The Last Of Us Part II’s narrative is a bit of a mess, to say the least. Between interspersed flashbacks, different days and character perspectives, the plot skips all over the place, offsetting the pacing completely and delivering one of the most divisive gaming (and narrative) experiences of the year.
The Last Of Us Part II begins 5 years after the on-point ending to The Last Of Us, with Ellie and Joel living in Tommy’s settlement in Jackson, Wyoming. Ellie finds herself in a relationship with a girl called Dina who’s recently broken up with her boyfriend Jesse. While things are a little awkward between the trio, a big rift between Ellie and Joel has formed thanks to her finding out the truth about what Joel did with the Fireflies in the past.
Believing him to be selfish and depriving her of her true purpose, Joel’s actions have far-reaching consequences which are fully realized during the game’s opening sections of gameplay. With winter upon them, Joel and Tommy go missing on a patrol prompting Ellie and Dina to head out and investigate. It’s here you control a woman named Abby for the first time, who’s saved by Joel and Tommy from a large horde of infected.
Guiding them back to her hideout, Abby reveals herself as the leader of a small group within the WLF (Washington Liberation Front) and the daughter to one of the Firefly surgeons Joel killed while saving Ellie all those years ago. As Joel starts to process this information, Abby shoots him in the leg and proceeds to beat Joel to a bloody pulp with a golf-club.
Ellie scrambles up the mountain and walks in to see Joel face-down in a pool of his own blood. Shocked, she watches on alongside a captured Tommy as Abby delivers one more crushing blow to the skull. As she leaves, one of the group members Manny spits on Joel, while Abby decides to leave Tommy and Ellie alive, just as our young protagonist swears revenge.
In the spring, Tommy heads off alone to pursue Abby’s group to their base in Seattle. Upon learning this, Ellie and Dina go after Tommy and, after following a trail of dead soldiers, hold up in an abandoned theatre after narrowly escaping a large group of Infected. It’s here Ellie reveals her immunity to Dina, who in turn reveals she’s pregnant. Ellie is taken aback by this though, calling her a burden and walking away.
With Dina physically weakened by her pregnancy, Ellie heads out alone to pursue Tommy but instead runs into Jesse deep in hostile territory. Unfortunately he becomes wounded, leaving Ellie to continue her journey alone. After encountering a religious fanatic group known as the Seraphites (colloquially known as the Scars), Ellie eventually tracks down one of Abby’s right hand women, Nora. She refuses to give up her friend though and dies at Ellie’s hands.
Ellie heads out again the following day but Jesse follows her, eventually splitting when Ellie decides getting a boat to track Abby is more important than trying to save Tommy’s life from the WLF that have him surrounded. After securing the boat and heading to the nearby aquarium, Ellie kills two more members of Abby’s group, Owen and Mel. To her shock, Ellie discovers Mel was pregnant.
Ellie heads back to the theatre and together, the group decide enough blood has been spilled and they’ll head back to Jackson empty-handed. Abby however has other plans. She tracks them down, kills Jesse and holds Tommy up at gun-point. “You killed my friends,” She says bitterly as we then jump across to Abby’s perspective for the previous three days.
Abby forms a relationship with fellow soldier Owen in the past, which we see play out through a number of different flashbacks between them. In the present he’s gone missing from camp while investigating the Seraphites. Abby confronts the WLF leader Isaac about keeping the issue a secret, who in turn reveals that Owen might have defected to the enemy, going on to explain how he plans to assault the Seraphites’ island settlement and wipe them out once and for all.
While out searching for Owen, making her way to the aquarium where she believes he is, Abby is captured by the Seraphites who string her up and look set to kill her. Thankfully, two rogue Seraphite members, Yara and her brother Lev, help her but Yara’s arm is shattered thanks to several brutal hammer blows at the hands of the Scars.
Abby takes her to the aquarium for medical attention, leaving her in the capable hands of Mel. Abby finds Owen in his boat looking the worse for wear and admitting he’s trying to fix up the boat to sail for Santa Barbara where the Fireflies may be regrouping. After an intimate scene between them both, Lev runs away to the island to see his Mother, forcing Yara and Abby to follow in hot pursuit.
Along the way, Abby encounters Manny who’s pinned down by an unknown sniper (later revealed to be Tommy) who eventually kills Manny and falls into the water after wrestling with Abby.
When Abby and Yara finally get to the island, they find it infested with WLF soldiers who begin their assault at the command of Isaac. Abby and Yara find Lev who was forced to kill his Mother after she attacked him. Out of time, the trio scramble down to the docks but along the way Yara is killed at the hands of the WLF soldiers. Lev and Abby seize a boat and head back to the aquarium.
During the time they were gone, Ellie’s interrogation took place and Abby is shocked to see her friends dead. This leads her to the theatre and catches us up with our present day timeline.
Abby shoots Tommy in the eye and brawls with Ellie and Dina, overpowering them but deciding to spare Dina’s life when she sees her pregnant and Lev pleads with her to stop. Abby warns them both to leave Seattle, as we skip forward several months and see Ellie and Dina living on their own farm, taking care of her child. Ellie’s PTSD and a visit from Tommy is enough to trigger the cycle of revenge again though, as Ellie heads off to Santa Barbara to find Abby.
After making successful contact with the fireflies on a radio and heading to their designated location of Catalina Island, the duo are ambushed en-route and taken to a resort villa by a rogue group called the Rattlers. When Ellie arrives, she fights her way through and rescues Abby and Lev before convincing the former to fight her down on the docks. Ellie wins the fight but just before drowning Abby, experiences a flash of Joel’s face and finds herself unable to follow through.
She allows Abby and Lev to leave while returning to the farm, two fingers lighter thanks to Abby biting them off during their fight. When she gets there, Dina is gone and the place is completely abandoned. Recalling a recent memory where she promised to try and forgive Joel for what he’s done, Ellie struggles to play Joel’s guitar and leaves it propped up against the window and heads off into the sunset, which is where the game ends.
So where do you start with dissecting this one? The Last Of Us Part II is a game that has both serious problems in its narrative cohesion and creating empathy for its main ensemble of characters. The motivations for most of the players involved is paper-thin at best, and amounts to nothing more than a narrow-minded approach to revenge. Abby wants revenge on Joel for killing his father; Ellie and Tommy both want revenge for her killing Joel; Isaac wants revenge on the Seraphites for the loss of his troops. And so on and so forth.
While the ending for Ellie is actually quite satisfying and reinforces the idea that all actions have consequences, Tommy gets no pay-off to his character and the minimal screen-time we see him does little to show the complex persona we were graced with in the last game.
Likewise, every shred of ambitious hope and optimism Ellie had last time around is gone, replaced by bitterness and anger. That’s before even mentioning the 10+ hours you play as Abby who, thanks to the game’s structure, is made out to be the big antagonist and a very unlikable player for large portions of the title. While this is alleviated a little toward the end of her journey, this frosty reception toward Abby continues to be a big problem with this story.
The way this has been structured though feels like it’s crying out for a re-edit. There’s actually some pretty good material here, despite its questionable structure, but unfortunately the story can’t even maintain dramatic tension even when things do become exciting. With each chapter cutting back to flashbacks, it only reinforces how far the story has fallen compared to the narratively sound first game.
While themes around violence are decent and help to tie everything together cohesively, the story is so poorly edited and told that it makes any redeeming features difficult to cling onto. Alongside The Last Of Us, Part II pales by comparison. The disjointed, disappointing story tries far too hard to be thought provoking and meaningful, consequently feeling shallow and empty as a result.