I love The Last of Us and I can’t wait to see its successor on stage at E3 2018 next month. Long-haired director Neil Druckmann confirmed at PlayStation Experience late last year that we would get our first glimpse of gameplay during Sony’s press conference, and a select few have already seen the demo behind closed doors. Apparently it’s incredible – but I do have some niggling concerns about Naughty Dog’s next game.
If you’d asked me before God of War whether I had any worries at all about The Last of Us: Part II, I’d have laughed in your face. The developer’s on a hot streak right now, and even its worst game in recent years – Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception – is better than practically all other blockbusters of the time. I thought I was done with Uncharted after the excellent A Thief’s End, but fancy expansion The Lost Legacy ended up being one of my favourites in the series.
But I genuinely believe that it has to evolve its formula – especially in the wake of Kratos’ ridiculously good revival. There were many things that impressed me about God of War, but I think the one that sticks out several weeks after writing my review is how much of a video game it is. That’s a weird conclusion to make about a video game, I agree – but what I think God of War does particularly well is balance moment-to-moment interactivity with quality storytelling.
I’ve always thought The Last of Us is greater than Uncharted because its gameplay matches its narrative much better. Nathan Drake is a likeable, relatable everyman – but he’s also a mass murderer. This discussion has been done to death, but if you compare to The Last of Us, the brutality makes sense in that world and fits Joel’s character. Heck, even the environmental story-telling works because you can imagine characters like Ellie scavenging for supplies.
But here’s the thing: God of War is better at being a video game than any modern Naughty Dog title, and it does it without sacrificing anything in the storytelling stakes. My point here is that The Last of Us: Part II can’t rest on the formula of Naughty Dog's past releases; it needs to be more interactive and better designed than any of the studio’s recent games. I’m obviously not expecting treasure chests and rune puzzles in every room, but positioning wooden planks simply isn’t going to cut it anymore.
The bar has been raised, and I want to see Naughty Dog acknowledge that at E3 2018. I have very few concerns about the storytelling; there’s a worry that the sequel may be too violent based on its Paris Games Week trailer, but I think the developer will find the right balance. My concern here is that after years of the same format, the studio may have forgotten how to make a game. And God of War proved to me that it’s possible to have the best of both worlds; you can have the emotionally resonant storyline and interactivity every 30 seconds or so.
I sincerely hope that Naughty Dog is ahead of the curve on this. The developer has been consistently exceeding expectations since 2009, so I certainly have no reason to doubt it. And let’s face it: there’s been an element of one-upmanship between Sony’s studios for a long time now, so I’m sure Naughty Dog’s ready to pick up the baton and blow our minds. But I want this E3 2018 demo to reassure me; God of War’s changed everything, and I hope The Last of Us: Part II pushes in that direction, too.
What are you hoping to see from The Last of Us: Part II at E3 2018? Do you just want story and spectacle, or do you want to know how the game will be structured? Run away from the clicking sounds in the comments section below.