Out of all PlayStation’s studios, perhaps none have been as consistent with their quality as Naughty Dog. Though well-known for their Crash Bandicoot and Jak and Daxter franchises, the studio’s notoriety catapulted into the stratosphere with the Uncharted series, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves in particular. Following the massive success of the 2009 title, Naughty Dog split into two teams. One would go on to release Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. The other, however, would go on to release one of last-generations best games, The Last of Us.
Unlike the action-focused nature of the Uncharted action series, The Last of Us toned things down, focusing on stealth and survival. Set twenty years after a mutated Cordyceps fungus has ravaged the world, the game explored themes of fatherhood, the human condition, brutality and survival. The story, characters and gameplay all packaged together created one of the most compelling gaming experiences of the PS3 era. It’s a tough act to follow, but Naughty Dog hopes to meet and achieve the high bar set by The Last of Us with The Last of Us Part II.
Spoiler Alert for The Last of Us! There are NO spoilers for The Last of Us Part II.
The key to The Last of Us Part II’s success is how its narrative effectively builds on its predecessor’s story and themes. Considering where the original game left off, Naughty Dog has a lot of latitude for exploration. The Last of Us’ story concludes bitterly. Ellie, who is immune to the virus, may have lived, but Joel’s self-centered actions cost humanity a chance to find a cure. To make matter’s worse, Joel lies to Ellie about his altercation with the Fireflies. The story ends with Joel and Ellie both outside Tommy’s (Joel’s brother) community, with the ending left ambiguous over whether Ellie believes or Joel.
The Last of Us Part II picks up five years after the original game. Ellie, now nineteen years old, and Joel have settled into their new lives in Jackson, Wyoming. While Joel’s skills as a killer have helped keep the community safe, Ellie has settled into a more normal life in a secure community. That all comes to an end, however, following a violent event that changes Ellie’s life. This sets her on a journey to Seattle, where she’s thrust into a civil war between warring factions as she hunts down those that wronged her.
While the original game focused on ideas like individuality, collectivism and utilitarianism, The Last of Us Part II aims to be a commentary on the cycle of violence. The idea that violence begets more violence and characters facing the consequences of their actions isn’t exactly new but could provide some powerful character moments throughout Ellie’s journey. How Ellie copes with her losses will be the story’s driving point from the get-go and will likely lead to plenty of emotional character moments.
Along the way, players will team up with new and old allies, face off against new enemies, and experience the classic twists and turns of a Naughty Dog campaign. The Cordyceps fungus is still an ever-present threat, but as we learned in the original game, these fungal monsters aren’t the real danger in this world. We’ll know soon if Naughty Dog has lived up to the original game’s high bar.
The Last of Us Part II launches June 19 on PS4.