Content of the article: "I would like to build understanding with the angry about why some of us fans, and the critics, loved the Last of Us II"
So the biggest game release recently is TLOUII, it has been the fastest-selling Sony PS4 title of all-time and near universal acclaim from critics. Nevertheless, a vocal number of fans are not happy about it and I'm sure people are aware of the Metacritic user score on it. I've noticed it's actually going up over the last few days as more people complete the game, since clearly a number of the negative reviews were from people that didn't complete let alone play it, but I would be in denial if I said there were not a vocal number of players who did play and complete it who did not like it.
I would like to use this post not to convince anyone who did not like the game that they are "wrong" – taste is subjective. I'm also not here to convince anyone to play the game, I have no affiliation with Sony/ND beyond being someone who enjoyed the game.
However, I have seen posts from people who seem to think its absurd that the 10/10 scores could be real, were paid off etc., or that anyone who did love it is in denial.
I think the easiest way to do that is to address some of the major criticisms, long post incoming –
'Forced SJW content' – Some players are mad that you play a lesbian (Ellie). She's been established to be attracted to women as far back as the DLC for the first game, so it's nothing new, but this game certainly continues to explore that with a lesbian relationship. There is also a trans character in the game, and no it's not Abby. In my view the LGBT aspects of this game are all very organic and don't predominate the story, and they fit in well with it. On the other hand, in a sense yes they are 'forced' in that the developer chose to put them into the game. It's a choice that they made because these people exist in the real world today and they were interested in putting those types of characters in the game and exploring those themes. If this is barrier to you enjoying the game I'm not sure what I can say to convince you otherwise, other than for you to understand that many of us either don't mind or outright enjoy this type of content, even if we have no particular stake in LGBT issues.
Killing Joel – This game kills Joel very early on in the game. There are two major criticisms of this, one about 'logic' and the other from a narrative perspective. People are saying it's a plot hole, that Joel would never let his guard down and is a hardline survivalist etc., However, the point is it's been several years since the first game and Joel has achieved a life of relative normalcy in Jackson, presumably they bring lots of other survivors into the neighbourhood this way before.
In terms of the choice to do it, keep in mind the first game killed a young girl you played as and the main character's daughter in the opening minutes of the game. It was a bold choice as well, the difference here is it's harder in a sequel when you've built up a longer relationship (and years of nostalgia) over a character, but for many of us we can appreciate why it was the right one as an inciting event.
The game does not 'disrespect Joel' — the game is still very much about the relationship Ellie has with Joel, and their cutscenes and flashbacks together are some of the most poignant in the game. You're meant to be mad he's killed, as it fuels Ellie's desire for revenge which is what the game is about.
Abby – So many at this point know that you play as Abby, Joel's killer for much of the second half of the game. This might be enough to make players' blood boil.
I initially hated Abby too and had no idea how they could make her likeable, but I ultimately found her more likeable than Ellie in this game. The leaks completely misrepresented what Abby's sections of the game are — she isn't actually on a revenge journey with Ellie for the vast majority of it. Her gameplay sections and story are actually more varied and far less one-note than Ellie's with more varied environments, character's and themes rather than just overgrown Seattle and revenge.
A lot of her story is about letting people in (particularly Lev and Yara). I've loved many of Naughty Dog's characters but the Uncharted heroes and Ellie, while having moments of warmth, fundamentally engage with the world with snark — while Joel was detached and not willing to let players in. Abby is really earnest and compassionate, and is actually far more merciful than Ellie (she only wanted to kill one person for revenge, not hundreds).
There is a lot of stuff online about how she's absurdly jacked, well, she's essentially been training for revenge and to be a soldier for much of her life, has a dorm literally across from the gym, is someone who believes in order and stability (so it makes sense she would conform her body to these standards). More importantly, there's a thematic reason for this — in the final confrontation part of why Ellie doesn't kill Abby is she's withered away and is a shell of her former self. It's a physical representation of how she's changed, the Abby that killed Joel simply doesn't exist any more.
Pointless sex scene – Yeah the second I saw this scene I knew it would be memed and some of the memes are pretty funny. However I don't think the scene is actually awful in context, Owen and Abby have a history together, they're emotionally heightened which leads to increased intimacy which they then consummate it. Obviously ND are intentionally pushing the boundaries here but it's not totally context-free or pointless even if it's going to be memed forever. And yeah Abby is not a conventionally attractive female and it differs from a lot of games in that respect and that the sex is not a result of reward/saving the day/picking the right game choices ala Mass Effect but that doesn't really make it bad
The characters are boring, especially in the second half – This is simply going to be a matter of taste but what I will say is objectively clear is that the characters in the first game are far more iconic/archetypical/representational about what they represent in the story, so I actually agree they are less 'interchangeable' in that sense than the characters in this story.
However, I think this part of the point, the fact that the characters in this story are in many ways painfully normal and a lot alike underscores the themes in the game that despite having so much in common, when groups form and are driven by anger and hate it doesn't require huge differences for them to see each other as enemies.
The Seraphites are pointless and are just so Abby has someone to fight – Okay, so more than anything I think my points here are what I am going to get the most flak for and called pretentious for bringing up OR even if you agree with me and accept that I'm right, you will say Druckmann/Naughty Dog are pretentious for this being an influence on the game.
But I'll just go right ahead and say it — I think this section of the game (and broader aspects of the game) are heavily inspired by the Israel/Palestine conflict, and the cycle of war in the Middle East and foreign policy.
I am not just saying this because Druckmann is Israeli and there is a Jewish character in the game. Before you call me crazy, listen to the Official PS Last of Us Podcast with Ep 1 where Druckmann outright says he follows Israeli politics intently and he's talking about Hamas and it's influences in the game.
I am not saying you need to be aware of this conflict to get anything out of the themes of the game, but I think particularly if you think the Seraphites have no meaning it can help to think about them through the less of conflicts over homeland, the idea that "one man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist", that "for each terrorist you kill you create ten more" (their friends and family etc.,), the idea that you can be drawn into violent conflicts simply as a result of where you are born, religious fanaticism etc.,
Some of these are themes that are more directly related to Abby's story but parallel in Ellie's as well, and there is dialogue that is particularly on the nose about it in Day 1 of Abby's story between the soldiers in WLF (*cough*IDF*cough*).
The gameplay is not that good and has not meaningfully evolved from the first – I really, really enjoyed the gameplay of this game. If you haven't liked the gameplay of previous ND games (I.e. Uncharted and the Last of Us) I don't think this will change your mind, but I really think they have refined (while admittedly yes, not drastically changing) the gameplay of the 1st.
The increased mobility e.g going prone lead to some sequences which feel like a more streamlined MGS, there are survival horror sections that rival that of RE (the Abby rat king boss fight!) and I also think people who don't like the gameplay should consider playing on Hard. Taking out a few dudes guerilla tactics style, getting spotted, hiding, going again… I loved it.
It is misery porn and there is no levity – There is plenty of moments of levity and warmth between the characters, both in the present day and the flashbacks. It is absolutely a very violent and confronting game that is very bleak in a lot of aspects, but I don't think it can be said that it is relentless. The theme of the game is 'look for the light in the darkness' and that comes through.
This game does not deserve a 10/10 from critics Part 1 (other aspects of the game) – Scores are just scores. They don't capture every point a critic might have about a game. They might feel a game has minor flaws but still give it 10/10 (check out the review policy of a lot of sites – many are of the view there is no such thing as a 'perfect' game and define 10s by other metrics i.e. landmark game, must play, moves the medium forward etc., Alanah Pearce has a good video about this which I'd encourage you to look up.
Whatever you think about the story, these critics are taking into account a lot of things. Most enjoyed the gameplay, and I think even someone who disliked the story and gameplay of this game would be hard-pressed to deny that the graphics are incredible. Sound design, music, performances from the actors…. there's stuff here which is at the top of their craft.
The game does not deserve a 10/10 from critics Part 2 (the story) – So the major point people make is this is a story based game, they think the story is bad, how can a critic give it 10/10. Well the long and short of it is people like different things and that critic genuinely liked the story.
However, I do think there are some things which explain why there is a gap in critic and user opinions on this.
Critics play games and write about them for a living. They play a shitload of games and have to write about a lot of generic games. When a game comes along like TLOU2 and takes some big swings that TLOU2 does, it's exciting for a critic since it's different to the other games they're playing and writing about day in and day out since there's a lot more to say about the story than normal. Critics are also often more likely to have English/journalism degrees and enjoy things that play with formal structure and yes, I will say it, 'subvert expectations' The Last Jedi style because those types of things are valued in those circles more than to the general public.
Whereas a lot of the general public will see games that attempt these sorts of things as trying to be too clever, pretentious etc., etc., and just want to play something that is a blast without those elements.
Neither side on that point is right, it's just people appreciating different things. All I will say is, ND did four (well, technically five) Uncharted games in that style for people who want a more straightforward, rollicking good time adventure. TLOU has been their series to push the boundaries a bit more and for me, I'm so glad they did.
I hope someone reading this can understand why some of us loved it but for those who don't I'd love to have a conversation about it.
- Naughty dog messed up with the marketing of Last of Us 2 that could’ve made it unforgettable
- Legit Criticisms With The Last Of Us Part II
- Now that I’ve completed TLOU2: Why all the hate?????
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