A large part of The Last of Us’ enduring appeal is just how real its vision of the apocalypse seemed. Naughty Dog took protagonists Joel and Ellie on a road-trip through the remnants of the United States, and every area had the fingerprints of its storytellers all over it. The focal point was, of course, the relationship between its captivating leads, but everywhere you went there were echoes of the “old world” – and also the fragments of those trying to survive in the current one.
Writing previews for The Last of Us: Part II has proved challenging, as we can only refer to a slice of a single chapter. However, we’ve already discussed in some detail the pulsating combat mechanics and outstanding accessibility options – and now we want to talk about the exploration. As with its predecessor, this is a key part of the game, as you’ll absorb much of the release’s fiction through the things that you simply observe.
In the sequence we’re allowed to talk about, Ellie is tasked with travelling to a nearby hospital in the grungy downtown streets of Seattle. As with the previous game, nature has reclaimed much of the urban environment, although the leftovers of a fading way of life occupy each wrinkle of the city. There are rusted cars and shattered bus shelters; shops and apartments border overgrown roads, while lingering views of the horizon show your destination.
As was the case with first game, this sequel feels like a culmination of Naughty Dog’s efforts throughout the generation. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End introduced the idea of wide-linear, while expansion-cum-standalone spin-off Uncharted: The Lost Legacy improved upon it. The Last of Us: Part II is gigantic, almost limitless, providing a seemingly never-ending array of stores and housing for you to rummage through, each occupied with items and artefacts that harbour their own lore.
There’s thought been invested into every building, whether it’s a humble convenience store or something a touch more specialist. The inhabitants of apartments may have been long gone by the timeline that this tale takes place in, but their interests and hobbies are left behind, whether it’s a kid’s bedroom with a deflated soccer ball and posters of his favourite players on the wall, or a tech enthusiast with a multi-monitor setup.
And as before, this voyeuristic style of exploration supports the fiction, as you’re required to scavenge for essential materials in a world that forces you to make do with the bits-and-pieces that you find. Oftentimes little yarns overlap, as collectibles pad out the plights of characters you may never actually encounter. And with new abilities, such as a dedicated jump button and the option to go prone, discovering them feels more satisfying than before – there are no wooden planks at all.
But that’s where we have to leave it, because discussing things further would be a breach of our embargo. All you need to know is that in the chapter we can talk about, The Last of Us 2 feels big. And this has a profound impact on not just the design of the game, but also the stories that are woven into the fabric of its world. Few games provide the sense of place that’s present here, and even less tell stories without saying a single world. The Last of Us: Part II does both brilliantly.
Are you looking forward to digging into The Last of Us 2's dense world? Look in every cupboard in the comments section below.