Nerd Out First Out: The Last Of Us Part II
Reflecting on my experience with The Last of Us Part II.
As the title suggests, this was supposed to be a first impressions post that I wrote on release day. The only issue is, I haven't stopped playing since The Last of Us Part II was released last Friday. I believe it has worked out for the better this way though as now I have experienced the game in full, I now feel ready to summarise my experience. So think of this as like a first impressions-round up-discussion about the long awaited The Last of Us sequel.
Before we go any further, this is your SPOILER WARNING! I will be discussing plot points.
I'm going to start with a fact, and that is I haven't actually PLAYED either of the games in The Last of Us series, no more than the odd walk around or item pick up anyway. What I mean is, my partner who is also an avid gamer and fan of the series actually played both games and I watched intently (guessing the next plot point every few minutes which probably pissed my partner off immensely). The beauty of The Last of Us is how cinematic and story driven it is, it was very much like watching a film for me and I was able to connect with the characters, get invested in the story and become excited for the sequel without even touching the controller. My partner and I were both so excited to see where things were left with Joel and Ellie and wasted no time getting started on release day. After a leisurely 27ish hours of game play and around 5 days after release, we finished the game last night. Here are a few thoughts I had whilst watching this story unfold.
It wasn't nearly as bad as everyone made it out to be
Fans and developers across the globe, couldn't believe it when just a few weeks before it's release, someone leaked vital plot points of the game online. Some people like my partner and I tried desperately to avoid these spoilers so we could enjoy the game firsthand, whilst others raced to see what was due to happen to their favourite characters. This leak caused many players to lash out at some pretty major plot lines and refuse to play the game at all after finding out. A move that I think has caused them to miss out IMMENSELY.
When I consider it though, I can understand why people may have been put off the game. If I imagine reading the plot on paper, I can see how it would look like a cop-out, bad writing or unnecessary. Lets look at it as simple as we can (Last chance for that spoiler warning!):
The Game starts 4 years after the first story and the surrogate father/daughter relationship we loved in the first game, has kind of diminished? Ellie is super moody and mad at Joel and nothing seems to fix it.
Joel gets brutally murdered within the first couple of hours by a strange new character and a golf club?! (consider everything he has been through and THIS is what kills him?!). This new character has no backstory and "seemingly" no reason to kill him.
Ellie and friends set off on a revenge mission to take out the entire clan that killed Joel as mercilessly as possible. This includes Tommy, Jesse and Ellie's latest love interest Dina (who happens to be pregnant with Jesse's baby, awkward).
Ellie takes out any people, infected and dogs who stand in her way, in pretty grotesque and violent ways. Although this is pretty standard for The Last of Us, it is a slight contrast from the younger, more innocent Ellie from 4 years ago.
Ellie kills the majority of the group that killed Joel, except the ring leader Abby who actually gave Joel the finishing blow.
We now switch and play as Abby who we obviously HATE for taking out such a key and lovable character.
We explore Abby's backstory and the events that lead up to Joel's murder. We find out that she is the daughter of the surgeon that tried to operate on Ellie at the end of the first game, however was murdered by Joel (an eye for an eye and all that).
Abby and Ellie meet again and of course have it out with each other, again in some pretty horrific ways. Killing Jesse and injuring Dina and Tommy in the process.
Abby suddenly has a change of heart and takes off, leaving Ellie alive.
We skip ahead about a year and Dina and Ellie are living peacefully on a farm with Dina and Jesse's baby J.J (Jesse Jr? Joel Jr? Jesse Joel Jr? You decide). Except everything isn't as good as it seems with Ellie continuously having traumatic flashbacks of Joel's death.
Tommy then rocks up to the farm and tells Ellie that he has a lead on Abby, much to Dina's protests Ellie then leaves her quaint life to seek revenge of Abby once again.
Meanwhile, Abby and her teenage runaway companion Lev, have been imprisoned and potentially used as slaves.
Ellie finds the pair, who are completely dishevelled and forces Abby to fight by threatening Lev.
The pair battle it out and Ellie who is moments away from murdering Abby, has a realisation and decides to just let her go.
Ellie defeated, surrenders back home, albeit with a couple of missing fingers, to her farm house where Dina has packed up and left with J.J. Ellie reflects by attempting to play the guitar that Joel gave her however can't with her missing fingers. The end. It's a bittersweet ending.
I get it, reading it all laid out simply like that - it sounds like a disappointing story with an unsatisfying ending and everyone's favourite father figure is murdered in cold blood. I can see why people might be angry at the fact you have to play as Abby, for a good few hours too! But I think it was really important in understanding the complex emotions that these characters are facing. What I'm saying is, The Last of Us Part II really does need to be experienced in full and not just in writing to really feel what this story has to offer. I managed to evade all spoilers and it made the game so much more enjoyable, and I wasn't even playing! I remember recoiling at extremely tense or violent scenes, shouting at the TV when things didn't go as planned and gasping when I literally couldn't believe what i was seeing. In my opinion, it really does make all the difference to undergo this game firsthand and is why I was able to enjoy it without even playing it, it was like watching a 30 hour film that left me feeling emotionally drained once I had finished it.
What I have learnt from both games
Although The Last of Us starred both Joel and Ellie, it was really Joel's game. We see him at the start of the infection, where he loses his daughter and is left with a hole that Ellie can fill by the end of the game. In The Last of Us Part II, we are really experiencing Ellie's side of things as she tries to navigate a sense of normalcy in Jackson but is haunted by Joel's - let's face it - selfish decision at the end of the last game. Ellie is angry at Joel and pushes him away. This makes it even more heartbreaking when she is forced to witness his death which could have potentially been avoided if it weren't for her selfishness too. This also means she is even more determined to avenge Joel and she finally meets her match in Abby whose own experiences mirror Ellie's.
The main thing I've taken away from The Last of Us, but primarily The Last of Us II is that in both situations, there are no good guys, no bad guys, just people trying to survive. A message that is present in the first game but paramount in the sequel. This isn't to say that there isn't some sickos in the apocalypse (see David in the first game and The Rattlers in the sequel) but that both Ellie and Abby aren't too different. Neither is worse than the other; they've both killed hundreds of people who were either in their way or protecting their territory, they both seek revenge after someone important to them is killed and they both become surrogate relatives with Ellie basically becoming Joel's surrogate daughter and Abby mirroring this by becoming young Lev's older sister/mentor. It also becomes apparent that Joel isn't a good guy (I know we all love him anyway) mainly due to his selfish decision like we've discussed, but also for all the things he's done pre-Ellie and whilst travelling with Ellie. If we consider The Fireflies, The Scars and The Wolves, all of them are bad one way or another but none of them see it that way as they all think that they're doing the right thing, especially if it means keeping their own clan alive. If anything, this game gives you the startling realisation that if - god forbid - we ever ended up in a similar post-apocalyptic situation, a lot of people would act selfishly and do some pretty heinous things to stay alive. Spooky thought!
My favourite parts of TLOU P2
Although I loved the story throughout The Last of Us Part 2, there were a few things I loved in particular whether it's due to the story in the scene, mechanics or setting. Here are just some of my personal highlights:
The Museum: If there's one thing I love about video games; it's that players are given the opportunity to explore a beautifully crafted world as if they were really there. Beautiful in the dilapitated sense, one of my favourite examples of this is during a flashback between Joel and Ellie. In this scene, Joel is leading Ellie to a surprise for her birthday which ends up being an abandoned museum. In the museum, Ellie gets up close and personal with dinosaur statues, tries on space helmets and gets to experience being an astronaut by climbing in a model space shuttle. It's a really touching scene and so fun to explore.
Explore Seattle as Ellie: In a similar vein to the museum, I really enjoyed watching Ellie navigate her first few days in Seattle. I mostly liked investigating all the abandoned shops like the the music shop, the pet shop and even an empty convention centre with comic con posters from 2013 dotted around. This really isn't a pivotal part of the game, it just allowed players to make comparisons to the real world and gaining hints as to what kind of people once populated the town.
The Aquarium as Abby: Probably my favourite part of The Last of Us Part II was being able to explore an abandoned aquarium, specifically during Abby's playthrough. Sure, there was a lot more death than your average aquarium but again, it was just fascinating to see a huge, affluent building appearing completely run down. Not that I dream of being in the middle of an apocalypse but I loved putting myself in Owen's (a wolf soldier that chose to set up camp inside) shoes and imagining what I'd do in an abandoned aquarium.
The Rat King: Whilst playing the latter half of Abby's journey, Abby ends up in an empty hospital in Seattle. Empty apart from all the infected roaming the halls! Whilst navigating the multiple floors of the hospital, Abby encounters The Rat King - I'm honestly not exactly sure why he is called that but scroll up for a photo of him! - who is one huge clump of infected, with multiple limbs and fungus sprouting all over him. I just love weird looking monsters in horror stories so when I saw that bad boy burst through the door, my jaw dropped. He is quite possibly the biggest, toughest foe Abby or Ellie has ever faced. It gets even worse when you start attacking as clumps off infected fall off his body and terrorise you independently!
Abby and Lev Bridge: So I mentioned Lev earlier as Abby's teenage runaway companion so here is an extremely brief rundown. Lev and his sister Yara belong to a group called Scars or Seraphites, this group are cult-like as they worship a divine woman. After this woman died, the Scars began committing torturous rituals to anyone that challenges their beliefs. A lot is left ambiguous about this group but all you really need to know is that Lev and Yara attempt to escape the Scars and start a new life independently. The siblings find Abby who is being tortured by a Scar and free her. The 3 bond, helping each other throughout the rest of the game. Later on, Yara gets hurt so Lev and Abby set out to fetch supplies from the hospital. To get there quickly, Lev shows Abby Scar built bridges that are situated high above the city and Abby; who is afraid of heights struggles to manoeuvre them. Not much else I can say other than it was cool to see the city from a different angle and get a little scared myself watching the pair tip toe across a huge, precarious bridge.
Guitar: Ellie playing the guitar was heavily used when marketing the game, this is probably due to Joel promising to teach Ellie how to play "after all this" in the first game. At the start of Part 2, we see Joel gift Ellie a guitar in a flashback. This guitar, as well as others are dotted around and allow players to strum a little tune if they feel like it. The cool thing about the guitar is you are allowed to chose whatever chords you want from a wheel and if you watch Ellie's hands, she does actually play those exact chords! You also use the touchpad to strum and depending on how far you strum depends how many strings Ellie plays and everything. It's an extra detail that probably wasn't needed but that makes the game so much cooler and more immersive. I know a few people have even jammed out a couple of real songs on this virtual guitar!
The Hardware Store: One of the first things you encounter as Abby is an abandoned hardware store. In the store, Abby and her group encounter a bunch of infected and have gotta take them out. The cool thing about this is being able to hide around this huge store, like many of us have probably imagined doing during a "real" zombie apocalypse. I really liked taking infected out whilst passing a display bathroom or rows of washing machines.
The Subway: Fairly early on in Ellie's first portion of the story, Ellie and Dina end up underground in an abandoned Subway station. This part was pretty standard, just collect things and take out the infected but I just thought it was so cool, again being able to explore something in a run down state. If there's anything Naughty Dog are known for, it's their derelict art direction and environment art. You also got to set infected on Wolf soldiers for I believe the first time here, which is evil but satisfying...
Safe: A cool mechanic in this game that I don't think was in the last one is the use of safes. In the game, you'll find hints or backstory usually written on scraps of paper. Sometimes on these notes you'll find either a 6 digit combination which you can use to open the safe and get supplies or a clue to a place where you'll find the safe combination. Sometimes there were instances where there's a notice board with multiple number combinations on and you have to try and decode which one it is using the hints. It was just a fun little occasional puzzle to break up the action every once and a while
Dogs: There are dogs you can pet and play fetch with in the game, I like dogs. 'Nuff said. It's pretty traumatising when the dogs belong to other soldiers though as you do have to take them out or risk having your face literally bitten off and yes, they do yelp. :'(
I think that will just about do it on The Last of Us Part 2 front. I had a lot of fun playing it and now it's finished I don't know what to do with myself! It broke my heart, scared me, excited me and broke me emotionally. I really encourage those who have read the spoilers and have lost interest in the series to give it a go anyway as it really helps to experience the game as a whole. The tremendous acting, beautiful visuals and exciting game play all make this game AN EXPERIENCE. I can't praise it enough!
If you'd like to find out more about what I thought of The Last of Us Part 2, stay tuned for a TLOU2 Spoilercast (spoiler filled Podcast) due to be recorded over the next few weeks! For more from me see what else I have to offer right here on Nerd Out Word Out, as well as on my own blog hopeelizab.co.uk.