By now, some of you have wrapped up The Last of Us Part 2, which came out last week for the PlayStation 4. You may be weighing a second playthrough, which begs the question: Really? Are you… okay?
Admittedly, there’s also the possibility that you simply can’t get enough of that polished stealth-action gameplay, or that you thoroughly enjoy wandering through a fungus-ravaged Seattle. Or maybe you just want to [redacted] with [redacted]. Whatever the case, go forth with this one word of advice: When you start up your New Game Plus, set the difficulty to Hard.
Light spoilers follow for The Last of Us Part 2.
Before you start a New Game Plus, make sure you have a save file marked “COMPLETE.” Otherwise, you might accidentally overwrite your well-earned completed game file. To be extra safe, load your completed game, then save the New Game Plus playthrough on its own file. You’ll be able to know if you can access the New Game Plus simply by looking at the menu screen. The standard screen features a boat tied up to a piling—the same boat where you know who does you know what—while the finished-game menu screen shows a boat beached on a Pacific shorefront.
In The Last of Us Part 2, New Game Plus slightly ramps up the challenge level. So the standard difficulty options become Very Light+, Light+, Moderate+, and so on. In a New Game Plus, Moderate hovers somewhere between standard Moderate and standard Hard on the difficulty spectrum. (For the purposes of this article—since affixing a plus sign to words both looks ugly and sets off all of my spellcheck alarms—we’ll just refer to these settings without the symbol. When you’re playing New Game Plus, you won’t be able to select the non-plus-signed difficulty levels anyway.)
Other than that, New Game Plus works much like it does in every other game: You get to play through the game again with all of your upgraded guns and gear and skills ready to go from the start. In a game like The Last of Us 2, where you can’t unlock everything in one playthrough, a New Game Plus holds extra appeal.
That said, you won’t get access to your full inventory until you hit the “Seattle Day 1” chapter. During the Abby sections of the “Jackson” chapter, you’ll only get use of the standard-issue pistol. When you play as Ellie, you’ll be able to use both the pistol and the bolt-action rifle. Any upgrades you made during your first playthrough will apply to those two weapons. Here’s hoping you nabbed that game-changing damage boost for the rifle!
It’s a shame the “Jackson” chapter isn’t skippable in New Game Plus. The whole section is essentially one long, dramatic, needlessly bloody tutorial. If you’re starting a New Game Plus, you’re already a pro at everything it teaches you. And if you’re starting a New Game Plus so soon after release, those visceral opening cinematics are burned into your memory. Even by skipping all the cutscenes, it took me an hour and 41 minutes to reach the blown-up outskirts of downtown Seattle.
But once you reach Seattle, things really kick off, and it’s here where setting the difficulty to Hard fully registers. If an Infected grabs you while your health is red, you’re all but done for. WLF bullets take you out effortlessly. In a standard Moderate playthrough, you can sprint around the battlefield, taking potshots and smacking Seraphites with your two-by-four. It’s unwise, but it works. Such reckless tomfoolery isn’t possible on Hard. You’ll also receive fewer mid-checkpoint encounters, which makes scrumming your way through challenging battles nigh impossible. Even with a souped-up inventory and beefed-up skill tree, you’ll need to rely more on stealth and planning than running and gunning. It’s a true test of the skills you mastered during the vanilla playthrough.
Beyond a catch-all difficulty setting, you can adjust individual sliders across five categories—Player, Enemies, Allies, Stealth, and Resources—in the Options menu. I quickly turned Resources down to Moderate. Yes, leaving Resources on Hard reduces how much stuff you find, which is technically more of a challenge. But the game simply isn’t that much fun when you’re constantly starved for rags and alcohol. Plus, it’s not like having an extra roll of tape makes clickers any less terrifying.
As far as other settings, you could theoretically tweak the Allies slider to reduce how often your teammates shoot at foes. But even on Hard, allies possess a steeled competence. Dina’s a hell of a shot with that pistol. Though I haven’t reached the part where you team up with Lev again, I imagine the same can still be said for his bow skills, too. If anything, brave players should kick this setting up to Survivor, making it so allies barely take any shots. (I do not fall into such a category.)
To truly play on Hard, leave the other three sliders untouched. Otherwise, you may as well just replay on Moderate.