The Last of Us Part II
After years of waiting (and a couple recent delays), The Last of Us Part II will finally release in a few short weeks. Though Game Informer has its review copy in hand, we’re still limited in how much of the experience we can discuss. For now, we can give spoiler-free impressions based on a two-hour stretch that concludes with Ellie infiltrating a hospital in Seattle – the focus of Naughty Dog’s State of Play demonstration last week.
Instead of running through this sequence step by step, I’m going to share an eclectic selection of my thoughts during these two hours. Encompassing details I found helpful, interesting, and amusing, here are 15 things that stood out to me in this specific section of The Last of Us Part II.
1. Ellie is angry. While she’s still recognizable as the character from the original game, it’s clear that her quest for revenge is taking a toll on her. As a small example: I made Ellie stealthily assassinate a patrolling Washington Liberation Front (WLF) soldier, and though he had done her no specific wrong, she spat a disgusted “F---er” at him as he died.
2. Ellie can be funny. Though the tone is generally pretty grim, Ellie occasionally says some entertaining things while talking to herself. After trying an improbable (but effective) puzzle solution, she congratulates herself with, “That was pretty smart, Ellie.” After a harrowing sequence that has one thing after another going wrong, she finally catches her breath and says, “F--- Seattle.”
3. Stealth is satisfying. I enjoyed the original The Last of Us, but it seemed like most encounters were destined to become firefights; though going full stealth was possible, the limited options meant that I would usually end up alerting the bad guys eventually. In The Last of Us Part II, it seems more feasible to remain undetected through an encounter. One part has Ellie evading Scars – a faction at war with the WLF – through a park. By staying low in the grass, using stealth kills, and wielding quiet weapons like my bow and silenced pistol, I was able to take out all of them without being detected.
4. The "Survivor" difficulty is available for your first playthrough. It's appropriately brutal.
5. Difficulty is highly customizable. I played through the hospital infiltration on a few different challenge settings, and the gulf between them is noticeable. However, you aren’t bound to defined modes like easy, normal, or hard; you can also fine-tune specific elements of the experience, like how much damage Ellie takes, how perceptive enemies are, and how plentiful resources are in the world.
6. Being thorough pays off. As I advanced through Seattle, I saw a handful of places off the critical path, like a liquor store and an apartment complex. Exploring these spots carries some risk, since they can be full of Infected or other humans. But they also give rewards in terms of gameplay and side stories. In the liquor store, I learned the Infected there were once WLF soldiers looking for a group of deserters. In an apartment, I found that group of deserters, along with a rare manual that unlocked a new skill tree to improve Ellie’s explosives.
7. Locked doors don’t mean you can’t get in. To gain access to one apartment, I just needed to break a window and jump in to circumvent the locked door … but it’s not always that easy. In a conference center, I saw a bunch of ammo and upgrade parts sitting on a table in a seemingly inaccessible room. I won’t spoil the full solution, but getting in there involved using the environment and the objects Ellie finds around her.
8. The environments are incredibly detailed. Places like the apartments, liquor store, and conference center don’t just feel like they are copied and pasted from a bank of assets. It’s not just about looking good graphically; each one feels like a considered space that once served its purpose in the world. From decorations on the walls of a bedroom to the desk arrangements in an office space, Ellie’s surroundings feel authentic. They don't feel like areas created to fill space in a video game.
9. Stalkers are just the worst. As in the previous game, these Infected are difficult to detect as they attempt to sneak up on Ellie, and the tension is terrifying. In one memorable section on the way to the hospital, Ellie needs to cross a series of rooms full of these brutal hunters. Though I successfully maintained stealth past several of them, a shrieking Stalker eventually jumped me and alerted its friends, which triggered a panicked frenzy of gunfire from me that ended with a pile of dead Stalkers and a shortage of shotgun shells.
10. The accessibility options are broad. They include a wide array of adjustments you can make to the visuals and gameplay. Colorblind mode, HUD magnification, remapping controls, and infinite breath while swimming are just a handful of options that illustrate how Naughty Dog has kept players with disabilities in mind.
11. Transitions are relatively seamless. The actions flows smoothly between cutscenes and player-controlled sections, without lots of load screens breaking up the action. For example, I watched a cinematic sequence of Ellie being tossed around underwater, and when she emerged, I was back in control. The only obvious loading screens I remember seeing were when I died and had to respawn, and when I was saving or loading my game.
12. You can have 20 manual save slots. Plus one autosave.
13. The personal touches work. Most video games don’t ask you to think twice about killing dozens of gun-toting guards, but The Last of Us Part II makes the violence feel personal. Beyond the fact that all of the enemies can call out to each other by name (along with their dogs), they also have interactions with each other that hint at their lives beyond being an obstacle to Ellie. Right outside the hospital, I catch two guards in mid-conversation as they walk by. “I got my girl waiting for me at the FOB,” the first one says. The second replies, “Are you s----ing me? They put you with Jo again?” They keep chatting as they pass, but it’s hard not to think about Jo and her reaction as I sneak up on her partner with my knife drawn.
14. Killing dogs is rough. They don’t feel like the mindlessly aggressive animals that players often encounter in other games; they feel like someone’s pet. My approach to the hospital was definitely made more complicated by my reluctance to kill a dog named Bear who was patrolling there.
15. This isn’t all. Obviously, a lot of the context that informs this whole two-hour sequence is missing here, especially since it’s set partway through the game. But even if we could talk about story stuff now, we wouldn’t want to. The less you know now, the more you will enjoy the experience when you’re playing it for yourself on June 19.