'The Last of Us Part II' Review - The Same Old Beautiful & Amazing Story

9/10

The Last of Us Part II follows closely in the footsteps of the 2013 PS3 classic lauded for its stunning narrative and impressive visual quality at the tail end of the PS3 era. Its sequel doesn't get everything right, but it's still a thrilling, standard-setting experience from beginning to end.

Storytellers at Their Best

The Last of Us Part II is by all accounts a story-based game, and in that department it fares marvelously. The plot kicks off at a breakneck pace, as our protagonist Ellie is traumatized by a life-changing event that occurs while on patrol with her budding love interest, Dina. As the pair poignantly fumbles through the insecurities of new love, mayhem occurs behind the scenes that forces our heroine on a quest for vengeance.

the last of us part 2 animation
'The Last of Us Part II' tells a story of revenge, love and perspective. Read our review below. 'The Last of Us Part II is available June 18 on PS4. Sony Interactive Entertainment/Naughty Dog

This setup, while able to answer many of the lingering questions players may have had at the end of The Last of Us Part I, offers new players a feasible entry point set five years after the first game. After a quick recap of past events at the start of the experience, just about anyone can enjoy the broad strokes and the fine details of this expertly crafted script.

That's an especially good thing because, true to the Naughty Dog craft, some of the best moments in The Last of Us Part II are found in its dialogue and performance. This level of care is especially evident in scenes involving Ellie and Dina, where the pair struggles with deciding whether or not to say "I love you" before parting or wistfully discusses the first time they noticed each other. These moments are made even better thanks to stellar facial animations and motion capture. Looks of ambivalence, sadness and wide-eyed amazement are seen with bar-none graphical clarity.

last of us part 2 ellie dina
During scenes with Ellie and Dina, this game's expertly crafted script shines. Sony Interactive Entertainment/Naughty Dog

These tender sections, however, contrast heavily with the ever present undercurrent of violence in the world Naughty Dog has created. Despite her flourishing relationship, Ellie is forced to confront a new enemy called the World Liberation Front (WLF) with Dina and others at her side. This militarized group is essentially a reincarnation of the Fireflies from the first game, and they're tied up in a brutal civil war with a primal faction called the Seraphites.

Given its human-first narrative, players of The Last of Us Part II will see far more human-on-human brutality than the first title right from the start. Life flickers from a WLF soldier's eyes just as Ellie stabs a shiv through their neck, and death cinematics are difficult to watch even for those with the strongest of constitutions. Combat is made personal when enemies call out the names of slain friends as you stealth around gorgeous environments. When even each dog has a unique identifier, the weight of your actions couldn't be more present.

All things considered, then, while certain elements of The Last of Us Part II's story will almost assuredly be divisive, it might also be the central reason for buying this game.

Standard Gameplay

The visuals and narrative of The Last of Us Part II may be the best we've seen on PS4, but its raw gameplay is a bit of a mixed bag. Especially when compared to its predecessor, there are improvements worth mentioning. Ellie can now jump, adding platforming elements to the game's wide but linear environments. She can also go prone, making the multitude of stealth encounters all the more varied in approach.

These new mechanics feel great in action, but there's no hiding the fact that they've become standard for almost all third-person action games in the years since the release of the first game. Anyone who's played Tomb Raider, Metal Gear Solid or even Naughty Dog's own Uncharted will feel instantly at home and might not even realize these features were ever missing in the first place.

These new forms of movement are buttressed by a skill tree and increased crafting options. Starting with the former, tree tiers are unlocked by finding hard-to-miss Training Manuals buried in environments, and skills are earned by collecting Supplements hidden in bathrooms and other places one might find pills. These skills make Ellie stronger by augmenting her abilities like Listen Mode, prone speed, strangle speed and more. In subtle ways this light customization allows you to create a character that caters to your play style, but you'll still be competent even if you make some poor selections. Character variation is also furthered by the slightly expanded crafting bench that improves your weapon roster, but none of the new ammo types or forms of defense captured my interest.

It's satisfying to watch Ellie grow over the course of your adventure, but at times I found the augmentations may have made my character too powerful in a game hyper focused on barebones survival. Seeing a foe from a mile away and slowly tracking their movements till you move in for the kill is as rewarding as it sounds, but I couldn't help feeling that sometimes I was cheating. That is, until a vastly overpowered AI dog spoiled my hiding spot with relative ease.

Standard skill trees and movement schemes aside, quite possibly the best gameplay-focused addition to The Last of Us Part II is the wide range of open environments players get to explore. From snowy homesteads to the overgrown streets of Seattle and burning Seraphite villages, everything about its locales feels larger and thus more able to bend to your will. Players are free to plan their attack from any direction, slink away at any time to search for supplies or go in guns blazing. In that sense, these are the stealth encounters and dumpster puzzles from the first game essentially tripled in scope.

the last of us part 2 environments
Wide open environments make encounters feel fresh. Sony Interactive Entertainment/Naughty Dog

Even with the ability to explore every nook and cranny of entire city blocks, there are still missed opportunities. Over the course of your journey you'll come across a wide range of human and infected threats, but generally you'll only be squaring off against one enemy type at a time.

This is a pity when considering one particularly memorable moment in a train station with flooding red lights, where undead and human foes occupy the same area. This unique setup allowed me to leverage explosives to awaken zombies that would attack nearby guards, but these mixed scenarios were far too rare for my liking. The idea of only dealing with either human or infected threats just doesn't feel real for a world that could theoretically be full of Clickers or Shamblers in any human-occupied space.

So, with regard to its gameplay, The Last of Us Part II feels as tight, fluid and customizable as a top-tier third-person game should feel. But, beyond its expansive environments full of loot, there's little here that will reinvent the genre in any meaningful way. The action plays out perfectly, but unvaried stealth encounters and samey platforming sections make this game feel like a perfected implementation of a formula we've seen before.

Unrivaled Accessibility

Outside the necessary trappings of gameplay and story, one of the biggest standout features of The Last of Us Part II is the strides it makes in accessibility for those with auditory, visual and motor impairments. Regardless of condition, this game leaves more stones unturned than I've seen in any game to date. There are options for audio signals to appear on screen, contrast tweaks for color blindness, text-to-speech selections, customizable control schemes and more.

As a disabled gamer with motor and minor visual impairments, I make mention of these selections having played through the entire campaign with a few of them turned on, especially in the motor preset. I made my way through Ellie's tragic narrative without having to double tap buttons, and, if I ever got turned around, a quick click of the stick pointed me in the direction of my next mainline objective without spoiling secrets.

the last of us part 2
'The Last of Us Part II' sets new standards for accessibility in games. Sony Interactive Entertainment/Naughty Dog

Rather than make the game easier as some might assume, these aids allowed me to better experience the content as Naughty Dog intended. I was able to be fearless in my exploration, which allowed me to fully appreciate the detail of the world these developers made. I spent less time fumbling over button presses and more time engrossed in the narrative unfolding in front of me. As someone who avoided entire consoles that were too frustrating to play and someone who is cautious of doing reviews due to possible accessibility concerns, The Last of Us Part II was my most pleasurable review experience to date with regard to accessibility.

With that in mind, I hope every Sony first-party effort going forward takes advantage of these tools and continues to expand upon them. If you're a gamer with any accessibility reservations, The Last of Us Part II likely has at least one feature that will help make your experience closer to the one its developers intend. It sets a new standard for inclusion that all creators should be paying attention to.

The Barebones Facts

The Last of Us Part II is a game that, while it may feel a bit familiar and occasionally predictable to play, tells a story that is purposeful, visceral, heartwarming and full of surprises I've done my best to preserve. It's a journey about loss, forgiveness and having the compassion to see multiple viewpoints of the same situation. The mechanics aren't surprising, but its unrivaled level of polish, graphical fidelity, accessibility and script-first creativity make this PlayStation 4 swan song a must-play title that surpasses the original in many ways.

last of us part 2 review score
Our review score for 'The Last of Us Part II' Newsweek

The Last of Us Part II releases June 18 on PS4.

What do you hope to see in The Last of Us Part II? Can this game truly stand up to its predecessor? Tell us in the comments section.