The road to launch for The Last of Us: Part 2, out tomorrow for PlayStation 4, has been lined with questions. The leaks in April were one thing. The review conditions provided by Sony were another. We adhered to those guidelines, and signaled that to readers in our review. Of course, even considering the leaks and guidelines, we wouldn’t spoil one of the year’s biggest games.
Still, there are certain things we think some readers—those who don’t feel the need to go in totally cold—would want to know to be sure this game is for them. If that’s you, scroll on, where we talk about the leaks, some of the game’s more troubling content, and a key detail about your character. Everyone else, turn back now.
Spoilers follow for The Last of Us: Part 2.
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Who you play as
Based on pre-release materials, it’s fair to expect that you’ll play as Ellie for the bulk of this game. In most of the official screenshots, Ellie is front-and-center. Same for the trailers (save one). Peruse the game’s official listing and you’ll see flavor text about “Ellie’s capabilities,” “Ellie’s journey,” “Ellie’s relentless pursuit of vengeance,” Ellie this, Ellie that. The marketing intent is clear as day: The Last of Us 2 is Ellie’s game.
Thing is, The Last of Us 2 is emphatically not Ellie’s game. Around the 12-hour mark, you stop playing as Ellie and start playing as a woman named Abby, Ellie’s nemesis and the game’s ostensible antagonist. This shouldn’t come as much of a shock; after all, you control Abby for a brief period during some of the opening moments. And Naughty Dog set precedent for character shifts in The Last of Us (when you play as Ellie for a few hours), so picking up as Abby isn’t surprising in and of itself. What’s surprising is that you keep playing as her...and keep playing as her...and keep playing as her. All told, you’ll probably play for at least another dozen hours as Abby.
From a gameplay perspective, it’s a soft reset. Abby has her own five-branch skill tree. She has her own arsenal. The buttons do all the same things, but she feels slower. Right when you’re getting used to playing as Ellie—with comfortably leveled-up weapons and a good set of skill upgrades—you’re whisked away, forced to start a new character from scratch.
When I first started playing as Abby, I almost put down the controller. It’s a strange sensation, actively working to ensure the success of a character you want to fail. I wasn’t as scrupulous about hunting for parts and pills. I cared less about keeping my health up. I made riskier bets in combat, which were usually met with a brutal death scene and a “Game Over” screen. C’mon, I’m supposed to be against Ellie? After all she went through in the first game? Get outta here!
As you play, you’ll find that Abby is tougher and stronger than Ellie. Players of the first game will delight to learn that she can use shivs (shivs!) and bricks (though bricks are noticeably weaker in the sequel).
Whether you appreciate the design choice or not is entirely up to you. Just at least give Abby a chance.
Some content to be aware of
If you haven’t guessed from the game’s marketing, or from what’s talked around in our review, The Last of Us 2 is a very violent game. While it feels a little odd to be explaining a game’s content before its widespread release, especially a game that has worn such violence on its sleeve since the beginning, there are some particular instances of violence you might want to be aware of.
Without spoiling things too much, a diverse cast means violence happens to a lot of different kinds of people. There is physical and emotional violence against women, which you both witness and inflict as Ellie or Abby. There’s the suggestion of some sort of human trafficking; while you never witness sexual violence, it felt implied to both of us.
Queer characters Ellie and Dina both face physical violence. There’s one instance of a homophobic slur, as well as a scene I (Riley) found a little upsetting emotionally in which Ellie has to make nice with the person who used the slur. The latter could be considered a “good” kind of upsetting—it felt like a situation I’ve suffered through myself, and the scene casts the moment in a complex light—but if that experience is a bit raw for you, it happens in one of the earliest scenes in the game.
There’s physical violence against people of color. There’s also physical and emotional violence against young teens, including one violent execution. In a subplot, there’s some extended physical, emotional, and religious violence against a trans youth, including the use of the character’s birth name.
As you’re probably aware of by now, you can kill dogs in this game. Such needless animal cruelty is largely avoidable when you’re playing, but there’s a scripted instance in which you’re forced to kill a dog.
As I wrote in my review, little of the violence feels particularly targeted against people’s identities—while, for instance, specific bad things befall the trans character because he’s trans, The Last of Us 2’s world feels grim enough that it felt like something terrible would have happened to him regardless. There’s something sickly refreshing about this—I watched extended scenes of lesbians in physical and emotional distress, but it wasn’t because they were lesbians, which is a change from a lot of media featuring queer people. But it’s still a lot—as a trans man, I found that the trans character’s suffering hit hard. If these kinds of incidents are particularly difficult for you to witness, you might want to rethink playing the game.
Even bigger spoilers to follow, covering the first couple of hours of the game...
One of the most maddening things about reviewing The Last of Us 2 was talking around April’s big leaks, which revealed some major plot points. If you’re here to know if they’re true or not: they are. Abby is in fact the daughter of the doctor Joel murdered at the end of The Last of Us. (You learn more about him and about his and Abby’s relationship in multiple flashbacks, which will probably make you feel way worse about The Last of Us’ ending.) When Abby is introduced in the beginning of the game, she’s searching for Joel to exact revenge. Early on, she finds him and kills him, in the scene that leaks showed. You later play as Abby; the second leaked scene occurs about midway through the game, when Abby and Ellie’s plotlines reconverge in Seattle.
Having played the game, and adhered to its stringent embargo, I could see how much Naughty Dog went out of their way to hide Joel’s death and how much of a blow the studio must have been dealt by the information leaking. Most notably, a section of the game Kotaku and other outlets previewed back in September ended with Joel and Ellie speaking. In the actual game, Ellie is talking to another character, Jessie, because Joel is long dead at that point. Other pre-release trailers and videos suggested that Joel would be more of a constant companion than he is in the actual game.
While I understand the purpose of this ruse, on a professional level I find it annoying—I don’t like the idea that I can’t trust a developer to show me their actual game, especially in a hands-on context. Now that I’ve played the game, the marketing felt misleading as a way to drum up hype. Sony and Naughty Dog are of course free to market their game however they like, but, looking back, the choice to rely on mystery rather than what’s actually in the game feels like a cheap trick.
Back in April, I took one for the team and dove into the leaks as soon as they surfaced. Knowing what was coming made my job as a reviewer a little easier. It also made me wonder if I would have been more on board for the choices Ellie makes in the game if I was as shocked by Joel’s murder as she was. I doubt it—I can’t imagine a player who’s still as driven for revenge as Ellie is by the end of the game.
For the average player, going in prepared might make the game feel a little less brutal. I found it a hard game to handle, and knowing at least one of the plethora of horrible things that happens in it let me ready myself for it. The leaks didn’t spoil everything, so if they made you feel like there was no point to playing the game, there are still plenty of twists for you to experience for yourself.