Editor’s note: You may have seen our spoiler-free The Last of Us Part II review, originally published on June 12, 2020. Due to a strict embargo, we were limited in what aspects of the game we could touch on in that review. While I critiqued the game in full for that embargo, there may be some parts of the review that could use more explanation. Now that the embargo has lifted and the game is now available, I’ve expanded on my thoughts here; this review has the same arguments and score as the first one and is simply more detailed in my analysis. Note that this review contains spoilers, including one major character death.
The Last of Us Part II begins with serious tonal whiplash. One moment, Ellie and her close friend Dina are becoming more than friends in a basement filled with weed plants and Naughty Dog porn puns; the next, Joel is being savagely beaten to death with a golf club. It’s the first of many, many gruesome deaths. Some happen whether you want them to or not, in intimate cutscenes that are hard to watch, while others happen just because an NPC got in between you and your objective and killing them was the easiest thing to do. Either way, that brief glimpse of happiness at the beginning is left very much in the dust.
But while the scale and severity of death and loss in this game is incredibly high, The Last of Us Part II is more a character study than a musing on the nature of violence. On that front, the story of Ellie, her playable foil Abby, and their quests for revenge and redemption is a gripping and harrowing one, and I found myself deeply emotionally entangled with each woman and her strengths and flaws. The bloodshed is very much a part of that story, but it’s far from the most effective one, and it’s where the game stumbles a bit.