Point/Counterpoint: The Last of Us Part II

An analysis of the key criticisms

Point/Counterpoint: The Last of Us Part II
Source: Press Kit.

News Flash: The Last of Us Part II is a divisive game. Many critics are hailing it as one of the greatest games of this generation, while many “average gamers” seem deeply upset by it. Some YouTube influencers have posted very critical reviews of the game, which has of course renewed the “game sites are paid off to give good reviews!” cry among the populace. As of this writing, Metacritic shows a user score of 4.3 with over 70,000 reviews.

Now, the original game is my favorite of all time, and I very much enjoyed this one as well. Seeing all the hate, I wanted to examine exactly what people thought was wrong with the sequel. So I dove into the Metacritic reviews and asked a bunch of people who had played it, a mix of those who loved and hated it, to find out what was going on.

I’ve taken what seem to be the most common complaints, with the goal of offering a different perspective on those issues. I believe there is incredible power in being able to see all sides of an argument, something that seems to be quite lacking in discourse these days.

This is going to be super-spoilery, so be warned, and please go play the game or watch a play-through on Youtube before you read ahead. Hopefully, you enjoy the game, but even if not, you can be part of the conversation.

Joel and Ellie act out of character

One of the most common complaints I’ve found is that Joel and Ellie act out of character throughout the game. Let’s handle them separately because for Joel the criticism stems from just one moment. This is of course when he tells Abby’s group his name, upon arriving at their mansion after fleeing the horde of runners. Many people have said the “real” Joel wouldn’t have told them his name, owing to his careful nature and distrust of strangers.

I would argue, first, that it didn’t matter a bit to the story, as the entire group already knew exactly who he was. They had come to Jackson specifically to hunt him down, so whether Joel told them who he was or not, the end result would have been the same. It’s also likely that 5 years in Jackson, as close to a real society as we ever see in either game, has made Joel a bit complacent and taken the edge off his instincts. Either way, this is not the same Joel we saw in the first game, just as it’s not the same Ellie, so expecting them to act exactly as they always have seemed specious.

Speaking of Ellie, her portrayal has been the target of a large portion of the hate this game is receiving. Reviewers say that she is completely different from the person she was in the first game and acts unrealistically, making horrible decisions throughout the story. To this I would say, of course, she is a different person, she grew up!

Source: Press Kit.

The Ellie we knew had been somewhat sheltered from the realities of the “real world” until she met Joel, and the events of the first game took roughly a year. She retained some of her innocence by the end, but the events with David stole a lot of that. It’s now been 5 years for her living in this world, knowing the truth of what is actually out there. Even though Jackson is a nearly normal, relatively safe city, that’s still 5 years of patrols and being vigilant against the threat. Is it possible that changes a person?

As far as her making bad choices that are out of character for her, who among us can say how we would act in the aftermath of such a traumatic event? Everything she went through in the first game’s events, we never had time to see how it truly affected her. Adding Joel’s death to the mix, who can say that her obsession with revenge at all costs isn’t true to who she is at the time of this game? You can say you don’t like the choices she made, but that isn’t the same as the choices being out of character.

The core gameplay is the same as the first game

This is another one that depends on your perspective of the first game. If you loved that combat, then you are likely to love this game as well. The combat has been refined, the stealth options strengthened, and the melee fights feel more frantic and brutal than ever. Whether this is a good thing or not is up to you, but it would help to remember that this is Part II, not a sequel. Would it make sense for everything to change in what is really just a continuation of the same game, where the world remains largely the same as it was the last time we visited it?

There is no happiness in the game

It is a dark, brutal, oftentimes depressing game to play and behold. But despite the sadness and tragedy rife within the tale, there are several bright spots that bring a smile to your face, especially for fans of the first game. The aquarium, the rescue of the zebra, even Ellie and Dina’s tender moments together. The flashback to Ellie and Joel visiting the museum for her birthday is perhaps the best example of this, showcasing the joy that Ellie still had at the time. I believe the rocket launch scene to be one of the best small moments in all of gaming. To my mind, that is a key part of the game’s message:

If you look for darkness, you will find it. But you will miss the light that shines through the cracks, the small spaces between the big moments where most of life actually happens.
Source: Press Kit.

Our favorite characters were killed off

I mean, George R.R. Martin has become a multi-millionaire by killing nearly half of his characters in surprising and brutal ways. Can you blame Naughty Dog for going down this road?

Seriously though, I wrote before the game came out that I wasn’t emotionally ready to say goodbye to the characters I knew we would lose. I feel the pain that everyone else feels, and I can’t convince anyone they shouldn’t hate that Joel died so horrifically, or that Jesse, Yara, and countless others don’t live to see the end of the story either.

For the world in which this story takes place, however, and the brutality that has been paramount from the first moments of the original, would it make sense for them all to survive? I feel that if they had, you could fault the game just as much as people are doing for having killed them. Only in that scenario, you would have to fault Naughty Dog for a lack of realism, instead of just being hurt that you lost a beloved character.

Everything from the first game is burned to the ground

I wanted to see Joel, Ellie, Tommy, and the rest live long happy lives just as much as you did. But that would have been Farming Simulator: Apocalypse Edition, which is not the game you bought. The only way you get that “happy ending” game is if Naughty Dog decided to never make a sequel at all (which many people argue would have been the best outcome).

People point to the first scene with Joel and Ellie and say that Naughty Dog destroyed their relationship. I can’t tell you how many of these reviewers have teenage children, but I can certainly say that this interaction is as painfully real and truthful as it gets. Teens want space and freedom from their parents, especially when they feel you are checking up on them or being nosy about their private lives. And trust me, when you think you are doing the right thing and stepping in to defend them, that’s the time they are going to hate you because they had it all handled.

Reviewers are also pinpointing her anger at Joel over the events at the hospital in the final chapter of the original game. I can’t imagine anyone looked at Ellie’s famous last line standing outside Jackson and said “yeah she totally believes him”. So it was just a matter of time before she got around to questioning the truth. Her finding the voice recorder and notes in the hospital just hastened that process.

Could any of us just forgive and forget something like that, betrayal by someone they love? No to mention Ellie is struggling with survivor’s guilt, and concerns that her life will not have any meaning.

What she fails to see, with typical teenage short-sightedness, is that her life already means so much to so many, not the least of which is Joel.
Source: Press Kit.

The game was too long

I’m not going to truly argue this one, as I think the game could have comfortably shaved 5–7 hours off its runtime. The counterpoint comes in that I would shave most of that time off from Ellie’s sections of the game. Some of the areas were so massive, and the collectibles so plentiful, it slowed the game to a crawl and created huge pacing problems. The necessary supplies that got you through the brutal combat were spread so far and wide, you almost felt required to explore more than most would have wanted.

It seems most would like to have cut the sections playing as Abby out of the game completely. If you do that, the game becomes a straight revenge tale, where you lose all the perspective that the people on the other side of the revenge you seek are real people with real lives and families too. Cutting out Abby’s sections would also eliminate two of its best experiences, the sky-bridge sequences and the fight through the burning Haven village.

The story is just bad, for various reasons

I’m only including this one because it is part of almost every single low-score review. I won’t try to convince anyone to change their minds in either direction. It’s your opinion, and as I believe there is very little respect for those nowadays, I don’t want to be a part of that toxicity.

I feel the complaints against the LGBTQ elements of the game are part and parcel of the story argument, so I will address that here briefly. If a gay main character and a supporting character that questions their gender identity (though the words “trans” or “gender” are never used and the discussion about it amounts to a total of about five lines of dialogue) are enough to sour you to a game, I support your right to have that viewpoint. I wouldn’t try to change your mind, but I would say it’s causing you to miss a great experience with this game, and probably a lot of others in the realms of entertainment and popular culture.

The story works for me, and I think it works for a lot of people. I’m a father, so stories involving parents and their kids always hit me hard. I appreciated Ellie’s obsession for revenge, just like I understood Abby’s thirst to punish the man who took her father from her. It’s not perfect, but if the characters and story speak to you, there’s a lot to like here.

Source: Press Kit.

I firmly believe that if this game did not have the baggage of unimaginable expectations, the leaked spoilers, and the reputation of Naughty Dog (both good and bad), it would be talked about as one of the best of the generation. There is a lot of undeserved hate thrown at the studio, for reasons I struggle to comprehend.

Leaving that to the side, this game is a massive undertaking, with an ambitious story coupled with huge areas that you can explore and fight through. There is a deep set of collectibles, enhanced crafting and upgrade options from the first game, and some really great Easter eggs. Ignore the spoilers and the hate, try the game for yourself, and make your own judgment.


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