From a narrative perspective, there is no real need for: The last of us part 2 to exist. The gripping, very human story told in the first game is a near perfect example of standalone video game stories. The ending of that game – where the “hero” condemns the world to constant disaster for love for a companion he has slowly come to love like a daughter, while betraying her wishes and protecting her from the truth – is a deeply moving and thought-provoking thought. – provocative moment that has resonated with gamers for seven years now. The idea of adding something to that quietly confident, freestanding narrative package feels redundant at best and useless at worst.
But the difference between a happy ending and a sad ending often depends on when you decide to stop telling the story. And of course it would be a shame to judge The last of us‘ premium world building to a single short game. So now we have The last of us part 2a game that can’t decide whether to continue the core story of the first game or pull back the camera to give a broader view of a fallen world still ravaged by the threat of the zombie-like Infected.
Nothing good can last
Things begin four years after the events of the first game in the astonishingly quiet settlement of Jackson, Wyoming. After the almost overwhelming death and decay of the first game, it’s a shock to be thrown into a thriving community full of electricity, commerce, gossip, food and drink, and even children happily playing. Small groups still regularly patrol the perimeter to keep the infected at bay, but it seems humanity has gained a nationwide foothold.
The sense of a slowly returning normalcy becomes all the more bittersweet because we know Ellie is destined not to enjoy it for long. The Ellie we see here is also no longer the sweet, energetic, eager pre-adolescent who forged an endearing bond with gruff Joel during the first game. Time and knowledge have made her tougher, more reserved and more ruthless than ever. By the time external circumstances and a thirst for revenge force her out of Jackson’s comfort and embark on a dangerous, murderous journey to Seattle, it’s not exactly a surprise.
We occasionally get glimpses of old Ellie, especially when she takes her first tentative steps into a truly mature relationship. Love interest Dina is a softly teasing foil to Ellie’s evolving affection here, and their extended casual chatter during the trip to Seattle is reminiscent of some of the best bonding moments between Ellie and Joel in the latter game.
These conversations take place amid the beautiful desolation of a city that has been quickly recaptured by the nature surrounding it – a “Nature is healing” meme made vividly real. The environmental design in Part 2 is top notch, with every single location feeling like a real, inhabited place that was built completely and then slowly started to decay. I could wander aimlessly through the beautiful desolation for hours, picking up ominous environmental stories, even if I wasn’t looking for materials to ensure my survival in the game.