At PlayStation’s E3 conference this year, we got our first look at actual gameplay for The Last of Us Part II. The sequel to Naughty Dog’s beloved 2013 game has been highly anticipated for almost five years, and the footage did not disappoint.
The showcase opened with a song, similarly to the first trailer we saw at PlayStation Experience back in 2016. A tattooed, taller, and seemingly bored Ellie stands by a bar, drinking whiskey and watching people dance. An atmosphere of warmth is showcased in a world we know too well to be cold, but it’s actually pretty uncomfortable to watch. Anyone who has played The Last Of Us can’t help expecting shit to go down any second, and Ellie seems to be having similar preoccupations.
However, nothing bad happens. People continue to dance and enjoy themselves, and as a new character strikes up a conversation with Ellie, she seems to lighten up. Seeing her smiling and joking around allows the viewer to let their guard down, too. The conversation between the friends seems so real, both visually and in relation to its content.
Joel is reported to be in some kind of a position of authority, as the new character mentions having been told off by him. Due to Joel’s physical absence from the trailer, this seems to be foreshadowing something. Perhaps Joel’s only place in a society like this is to be in a militant position which ensures its longevity. Overall, the community seems to be pretty tightly-knit. Ellie and her friend speak about relationships, drawing attention to the more normal aspects of humanity and emphasising a sense of harmony. What we can see as a result of this is a pre-infection sort of safety in ordinary life.
The ability to build relationships seems like a small thing, but in The Last Of Us, perhaps it’s a saving grace – or, in some cases, a death note. Ellie’s unenthusiastic responses illustrate the fact that she knows not to let her guard down.
Suddenly, a woman appears. Her name is Dina, and she looks about the same age as Ellie. She invites her to dance, and Ellie looks very uncomfortable. Dina comforts her, and a touching kiss ensues. Aimee Hart wrote a a fantastic article about this kiss and what it means in relation to new expectations for queer representation in video games.
The kiss transitions to Ellie strangling someone and stabbing them in the neck, immediately after Dina says, “I think they should be terrified of you”. Ellie exhales, whispers “fucker”, and the gameplay begins. This transition creates an utterly brilliant juxtaposition between illusion and reality – humanity tries to preserve its customs and the things which make it emphatically human, but she has seen too much. Having been exposed to atrocity at such a young age, she is permanently scarred. A slight, yet ever-present shadow haunts her.
The gameplay takes place in a dark, yet stunning forest. The camera manipulation functions similarly to the continuous roll pioneered by the recent God of War – cast from over the shoulder in third-person. We hear dynamic sounds resembling those of an actual forest, creating an immersive and realistic ambiance.
The trailer confirms that the player will play as an adult Ellie. She doesn’t even flinch at the sight of a hanged body – this game is immediately identifiable as darker in both tone and content than its predecessor. According to Neil Druckmann, The Last Of Us was about “guardianship” and “building bonds” – this is entirely different. (As seen in the first trailer, when Ellie says “I’m going to kill every last one of them” and then proceeds to sing a rendition of Shawn James’ ‘Through The Valley’, which includes the lyric: “I can’t walk on the path of the right, ’cause I’m wrong.”)
We witness the brutal murder of a hanging man, who has his guts spilled while he is held in place by the noose. Evidently, a lot has happened in the years since The Last Of Us. Humanity outside of societies like Ellie’s has deteriorated at least as much as her group have progressed. The character development of the young protagonist is clear – she is hard as nails, and she knows only too well about humanity’s capacity for cruelty in times of desperation.
Next, we see the classic Naughty Dog-esque environmental level-traversing as Ellie climbs a dumpster and a window ledge. This game features similar movement mechanics to the studio’s previous titles, which is definitely not a bad thing for fans.
After the retention of this mechanic is confirmed, we’re introduced to an improved feature: Hand-to-hand combat. Although melee combat existed in The Last Of Us, it has completely evolved mechanically. An intentionally missed arrow allows the gameplay trailer to showcase this new combat style, which features dynamic camera angles, influenced by evasive manoeuvres and degrees of aggression. This is brutal, visceral, and real, with each encounter appearing to be unique.
The AI is highly intuitive – after Ellie runs into the grass, an enemy shouts, “She went into the grass!” Although seemingly minor, this kind of thing exponentially increases the degree of verisimilitude – if it’s like this all of the time, the game will seem almost scarily real. (Worth noting: the grass actually keeps Ellie hidden, as opposed to being a blatantly unrealistic form of cover. Touches like this highlight Naughty Dog’s attention to detail, and the fact that they genuinely care about making a great game).
The same character who noted that Ellie took cover in the grass speaks again as her fellow raider approaches: “Ethan! Wolf – she came through here”. It seems plausible that “Wolf” refers to Ellie, meaning that she has a pretty badass and very appropriate codename now.
A sneak/combat scene in a derelict building comes up next, and it is absolutely incredible. After Ellie sneaks her way around the perimeter, she crafts an explosive arrow and immediately engages, highlighting a possibility for tactical aggression against small mobs. The crafting system looks pretty much identical to the one used in The Last Of Us, aside from the fact that it has been slightly stylised. However, the parts of the wheel seem smaller, which could potentially mean that there are more crafting options than before.
After the fight, a blood-stained Ellie stands over her dead enemies. This is quite clearly not the same girl who killed David. This is a survivor. This is a warrior.
The trailer transitions back to the kiss with Dina. Ellie smiles, and it looks sincere. However, we all know that Ellie is not in for a fairy-tale. The uncomfortable feeling returns, and the screen fades to black.
It’s within the realm of possibility that The Last Of Us: Part II could be even more emotionally taxing than its prequel. One thing is for certain: This game will be a journey.
All I can say is, “Wow”.
Kudos, Naughty Dog.
This article includes contributions from Axel Bosso.