owen is missing.
Abby wants to go searching for Owen, but there is a big assault planned, and she is told by Isaac (the leader of the WLF) to get prepared. Nevertheless, Abby breaks rank and convinces Manny to cover for her while she goes looking for Owen, as she believes she knows where he will be.
We are then treated to another flashback from three years ago, which explains how Owen and Abby discovered how to gain access to the Aquarium. This is the second time we have now been at the Aquarium.
With some help from Manny, she escapes the camp and heads off in search for Owen. However, along the way, she is overpowered by Seraphites and captured. We are then treated to another flashback from four months earlier which puts us in, well, the Aquarium … Again.
After checking out the renovations that Owen has made to the Aquarium, Abby explains to him that she has a lead on where Joel’s brother may be located, and that they are shipping out next week. Owen agrees to go with them.
While Abby is hanging out with her new Seraphite friends and getting into trouble, Yara, also a Seraphite, appears and is attacked and has her arm broken. Abby helps save Yara’s life. Lev (Yara’s brother) then shows up and saves Abby’s life.
The three of them all make good their escape, and after several encounters fighting the infected, Abby finds herself in a position where Yara and Lev have to save her life yet again.
Yara’s health is deteriorating, so Abby finds shelter for Yara and Lev to rest up. She then leaves them and heads back to … Yep, you’ve guessed it, the Aquarium. This has to be the smallest game map I’ve ever played.
Once there, she finds Owen drunk in a boat. An argument takes place, and one thing leads to another. Abby then ends up spending the night at the Aquarium. When she wakes, she remembers leaving Yara and Lev in the trailer, so sets off to rescue them.
After fighting off several scars, she finds Yara and Lev still in the trailer. Yara’s health is now in a bad way, so Abby picks her up and takes her to … Well, the Aquarium, obviously.
Abby asks Mel, who is there with Owen, to take a look at Yara’s arm. Mel informs Abby that they need medical supplies to save Yara, so Abby and Lev head off to the hospital.
Once at the hospital, Abby tells Lev to wait outside while she goes and gets the supplies. However, upon entering the hospital, she is apprehended by the members of the WLF for going AWOL. Nora frees her and tells her that the medical supplies she needs are in the basement of the hospital.
After finding the medical supplies, Abby encounters an enemy which is bizarrely known as ‘Rat King’. It bears absolutely no resemblance to an actual rat, but that’s what they are calling it.
After a while, the ‘Rat King’ spawns another creature, which, if the previous naming conventions are anything to go by, Naughty Dog is probably naming this something like ‘Duck Prince’. Once the ‘Duck Prince’ is defeated, Abby meets back up with Lev, and they both head back to … Yeah, I think you know by now.
Yara survives the operation, and Owen invites both Yara and Lev to go with him and Mel to Santa Barbara. Owen also wants Abby to go with them, but Mel makes her opinion heard. Lev, angry with Yara for not thinking about their mother, heads back to the Seraphite Island to find her.
Yara tells Abby that she is worried that their mother is such a devout Seraphite, that she will try to murder Lev for what he did. Abby and Yara decide to leave the Aquarium, and go after Lev. When they arrive at the Island, Yara’s suspicions were well-founded, and they rescue Lev.
After a tragic encounter with Isaac, Abby and Lev find a boat and make it back to the Aquarium (there’s a surprise). Once inside, they find Mel and Owen dead. Lev also finds a map which was left behind by Ellie, revealing her whereabouts.
Big Trouble in Little Theatre
Abby and Lev now head to the theatre to find Ellie. It’s at this point in the game where the storylines are aligned. We now know Ellie’s journey which leads her to being at the theatre with Tommy, Jesse and Dina. And Abby and Lev’s journey, and now they came to be at the theatre at the same time.
This is the first time since Joel’s murder where Ellie and Abby have come face to face, and the major problem for me is, I’m playing as the wrong character. Not out of choice, this is something I am being forced to do, and it is ruining the game for me.
After a stand-off, Abby and Ellie eventually go at it, but it’s awkward. How are you supposed to kill someone you mean no harm? It’s like batting for the other team, it just makes no sense.
What makes it even worse is, Ellie loses the fight. Abby could have easily killed them all and walked away. If you were rooting for Abby, you would think she probably should have. The game could have ended right there. Some might even argue that it should have.
We are now treated to some cutscenes of Ellie and Dina, who are now living together away from Jackson. Ellie keeps having flashbacks about Joel’s murder and is struggling mentally. Tommy shows up and explains to Ellie that he might have found out where Abby and Lev are, in Southern California.
An argument ensues between Tommy and Dina, and then later on with Ellie and Dina regarding what Tommy said. Ellie explains to Dina that she has to finish it, then leaves for California.
We are now back controlling Abby in Santa Barbara, who is looking for Fireflies with Lev. After eventually finding a radio and speaking with the Fireflies, She is told to head out to Catalina Island. However, her and Lev are assaulted and captured by Rattlers.
We now switch over to controlling Ellie, who is also in Santa Barbara. She has found Abby’s marooned sailboat, and a lead to her whereabouts. After looking for Abby and fighting several of the infected, she steps on a trap as is injured and losing blood.
The Rattlers, who captured Abby and Lev, eventually turn up and cut Ellie down. She manages to free herself, and get information out of one of the men as to where Abby and Lev might be.
After fighting through the resort, and reaching the tall round building. Ellie frees some prisoners, who tell her that Abby is down on the beach, by the pillars, and may already be dead.
Revenge Is Not So Sweet
This is probably where the game is the most ridiculous, non-believable nonsense ever. Ellie finds Abby, who is tied to a pillar, and cuts her down. Abby is extremely emaciated, and has obviously been tied to the pillar for some time.
Yet, without asking for food, or at the very least, water. Abby is able to stand up, go and free Lev, and then pick him up and carry him down to the boat on the beach. Yeah, right. She would not have had the strength, plain and simple.
Ellie, with her injury and massive amounts of blood loss, struggles to make it up the small raise in the sand. Yet, Abby just steps over it like it’s nothing, all while carrying Lev. Whatever.
Why make a game look and play so realistic, then add a story that is so non-believable? It gets even worse. Ellie and Abby then both start fighting and struggling in the water. Neither one of them would have had the energy to do any of this, especially Abby.
Ellie eventually gets the better of Abby and could have drowned her, but decides to let her live. Yeah, I know. All this way, all them lives lost, and for what? Abby then gets in the boat and disappears across the water. Probably heading back to the Aquarium is my guess.
A final cutscene shows Ellie back at the house that she shared with Dina. She now has an injury after the completely non-believable fight between her and Abby. She appears to have lost two of her fingers.
This also really annoyed me. The one and only thing Ellie had left from the time that she spent with Joel, was the fact that he had taught her how to play guitar, and Naughty Dog even took that away from her.
Part of me thinks that Naughty Dog should have just killed Ellie in this game. It should have ended at the theatre. No matter how hard Ellie fought, it was never good enough. They literally took everything from her.
In The Last of Us, Sam asks Ellie why she never seems afraid of anything, and Ellie responds by saying, “Who says I’m not? … I’m afraid of being alone.” Yet here we are, with Ellie, all alone. Her one biggest fear.
It’s like Abby’s motivation for killing Joel doesn’t make any sense either, it’s flawed. Joel kills Abby’s dad to save Ellie, but he also saves Abby’s life. Regardless of this, Abby brutally murders Joel. Lev, however, saves Abby’s life, and she suddenly can’t do enough for him.
Ellie was actively hunting Abby to kill her, yet Abby let her live, twice. Joel on the other hand wasn’t hunting anyone, he simply saved her life and paid with his own. I also find it hard to believe that the daughter of a highly respected surgeon, whose purpose in life was to help people live, would be capable of such atrocities.
Lev is a Seraphite, the sworn enemy of the WLF. How many of Abby’s friends have the Seraphites killed? Probably hundreds. That doesn’t seem to matter when it comes to Lev. The boy can’t do any wrong in Abby’s eyes. The whole thing just doesn’t stack up.
At this point, I couldn’t care less if there is a Last of Us III. Both the story and partnership are ruined for me. This could have (and should have) been such a good game. But it isn’t.
It’s hard to believe that the person responsible for writing the truly epic Last of Us, was also responsible for writing the truly disappointing Last of Us II.
But you know what they say, everybody has at least one good story in them. Neil Druckmann should have been big enough to know when to walk away, and let someone else steer the ship.
We’re Not Finished Yet
When it comes to gaming, there are certain technologies that have evolved into really great user experiences for the player. And there are other technologies that need to be left in the past.
I remember playing Call of Duty : Frontline with a friend several years ago on the original Xbox. We both had fond memories of playing this game when it was first released, and we wanted to re-live some of those memories.
One thing we didn’t anticipate, however, was the fact that if you died, you had to start the level again from the beginning. This was something that I had completely forgotten all about, and for a good reason. What an awful experience this quickly turned out to be.
Naughty Dog, however, decided that it would be a good idea to take this and add this to The Last of Us II, in the form of an utterly pointless trophy known as the permadeath trophy.
Not content with destroying the main story, they also wanted to make it as difficult as possible for you to be able to platinum this title.