TL;DR: TLOU2 is a wonderfully crafted single-player story-focused masterpiece but it uses gameplay mechanics which at its core has not been revamped since the first Uncharted game. Story = 9/10, Gameplay = 6/10, Overall = 8/10
The Last of Us Part II (TLOU2) was released on June 19, in the middle of a global pandemic. Couldn't have been better as well as worse time to release this game. Better, because, everyone's at home with more time to play video games. And, worse, because, TLOU2 is a game set in a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by zombies. That kinda sets a really dark tone to our current global health crisis.
First the best part of TLOU2, its story. From a first playthrough, I think there's only two type media which can deliver justice to both the protagonist and antagonist of TLOU2; TV Shows and Video Games. The latter, being best since it's interactive. TLOU2 is an emotional journey which relates mostly to closure. Closure, after losing loved ones. It shows the different journey our protagonist, Ellie and antagonist, Abby go through. Each of them avenging their fathers' deaths. In an overly simplified high level of the story, one can say that it's just a revenge plot where each one is stabbing the other but any simplification of TLOU2 won't do its story justice.
TLOU2's story instills mixed feeling among players and I do understand both camps. On one side, the story is a complex one with good, well paced and well-written character arcs. While, on the other hand, it's dark, gritty, lengthy and kills everyone's beloved character Joel.
Joel's death was not a huge pain point for me and that's because I have seen too many beloved characters die on TV. Since Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead made it popular to kill beloved characters (also not forgetting Avengers: Endgame), deaths of beloved main characters leave me unaffected. In this era of entertainment, I think it is easier to kill a character than to sideline the latter and develop its story arc. Also, I never saw Joel as the main protagonist of TLOU series. It was always Ellie, her emotional growth towards a father figure, looking for purpose in her life and being badass.
Into the story now, Abby is in TLOU2 to avenge the death of his father, who was a surgeon operating on Ellie in the climax of the first TLOU. So, revenge comes at the door, and kills Joel in front of Ellie with a golf club. It's gruesome and painful to watch but again, not painful for me. Then, it's Ellie's turn for revenge. She goes on a rampage to kill Abby and her friends. It takes Ellie three chapters to reach Abby, during these chapters, we see Ellie go through some of the toughest decisions and crimes that she commits for a revenge quest. However, the most beautiful moments in those three chapters are the flashbacks. They, explore Ellie and Joel's relationship in depth until Ellie knows the truth why she's alive and the infected are still here.
After Ellie kills a pregnant woman (one of Abby's friend), the third chapter ends and we see ourself in Abby's shoes. IMO, Abby's story was more interesting. Throughout those three chapters, we learn about Abby's personality and her journey into revenge and also after revenge (the most important part). She starts to resent revenge as she grows closer to someone from an enemy faction named: Lev. Throughout her growth, we see Abby torn apart in a war among two factions and a slow revenge from Ellie. While, she just wants to be with her loved one.
Addressing the elephant in the room, political correctness. Naughty Dog clearly had a political agenda with TLOU2 and they reflected it in Abby's story. Specifically, Lev's struggle with his sexual identity and acceptance within his faction. I did not have any issue with this matter, in fact I couldn't care less. What I do like, is that TLOU2 is one of a few that didn't hamper the story for political correctness.
Now, let's move onto why I scored TLOU2's story 9/10 and not 10/10. Simply because it was too long and there were unnecessary portions. Specifically, the last act where even after facing Abby before and renouncing revenge. Ellie goes after Abby one more time, just so that she doesn't kill her and renounce revenge one more time. We can argue that the first time, she was not really renouncing revenge but the writers could have made it so. Scoring a 9 can be easily summarised to an overly long and unnecessary story portions and a less interesting journey for Ellie. Else, TLOU2 is one of the best story a game can have. The best part being the growth of both the protagonist and antagonist.
I see TLOU2's gameplay as the weakest part of the game. Sure there's some strong parts, like the stealth mechanics, detailed weapon design and feel, crafting mechanics and fluid character movement. Each and every technical aspect of the game has been well crafted and detailed with utmost attention. IMO, the stealth mechanics were the most impressive and the best that I have seen. It's so good that I had anxiety numerous times when being detected or when killing enemies. Even the infected are more menacing and the addition of new infected types changed the gameplay. It was tougher and I had to make smart decisions on how to approach enemies and infected. The enemy AI was so good and fluid that sometimes they felt scripted. TLOU2 is one of the best zombie apocalypse simulation.
The bad part now. Jumping is not so great. It's just a jump. Nathan Drake from the first Uncharted was able to jump, so nothing's new. I don't know why IGN and Gamespot think this opens up new avenues. The main reason I gave TLOU2 a 6 for gameplay is due to a lack of innovation. Sure, Naughty Dog is well-know to make big budgets cinematic video games but I want to see something different from them. The core foundation of TLOU2, which is a linear third person point and shoot, was introduced in the first Uncharted and has not been revamped since. The first TLOU added stealth and crafting, Uncharted 4 added swinging ropes and an open-world sandbox in some levels and TLOU2 added more realistic stealth and dogs (which is an awesome addition to the stealth mechanics).
In this generation, where big open world games with strong stories like Red Dead Redemption 2, Witcher 3 and God Of War exist I don't think TLOU2's rinse and repeat gameplay shines. Those games took risks to reinvent themselves (God of War) and to have a huge open world as well as rock solid stories. Instead of taking political risks in the story, Naughty Dog should have risked in gameplay design. If Guerilla Games can move from Killzone and try something new like Horizon Zero Dawn and Santa Monica studios can wholly revamp God of War, IMO Naughty Dog should have tried something new.
To sum up, I would recommend anyone who has a keen for single player story focused games to try TLOU2. I was in the same TLOU2 hate camp before playing it as I believed Naughty Dog fucked up the story by focusing on a political agenda but I was wrong. It was good that Naughty Dog proved me wrong. They're one of my favorite studios and they constantly set the bar for games.