Last of Us 2 post-mortem: Picking apart 2020’s most controversial game
Here's everything we loved — and didn’t — about Naughty Dog's latest.
Naughty Dog’s long-awaited The Last of Us Part II ends not with a bang, but a whimper.
After roughly 25 hours spent crawling through post-apocalyptic America fighting infected, religious zealots, and the other dangerous people struggling to survive, we at Inverse have a lot of thoughts about how one of the year’s biggest games went down.
Here’s our look at everything we loved — and didn’t — about Naughty Dog's latest. Needless to say, spoilers incoming.
How did you feel about the length of The Last of Us Part 2?
Jen Glennon — As much as this was a game I struggled to put down, there were also stretches that felt like they dragged on forever. I’m thinking of Abby’s first day in Seattle in particular. There’s so much momentum to Ellie’s story once Abby arrives at the theater, and you don’t get a resolution to that for 10+ hours. Now that it’s all over, I can’t help but wonder if the pace would have felt more satisfying if you alternated between Abby and Ellie on each day.
Corey Plante — I really appreciate the overall plot structure, especially with the big twist of presenting Abby as a main character, but the overall experience is far too long. Basic combat and exploration winds up feeling dull and repetitive by the halfway point. Soon after that, I just wanted the whole thing to be done. The blunt plot beat parallels between Ellie and Abby’s stories don’t feel earned when major supporting characters die in almost the same exact way. We’re given zero time to mourn before the narrative jolts someplace else. Because there’s so much plot to get through, it feels like we’re being told how to feel without the game really convincing us. Which seems bad!
Tomas Franzese — For a single-player only game, The Last of Us Part 2 was surprisingly long. For a majority of the adventure, I didn’t mind that considering the strong pacing. Unfortunately, the game did start to drag for me towards the end with the Santa Barbara section. While one of the points of that section was to make you feel like Ellie’s crusade was going on for too long and was ultimately useless, it still feels frustrating to experience. The constant fading to black also kept making me think the game was going to end for about two hours before it actually did. An hour or two could have been shaved off, but I’m fine with what we got.
Danny Paez — I thought the majority of the game’s pacing was excellent and the gameplay change you experience when you swap from Ellie to Abby’s POV was smart to spice up how you approach combat halfway through. However, the Farm House/Santa Barbara areas did throw things off for me.
For a majority of the game, I thought it would all culminate with an explosive combat sequence in the theater between Ellie and Abby. Instead, the actual ending was a bit too prolonged for my taste and I found it to take the urgency away from Ellie’s quest for revenge.
Just Lunning — Sure, it was long, but definitely not too long. Some parts were paced poorly and padded-out. Ellie’s Seattle Day 1 felt like it took forever, especially the trek to the TV station. I didn’t need that extented intro to tripwires for them never to be mentioned again. I wish more time was spent showing us the Seraphites and WLF’s day-to-day.
Who was your favorite new character in The Last of Us Part 2?
Jen Glennon — Getting to know Lev as Abby was one of the most enjoyable parts of the game for me. He gave us an intriguing glimpse into the world of the Seraphites, and I thought the whole sequence of the two of them traversing the rooftops of Seattle via dilapidated construction cranes was a high point of the adventure. I also enjoyed seeing the sarcastic side of his personality gradually start to come out the more time they spent together.
Most of the supporting characters were pretty damn useless in combat, though. That was frustrating to me throughout the game.
Corey Plante — I really liked Jesse from the get-go, but his behavior never felt particularly believable. I’ll also be forever irked by the moment where Dina just smashes a jar full of joints after trying to open it for 5 seconds. Owen is probably my favorite character, charming and dorky as he serves up some much-needed levity in a dour game. His mistakes, however egregious, at least feel believable. But also: How can you not love Lev? His faith and bravery make him a real standout character in a sea of sameness. All the best characterization in this story happens in the Abby half of things, which speaks to the game trying so hard to humanize the enemies and dehumanize our heroes. Abby is very clearly the hero of this story, and I really like her.
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Tomas Franzese — Despite what the haters say, I was a fan of Abby and her arc throughout The Last of Us Part 2. She served as a nice foil to Ellie. She completed her quest for revenge but still ended up feeling unfulfilled and lost everything. Seeing everything fall apart around Abby just as she’s trying to become a better person by helping Lev and Yara felt compelling. This was all backed up by an amazing performance by Laura Bailey. I wouldn’t mind if the series solely focused on Abby going forward, so it’s a shame to see all the vitriolic hate around the character and death threats towards her voice actress. Yes guys, women can be muscular too.
Danny Paez — Manny! While his role was rather fleeting compared to some of the other characters, I thought he provided some much needed-comedic relief during Abby’s portion of TLOU 2. His brief arc was one of the main plot points that made me feel empathy for Abby after she killed Joel.
Manny was one of Abby’s few friends that didn’t have any underlying drama with her, like the situation with Owen and Mel. Manny let us see a glimpse of Abby in a good-natured, chummy sort of mood. This buddy-buddy relationship was ripped from Abby’s life after Manny was killed by Tommy in a shocking moment.
Before all of this, Abby came off as a brutish, cold-blooded lieutenant. But seeing her relationship with Manny gave her character more nuance and a good reason to hate Tommy and Ellie even more.
Just Lunning — Nora and Lev! Nora gets a shout out for being such a caring character and the only one to thoughtfully respond to Ellie being the immune child that caused the hubbub in Salt Lake City.
Lev was a fantastic character. Watching his perception of the world gradually grow between his introduction and Santa Barbara was great. The love between Lev and Yara felt genuine, too. It was pleasant to see actual familial love in a Last of Us game rather than the found family connection they so often write.
I disliked that he was used to endear Abby to the audience in the second half. Firstly, using a child to humanize a brutish adult is Joel’s arc. He doesn’t have a copyright on it, but you shouldn’t reuse that for other characters. Secondly, using a character Abby just met to humanize her implies it’s a fairly recent development, undermining the idea that she was a good person before she killed Joel.
Anyway, Lev was great. He should be in more things.
How did you feel about the ending of The Last of Us Part 2?
Jen Glennon — I really enjoyed the complete change of scenery, and I thought some of the Santa Barbara sequences — like Ellie’s infiltration of the Rattlers’ HQ — were a lot of fun. But Tommy flip-flops so much on wanting to pursue vengeance throughout the game, and him guilt-tripping Ellie to abandon a comfortable life didn’t quite ring true to me. I also just didn’t quite buy Ellie not going through with finishing off Abby at the end. Ellie’s killed hundreds of people at this point, many of them savagely. Why pull the final punch? Why does Ellie deserve to be miserable and alone while Abby still has Lev? They both did awful things, which led to awful consequences, but Ellie seems to get the worst of it.
Corey Plante — This is a beautiful, tragic story in a lot of ways, but I hate the order in which all of these events are presented. That night at the Jackson dance is referenced within the first few minutes of the game, and so many of the emotional beats of the entire game rely on us knowing what happened — and we don’t learn it until the very end! We’re getting the wool pulled over our eyes in a way that forces us to see everything that happens as senseless violence devoid of context. That’s interesting and unconventional. I’m just not totally convinced that it works.
The first game’s ending is so great because it forces you into Joel’s shoes where he makes this morally dubious decision. He redeems himself by going all-in on moral absolutism, and he says in The Last of Us 2 ending that he has no regrets. Joel becomes a heroic martyr, and Ellie just becomes this broken person who let revenge ruin her life? There’s no feeling of uncertainty in this ending: Ellie does the right thing, but she does it too late. She’s left to stew in her own misery … and that’s it?
Tomas Franzese — The ending dragged a bit for me. The Santa Barbara section was also weird because it felt like no one learned anything over the course of the adventure until that specific final moment. The story could’ve ended with Ellie choosing to forgive Abby and not pursue her any further. It would’ve had mostly the same effect and a slightly happier ending.
Still, I get why Naughty Dog made the choices that it did. The game and its ending show how fruitless Ellie’s quest for revenge is. Ellie wasn’t ready to forgive Abby until she also lost everything. Abby and Ellie’s arcs mirror one another icely, so I was still pretty satisfied at the end, even if it did drag.
Danny Paez — I noted before that I felt the fact that Ellie returned to try and hunt Dina down kind of did away with the urgency her first revenge plot had, during the majority of the game. And much like Corey, I wasn’t thrilled at the fact that they saved the flash back to the Jackson dance for the very end. It’s almost like Naughty Dog made watching the game’s teaser trailer a required reading before you start playing to be in tune with the emotional nuance going on throughout the entire game.
But I felt that the end when Ellie returns to the farm house was executed well and hammered Naughty Dog’s point home about the cost of seeking revenge. There was something extremely powerful about not being able to play the simple guitar mini game at the very end that made me realize how meaningful it was to Ellie at the dying embers of the game.
Just Lunning — In theory, I don’t mind that Ellie spared Abby, but I’m not sure her character earned that choice properly. Ellie and Abby’s changes of heart both appeared as a reaction to the Rattlers, a group that literally owned slaves. As if their distinct courses would inevitably lead to that level of violence. Maybe I’d buy it more if we saw more of Abby in that section.
Santa Barbara as a whole felt dissonant from the rest of the game. I wish they released it as a free expansion months down the line to work out what they wanted to say.
Did you read the story leaks before playing the game?
Jen Glennon — Yep, and they made me more excited for the game. That said, I don’t think they gave a totally correct impression of the overall experience, namely how much time you’d spend playing as Abby. The leaks mostly spoiled the early events with Joel, but there were still lots of twists and surprises I didn’t expect.
Corey Plante — I did. I’m a glutton for spoilers, and as jarring as they were to read ahead of time, none of it in retrospect is all that surprising. Of course Joel had to die. Otherwise, what’s the point of a sequel? And of course Abby had to play such a big part. Otherwise, what’s the point of presenting a straightforward revenge story from Ellie’s perspective? I found myself just wanting the game to be done midway through the Abby section of the story, and I think it had a lot to do with me knowing what was about to happen next. I’d also read some spoilers about the game’s ending separately, and I don’t know if I would’ve loved it either way.
Tomas Franzese — Yes, as I was the one who read and wrote about the leaks for Inverse. It’s still a bit weird knowing that I spoiled the game for so many people, and I condemn any of the hate towards developers or voice actors that came as a reaction to the story spoilers being spread on the internet. While the leaks were true, PLEASE play the game with an open mind before judging it, and don’t send death threats to those involved with its production.
Danny Paez — I did, and it really detracted from all of the major shock value moments from the early and middle parts of the game. It ruined the Ned Stark-esque execution of Joel and Abby’s relationship to the Fireflies, which were the major “oh snap!” moments of the entire game.
That being said, the leaks didn’t completely spoil my experience with TLOU 2. I found the interweaving, nonlinear storytelling leading up to Ellie and Abby’s encounter in the theater compelling. It reminded me of Pulp Fiction. I hope narrative-focused games explore these techniques moving forward.
Just Lunning — Heck yeah I did! I love goss and spoilers are the best kind of goss. They certainly didn’t ruin the game for me. The notion that Joel would die was exciting and seeing it happen so early in the game was a great surprise. Knowing Abby’s motivation for killing Joel before playing did take some of my possible hatred towards the character away. I imagine Druckmann intended there to be more whiplash then I experienced when you played Abby’s side.
Knowing we’d get to see Abby’s side excited me. It gave me something to look forward to throughout my Ellie playthough. I’m glad to have known what was down the line beforehand.
What part of The Last of Us Part 2 did you enjoy most?
Jen Glennon — I really enjoyed the museum stuff between Ellie and Joel, the skyscraper sequence with Abby, and the utter shit-hitting-the-fan chaos of the escape from the Seraphites’ island. I really enjoyed the sense of freedom in the combat scenarios, especially in Ellie’s Hillcrest sequence in Day 2. While I thought both Ellie and Abby’s stories suffered from some draggy bits, they both had some super memorable sequences too.
Corey Plante — I loved everything up until Shimmer got blown to smithereens. That first open-world area of Seattle before Ellie’s horse is killed was a genuine surprise and delight, but the game very quickly pivoted back into a more rail-roaded narrative. Santa Barbara was also pretty great. Like the first game’s epic finale, having to tackle dozens of armored enemies with a full arsenal is a thrill. Wow did I sorta hate everything in the middle?
Tomas Franzese — The bridge sequence with Abby and Lev was a highlight of The Last of Us Part 2 for me. While the deadnaming scene probably shouldn’t have happened, it was an otherwise gripping sequence that really humanized both Abby and Lev.
Lev’s quote about handling fear and anxiety was the only moment of the game that really got me emotional, as I also deal with anxiety. Outside of that, it was also a really great set piece, though it was followed by one of the most annoying Infected sections in the game.
Danny Paez — I loved both of the parts that Corey and Tomas brought up, but another part that stood out to me was the initial part of Day 2 with Ellie when she finds Jesse in Hillcrest. This is one of the moments where TLOU 2’s stealth and survivalist gameplay hit home for me.
You find yourself alone in a grassy neighborhood warmed with WLF troops. I tried to stealth my way through but ended up parkouring across the neighborhood trying not to get mangled by dogs. I’ve never had that much fun running away from things in a game before!
Just Lunning — The Ellie boss fight at the end of Abby’s portion was amazing. There’s something so gratifying to face a player character as a boss fight. It was thrilling to sneak around avoiding Ellie, who had become such a force of nature at that point. I loved how she’d stop to craft traps along the way.
Do you want to replay The Last of Us 2 to see what you missed?
Jen Glennon — Not for quite a while, if at all. The story was so pessimistic and gloomy, I don’t know that I want to step into that kind of heavy atmosphere again anytime soon. I really enjoyed my experience with the game overall, but it puts you through a real emotional beating.
Corey Plante — Not really? I played the first game shortly after it first came out and didn’t replay it for about seven years. That might wind up being the same for this. I just don’t think I liked the characters or experiences enough to really warrant a revisit any time soon. I’m not a completionist gamer or somebody that obsesses over collecting everything in a game, so if there are little things I missed, I’m fine with that.
Tomas Franzese — I will go through the whole thing again eventually, but probably not until GOTY consideration time or in a few years after the experience has started to fade from my mind. That said, I could see myself going back and playing specific sections of the game, like the opening day in Seattle, the sky bridge, or the hospital showdown. It’s a pretty heavy game though, so I won’t rush a replay. That said, I will dive into the multiplayer standalone Last of Us game if it ever releases.
Danny Paez — Not for a while at least. I would maybe dive back in just to see how much harder the game is it is on the Survivor difficulty. But if I wanted to catch more details I’d opt to just watch playthroughs or cutscenes on YouTube.
TLOU 2 was emotionally taxing for me to see Ellie’s spiral into a revenge-fueled rage because of my attachment to her as a character from the original. I knew going into it that it would be a tragedy, but the ending and many crucial scenes were hard to watch. I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t tear up a few times through the entire experience. I’m not ready for round two just yet.
Just Lunning — I’ve already played through segments in a quest to earn the Platinum trophy. I’m not sure I’d play through the whole thing again any time soon – it’s just so dreary. Give me a year or so. If multiplayer isn’t out by then, I’ll certainly be clamoring for more Last of Us, so I might play then.
The Last of Us Part 2 is now available for PlayStation 4.