This article contains massive spoilers about every aspect of The Last Of Us Part II’s story. If you haven’t begun the adventure yet here are some beginner tips to get you started and our very own review.
The Last Of Us Part II opens with a colossally controversial moment. Joel, the first game’s beloved protagonist, is brutally murdered in front of his surrogate daughter before the two of them even have a moment on screen together. Surprisingly, this isn’t where The Last Of Us Part II’s biggest problems stem from. The gravity of Joel’s death is too much for Ellie to get over so players spend the next 12 hours hunting Joel’s killers, led by a woman called Abby. Ellie brutally rampages through a war torn Seattle for 3 in-game days. While the original game’s chapters are split between seasons, Part II’s chapters play out in these three days. For 12 hours players slowly upgrade Ellie’s abilities and host of weapons. For 12 hours the story ratchets up in tension, leading to an emotional confrontation with Abby. Ellies and the player are so close to revenge, the ending is in sight… Then the game flashbacks to 4 years earlier.
Unlike other flashbacks in the game, this time we’re in control of Abby, the game’s villain. After this jarring, but emotional scene ends, we’re right back to Seattle Day 1, playing through the events of the game from Abby’s perspective. On paper, this narrative decision doesn’t sound too bad. After all, Part II tries its best to humanise its enemies by giving all of them names and animating their deaths with excruciatingly realistic detail. With this in mind, having an extended section of the game dedicated to humanising Joel’s killer is actually a fantastic idea but the execution is absurd and this structural decision hampers Part II’s story and gameplay.
The game builds to a climax with Abby and Ellie’s confrontation only for players to be ripped from that story and placed into an entirely different one. It’s almost impossible to care about Abby’s story early on since players have spent 12 hours investing in a different narrative. While Ellie’s story is left on a nail-biting cliffhanger, Abby’s begins as a snoozefest, with her going on patrol; it’s painfully mundane compared to the vengeful killing spree players take part in moments earlier. This unrelated journey lasts for 12 more hours before you’re allowed to finally see the ending play out. Imagine watching a TV show until the penultimate episode; everything has been leading up to an epic finale. Then, for some reason, Netflix forces you to sit through an entirely different series before you can finish the earlier one. It’s a poor way to structure a story and it feels like running into a brick wall.
The switch to Abby’s perspective doesn’t just grind the narrative to a halt, it also dampens the gameplay experience. By the time you reach this switch Ellies will be fully kitted out. Combat sequences have become amazing as Ellie feels like a guerrilla soldier, preying on her enemies. She has a ton of tools at her disposal that make the game’s combat as dynamic as possible. Meanwhile, Abby begins her story with a pistol and a rifle. The mines, molotovs and explosive arrows that make Ellie feel so dangerous are gone. In fact, Abby can never learn how to make these craftable tools. Instead these defensive and offensive options are replaced with a bomb and shiv. Those are the only craftable weapons that are unique to Abby and the shiv isn’t even new, it was featured in the first game. All of your options are limited once more and a handful of action set pieces aren’t enough to alleviate these pacing issues.
It’s a shame since Abby’s story isn’t bad. It follows the ongoing conflict in Seattle between Abby’s WLF and the religious extremists, the Seraphites. It’s fascinating to learn about the factions and the good and evil that exists in both sides. While Abby’s story of finding redemption by saving a child is perhaps too close to Joel’s narrative in the first game, it’s told well. Abby is incredibly likeable, as are most of her friends but none of her supporting cast get any development. Abby’s crew get time to banter and joke, but the introspective conversations from the first game are gone. This is because the game bites off more than it can chew. Abby’s section of the game focuses on the Seattle war, the fallout of Joel’s murder, interpersonal conflicts between the group and two Seraphites on the run and as a result none of them are given complexity.
The final consequence of splitting the narrative in this manner is that its intended effect is null. Abby’s half of the game humanises the WLF and the Seraphites after Ellie’s rampaged through dozens of them. The game’s attempt to depict the humanity on all sides of the conflict is admirable, but most players won’t feel guilty about killing these NPCs while playing as Ellie, because these factions aren’t developed until her side of the story is done. Most of these problems could have been alleviated by having Abby’s section play out first.
With a more sensible plot structure, many of Part II’s glaring pacing issues could’ve been fixed. The game should have begun with Abby and should have been marketed as a sequel focusing on a new cast of characters. In 2013, director Neil Druckmann stated that the story of Joel and Ellie is over but that world has potential for new characters.
I think the world is ripe for more stories, but as far as the journey Joel and Ellie go on it ends with this game.
Joel and Ellie’s inclusion in this game should have been kept a secret with the first half of the game focusing on Abby’s conflict in Seattle. The reveal that Joel murdered Abby’s father would do a lot to add to the complexity of the first game, before killing Joel and would let players see the consequences of his actions. Then Abbey can receive the tip that Joel is in Jackson and lead into the beginning of the game we have now. At this point we would empathise with Abby, the enemy NPCs would have been humanised and Joel’s murder cannot be misconstrued as torture porn since we understand why it happens. Ellie’s revenge plot can begin from this point forth and can be an incredible surprise to fans.
I don’t want to imply that all ofTLOU2’s narrative problems would disappear with a better structure. There are still plot holes present and a lack of complexity when it comes to the game’s supporting cast. The game’s best scene comes when Ellie finds out what really happened at the end of the last game. Joel slaughtered the Fireflies and doomed any chance for a cure to save her. The brutal, oppressive world of The Last Of Us is intact but the trade off was Ellie’s life. This revelation is crushing for Ellie; every friend she loses, every person she kills and all the pain she encounters might have been avoided if she weren’t alive. The problem is that this profoundly existential moment is just that… a moment. An amazing scene that isn’t truly elaborated on and is lost in a messy plot that flies back on forth through time and perspective.